To the ad-hoc planning committee organizing this year's weekend in a state park accessible to Friends across two states, Winter Quarterly Meeting 2023 got shortened to "WQ23". A couple of things were different this year. For one, staying at our beloved Dwight Mission--which has changed ownership--was not an option. For another, those with years of experience planning and executing the weekend gathering had begun sharing knowledge and expertise with those willing and eager to learn the ropes.
Because the group camp can be hard to find in the dark and because phone and internet connectivity can be spotty in those hills, a map was sent out weeks in advance to guide Friends down the winding road to the group of six A-frame cabins and community building we had rented. Kelly set off early to put up signs and get keys. At the office, with an hour and a half till they closed, kind Christal behind the counter offhandedly mentioned that said winding road had flooded as she cheerfully highlighted in yellow an alternate route on a dim copy of a copy of a map. Kelly looked down at her watch and did the math. Would a mass emailing catch everyone in time? Or would carfuls arrive after the office had closed? Would they turn back at the ROAD CLOSED sign? A ranger with keys to hand over was already waiting at the site. There was just enough time to send an email with a snapshot of the makeshift map and its as-the-crow-flies new route penciled in before entering the internet dead zone. Back in Conway, Treasurer Tommy came to the rescue by divvying up a list of phone numbers to ensure all travelers knew about the detour.
Over the next hours, as darkness fell and the Wildlife Management sign serving as a crucial landmark became harder and harder to see, more than one traveller called to say they were lost. Surely a sign warning of explosives and the need for a hardhat meant they had gone astray, right? "Keep coming," Jan overheard Kelly saying into her phone. "Yes, I know it says 'authorized personnel only'. Yes, I know it mentions explosives, but keep coming. Just keep coming that way."
The Friday evening of any AR-OK Quarterly is marked by unstructured activities such as getting settled in cabins, loading up the snack table, hugging and visiting with those we haven't seen in months.
Saturday morning, after breakfast prepared by Stillwater Friend Jan, helped out by the Norman contingent, Friends shared memories, anecdotes and feelings for the late Rex Friend. One Little Rock Friend woke up feeling unwell and spent the whole weekend isolated. Fortunately, there was a cabin to spare.
When there was still no sign of main speaker Sister Cecelia Brickell of St. Scholastica Monastery at 10:30, some began to worry that she had not received the message of the detour. Well, she had received the new map but found herself nevertheless on the blocked road. A quick phone call got her sorted out, or so we thought. Soon enough another call came. "No, you are on the right track. Yes, it does say mining land. Just keep coming." The situation became an apt spiritual metaphor. Kathleen and Kelly walked out to the intersection to wave her in and were in the right place at the right time to witness a herd of fifteen or more White-tailed Deer bound through the forest, splashing across a creek one after another.
Sr. Cecelia was soon seated among us as we listened to the story of how, when, and why she became a Benedictine Sister. Her talk was utterly engaging, and it was a sheer delight to have her among us for her talk and to break bread with us afterward. After Sr. Cecelia explained how Benedictines use silence and how they arrive at decisions, one Friend concluded, "So you are the Quakers of Catholicism!" She responded, "We don't have a monopoly on that."
After lunch prepared by Norman Friends, there was time for naps, hikes, more visiting, and work on the jigsaw puzzle. In the late afternoon we came back together to take advantage of the fact that Mary Linda McKinney was among us, having driven in with her husband, Mark Wutka, from Nashville where they are members of the Meeting there. On one table, the February 2023 issue of Friends Journal lay open to her article The Divine GPS. While the men's cabin hosted a workshop on the death penalty, the main building accommodated everyone eager to learn about Faithful Meetings from this School of the Spirit program facilitator. Mary Linda launched her talk by giving us a query. What is it we each find ourselves hungry for in our meetings? The answers we shared were in some cases eye-opening, such as when the large number of Norman Friends discovered they are all yearning for the same deepening of intimacy and community.
The second half of our late afternoon workshops block gave Richard Tiffany an opportunity to explore how we are showing up for social justice and what road blocks we face. He started us off by recounting the challenges he faces as NIMBY sentiments hinder his ability to continue offering a safe place for unsheltered individuals to camp.
Fayetteville Friends provided supper, and Tina was able to squeeze in the Dwight Mission tradition of sharing a favorite poem. John Coffin led an energizing game, Noël facilitated folk dances from around the world, those who brought musical instruments were magnets for those who love to sing, and the forecast rain continued to hold off, allowing for use of the fire pit.
