September 26, 2010

Invite a visitor to lunch (a la Martin Kelley)

The other day, I started catching up on some overdue Quaker blog reading, and I came across Martin's post on The Biggest Most Vibranty Most Outreachiest Program Ever. Like other readers, I chuckled as I read how EXTREME a program like his could be.

I wanted to comment, to share a bit of my own story with this sort of OUTRAGEOUS approach to outreach, except at the time, there was a message that said "Comments are closed." What better way is there to get me into a blogging mode, than to realize I can't post a comment on someone else's blog?!

(Comments appear to be open now, by the way. But this is too good of an opportunity for me to pass up.)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I was exposed to Quaker worship while I was at a private college whose origins have its roots in Quakerism. A handful of students would attend worship on First Days, but if someone from the nearby Meeting invited us students to lunch, I don't recall taking the Friend up on the offer.

Years later, I would find myself among Milwaukee Friends in Wisconsin. Theirs is a warm, friendly environment, with one greeter in particular who often hugs the long-time worshipers as they arrive on First Day. (She appropriately offers a handshake if you are unknown to her!)

After worshiping a couple of years there, I attended my first FGC Gathering, where I was struck by the number of people who invited one another to go to lunch together, following the morning activities.

The first First Day immediately after I got back from the Gathering, I rose my hand during announcements and said something like, "I got so used to going to lunch with Friends while I was away, I want to ask others here to go to lunch with me after worship, if anyone's interested."

I think three or four worshipers approached me afterward... and we ended up going to lunch weekly after that, with others joining us occasionally, for at least a couple years!

Later, that practice of inviting someone to lunch morphed into my asking an older, experienced Friend to provide me with eldership--which we did, of course, over lunch each month.

Now it's even years after that: When Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group happens to have a visitor, we always have some fellowship afterward--and we have at least one Friend who has a gift for inviting visitors and newcomers into the conversation. Plus, when we have a potluck, we welcome visitors and newcomers to join us for that, even if the meal is small. When we have a planned guest or speaker, we typically have a potluck at that time, too.

But Martin in his post goes beyond the action of inviting a person to lunch. The next step involves the preparedness and the willingness to talk about Quakerism, to explain our peculiar faith tradition, to connect our activities with our beliefs and vice versa. Again, the worship group is blessed to have a few experienced Friends who can move us from introductions to answering questions about Quakerism and then back to more casual conversation.

If we skip that step--asking the visitor, "Do you have any questions about Quakerism?" or "What was your experience like during worship?" or even "What did you know about Quakerism before you came here?--we risk perpetuating the perception that Quaker meetings are really more like a social club where we don't talk about God in our lives, a perception which in turn can be carried by visitors into meetings for worship.

These days, especially when I attend the larger worship at the monthly meeting on First Days, I've noticed in myself a growing willingness to introduce myself to someone I don't know when worship breaks. After all, we're shaking hands anyway, so why not just add a quick, "G'morning. I'm Liz; nice to meet you"? So far, folks have been willing to tell me their name in return.

From there, it's just a short reach to add an additional ten words or so that Martin suggests:

Would you like to join me for a bite afterward?



Martin Kelley said...

Hi Liz: Thanks for taking the ball and running with it. I think the comments on The Biggest Most Vibranty Most Outreachiest Program Ever are back open. Sorry you had trouble, it was a small problem related to moving the seven-year-old blog to a new blogging platform.

This morning I posted about a visit we made to conservative Mennonites yesterday. They invited us to lunch (yea!) and it was a good chance to see what a difference it can make to an outsider. We learned much more about their history, lifestyle and beliefs at lunch than we did at their service. Sometimes Friends will say that the heart of our faith is the worship and while worship is great, the fruits of that on the other 167 hours of the week are easily as important.

Glad you've already been involved in the ministry of mealtime hospitality: I think this is a "mark" of Convergent Friends. It should also be a mark of any spiritual community rooted in the Christian tradition--what is a traditional mass than a symbolic re-enactment of Jesus' last meal.

Anonymous said...

Liz: I love this idea, and would love to see it take off again. I have heard stories about one of the founding couples in our meeting doing this probably 40+ years ago. It is one of the reasons my parents stuck with the meeting.

Now, however, it feels like Sunday is just another busy work day, and so many people have things they have to rush off to, that it becomes hard to make the offer, much less have it be accepted. We live in a busy, suburban area, and have two young kids who are now at the age where they often are going in other directions from us, but still need us to drive them places. Plus, there are things in my husband's and my life that are important to us besides meeting life, too (though we've tried to weed some of those things out). The main thing I'm struggling with now is how to get past the busyness of regular life so that I can find these moments--spontaneously or otherwise--in which to really connect with others and hear about their spiritual journeys. It's a continual struggle, and one that I find ebbs and flows, given the time of year, and what is going on.

Thanks for this post, and for always making me think about things that perhaps I make more difficult then they need to be!! ;-)

In faith,


Liz Opp said...

Martin -

"Sometimes Friends will say that the heart of our faith is the worship..."

I often am one of those Friends who says this, but I am beginning to rethink it.

It used to be that worship was the heart of our faith--but that was when our Quaker worship communities interacted with one another quite a bit during the rest of our week--those other 167 hours you refer to, Martin.

As we lose these regular visits, phone calls, and other opportunities to learn of one another's lives in the Spirit, I have to wonder if something significant from our communal worship experience is also lost.

So now I am beginning to wonder if worship, coupled with an intentional covenant community, operates more like a binary star system, with each component sharing an interdependence with the other, to keep each one in motion, in balance...

Mia -

Thanks for your continued presence here and elsewhere...

Your current experience exemplifies a subtle dimension of our worship communities that seldom gets talked about: the role of the meeting as a whole, as compared to what any single individual can do.

Of course parents of young children--and aging seniors of failing health--won't be able to participate in the life of the meeting in the same way that other Friends can.

Oh dear, I find I have lots more to say in response to your comment, especially around the concept of "critical mass" within a Friends Meeting, so I'll save it for a separate post...


Anonymous said...

We do a couple of things. We have a monthly "newcomers potluck" at someone's home with a number of "oldcomers" attending. That really only works for people who have started attending regularly. (Especially since we keep forgetting to announce it!) We also ask someone to be the "Quaker in the corner" at the end of meeting and answer questions about our meeting or Quakerism. I have the impression that not many people take advantage of that. It puts too much on the shoulders of the visitor. I think you're right that it would be better for a self-designated Quaker not in the corner to approach the visitors. Sometimes that happens. Our meeting is certainly growing. But it could be better.


Liz Opp said...

First of all, before I forget, here's a different link to Tom Gates' paper on covenant community. (The link in my previous comment doesn't seem to work.)

Secondly, Rosemary -

I agree with you, that some of our current, well-intentioned ways of outreach--like having Friends gather away from the meetinghouse--just aren't as accessible and welcoming to newcomers as we think they are. We always must take into account how people might perceive our outreach, not just expect them to immediately grasp our heartfelt intention!