Write to think, think to write

I know I still have things to say.

More important, I have things to think and I must say or write before I know I think them.

I only know this because I wrote that in my journal the other day!


10th Anniversary of San Francisco Meeting Vigil for Peace

Well, I left San Francisco Friends Meeting, but it hasn't left me -- thanks to the magic of meeting email lists. This report came through and its author, Markley Morris, agreed that I could post this here.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

10th Anniversary of San Francisco Meeting Vigil for Peace

Last Thursday was the 10th anniversary of our vigil. The first vigil was held on October 11, 2001, the same week U.S. bombing of Afghanistan began.

There was a wonderful turnout. At 12:30 Supervisor John Avalos arrived and presented the attached proclamation to the vigil. Note that it is signed by all eleven San Francisco Supervisors. After this, Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus gave a blessing and we resumed our vigil.

For photos by Sean McConnell see http://www.flickr.com/photos/diocal/sets/72157627839290668/

The vigil continues. Please join us whenever you can from noon to 1:00 every Thursday (except federal holidays) at the old federal building at the corner of Larkin Street and Golden Gate Avenue, San Francisco.

In peace, Markley


Last Day during My Sabbatical

As mentioned in my last post, I've been blessed to be able to take the summer off of paid work. Well, I had a lot of unpaid work to do, so it's not like I didn't keep busy. I did get to eat a few bonbons -- actually, ice cream and donuts more than bonbons. But I didn't blog as much as I had hoped. So be it.

Today, 9/25/11, was my last day before I go back to full-time work. It was a full day.

I went to Bible study at Green Street Friends Meeting. It was led by Walter Hjelt Sullivan. (It was thanks to Walter that Robin and I found a place to rent in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, close enough to walk to Green Street Meeting. He and his wife Traci live a block away, and he heard about the house where we moved. We knew them from when they were co-directors at Ben Lomond Quaker Center near Santa Cruz, Calif.)

Walter chose Ephesians 6:10-17, about the armor of God. It was offputting to some Friends, but I thought it was a great reminder that God gives us the strength and the tools -- spiritual weapons, even -- to meet challenges and, yes, even evil. "Stand firm," the text says; it sounds just like George Fox. I was reminded of something another parent told me this week at a school soccer game, when he was picking up plastic shopping bags blowing by: "Be an upstander, not a bystander!"

Then meeting for worship, where I was mulling over the armor of God, breastplate of righteousness, and so on in a contemporary context. Perhaps this: Put on the bicycle helmet of carbon footprint reduction, the bulletproof vest of faith, the organic cotton t-shirts and shorts of righteousness, and the sweatshop-free sneakers of peace. (I'm not sure what the sword of the Spirit would be.) This train of thought did not quite rise to the occasion of standing and delivering it as vocal ministry.

Afterwards, Robin & I had a nice chat with a fellow parent of an 8th grader at our sons' school. Then we headed home, where after lunch I helped Robin get to the SEPTA train to connect with Amtrak to a conference on fundraising for Quaker organizations (she tweeted this from the Amtrak train).

At home, Younger Son wanted to watch "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" on DVD (we don't have TV but we have a computer, and we only own a couple of DVDs, so...). Then we went outside to do yard work while Older Son did homework.

Here's what Younger Son found in the grass:

And here are the non-motorized, carbon-footprint-reducing tools we used on the lawn and edges:

And here is Younger Son, still smiling after working:

Scrambled eggs for dinner, followed by washing two nights' worth of dishes, a blog post, and hustling the boys to showers and to bed. A truly satisfying day to end a truly blessed time. I am grateful to my sons, my wife, our new and old friends, and the Spirit for allowing these many blessings to flow.


Last Weekday in My Sabbatical

I've had the blessing of being able to not work for three months during our move from San Francisco to Philadelphia so Robin could be executive secretary at Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) Section of the Americas.

That changes on Monday, 9/26/11, as I start a new job in Center City doing fund development for the Community Design Collaborative, a community design center that provides pro bono predevelopment design services to nonprofit organizations, offers unique volunteer opportunities for design professionals, and raises awareness about the importance of design in community revitalization.

I am still hoping to post about the cross-country drive I took with our boys this summer. Meanwhile, I have been baking quite a bit, as well as making family dinners. Here is what I did today to mark the end of my free time.

Step 1 doesn't look too great on first glance:

But then, oh then, order appears from chaos:

Cookies in the oven, gonna watch 'em rise! Cookies in the oven, gonna watch 'em rise!
They turned out to be quite tasty, though quite soft. My suspicion is that the oven runs a little cooler than indicated. Robin thinks the extremely high humidity today is responsible.

In any event, I am truly blessed to have had this summer off from paid work. Thank you, God, from whom all blessings flow. Of course, I still had plenty of work to do, it just wasn't paid for with cash. And I certainly had the opportunity to touch "that which is eternal" at times in the process.


