For a number of years, the community of Twin Cities Meeting (TCFM) has been struggling to understand and accept the joys and difficulties of being a large meeting. Slowly, in fits and starts, through faith and doubt, we are coming to terms with what we are.
One Friend spoke of the “blessings of bigness,” and in fact our bigness gives rise to an energy, intensity, breadth of activities, and diversity of perspectives, which are inseparable from our identity as a meeting. These are qualities many TCFM Friends find spiritually uplifting, and to which many meetings would aspire; yet, some of us look upon these same qualities and find barriers to our spiritual growth and identity as Quakers. The delicious irony is, many of those who find themselves spiritually uplifted and spiritually blocked by these qualities, are the same people.
If you want to know your gifts, look closely at your weaknesses. They may be two sides of the same coin.
We have three regularly scheduled hours of worship each week, the largest of which is 11 a.m. Sunday morning, and averages 60 or so Friends, occasionally reaching 100 or more. This tends to be the worship with the most visitors and new attenders, as well as the gathering for families with children. There is First Day school during the school year, child care during the summer, family meeting on First Sundays, and a shorter, inter-generational meeting for worship when there is a fifth Sunday.
There is also 8:30 worship Sunday mornings, which has grown to an average of about 40 Friends; and a smaller worship at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday evenings, generally drawing 10-15 people. Each of these has its distinct flavor; both tend to be attended by a more consistent group of Friends, and usually close with personal introductions and worship sharing.
Worship does not happen only in the meeting room. Reflecting on the power and creativity of our First Day school students and teachers, a Friend noted that “energy and love emanates from many parts of our building.” In fact, there is not an unused corner of the meeting house on Sunday morning, and many of those corners are quite crowded—another challenge for our large meeting. We have youth in nine age groups, most of which vary greatly in size from week to week. Out of 115 registered students, about 80 are regular attenders. With at least two teachers in each class, it is not uncommon to have more bodies in First Day school than in the meeting room.
We have approximately 120 members and 47 associate members. We have had two births in the past year, one adoption, and at the end of 2006, greeted 19 children at a “Wee Welcoming” for young Friends who have joined our community since our last such welcoming. We also have welcomed five new members and seven associate members during the past year, and five Friends have transferred into TCFM from other meetings.
A number of members of our community also attend Laughing Waters Worship Group in Minneapolis, not formally affiliated with TCFM yet clearly connected to us.
2005 was declared a Year of Jubilation, where we sought guidance together to discern the ministries of TCFM and the best structures to support those ministries. In 2006 we began discerning steps as a meeting toward implementing those structures. Most concretely, we agreed to hire staff to help us care for the physical building and to manage administrative tasks, though the details of those positions are not yet decided.
This process was largely triggered by earlier difficulties on our nominating committee in finding individuals to serve on various committee positions. Since then the committee has shifted its focus to finding individuals for a few higher profile committees and positions, most of which require not just attendance but membership in TCFM: ministry and counsel, trustees, clerk’s team. Even with that reduced scope, the task is a challenge.
A Friend observed that TCFM’s substantial growth in attendance in recent years, has outpaced the growth in formal membership. We have approximately 120 members to serve on about 20 leadership positions requiring membership. Many of those members are aged, ill, or reducing their committee involvement for personal reasons. This leaves us with 80 or so viable candidates to rotate through these leadership positions, which is challenging. Other committees also have had difficulties finding people with the time and energy to serve.
Spirit may be trying to tell us something. If we cannot find resources to continue what we have been doing, perhaps we need to be still, listen, and hear if we are being called to something new.
Some committees have exploded with energy and new ideas over the past year. Adult education programs have included mostly well-attended Sunday morning programs throughout the school year, as well as over 100 Friends taking part in Quakerism 101 classes over the past three years. One Friend has independently coordinated several multi-week educational series on Quaker history and spiritual traditions, also well attended, most recently “Experiments in Praying without Ceasing.”
Advancement committee has been bursting with energy and ideas as well, instituting a series of friendly eight potlucks and creative listening circles to help build community and create opportunities for Friends–especially newcomers–to talk about their spiritual lives and get more involved in the life of the community.
Work on peace and social justice issues continue to be central to the lives of Friends at TCFM. The war in Iraq, attempts to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage, and the threat of global warming, have been some of the central issues where many Friends are powerfully led, and have been redoubling their efforts.
Yet, for all the work of individual Friends on these concerns, it is sometimes hard to see how our meeting is led as a meeting to communicate our vision of a better world to the larger society. This distinction, between our leadings as individual Friends in the world, and the role of our Friends meeting in the world, is not yet clear. Peace and social action, the committee that has provided leadership along these lines, is currently “lying fallow,” in the words of one Friend. We will see what rises from that fallow field.
Community service is another area where more work is done by individual Friends, than by the meeting as a body. Even so, with leadership by our community service committee, TCFM once again served as an overflow homeless shelter in cooperation with the St. Paul Area Council of Churches, this time for a little more than half the month of March 2006. The committee also coordinates our involvement in quarterly Loaves and Fishes dinners and food shelf projects.
With the Friends General Conference (FGC) Gathering happening in River Falls, WI in July 2007, many TCFM Friends are involved in planning and leading the gathering. It has been a wonderful opportunity to extend our involvement in the wider world of Quakerism, and to let that world know what we are about.
A variety of informal groups meet for fellowship and around shared concerns, including Adult Young Friends, Old Friends, at least one Practical Mysticism group, and various small groups for spiritual nurture. One Friend continues to convene meetings for healing. Friends continue to care for and guide one another through committees of support, clearness and eldership, both formal groups convened by ministry and counsel, and Friends who simply come forward to minister to the needs of a Friend.