This summer we traveled to New England Yearly Meeting and asked Quakers from all over the region: how does your meeting do outreach? How do you welcome newcomers?
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- How does your meeting do outreach and welcoming newcomers?
- What attracts you/attracted you to Friends? How do you like to be greeted when you are venturing into a new religious space?
Leslie Manning: It’s a practice among us. We treat hospitality as a sacred obligation. That doesn’t just include the food on the table, but it includes the welcome that’s in our hearts.
How Do Quaker Meetings Do Outreach and Welcome Newcomers?
Sue Rockwood: At Midcoast Meeting, I think we felt as a group that we had something very special and it was not something anyone was content to just practice with themselves in this small little group, and so they wanted to find a way to let their light shine.
Angela Hopkins: I believe that welcoming and hospitality and fellowship are the responsibility of everybody in our community. We may have a committee that prepares the food, but we’re all responsible for welcoming newcomers. It’s a committee of everybody.
Practicing Quaker Outreach
Beth Collea: Quaker outreach is almost a reflexive response to the love and the joy that we have as Friends, and sort of a deep gratitude that bubbles up and says, “I want to share this with people!”
Morgan Wilson: I feel like Framingham Friends Meeting has done a really good job of responding to a growing concern of outreach by taking on thinking about it in all the committees and the work of the community, and thinking about it not just as an objective to draw new people in, but thinking about ways that the community might need to change or be prepared for growth and new people coming in.
Sue Rockwood: Some of the first things we did was to set up the infrastructure at the meeting to deal with the fact that we’re not listed in the yellow pages under “religious organization,” to open up a lobby room to create a rental brochure so that as people would come into the building, they could see its beautiful space, they could enjoy its literature… get to know us a little bit as what we are.
Beth Collea: Wellesley Meeting has done a variety of things that have helped open the doors to newcomers. One is having low-threshold social events. We’ve found that some Friends who had sort of drifted away—for one reason or another—used those sort of “low voltage” social occasions to come back.
Eric Palmieri: Well, one thing that the meeting does and has done for the past fifty some odd years is that we have an annual book fair… annual book sale. It’s not only an event in our community, but it’s an event for the entire Westport community. When you do something together in a faith community that services the wider community, I think it’s nearly impossible to not feel not only close to the wider community, but to your faith community.
How We Introduce Ourselves
Leslie Manning: We believe that we have something precious to offer the world—hope and healing—and that we cannot keep it to ourselves. That we must bring it forward in our daily lives and practice, in our schools and in our communities, and into the wider world.
Beth Collea: The other thing that we found really helpful was to have a pamphlet or a flyer. When people coming into the door just knew: We will mention God. We will mention Jesus. If that’s a problem, you may want to keep going with your spiritual search. It’s a lot like dating in mid-life. You really just want to say, “This is who I am. I’m pretty clear about that.” You know, you really want to leave that desire of you can be all things to all newcomers. The more distinct you are, the better it will be for all concerned.
Actively Welcoming Newcomers
Leslie Manning: We’re rooted in a tradition both in Christianity and Judaism that says that you welcome the stranger, for you may, in welcoming the stranger, be in the presence of an angel unawares.
Greg Williams: Well, if you come in off the street there are people that take it upon themselves to go greet newcomers. I think more of us need to do that on a more regular basis, but there is a group of people who will relate to people.
Eric Palmieri: As a new person coming in just recently, a couple of years ago, not really knowing what to expect, I was welcomed so warmly and with such an ease that I immediately felt like I was home. Like I was at home.
Jeremiah Dickinson: It is really important to watch for the newcomers but not have a preconceived notion of “I’m going to do this. This is what I do with newcomers.” but really respond.
Greg Williams: Be friendly. Be welcoming, but don’t be overpowering. And don’t walk in and say, “Oh! Would you like to serve on a committee?” If I walk through the door, I don’t want to serve on a committee. I want to know what you’re about. Maybe offer me something to read to give me a little history of Quakers, or ask, “Do you know anything about Quakers? Have you read anything?”
Jeremiah Dickinson: One helpful question to ask is, “What brings you here?” You know, it’s not like oh, well… if they say, “I came on the bus,” you know that they’re wanting something that’s a little less intense. But if they say, “You know what I’ve had this crisis in my life…” You know how to respond to that, and offer help or say, “What’s going on?”
Beth Collea: After the joyous entry of a new family into a meeting, we need to be ready to help them get traction on their own Quaker journeys. So to help people really possess it for themselves. I think the gold standard is: can we help them have their own experience of the Light. Then they own it. I think George Fox was the one who said, “Bring people to their guide, and then leave them there.”
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.