Board Binder

Among the transitions I've made this summer, in moving from San Francisco to Philadelphia, I also took on a new volunteer role: clerk of the Board of Trustees of Friends Publishing Corporation, the publisher of Friends Journal magazine.

I know it's un-Quakerly to say it this way, but here's my new favorite status symbol, which came in the mail today:

I'm excited and honored to be a part of the organization. With Gabe Ehri as the new Executive Director and Martin Kelley as new Editor, the organization is ramping up its online presence.

I hope you already subscribe. If not, click here. Or, choose the new digital subscription and save paper & reduce mailing costs. Also, letters will be going out to Friends meetings about student subscriptions shortly. If you know a student who could benefit, please consider this.

Be sure to look at the recently published list of focus topics for 2012 and 2013.

Finally, there will be an event at the Arch Street Meetinghouse in Philadelphia on October 1, 2011, to celebrate and appreciate Susan Corson-Finnerty and Bob Dockhorn, who are both retiring this year after many years of service to the Journal. (Email celebration -at- friendsjournal.org to learn more; replace "-at-" with "@".)

I look forward to serving alongside my fellow Board members and the staff to continue this ministry of Quaker communications and outreach.


Sound of Way Moving, though Stuttering a Bit

In spare moments, I reflect on many small aspects of our family's move this summer from South San Francisco, Calif., to Philadelphia, Penna.

The first part of the summer was magical. Getting everything packed was a challenge. The boys finished school June 8, we had packed a lot but certainly not everything when we left June 10 for Santa Barbara, where there was a family sendoff. Then Robin flew to Philadelphia to start her job with Friends World Committee for Consultation Section of the Americas (FWCC), while I left the boys at Camp Avocado (aka Camp Grandma & Grandpa -- they have an avocado orchard) and headed back to South San Francisco to finish packing.

Then I went back to Santa Barbara to pick up the boys, and we headed east, stopping first in Las Vegas to see our good Friend Jennifer C. and family. I've posted some photos to Facebook, and that's about as far as I've gotten in processing the trip for myself, let alone others.

It went really well, and was a special and memorable time. I didn't manage to blog as we went, so I've been hoping to summarize it at least for myself now that we've been here a while.

Yet I haven't had the bandwidth -- psychologically or, until recently, technologically -- to take time to compose any kind of coherent reflections, even for myself let alone for my blog. For one thing, there's been all the tasks that go with moving house across country and establishing one's legal identity, finding services, etc., while also making sure 13 Year Old and 9 Year Old have at least their minimum daily requirements met.

Our 8-year-old laptop -- our one and only home computer -- perished on the last day of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, July 31. After a while, I bought a replacement, a much better machine at half the price of what we paid for the old one.

So, the last few days I've been taking time to set things back up on the new machine. Today I got back an external hard drive from the repair shop, where they were at least able to save the data. Yes, we had backups, but they were incomplete and on different media (CDs, online storage), none of which was ample enough to hold it all. So better to get the external drive and use that consistently.

Ironically, when I was in the middle of writing the paragraph about the laptop crashing, our home Internet connection dropped out. So, even now bandwidth is a precious commodity not to be taken for granted. (Especially this week, when Verizon workers are striking to preserve some of their benefits, at a time when, I understand, top execs are very high earners and profits are high.)

Somehow, this is how my life has seemed since we got to Philadelphia -- fragmentary, disjointed, full of (summer) light and heat, few clumsy moments and dropped connections, along with fun trips, cicadas, big trees, historic buildings, and some especially hot weather... Yet it has felt right and good to be here, in support of Robin's post as Quaker diplomat with FWCC Section of the Americas.

And even though I may not notice it as much as I could or should, God has been smoothing the way for us all summer, so far, laying low the hills and filling the valleys that have inevitably arisen. Perhaps it's all the people who have been praying for Robin and also our whole family. Thanks, everyone.


Arthur Larrabee's Quaker Model for Leadership

I'm at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting summer sessions for the first time. It's comfortingly similar to Pacific Yearly Meeting, though with some striking differences I'm still thinking about. Meanwhile, here is a summary of the talk by Arthur Larrabee, General Secretary for PhYM, on the Yearly Meeting's theme this year, "Powerful Beyond Measure: Trusting the Call to Leadership."

Arthur Larrabee’s Top Six Recommendations for Quaker Leaders
as delivered at evening plenary to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 7/29/2011

1. Think globally about your meeting (or organization).
What is God’s big idea for us? Take time for retreat & reflection. Consider not just the temporal health but also the spiritual health. Consider our diversity and our oneness.

2. Share with us the fruits of your big-picture thinking.
Then release those thoughts back to the meeting. By releasing, we welcome the Spirit to come among us.