Sunday morning overnight steel-cut oats in the slow-cooker and leftover fruit salad hit the spot. We gathered for worship, and Karen then clerked the Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business as we all continued to feel the hole left by Rex. Friends are asked to ponder who among us might be called to serve as clerk of our AR-OK Quarterly Meeting, as well as to expect a phone call from Karen should the SCYM nominating committee spot within you gifts you may not have stopped to think could be of value to us all.
Before we knew it, our time at Lake Wister was coming to a close. Everyone pitched in to get the camp looking as clean as we found it, leaving lots of time for chatting, hugs, and prolonged goodbyes in the parking lot. See you at South Central Yearly Meeting in April!
Pardon Our Dust
Home is where the heart is, and Meeting is wherever Friends gather--whether on Zoom while a contractor guts and rebuilds a kitchen, squeezed into the front room with an electric kettle, or three and a half hours away at our AR-OK Winter Quarterly. And while Quakers around the world can and do come together as viable and vibrant monthly meetings rotating among Friends' living rooms, in spaces rented from other faith groups, or in buildings they own, we are grateful to be one of the meetings that has managed to acquire a beautiful old house as our physical home. We acknowledge those who planned and labored long and hard for this: a meeting space of our own. And so we take seriously the job of stewardship of this resource. Such sentiments arose many times in the month of February as we felt deep gratitude toward all who pitched in, especially for the Friends doing the lion's share of work: gathering bids, dealing with contractors, getting input on color choices, and so much more. Without a full complement for a House and Grounds Committee, Friends stepped up with recommendations of trustworthy, competent contractors who are desiccating damp wood, eliminating mold, sealing leaks, insulating pipes, propping up piers, installing new flooring, and more.
Relying on the technology that proved so valuable during the pandemic, we were able to meet via Zoom February 5th to continue our study of Jim Pym's book Listening to the Light: How to Bring Quaker Simplicity and Integrity into Our Lives.
The following Sunday was a blended meeting with some of us accepting our co-clerk's invitation to use a beautiful old house in Conway for that week's worship and business. At that meeting, Friends were united behind a decision to change our monthly schedule. Beginning in March, potlucks will take place on the second Sunday of each month while business will be worshipfully handled on the third Sunday.
On the 19th, thanks to work by Sister Joy, we were able to gather in the meetinghouse in spite of the kitchen still being under renovations. She very thoughtfully moved the electric kettle, put up signs directing Friends around closed areas, and made the space clean and welcoming. Online and in person, we then continued our course on compassionate communication led by David Schoen, with this week's installment focused on love and based on Robert Gonzales' book The Spirituality of Nonviolent Communication.
The last weekend in February found us geographically divided as eight came together (four online) for our usual worship (first hour was an open discussion) and five travelled to Lake Wister State Park in Oklahoma for the AR-OK Winter Quarterly Meeting. That retreat will be covered in a supplemental blog post soon.
Other tidbits of news include the following:
Beginnings and Endings
For Little Rock Friends, January was a month in which we shared with each other our aspirations for the coming year. It was also when we learned of the death of our dear Arkansas-Oklahoma Quarterly Meeting clerk, Rex Friend.
Local members and attenders were pleasantly surprised when F/friends from Caddo Area Friends Meeting, a preparatory meeting under the care of LRFM, were in town and able to stop by to worship with us on the first day of the new year. We shared with one another our aspirations for ourselves and for the world in the coming year. Some chose to put those thoughts in writing for this blog.
A deep flash freeze left many homes with burst pipes, our meetinghouse included. At times such as these, we are grateful for the technology that allows us still to conduct business, hold discussions, and worship together, as we did on the eighth of January.
In the days following, just as we were preparing to welcome him as our guest speaker on the 15th, we received news of the death of Rex Friend. Within days there was an outpouring of love and expression of deep grief on the celebration of life Facebook page set up by Laura, Rex's daughter. Little Rock Friends spent the first hour on the 15th sharing memories of Rex as well as moving forward with the work he had planned to guide us through on that day: writing letters in support of Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip's clemency bid, which comes at the end of a years-long campaign to save this man's life--a task with which Rex had been deeply involved. After watching this short video about Mr. Glossip's situation, we decided as a Meeting to compose a letter to the Oklahoma pardons and parole board in memory of Rex D. Friend. Liz Lesher, who lives in Edmond, agreed to deliver our letter by hand by the deadline--at least two weeks before the clemency board would convene in February. With David and Amanda having volunteered with editing and legal support, Liz later said that Spirit guided her in writing the following on behalf of the meeting:
Rex's memorial service was held on Friday, January 20th, at Edmond United Methodist Church. A live stream allowed us all to be present for the moving and very honest tribute.
