May 27, 2007

Hard choices to make at the Gathering

This week I sent an email off to the assistant clerk of the Workshops Committee for FGC's 2007 Gathering in River Falls, Wisconsin. Basically the email said:

Hi, K--. I'd like for you and me to start thinking about what 2-3 events we each really would like to be able to attend or participate in during the Gathering, so that we can support one another in helping get to those things. I hate the idea of building up resentment or having regrets about missing something because we've forced ourselves both to attend to the onsite work of the Workshops Committee without giving forethought to how else we'd hoped to have spent our time. And maybe only one of us needs to be "on call" at any given time, for the most part...
Between the two of us, we'll have daily meetings to attend each afternoon to provide updates to the larger Gathering Committee, the Gathering co-clerks, and the FGC staff who support all of us. We'll also have our own share of mishaps, concerns, and messages to respond to, and I can't imagine both of us would enjoy doing only that for the entire week...

...not when there are 1,500 other Quakers to meet, worship with, and play with!

I've begun making my list. I'm afraid there's a few more than just "2-3 events" that I'll want to get to!

  • Attend with my sweetie at least one of the wildly popular "noon sings" that happens each weekday immediately after workshops. The "noon sings" are a time to sing from Annie and Peter Blood's popular Rise Up Singing with all the heart, love, and joy a person can muster. There are dozens of devoted noon-sing attenders and families, and handfuls more who drop in. It's hard to imagine missing all of the noon sings during the week, but it might be a stretch for me to get to one, let alone two of them.

  • Have lunch or dinner with my dear friend MC, who I've known for about 8 years, ever since she was about 5 or 6 years old. We see each other, if we're lucky, only twice a year: once at yearly meeting and once at Gathering. Boy, do I ever see my younger self in MC! The shyness borne out of feeling different from her peers; the fierce resolve to be who she is; the concern that she'll hurt her friends' feelings by being who she is; the yearning to be understood, even if what she's going through doesn't make logical sense. I do what I can to allow MC the space to continue discovering herself, and it's a blessing to be invited into a young person's life the way that MC has invited me into hers... I'll definitely want to carve out time with her.

  • Be present to prepare for and facilitate the interest group with Robin that I've already committed to. Just thinking about spending time together and worshipfully considering how to structure the interest group gets me excited. I love witnessing how the Spirit shapes us and moves us and brings us together as we share our faith journeys in formats like workshops and interest groups.

  • So right there, that's three things, three events, three people! But also on my "would have regrets if I didn't get a chance to see or do this" list are:

  • Get together with my dear, sweet friends N & P, who have been dealing with a chronic disease in the family that has been hard and tender to witness as it takes its toll... These two fFriends are family to me. When my partner was suddenly unable to travel to help move her own parents from Delaware to Florida, P flew with me to pack up what was to her a complete stranger's house. And in contrast to my own folks who were slow in coming around to support our wedding under the care of the meeting, N & P made the 3-1/2 hour drive each way to serve on our clearness committee, which met several times. I'd feel bad if I didn't have a chance to spend some quality time with them at Gathering.

  • Attend the Wednesday night performance of In the Heart of the Beast (HOBT). (I think HOBT will be the sleeper event of the Gathering.) This amazing, family-friendly theater group will be working with one or two groups of Junior Gathering to create oversized puppets, masks, and other props that will help tell the story of the Good Samaritan, in response to the Gathering's theme, "...but who is my neighbor?" If I were to combine going to HOBT with my meet-up with MC and with N & P and with my sweetie, that would take care of all those opportunities in just one evening!

  • To cap off the week of noon sings, there's usually a very fun Friday night last hurrah sing as well. If the group has been in fine voice all week ("fine" is defined as a willingness to sing at all!), this final sing is amazing and very Spirit-filled.

  • Attend at least a couple of Meetings for Worship in the afternoons, under the care of FLGBTQC. These meetings for worship are consistently among the most grounded, most tender opportunities I've experienced to listen as a people for God in our hearts.

  • I'm sure I'm forgetting a number of other events I'd want to attend and people who are incredibly important to me with whom I'd like to "do lunch." I'm also sure that I will be mindful of carrying out the service that has been asked of me, in my role as clerk of the Workshops Committee.

    After all, that was an opportunity last year that I consciously stepped into. I haven't looked back.



    Liz in the Mist said...

    That is quite a list! Mine is not as extensive YET ha--I am a morning coordinator for group C. My main lists consists of making sure I have time to catch up with people! I would love to meet some bloggers!

    Martin Kelley said...

    Hi LizOpp: as you're quickly figuring out, once you get to a certain level of responsibility you all but cease to attend Gathering. There's rewards in giving such hospitality to all the attenders, of course, but the cost is your own active participation.

    At Gathering, I took most opportunities I got to ask folks how they were enjoying the Gathering and what were the high points. I asked not just because I'm a friendly guy, but also because I only experienced small and specific Gathering elements and missed the big picture.

    I found I also had to balance my official responsibilities and shadow ones. I often pursued my own initiatives to supplement what I thought were gaps in the Gathering experience, the classic example being my work with young adult Friends and co-leading a youth ministries workshop back when it was off the radar of FGC leadership. I often had to choose whether to be a good staffer--sitting in on a morning staff meeting even though I could all but guarantee I'd be listening to the same three people and could get everything I needed in a five-minute update later--or supporting an initiative I thought important. Even without this dual role, there's a certain amount of discernment needed to decide how to apportion your physical energies and spiritual focus. Who knows that the work staying close to the various friends you mentioned won't be the most "important" work you'll be doing all week.

    Good luck and remember that you're God's servant in all this. It's not your responsibility for everything to work properly, only to be faithful. Faithfulness doesn't mean blowing off responsibilities for mere whims, only that within all the responsibilies are small Openings (capital-O) that we need to be able to hear. Just realizing that someone "unimportant" next to you in the lunch line wants to talk with you for some reason can be God's work.

    Liz Opp said...

    Hey, Lovin' Life Liz!

    Hopefully Way will open for some sort of bloggers-and-other-interested Friends' meet-up. I'm glad to know you will be on campus... Maybe bloggers need to have a special sticker on our nametags:

    blue dot = first time Gathering attender
    red dot = part of Gathering Committee (I think)
    ??? = blogger... Maybe a quill/pen-and-ink?

    We'll have to see...

    And Martin -

    Thanks for the tips of balancing (or not) the responsibilities with the actual participation. I appreciate the reminder, too, about paying attention to the Openings and leadings of the Spirit, despite the meetings that are no doubt going to be at least listed on the docket.

    Already I've had one conversation with a Friend who has a vested interest in the workshop that is dedicated to members of the Gathering Committee--I just don't feel like that is where God wants me and/or that is what will feed and sustain me. So far, Way feels open for me to take it a day at a time...

    And yes, I am often reminding myself that the week at Gathering--and all the weeks leading up to it--are about being a servant of the Spirit.