3. Take risks.
Be vulnerable in service to the meeting. Ideas and truth will inevitably trigger resistance. We need leaders to be fearless. Don’t fear rejection of ideas. Accept the result either way with equanimity.

4. Be spiritually grounded.
We expect you to be Spirit-led and open to the Spirit.

5. Test and season your ideas with the community.
The community’s temporal and spiritual input is necessary for discernment. The Quaker model is not the “power over” model of leadership.

6. Find primary satisfaction as a leader in the success of your meeting or organization.
We don’t expect you to be egoless or not want recognition of your gifts and skills. However, we expect you to measure your success by the success of the community.
- - -
To conclude, Arthur said, “Quakers have always had leaders… We need to be clear about what we expect of our leaders. With shared expectations, we’ll know what will make for trustworthy leadership."


A San Francisco Elegy

We're in process on our cross-country move. Robin is in Philadelphia -- in fact, she had her first day on the job at FWCC, also yesterday. And meanwhile, our children are at Camp Grandma & Grandpa while I finish packing.

Yesterday I got to spend some time in San Francisco while waiting for some car maintenance to be completed. It was a beautiful day to explore the southern Mission and lower Bernal Heights. Finally some bright Northern California sunshine, air relatively clean from all the rain, and no fog, yet still pleasantly cool.

First, I went for coffee, snack, and wireless at the Nervous Dog.

Then, I took a walk. It was getting toward lunchtime. Some friends had told us about Phat Philly, a Philadelphia-themed restaurant on 24th Street near Mission, so I decided to wander up there.

I went over to Guerrero Street, the route by which we drove our kids to school every morning. There is a relatively new "parklet" there that was created by closing off part of a little-used, diagonal intersection. It looked interesting from a moving car, so it was nice to actually partake of the walkability of the site by walk.
Along the way, I found Pi.
Open every day at 3:14 PM! And hated on Yelp:
And then, there it was: Phat Philly!
I had a pepper steak. It wasn't perhaps "authentic" in that they had gourmet steak, and they had veggie options available, which is great. They did have lots of ketchup available (as well as Tapatio hot sauce for that California touch), a Pennsylvania baseball team on TV (though it was the Pirates), and Tastykakes!! I used to bring a Tastykake krimpet in my school lunch almost every day when I was in grade school in New Jersey.
Lunch bag in hand, krimpet-less today, I went back to the parklet. The plaza there has some benches as well as a few chairs and a couple of eucalyptus logs.

I ate my lunch and finished reading David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries. It was fun reading about NYC's bold steps to make the streets more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly while sitting in a San Francisco example of a similar effort.

Across the street is the fabulous Mitchell's Ice Cream. Yum! But not this time.

After lunch I wandered aimlessly along Mission Street for a while. This stretch of street has chain stores (Safeway and Walgreens), Spanish-speaking attorneys, affordable housing, market rate housing, a gas station, car repair shops, a hardware store, little grocery and liquor stores, money-changing places, lots of taquerias of Mexican, Salvadorean, or Guatemalan persuasion, a panaderia (Mexican bakery), yuppie coffee shops (Nervous Dog), a Cambodian restaurant, a Pizza Hut and two Indian restaurants -- one of which is also a pizza joint! In short, a higgledy-piggledy, thriving, mixed-use and mixed-income urban neighborhood.

This was written into the concrete near the Nervous Dog:
An appropriate term for contemporary postindustrial capitalism, in my opinion.

From there, I chose to rise the actual heights of Bernal and walked a block up the hill. To my delight, there was a mini-park on Coleridge.
There was a small playground and a nice walkway with benches and shade:
And it all opened up on a spectacular view west, toward Noe Valley, the Castro, and Twin Peaks:
Twin Peaks has a giant red AIDS-awareness ribbon on it right now. It's hard to see with my lo-rez cell phone photo, but it's there:
Finding my way back downhill, I called the car shop and they had just finished the work. It was time to drive back to South San Francisco (the Industrial City) and resume packing for the move. I'm very much looking forward to exploring to Philadelphia, and yet will also miss San Francisco.


Blog posts that never were...

I have a list of possible blog posts that I was hoping to write but didn't when they were fresh.

There's a low chance I'll get to many or any of these by now, given that we're gearing up to move to Philadelphia (see Robin's post about it), so I thought that would be an interesting post in itself.
  • Reflections on reading Pink Dandelion's Introduction to Quakerism
  • Reflections on reading Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation
  • Reflections on reading George Lakoff's Whose Freedom? The battle over America's most important idea
  • SF "Fiends" School t-shirt (limited edition sold to benefit 8th grade class trip--there, that's all I really had to say about that)
  • Berkeley Meeting had an introduction to Quakerism workshop back in early May
  • Naomi Klein's appearance on "Democracy Now" back on March 9 -- taking on climate change is and has to be political; one can't rely "merely" on scientific and environmental evidence to make the case by itself.
  • Isn't Chris Hedges' challenge to liberalism more relevant to most liberal unprogrammed Quakers than Rob Bell's challenge to fundamentalism?
  • Description the lesson I taught at College Park Quarterly Meeting in mid-May (I still hope to post the outline, at least)
I had also hoped to say more about Quaker Heritage Day, way back in February... Oh, well! Again, here's one of Robin's posts about that.