Sponsored by Arkansas Peace & Justice Memorial Movement, a Just Communities of Arkansas Initiative, Arkansas Day of Racial Healing provided a rich slate of events and many opportunities for us to come together for racial healing all week long beginning on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. John and Kelly were two who reported back to the wider meeting after participating in some of the week's activities.
On the 22nd, we used our first hour to continue reading Jim Pym's book Listening to the Light: How to Bring Quaker Simplicity and Integrity into Your Life. For those who were present and participated, much of the focus was on the holiness of the everyday.
The end of the month found us continuing our journey of learning compassionate communication. Working from the book The Spirituality of Nonviolent Communication by Robert Gonzales, David led us through an exploration of honest expression.
With our AR-OK winter quarterly meeting now one month away, the planning is well under way. All are welcome to join us at Lake Wister Group Camp for one or both nights and any or all of the four community meals. Cost is $30 per adult, kids eat and sleep free. Register HERE, pay on site.
If the first two weeks of December were a bit routine, the last two were anything but. On the first Sunday we continued our study of Jim Pym's book Listening to the Light: How to Bring Quaker Simplicity and Integrity into Our Lives, with Aster serving as facilitator for that discussion. Second Sunday we held a Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, and the following worship hour brought out a couple of Friends who normally join only by Zoom. With two Friends joining virtually, one all the way from Edmond, OK, we were eleven in all that day.
The culmination of much planning was the seasonal gathering on the 18th. Those who had volunteered to shop for the family whom we have helped for several years now brought the wrapped gifts. (After our gathering, those were delivered to that single mother and her five children.) With Friends joining both in person and online, we totaled 17 adults and four kids! The Young Friends lit candles; each child present received the gift of a book selected by our Young Friends program director, who also presented us with two additions to the library. Featured in both a gift book and new library book was Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), an African American leader in social movements for civil rights, nonviolence, and Gay rights. He was also a Quaker. Titles given to the children or procured for the library that day include Syria's Secret Library by Mike Thomson, Troublemaker for Justice: the Story of Bayard Rustin by Jacqueline Houtman, and picture book A Song for the Unsung: Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the 1963 March on Washington by Carol Boston Weatherford.
Young Friends led us in two intergenerational crafts. We made Shrinky-Dinks using colored Sharpies, plastic sheets, and a toaster oven, and paper chains.
The potluck that is becoming a third Sunday tradition coincided with the festivities.
After the meal and good conversation, a few sang carols and other songs from Worship in Song: a Friends' Hymnal.
One family drove in from their home in the shadow of Spring Mountain. We were so happy that they and others who cannot often make it to the meetinghouse were able to join us this day.
At the end of December, a flash freeze resulted in a burst pipe and flooded kitchen. In times like these, we are grateful for the technology that allows us to come together virtually, which is just what some of us did. Those who joined online on the 25th shared on the topic of simple gifts.
What simple gifts came into your life in 2022?
Stewardship, Sustenance, and Song
Of all the Quaker values represented by the acronym SPICES, how often do we bring conscious attention to the last of these--that of being good stewards of our planet? In November, we gladly juggled calendar items to take advantage of the presence of our regular visitor from Baton Rouge Friends Meeting, Cpt. Dean Wilson. We thank him for his willingness to share with us his knowledge and experience as a longtime environmental activist and executive director of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, a non-profit and member of the Waterkeeper Alliance. Founded by Dean in 2004, its mission is to protect and restore the swamps, lakes, rivers, streams and bayous of the Atchafalaya Basin for future generations. The almost hour-long presentation to a full house was fascinating. If you would like to help Atchafalaya Basinkeeper in their quest to preserve this irreplaceable ecological treasure, visit their website. There you will find a donation button and many videos showing the vital work they do.
On the sixteenth, after chanting and worship, we had our “third Sunday” potluck. Roasted vegetables, hearty breads, veggie chili and crunchy salads were nourishment to the body while fellowship fed the soul.
