“Individuals in Community,” by Martha Hinshaw Sheldon

The message at Durhgam Friends Meeting on August 13, 2023 was given by Martha Hinshaw Sheldon, our member now living in Northern Ireland.

Greetings from Coleraine Friends Meeting.  Been in Northern Ireland for two years this summer.  

Busy days!  Helping my parents move and was the registrar for New England Yearly Meeting.  Love the job.  Love the people. Love sorting and packing!

This is in contrast to my not so busy retirement days in Northern Ireland where I volunteer with the National Trust, Corrymeela reconciliation center and other odd activities.

Two weeks ago I spoke of being individuals in a community versus being a community of individuals.  Where do we focus?  On ourselves or on our community?  

At Yearly meeting there were 402 individuals.  Some more attentive to the Spirit and community than others.  In my humble opinion.  Some seemed just interested in hearing their own voices.  As we do. Who am I?  Who are you?  Both.  Sometimes one?  Sometimes the other? 

When growing up in Wellesley Friends meeting I learned of the GreenCircle.  A way of peace and reconciliation, a way of being in community.  In a circle all are equal.  No one is at the head of the table.   No one is in the front or behind.  

Another image.  The Third Way.  Palestinian lawyer, Jonathan Kuttab wrote of a third way in the conflict in Palestine and Israel where I first heard of this concept.  We tend to think of us versus them.  Only two ways to solve conflict.  In the third way there are more than two ways.   Multiple ways.  I believe that is what Jesus taught.  Alternative ways to see the world.  Ways that take into account the whole community rather than the winner and loser.  

Joseph and Jesse Bruchac, from the Abenaki nation, shared stories and music as keynote speakers at NEYM.  Jesse is an author and native languages speaker, Joseph a storyteller.  One story told how animals became smaller when humans were created.  Their telling of this story and others is on the NEYM website.   My summary version is this.  When humans were created the other animals were angry and wanted to be rid of them, these strange creatures.  The creator soothed each creature with a touch, a stroke, a word of calm. This decreased their ferocity and size to not harm humans.  Except for the mosquito.  The vampire spider.  

Because the earth is not for the comfort of humans.

Community is not the stage for individuals.  

Community is for all to be heard and listened to, for all to be equal, for all to hear of the wisdom of the Spirit, the creator, the Other.  Wisdom is not from one voice but from a weaving together of voices. Weaving together of voices that may introduce a third way or more, of leadings based on being open to the wisdom of others, especially those who may be contrary to us.   For when we are not willing to listen to others we are not willing to learn of new possibilities, new solutions.  In our listening I invite you to ask others why they feel or are led in a certain way.   (

I invite you to be willing to be open to a third way, a way led by the Spirit and not our own desires or wants.  I do not believe that our wants and desires are bad and the Spirits are good and that they conflict but that sometimes our wants and desires may not be what is best for the community and from Spirit.

This is not always easy but it does lead to a peace of mind and soul.   This I know.  

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