[Updated: Added the bit about Quarterly Meeting.]


State of San Francisco Friends Meeting 2011

It's 9:15 pm on Seventhday (Saturday), 4/30/2011. My term as clerk of San Francisco Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) will technically end at midnight.

Our Quaker meeting appoints its clerks on a one-year basis, and I was approved four years in a row. Now, it's time for me to lay down this role. I knew it was time even before we decided to move to Philadelphia for Robin's new job. I leave without feeling particularly burned out, a sense of accomplishment, and a certainty that if I stayed much longer I would burn out. So it's good.

As my last official act, I sent a copy of our annual "state of the meeting" report to College Park Quarterly Meeting and Pacific Yearly Meeting, the two regional and super-regional bodies of Quakers in Northern California and related areas.

The report is pretty long as these things go. For completeness, I'm posting it below.

Thank you to San Francisco Friends for allowing me to be of service this way. It has felt like the right choice, and now it's time for our F/friend Stephen Matchett to take up the clerkship. This will be his second time doing so, and it feels right, too.

- - - - - - - -

San Francisco Monthly Meeting
State of the Society Report, 4/10/2011

Friends discussed the state of the Society at a regular meeting for business on 3/13/2011, and the meeting clerk subsequently wrote this report.

Spiritual Health
Overall, the spiritual health of the meeting is good. The weekly Firstday meeting for worship is a time of deep waiting. This sense of depth is typically maintained when there is vocal ministry, even when there are several messages. A midweek meeting for worship was moved to Wednesday in the past year, and serves as a small but gathered fellowship for those who attend, often including newcomers.

The meeting for business is held as a spiritual exercise, truly a meeting for worship with a concern for business. This has been commented on both by long-time members and by a couple visiting from Australia for a year. One Friend said, “Sometimes I think meeting for business is more spiritual than meeting for worship.” The clerk has continued to invite a minister among us to report at each meeting. This has led to a greater appreciation of one another’s gifts and callings, as well as offering a grounded start to each business meeting.

Friends have made efforts to share their spiritual lives. Notably, a women’s retreat at Sierra Friends Center accomplished this for nearly 20 women, plus several children. Out of it has come other events, such as an occasional women’s Bible study group, and at least two requests for membership. The Friendly 8s potluck groups have dwindled to just two, and so this spring, Ministry and Oversight called for participants and began matching up new groups for fellowship and conversation.

We still sometimes have trouble processing situations with difficult or challenging people. Ministry and Oversight Committee regularly discusses past situations as well as the possibility of developing guidelines for what to do in general. However, the committee has not found clarity on what to bring to the meeting as a whole. This feels like an area where we are somewhat stuck.

The meeting has been able to find unity on larger undertakings, including the creation of a Fund for Leadings and the first approval of an application to it, and the establishment of a neighborhood food pantry at the meetinghouse.

Spiritual Formation
Our weekly Quaker study group and twice-monthly Bible study group continue to be at the core of our religious education for adults. Both groups serve experienced Friends as well as newcomers to our meeting.

At the rise of meeting most Firstdays, there is a discussion on a “Frequently Asked Quaker Question (FAQQ),” such as, “What do you do in meeting for worship?”, “What do Quakers believe about God?”, or “How do you become a member?” The number of people who participate varies, from just a few to almost a dozen people, but everyone hears the question, which is announced by the clerk at rise of meeting.

The meeting found unity to approve the Children’s Religious Education Committee creating a new paid position of teacher’s aide, in addition to an existing child care provider. With the additional support, Firstday School has become more organized for the children. More people from the meeting at large have been volunteering to help with the children, so that parents have more opportunity to worship.

The meeting retreat at Ben Lomond Quaker Center is a central annual event in the life of our community. It is very family-friendly, and several individuals and families who have moved away often return for it. Its lightly structured format allows time for Friends to both play and worship together for a long weekend under the redwoods.

Our meeting feels the need for more leadership development. Occasional breakfasts for committee clerks and officers have provided mutual support in the past year. While the call to leadership is not always easy for Friends to heed, it is clear that now is the time, as several experienced Friends have moved away from our meeting or passed away in the last few years.

Activities and Witness
Our vigil for peace continues outside the old federal building on Golden Gate Avenue. The billboard at the local tire store paid tribute to the vigil recently.

The larger global situation, with US-led wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and recently Libya, continues to weigh on us. Several Friends continue to labor with a scruple against paying taxes for war, and are sharing opportunities for others to join them in some level of witness. The Meeting endorsed the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the Campaign for New Priorities, and seeks to participate in an ongoing way.

