Notes from Listening Session (Called Meeting), October 30, 2022

On October 30, 2022, Durham Friends Meeting held a facilitated listening session to consider how we have felt after five years of being a pastorless meeting. In the first half of the session we reflected on what brought each of us to DFM and what keeps us coming back; in the second half, what we see for DFM moving forward. No decisions were made. Ministry & Counsel will consider the thoughts expressed today and report back. — Renee Cote

Comments are paraphrased.

First half

Leslie: Everyone has a story. I attended a church supper at a vital Presbyterian church, whose mission is motivated by Matthew 25 and which has effective outreach. I encountered a woman who told me she came to DFM in the 80s, single and pregnant, and how much she appreciated our support. Her beliefs aren’t necessarily my beliefs but we were there for her.


Linda: I knew I was a Quaker from attending other meetings. I came to DFM and heard a sermon by Ralph Greene. I was not used to programmed meeting and found it a little disappointing. But I felt the spiritual community and it was a good place to bring my children. I keep coming for the sense of spiritual community. I would like more multigenerational events.

Kim: I came to DFM for the wonderful dinners. It was close by and my kids could meet persons of all ages in a relaxed setting. I kept coming because the community felt genuine. I had no religious background or training. I have learned a lot and received much support.

David: I was raised an evangelical Baptist. I studied Quaker writers in college. I then went to an Episcopal church and I liked the quiet. I was confirmed but began to have doubts about the theatrical aspects of the service. I kept a journal 50 years ago while working on Mt. Washington and wrote that inside I felt like a Quaker. I felt affirmed by my contact with Clarabel although I continued as an Episcopalian until six or seven years ago. Friends have meant so much and I feel like DFM is the best of both worlds (programmed/unprogrammed). I feel that the Quaker ladies in the walls are still speaking to us. Jonathan Vogel-Bourne affirmed that I have always been a Quaker and said, “Welcome home.”

Martha: I came to DFM with my parents. I have wandered and experienced many kinds of meetings and worship. I appreciate the hybrid nature of worship at DFM.

Ann: Pastor Stephen (last name?) invited single persons who were attending DFM to dinners at the parsonage. He reached out to us. I transferred from Brunswick to Durham. I was more active but physical circumstances now keep me away. I feel a connection to people here and a sense of belonging.

Leslie: I came because I was invited. I was feeling anger at God and wanted to work on that relationship. Childless people can find it hard to make connections. At the time DFM had a food distribution program for persons of all income levels. Tommie Frye asked for my help moving boxes and Sarah invited me in. This community offered safe space and safe harbor from damage from other religions. Durham helps healing.

Doug: I am a convinced Friend. I’ve had experience of a wide variety of unprogrammed meeting, including Philadelphia with its meaningful worship. When I moved to Maine I wanted to join Brunswick but eventually felt there was not enough of the spiritual life I needed in a small meeting with little vocal ministry. I came to DFM and enjoyed the rich voices and the pastor. Doug Gwynn followed . . . I know that God is with us and people are feeling that and acting upon it.

Ingrid: Doug brought me. I identified as a Quaker and I had come to the point where I wanted more spiritual nourishment. Doug recommended DFM. I found spiritual nourishment and liked the messages. I enjoyed the varied voices. I have found a place to practice spirit here. Sukie recommended me for Peace and Social Concerns and I’ve stayed there.

Wendy: I visited DFM with my family in 1992. I had been in another faith community and in 2003 I wanted a change. Sunday morning church was a given in our family and my children wanted to come here. They were welcomed. In 2008 I became a member and then youth minister. I figured out the Quaker structure. The kids gave life. Climate and racial justice is my passion and I have received support from the MM, QM, and YM. I have met some wonderful people and I love this community very much.

Tess: I was born and raised Catholic. I came to Quakerism after the pastor at St. John’s in Brunswick with whom I had a close spiritual connection was rotated out. When I came to Durham I had had a bad faith group experience. Sukie invited me here 35 years ago. I have often felt like an outlier but I fit in here. I believe that small is beautiful and it’s how we make connections. A small group offers the intimacy for spiritual growth. I have been taught to listen deeply in this spiritual home.

Cush: I became a Quaker in 1967 through a college girlfriend in Virginia Beach Meeting. Later with my first wife I became a member of Portland Meeting for ten years. After divorce I began attending Allen Avenue Unitarian along with my second wife.  It was a good experience. Upon her death I went back to my Quaker roots. With my present wife I came to DFM. It has taken some time over the past three years to get used to a semiprogrammed meeting. I wanted to belong to a church in my geographical community, as community is defined these days. I still feel a little outside but I am integrating.

Second half—What would we like to see, what do we see? Should we hold conversations with those who aren’t here regularly? What do we do well, what can we do better?

Linda: We provide a safe space. We are here every Sunday even with small numbers. Our meeting is important for those needing healing or seeking mentorship.

Mey: I hear Leslie question where are we growing and where are we resisting. I have considered my expectations around meeting versus what happens in life. I’ve had varied experiences with Friends in different places. I chose DFM over Portland or Washington state. We are growing in love and compassion and after feeling discomfort. My interaction with Bob Eaton has become affirming, for example. I experience the prompting of spirit and love to help, and I experience love from meeting.

Dan: I was born into this church and I had to come here. I was assigned to pick up Mildred and I dreaded it at first but it became something I looked forward to. I enjoyed hearing her story. We developed a friendship outside of our usual roles. I did her good. Why would someone want to join DFM? To do some good for everyone here.

Cush: This has been a wonderful session and chance to sit down and share. I hope for more opportunities like this.

Tess: What are we doing well? We should give ourselves a pat on the back for what we have gone through. Tech has helped us to continue. Do we appreciate that we have been able to gather? As a member of M&C I have grown beyond what I thought was my comfort level.

Some people genuinely wanted to figure out how to bring technology into meeting and others feared it would change meeting. We can now choose how to be here, Zoom or in person. I’m happy I could paint the beautiful wall to see everyone on.

Ann: Like Tess I am grateful for Zoom even though I don’t like it. Covid has been hard with many losses of people. I feel part of meeting even though not there physically.

Sarah: We are good at being welcoming. I felt welcomed even as an outsider. I bonded with people I felt were the opposite of me in some ways. I learned from the elders’ forbearance, and to allow space while clerking. The elders modeled that love when we disagree. There’s been an enormous transition here at DFM and a chaotic world. So this is a test.

It’s hard when we’re not in unity. Some more listening sessions would help us hear each other. This creates good roots to help in addressing difficult issues.

Kim: I agree that we are very good at making space, being willing to listen, being sincere when it’s not easy. I have many opportunities to speak about Friends in the outside community. We need more ways to share our message of kindness, joy and love.

Leslie: With the passing of some members I’ve had a chance to see how our values of love and tolerance get transferred and passed into families. People react deeply to being in this space that feels like home. People feel seen and held. 

Can we draw some people back, those who keep up their membership or get the newsletter? How do we maintain the outer circle? To attract young families can we go to the families and offer our help? Some are adrift, how to help? Those who are carrying burdens or have the patterns of their lives change, can we release them? How should we nourish our roots?

Sarah: It would be beneficial to have future listening sessions, and useful to gather at intervals to check in where we are.

Mey: There are meetings for healing on the first Thursday of the next two months through Portland Meeting, at DFM in person or through Zoom.