Also in November, regular attender Kelly shared with us a budding Quaker tradition of interfaith chanting that she experienced at a workshop during the Arkansas-Oklahoma spring quarterly meeting and again at the fall quarterly meeting. We have Tony and Patsy Martin of Roanoke Friends Meeting to thank for planting the seeds of this spreading custom of making a joyful noise, as Tony calls it. One of the chants for which we joined our voices was this passage from Hafiz that Tony has recorded for all to use.
Save the Date
Speaking of quarterly meetings, it’s never too early to save the date on your calendar to join 20-30 other Friends from our two-state area for worship, workshops, communal meals, and enjoyment of a gorgeous natural setting. Little Rock Friends Meeting is pleased to host the AR-OK winter quarterly meeting at Lake Wister State Park in Oklahoma from February 24th to 26th, 2023. Stay tuned for details in another month or so. The cost will be nominal, and ride sharing is encouraged.
Deepening and Broadening Community
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we--like so many other faith groups around the world--found that we could still come together virtually. It turns out that virtual togetherness via Zoom was not, in the end, just a second-rate substitute for face-to-face gathering to be cast aside as soon as lower COVID case numbers allowed for the reopening of the meetinghouse. We discovered that Zoom was an invaluable tool for accessibility, one that allows those kept home by illness, injury, disability or a great distance of miles to participate in the life of the Meeting. At the same time, many of us yearned once again for hugs, handshakes, and hot soup. Thus as the numbers of active cases in this county began to fall, we found ourselves seasoning from month to month the decision of whether to reopen the meetinghouse.
The path back to meeting in person has not been linear. Thanks to a decision to make Zoom and a box full of peripherals a permanent part of our meeting, we have found ourselves able to respond nimbly to unexpected spikes in cases in the state as well as to very localized flareups, such as happened in October. It was not easy to make the call to cancel the 'third Sunday' potluck so soon after having scheduled that for each third Sunday.
Happily, we found many other ways to continue building community in the month of October. We continued our journey in learning Compassionate Communication under the guidance of David. Being able to communicate in a non-violent way and connect in empathy with those we meet certainly strengthens community. On the third Sunday, Aster led us in discussing chapter one of Jim Pym's book Listening to the Light: How to Bring Quaker Simplicity and Integrity into Our Lives. Aster is a devoted builder of community; he offers his zines around town and to all who pass by the literature table in the meetinghouse.
A discussion on the history of our monthly meeting led by relative newcomer Jenn on the twenty-third started the flow of a wellspring of knowledge from older generations to younger ones on the roots and founding of Little Rock Friends Meeting.
Not only does our Quaker community stretch across time from founders to newcomers and across Zoom to bridge distance and other barriers, but it is a building block within a wider Quaker community. Every three months we have the opportunity to meet up in a beautiful setting with members of the other Friends Meetings and worship groups scattered around this two-state area. The first Sunday in October found three from Little Rock Friends Meeting missing from our midst, as they had travelled to Lake Wister State Park to spend the weekend worshiping, learning, singing, dancing, and breaking bread with Friends from Green Country (Tulsa), Stillwater, Fayetteville, Norman, Oklahoma City, and beyond.
What does community mean to you?
Celebrating Peace Week
September's highlights in the life of our meeting included participation in Arkansas Peace Week, the creation of our own tee shirts by Young Friends, and seeing Young Friend Imanu'elle read her essay at the Capitol rotunda after taking second place in her grade in the Arkansas Peace Week essay contest.
Our first-hour discussions ranged from beginning Jim Pym's Listening to the Light: How to Bring Quaker Simplicity and Integrity into Our Lives to a brief overview of Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) by John Coffin, who has helped facilitate AVP workshops with inmates at Tucker Unit of the Arkansas Department of Corrections for about eight years. In partnership with the Arkansas Coalition for Peace and Justice, Little Rock Friends hope to expand AVP beyond the walls of Tucker and into our local community, including into schools.
We took Arkansas Peace Week as an opportunity to remind the public that our doors are always open; we welcome everyone to join us on any given Sunday for discussion hour (10:00), worship hour (11:00), or a bit of fellowship afterward (12:00-12:30ish). Colorful banners affixed to the meetinghouse's historic stone and wrought iron wall helped raise awareness of this yearly event.