As mentioned, the meeting acted locally to establish a community food pantry. This is our biggest sustained service project in memory, serving 70-85 households weekly. Volunteers include Quakers, neighbors, clients, people who find the online signup pages including a group of medical students, and families from the San Francisco Friends School.

Our location in a destination city provides a steady flow of visitors. One Midwestern Friend described San Francisco as “the most welcoming urban meeting” he’s been to. We continue to seek ways to encourage newcomers to return and become regular attenders, with mixed success recently.

Fortunately, we have been blessed by a slow but steady stream of new requests for membership.

The meeting does modest outreach in the wider local community, including through participating in the PRIDE Festival, outreach cards in business card format, and posting large signs with quotes from Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice in our front window. The San Francisco Friends School may publicize Quakers more widely than we do. The school’s Quaker Life Committee, with two meeting members on it, published a booklet on Quaker testimonies and values, which they are now sharing with the many applicants to the school. It has also been used in some classrooms.

The meetinghouse is a both a modest source of income from rentals and a location for many community groups to meet. Our part-time Building Manager maintains the property with support from the Property and Finance Committee. After years of discussion, meeting reached unity to approve renovating the meetinghouse kitchen; plans are being developed.

San Francisco Friends are active in the wider Quaker world, including College Park Quarterly Meeting, Pacific Yearly Meeting, Quakers United in Publishing, American Friends Service Committee, Friends General Conference, Friends for Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender and Queer Concerns, Friends Committee on Legislation of California, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC).

In fact, our member, Robin Mohr, was recently selected to serve as Executive Secretary for FWCC – Section of the Americas. She will be moving to Philadelphia this summer with her family, including Chris Mohr, who will have just completed four years of service as meeting clerk.

In sum, San Francisco Monthly Meeting is a vibrant, spiritually alive community that, despite its flaws, provides opportunities for worship, growth, and transformation.

In peace and friendship,

Chris Mohr, Clerk
San Francisco Monthly Meeting
of the Religious Society of Friends


A Public Board Meeting Before I Go

On Wed. 4/27/2011, I staffed the monthly board meeting of the Housing Endowment And Regional Trust--the HEART of San Mateo County.

As background, HEART is a housing trust fund, and I'm its executive director. It raises funds from public and private sources to meet critical housing needs in the county. Primarily, HEART finances affordable housing development, as well as makes homebuyer assistance loans to families and individuals, in one of the nation's most expensive housing markets.

HEART is a public agency--technically, a joint powers authority (JPA) or collaboration among local governments. Unusual if not unique among JPAs, it is governed by a public/private board, with two county supervisors, nine members of individual city councils, and up to ten members of the private sector. So, it's extremely networked and collaborative, and it has a lot of moving parts.

The April 27 meeting was truly a remarkable -- and remarkably productive -- one. The board:
  • accepted the quarterly financial report;
  • approved the FY2012 administrative budget;
  • accepted the FY2010 audited financial report;
  • approved substantive changes to the QuickStart Revolving Loan Fund;
  • discussed our May 11 executive briefing and luncheon, and board assignments to get people there;
  • adopted the HEART business plan, which we've been working on since November.

There was a nice blend of humor and seriousness throughout. Committee chairs and the treasurer presented items, not just staff, which increased the board's comfort level with the information tremendously.

The meeting ended about 10 minutes early. The room was just bursting with good energy when it was over, as people caught up with one another and chatted excitedly. I liked that!

(Writing that makes me think of my former boss and mentor, the late Bro. Kelly Cullen. He was all about finding the good energy.)

A few years ago, when HEART started, a meeting with this amount on the agenda would have been painful. We've made such great strides organizationally, both in terms of our external accomplishments -- funding the construction, renovation or purchase of 805 affordable homes! -- and internal systems -- financial reports that are consistent and understandable -- that this meeting was at least partly a joy.

It's a team effort, and I'm grateful for the board, our staff, volunteers, funders, and community partners. Together, we have accomplished something real. I'm grateful for my personal Quaker practice that has helped me maintain a calm center at the middle of all this, which I believe has served the organization well.


Last Meeting for Worship as Clerk of San Francisco Friends Meeting

Last Sunday (4/24/2011) was my last day to clerk meeting for worship** at San Francisco Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). I didn't even realize it was my last time until a Friend said something about it during refreshments time afterward.

I thought I had one more Sunday to go. Nope!! April has 30 days, so there were just 4 Sundays this month.

It was a pretty amazing meeting. One person counted 9 messages. Here are three that moved me:

Friend 1 spoke about how her elementary schooler and 3-year-old had really wanted to go to a church. They especially wanted to see statues of Jesus and Mary. They went to four churches before they found one that was unlocked. Once there, they stopped to kneel at each statue and look at the candles. On the way out, the elementary schooler said, "That was the most awesome time ever!" The 3-year-old said, "But I wanted to see the talking Jesus." Friend 1 tried to explain that Jesus is still talking, through us and not a statue.

