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!