What is community? 

by | 6 Sep, 2020

 Katherine Purnell, Tasmania RM

This was the starting point for six Zoom sessions called “Cuppa Friendship” during Yearly Meeting 2020.  Trying to make up for lack of personal encounters in the new on-line format, the organisers suggested a replacement for the Quiet Room.  They felt that opportunities might be offered for Friends to meet, where conversations could deepen.

The idea mutated, and Pamela Leach and I gathered a series of open questions, a spark for each 75-minute afternoon session. These were Spiritual Opportunities which invited sharing of experiences; when members could extend their interactions with old friends and “first timers” could be drawn into new Quaker insights.

“What is ‘Listening into Being’?” was Monday’s question; a phrase familiar to Meeting for Learning participants; one which highlights how Quakers are gifted with the practice of deep listening in the Meeting for Worship, a model for our interpersonal relationships.

“What makes a spiritual community?” brought a variety of optimistic definitions and stories about how the spiritual and daily life are one in a faithful, intentional group.  Walking cheerfully, at its best, means walking with courage.

Reflection on “Why do I stay with Friends?” ranged from being a lover of silence to an attraction to non-violence after the Port Arthur massacre 1996.

Being open minded, serving on committees, recognising gifts, writing, study groups, being there, encouraging and recognising children and humour were different ways of “How do I give and receive in my Quaker community?”

To round off session six we offered a quote from Patricia Loring’s Listening Spirituality,

Community provides a challenge for each of us to change, to walk and stretch towards our truest selves as unique manifestations of God’s love in interpersonal relationships…  The mystery is that people’s inevitable differences give us openings for spiritual growth and maturing in ways that are sometimes uncomfortable, if not downright painful.

Forty-two Friends attended, a number tuned in several times and 10 said they would like to continue similarly in the future, by Zoom.

I feel that Cuppa Friendship went part way to making up for missed joys of a “former normal” YM.  Times of enrichment came from face to face, semi-structured sessions that stretched us and left us feeling that we have grown in the Spirit.

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