Friend 2 said he had emailed the outgoing clerk [i.e., me] to see if there was anything special for Easter at the Meeting. The clerk wrote back to say, "Yes, meeting for worship. And sometimes there is an egg hunt." He said as an "Episcopalian" Quaker of sorts (using "Episcopalian" as an adjective more than a dual identity), he likes ritual. He went to Grace Cathedral which had a beautiful Easter service involving a darkened sanctuary with a bonfire in the labyrinth, lighting one candle from the bonfire, putting out the bonfire, then passing on the light from the one candle until lots of people had candles. It was beautiful, and yet he found it didn't move him. He thought, the Quaker Meeting is his cathedral.

I spoke near the end to say we teach that the building isn't the church, the people are. That's why we call it a meetinghouse, not a church, and in our case we have a skylight rather than a steeple. So what are our monuments? They are our peace vigil, every week on Thursday from noon to 1; and our food pantry, every Saturday from 10:30 to 1:30. These are concrete acts of love and service, and yet not made of physical concrete.

(Friend 1 thanked me afterward. She said this was just the kind of example of the "talking Jesus" she would share with her 3 year old. "Yes, Jesus is there on the street corner at the vigil, or at the food pantry!")

Friend 3 had simply said, "I am profoundly grateful for this community." I think there were a few more words that implied "this community" meant the wider Quaker community, not our meeting, especially because I think the person was a visitor.

I too am so grateful for my friends and Friends at San Francisco Meeting. I am blessed to be a part of, and a leader in, it. Thank you, God, "for most this amazing community," as e.e. cummings once wrote.

** SF Friends Meeting is at 65 9th Street, between Mission & Market streets, near the Civic Center BART/MUNI station. Join us on Sunday from 11 am to noon for unprogramed, waiting worship in the manner of Friends; on 5th Sundays, you can start at 9:30 for extended worship to noon. Or come on Wednesdays from 6 pm to 6:45 pm. Come on by if you're in town!


Last meeting for business as clerk of San Francisco Monthly Meeting of Friends

Today I clerked my last meeting for business at San Francisco Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), at least for this go-round.

After four years, it was simply time to stop. I've enjoyed clerking and was the right person during that time, but had let the community know some months ago that I was ready to lay it down. While I felt stretched at times throughout the four years, and was definitely ready to let go at the end, I do not feel burned out. This is a good time to conclude this period of service.

Fortunately, my successor as clerk, Stephen Matchett, was approved today (whew), and so he will become the Meeting's clerk on May 1st.

It was an eventful business meeting on which to end: In addition to approving the slate of nominations, we had two memorial minutes, one membership release, a confession from a Friend that this Friend’s work had felt like a “joyless burden,” a report on our neighborhood food pantry on the occasion of its first birthday, and the annual "state of the Meeting" report.

After the state of the Meeting report, I said a few words as "a minister among us" about my role as clerk, likening it to the parable of the sower: The Meeting had provided fertile ground in which to grow. And however much I had given, I had received more in return.

(I hope to post the state of the Meeting report later. It’s pretty long. We’ve decided that’s okay: We’re doing enough interesting things that we like to report on some of our activities as well as the spiritual health of our meeting, so that perhaps others might learn from or be inspired by our efforts and experiments.)

When I read the draft report to the ministry & oversight committee earlier this week, I could not fully contain my emotions of sadness and loss at moving to Philadelphia. For example, reading the line about how our Meeting retreat at Ben Lomond Quaker Center is a central event in the life of our community, I felt a huge pang that this year’s retreat will be our last one, for a while, anyway. Another member of the committee continued reading for me, for which I was grateful.

Yet when I read the report at business meeting today, I was pretty composed. I had prayed for help to be faithful, and to love God with mind and body and spirit as well as my heart/emotions, and that seemed to keep me focused enough to read it through. It was satisfying to have people breathe out and smile gently when I was done, because it showed that the report appeared to accurately speak to our condition.

During joys and concerns at the close of business meeting, a Friend said, “I don’t know if this is appropriate, but I would like to thank Chris for his four years of service as clerk.” Yes, Charles, it was appropriate, and I’m grateful to be acknowledged, and more grateful to have had the chance to be of service.

Through our combined efforts, may we hear the word of God, encounter the divine presence, sense the eternal. May we love God and love one another.


Retreat at Chico, Calif., Friends Meeting

I can't imagine too many readers of my blog (and Facebook) page haven't already heard the news, that Robin was chosen to be Executive Secretary of Friends World Committee Section of the Americas. I'm very proud of her -- enough to agree to move to Philadelphia this summer, after the school year is over. Since I grew up in New Jersey, it will seem a bit like coming home, though it's going to be hard to leave San Francisco Meeting as well as the professional friendships & relationships I've developed here over the last 16 years.

