Friends General Conference

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State of the Meeting 2019

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State of Nashville Friends Meeting, 2018 

The new year began on a note of intentional introspection, as Nashville Friends Meeting engaged in a series of listening sessions that began in 2017. Initiated primarily by the leading of member M. L. M., these gatherings sought to hold all aspects of Meeting life in the Light, in the possibility that Way would open for us as a community in unexpected ways. In 2017, we grieved those we had lost, as many members and attenders had moved away in the last several years for various reasons. In 2018, we built on that foundation by examining our committee structures and how work is divided among us. In the end, truthfully, not much changed in a visible way, as several ideas were not deemed viable by the body of the Meeting. But the process was a valuable opportunity to reflect on who we are and how we are changing as time marches on. 

2018 also contained a note of grief, as we mourned the passing and celebrated the life of M. H., one of our longest attending members in Nashville. 

For a second year, we did not receive any requests for membership. We said farewell to L. W, who moved to be with family in Florida. She will be missed. C. VR. laid down her membership as she felt led to explore the next steps of her spiritual journey. We are deeply grateful for her many contributions over the years. 

However, 2018 was not solely a year of loss. Our Meeting continued to follow our leadings and serve in many ways throughout the year. 

Several years ago, we began to provide opportunities for spiritual deepening and nourishment beyond our weekly meeting for worship. These have continued as intended, and many members and attenders have expressed their gratitude. A handful of Spiritual Deepening groups still meet for discussion and fellowship. We hold a weekly Meeting for Worship on Thursday mornings for those who cannot attend on Sundays or prefer a small group. We continue to hold Meetings for Healing on a quarterly basis, in which anyone can come and receive prayers and hands on healing. And we have a prayer committee which prays daily for anyone in the community asking for any concern to be held in the Light. 

We have also continued to use the Meeting House as a place of welcome engagement with the greater community. About twenty people gathered as part of a lively interfaith conversation with the Atlantic Institute, a Turkish American organization. Our Alternatives to Violence Project committee hosted several events that infused the Meeting with new energy. Nadine Hoover, Val Liveoak and Kathy Railsback came to Nashville and shared their wisdom and experience. Nadine acted as lead facilitator of a Basic Level AVP workshop and was joined by Kathy as lead facilitators of a Trauma Resiliency Advanced workshop. On the heels of this, the Meeting hosted a Friends Peace Teams (FPT) face-to-face with attenders from all over the world, and a Peace Quest one day workshop in which Val Liveoak was the keynote speaker. She shared her experience with FPT since its beginning in 1993. The Meeting especially thanks J. W. and T. S. for their tireless efforts in coordinating these special events and ensuring their success. In addition to these larger AVP gatherings in the Spring of 2018, our local AVP facilitators offered additional workshops in 2018 and continued their work in local schools and in the women’s jail. Our Meeting also continued to be home base for the Middle Tennessee Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) advocacy group which remained quite active until October. At that time the advocacy group was put ‘on hold’ waiting for additional interest and support from the larger community. 
We hosted a meeting of Southern Appalachian Young Friends (SAYF). Twenty-two SAYFers gathered here for a weekend along with five adults. After many years of leadership in the SAYF program, M. L. M. and 
M. W. have laid down that Ministry. Nashville Friends express gratitude for their faithful service but we are struggling to find active adult leadership for SAYF within our meeting. 

Our First Day School program reflected the Meeting as a whole in some ways, as the only two remaining members of the committee sought to provide a high level of care to our young attenders without burning themselves out. The First Day School took on several projects throughout the year. They reimagined the downstairs meeting space and made several aesthetic changes. They coordinated a service project focused on immigration, and provided support to the Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE), a refugee resettlement organization. Two of the First Day School children delivered donations of household items to the NICE offices in early February. 

We were pleased to bring a worship group in Clarksville under our care this year. R. G. and her husband, recently relocated from Illinois, hold worship in their home on first Sundays of the month. Ruth wrote us a very seasoned and spiritually grounded letter requesting that we support this. The Meeting gladly approved having them under our care. 

In the last several months, we have contemplated SAYMA’s queries as a meeting. We are including our reflections on those queries below. 

Query: What is our dream that our faith community could be? How has the meeting lived up to that dream or fallen short of the dream? Friends held up a vision of a meeting that was welcoming, inclusive, and actively engaged in the care of its members and of the broader community. Many of us feel that we have sometimes succumbed to the distractions and individualism of modern society in ways that detract from those goals. Nashville Friends’ participation in the Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP) was held up as an example of community engagement. However, Friends noted that this is an activity of individual Friends sponsored and supported by the meeting rather than an activity of the meeting as a body. We hold up and celebrate the contributions and engagement of these Friends, but we note that the meeting has fallen short of its vision and of its past levels of engagement. 

Query: How do we distinguish between safety and comfort when engaging in challenging conversations within our community? The distinction between safety and comfort requires deep discernment and a commitment to Integrity. As with much else, Nashville Friends report mixed results. Discomfort can cover a wide range of circumstances, from mere cultural irritation to the early warning signs of real danger. Where interactions within the community have raised real concerns, Nashville Friends have sought to be forthright in addressing issues while trying to hold all parties in the Light. Other times, members of our community have had difficulty getting past perceptions of criticism or worse in discussions of the pain and challenges experienced by others of different backgrounds. 

How do we care and respond to those who have been hurt by institutional racism in the society and in your own meeting and other experiences of inequality among us? Do we respond with love and compassion? Do you trust others in your meeting in order to share your truth and our places of pain? We note the absence of regular attendance by Friends of color in Nashville, though we were blessed last year by the presence of a family from Kenya for several weeks. We continue to struggle in trying to discern the boundaries between our own cultural comfort zones and Quaker essentials in everything from habits of dress and speech to the conduct of worship. There have on occasion been hurt feelings on the part of some Friends when others have not shared the same leadings. Our meeting has been enriched by members and attenders who have experienced discrimination or other societal hurts and who do take the risk of sharing their experiences openly. 

Are we living up to our responsibilities? Do we say “yes” when we can and “no” when we need to? The past decade has seen a notable loss of our meeting’s seasoned leaders. While some of this loss is a natural result of death, debility, and other life transitions, there are unmistakable signs that many of our leaders have experienced levels of burnout that have led to prolonged absences from the meeting. Although we can see clearly that this pattern cannot be sustained, we have had difficulty reversing it. There is real concern that new potential leaders will be reluctant to step up when they see successions of meeting clerks, treasurers, and others take extended leaves of absence after serving the meeting. Helping our leadership attain a degree of balance that allows them to experience service to the meeting as a source, rather than a drain, of spiritual energy is an increasingly crucial challenge for Nashville Friends.