Neighborhood Food Pantry Coming to the Meetinghouse

Today San Francisco Monthly Meeting came to unity to create a neighborhood food pantry at the meetinghouse for the San Francisco Food Bank. The process officially began in November, when the proposal was first made to business meeting. The second month, we found unity to apply to the Food Bank to become a site, but not to actually be a site. They said yes, told us what day and time it would be, and then we had more questions.

So last month we invited a Food Bank staffer to be on hand to answer questions -- lots of questions -- and then we discussed logistics among ourselves for a while after she left. After that, I was kind of exhausted. I had hoped we might actually get to discerning about whether this was a leading or not. Well, discernment goes better if you have more energy, and you don't begin when you're already exhausted, so it was wisely suggested we had done enough that day.

As meeting clerk, I tried to reduce this month's agenda to a minimum to keep our energy level high enough for the work we had to do, but of course other things crept onto it nonetheless.

Still, we got through the other business fairly efficiently, and so came time for the food pantry discernment.

I laid out the history of this proposal, as well as the activities that had preceded it.

(I meant to mention that a person in our meeting had, as a staffer for the AFSC at the time, founded the lovely and successful Heart of the City Farmers Market in the low-income Tenderloin neighborhood, but I forgot. Robin and I used to shop there often when we lived nearby. The same person went on to found a regional food co-op called SHARE, and our meeting hosted one site for the co-op. Other people organized monthly dinners at a homeless shelter for several years in the 90s. So there is a long history of food activism in our meeting.)

I laid out the opportunities and the challenges, which had all been raised in the previous few business meetings.

I then read a section from Pacific Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice:
The Meeting’s work of discernment is a corporate search. The Clerk does not direct the communication toward certain predetermined goals, but keeps dialogue open, promoting free and full exploration of the matter under consideration, while fostering a sense of the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Clerk is responsible for discerning and stating the sense of the Meeting and presenting a minute when unity has been reached.Members of the Meeting may sometimes assist the Clerk in this. If a member believes that the Clerk has incorrectly discerned the sense of the Meeting, it is appropriate to speak up. Similarly, someone may propose that unity actually has been reached and suggest that a minute should be recorded.
I then asked Friends to settle into worship, to clerk ourselves, and to speak from the silence as led without waiting to be recognized, which is otherwise our usual practice.

The first period of silence was extremely long for me. What would be said? Eventually a Friend spoke, an elder of the meeting (though he's not that old!), to say he felt it is a calling of the Spirit to our meeting. He went on to list a number of practical and logistical concerns our Property and Finance Committee had identified, but they were about implementation, not any stops for having the food pantry itself.

The discussion continued along similar lines in quite a deep way, with many Friends rising to speak. Eventually, as I was about to suggest we had found unity, another Friend did it for me, just as Faith and Practice said could be done. So that felt like a good sign to me -- that I was sensing the same things others were.

One thing I appreciated was that what I had to say as an individual had been said, so there was no need for me to rise, step to the side of the clerks' table, and speak as an individual. (Yay, I clerked myself!)

I asked if Friends had a sense of unity, and there was assent in the form of nods and a few spoken yeses.

Having had numerous conversations about this topic with people in the meeting in the last month, I had already had a sense of unity emerging before this business meeting. So my last bit of preparation had been to compose a draft minute for testing if it seemed appropriate.

I read the draft, and indeed, it was pretty close to what the meeting approved, with a few substantive things added about the charge to the committee organizing the food pantry.

I asked if Friends approved the minute as amended, and they said yes.

A Friend who is visiting San Francisco from Australia for the year said, "May I do a little dance?" She then stood up, raised her hands, and did a little circle dance in place. It was in keeping with the joyous spirit of the moment.

There is undoubtedly a lot of work to do, and a lot of volunteers to recruit. But I think with God's help, and each other's, we can do it.

Our minute ended with a sentence to the effect of: "Above all, we pray for the Spirit's guidance in helping us faithfully maintain this work." May it be so.


Linda J Wilk said...

What a wonderful accounting of Quaker process, Friend, for the benefit of us Friends, but also for the enrichment of others who may find their way here.

That is a side gift to the larger gift your meeting has accepted stewardship of. In a time when many food banks are closing (at least in my area of WV) you meeting has found a leading to start a new one! I too am dancing for joy, and will hold your meeting in the Light as you go forward.
Linda Wilk

anj said...

Thank for writing this. I love Quaker process. And i love that your meeting proceeded with such care to find unity and discern leading. It is such a beautiful example of who we are when we lean into our practices.

I too am dancing for joy.

Chris M. said...

Awww... thanks, Linda and Anj, for your comments and your dancing!

Yes, I am glad that we are able to open a new service when some others are having to close theirs.

I do hope that these vignettes on my blog can serve others as case studies for Quaker process, with its ups and downs, as the Spirit blows back and forth where it will.