Meanwhile, last weekend, Robin and I co-presented at a retreat for a cluster of meetings in northern California, including Davis, Grass Valley, and Chico, hosted by Chico Friends. If we hadn't agreed to this before Robin's job announcement, I don't think we would have accepted. As it was, the weekend gave us a nice time away among Friends, some of whom we knew and many of whom we didn't. (Thanks to Jim A. & Janet L. for hosting us.)

Chico is a college and agricultural town, and the Friends Meeting there is growing. It helps that they purchased a building just a few years ago, a former Church of the Brethren building. Our boys had other children to play with during the weekend, which was nice.

Here is an outline of the weekend.

Building the Quaker Community

Chico Friends Meeting Cluster retreat April 1-3, 2011

Chico Friends Meeting House, 1601 Hemlock Street, Chico, California


7 pm welcoming activities at the meeting house

[snacks, conversation, singing]


8:30 coffee, tea, rolls

9:00 worship

9:30 welcome, introductions

Icebreaker: Say your name, what religious tradition (if any) you grew up with, and what your name for the divine is now as an adult

10:00 Robin and Chris Mohr: shared thoughts and activities

A. Robin and Chris present

a. Robin describes image of the church/meeting as a spiritual “midwife” (from Wess Daniels' presentation at Quaker Heritage Day, and Robin's thoughtful blogpost afterward)

b. Some ways Quaker monthly, quarterly & yearly meetings have served as midwives for Robin & Chris

c. Some ways in which Robin & Chris have served as same to others

B. Discussion: Reaction and Q&A: Thoughts? responses? What is the potential strength and power of this image? What are the limitations of this image? [Note: One person mentioned a bad experience with a midwife, so we talked about that. We took time to discuss limits of metaphors, the concept of malpractice can arise in any human endeavor, and the applicability of other metaphors, such as shepherd or gardener.]

C. Worship Sharing: We broke into two smaller groups
2 queries proposed:

a. Who in your life has given you spiritual nurture or acted as a spiritual midwife?

b. Whom have you helped spiritually nurture or served as a spiritual midwife?

D. Closing thoughts

E. Closing worship

12:00 Simple lunch at the meetinghouse

1:00 Building the Quaker Community

[opening exercise, breakout groups, and full group discussion]

Open with a “sociometric exercise.” In this exercise, a statement is read aloud, and Friends align themselves along a continuum of agree/disagree with the statement. (There can also be a second dimension, such as “comfort/discomfort with my level of agreement/disagreement.) We did something similar at College Park's Spring Quarter on the topic of diversity. There, though, we usually aligned along dyads (theist/nontheist, Christian/universalist). Here, the goal is simply to gauge relative placement in response to one topic at a time, and to take a very short time to debrief why people clustered as they did.

· “I publicly identify as a Friend."

· “Growth and change are a good and necessary part of a Quaker meeting.”

· “I expect to be held accountable by Friends for my behavior at meeting.”

· “Membership is a vital part of defining the Quaker community.”

· etc.

The full group then discussed these topics together.

3:00 snack break

3:30 Chico Friends present:

[a series of brief presentations about new developments in our meeting, with

discussion and related experiences from others: topics include outreach, incorporation, membership, winnowing sessions, Quaker structures and levels of Quaker community.

5:00 Closing reflections and worship

5:45 Dinner at local restaurants

[groups of 4-6 will join at recommended local restaurants of choice for fellowship and a taste of the town.]


9:30-10:15 Singing

10:30-11:30 Worship

12:00-1:00 Simple lunch

optional activity:

1:30 CROP walk for world hunger [walk through local park sponsored by area interfaith council.]

Childcare provided on Saturday


Clinic on Quaker Clerking

Last Sunday, I played hooky from San Francisco Friends Meeting (Quakers) and instead worshiped with Berkeley Friends. I think it may have been the first time I attended Sunday meeting at a Bay Area meeting that was not San Francisco.

Afterwards, I co-facilitated a workshop on clerking for about 20 Friends. It was organized by the meeting's Outreach and Nurture Committee (great name!). It was a good experience, and so I share the outline and talking points here.

Berkeley Friends Meeting:
Clinic on Clerking, 2/26/11

Opening Worship


Everyone said her or his name. To begin my remarks, I held up a copy of Elizabeth Boardman's Where Should I Stand? A field guide for monthly meeting clerks. I said Elizabeth was my predecessor but one as clerk of San Francisco Monthly Meeting. When she left, she wrote the book about clerking! So she left big shoes to fill, and we were all somewhat in awe of how omnipresent she was in the life of our meeting. Fortunately, the meeting understood I was going to be a different kind of clerk, because I'm a father of two youngish children, husband, and director of a small nonprofit. I was going to have a different manner and style of clerking, and that was okay. As Robin likes to say, "The water tastes of the jug it's poured from." So, each clerk will have her or his own personality and style, just as each committee or meeting will, too.

What is Meeting for Business?

> Purpose of meeting for business: Finding unity

oDefinition of unity from Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice: “the spiritual oneness and harmony whose realization is a primary objective of a Meeting for Worship for Business; within a gathered group of Friends, the state of finding and recognizing a unified sense (often referred to as God’s will) about a concern or item of business.”

o Friends seek, find, and then follow that spirit of goodness for the organization and the individuals who compose it; God’s will.

o Cf. Michael Sheeran’s book, Beyond Majority Rule: Voteless Decision Making in the Religious Society of Friends

> How do committees work in that structure?

> What is the role of individuals participating?

Committee Clerks

Role of clerks is more active than a meeting clerk

1) Administrative Support: set agenda, find minute-take and ensure there are minutes (at least action minutes),

2) Spiritual Support: create a worshipful space with opening & closing worship, hold silence when needed, make sure everyone gets a chance to talk, name the sense of the committee when needed & if appropriate state an action minute everyone can unite with

3) Active participation in the business of the committee – the “content”

Types of Committee Presentations at Meeting for Business

1) Purely informational: Written reports are helpful

2) Status report: Here’s where we are in our process on an issue

3) Recommendation for action; helpful to bring a proposed action minute


> Email is good for scheduling and logistics, and clarifying questions

> It is NOT a good medium for discernment.

> Phone calls and in person discussions are good for one-on-one communication.

> Decisions ordinarily need to be made by the committee in real time in person (or, sometimes, over phone/Skype)

> It is important not to second-guess unity found at a gathering where I was not present. If you want to be heard, you need to show up.

“Clerk Thyself!” Thoughts on Discipline

> Address the clerk, speak from your own experience, leave your ego or attachment to outcome aside as much as possible,

> Speak once; hold back if your point’s already been made, and trust it’s been heard.

> Wait to speak; see if your point is going to be made by someone else; if not, then speak if you feel clear to do so.

> “Weight” is shorthand for the respect earned by a Friend over time for her or his consistency, care, knowledge, compassion, insight, and the like. People usually have more or less “weight” on different issues because they may have more experience or wisdom to contribute in one area than in another.

What is Your Experience?

Each person said what committee and clerking experience, if any, she or he had.

There was time for questions, answers, and discussion.

Closing worship


Get Thee to the (Meetinghouse) Library!

[Note: I wrote this for the newsletter of San Francisco Friends Meeting, so the audience includes many new attenders as well as experienced Friends.]

New books at San Francisco Meetinghouse, including
An Introduction to Quakerism
by “Ben” Pink Dandelion

Get thee to the library!

The Meetinghouse library, that is.

Thanks to our faithful library committee, we have several new titles available to borrow, including Ursula Jane O’Shea’s Living the Way: Quaker Spirituality and Community, a short book that is the recent reprint of the 1993 Backhouse Lecture she gave for Australia Yearly Meeting; Philip Gulley’s If the Church Were Christian (the title tells the story; with illustrative real-life anecdotes from Gulley’s experience as a Quaker pastor in Indiana); and Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, which I found generally compatible with my Quaker understanding of Christianity.

One of my favorite new books in the library is An Introduction to Quakerism by “Ben” Pink Dandelion. (Yes, he chose that name, during his pre-Quaker anarchist days.) Pink Dandelion is the director of the Quaker Studies Programme at Woodbroke, the Quaker study center in Birmingham, UK. He has written a number of books I’ve liked, including The Liturgies of Quakerism; Heaven on Earth: Quakers and the Second Coming, co-authored by Douglas Gwyn and Timothy Peat; The Quakers: A Very Short Introduction; and Celebrating the Quaker Way, a 28-page booklet with a very small trim size and a brilliantly concise style.

At 250 pages, An Introduction to Quakerism is more hefty than those last two brief books mentioned. While scholarly in approach, the book is mostly very readable. Each chapter is broken up into short sections covering many topics of interest.

The book has two parts: first, Quaker history from its beginnings in the late 1640s/early 1650s to the 20th Century; and second, worldwide Quakerism today. In part two, Pink Dandelion gives an overview of theology and worship; Quakers and “the world; and “the worldwide Quaker family.”

(Did you know that there are six branches of Friends today? Depending on how you count, anyway. They are: Liberal, unprogrammed Friends affiliated with Friends General Conference; “Beanites,” also liberal, unprogrammed Friends but not affiliated with FGC--named for Joel and Hannah Bean of San Jose, CA--that’s our branch; Pastoral, usually affiliated with Friends United Meeting; Evangelical, affiliated with Evangelical Friends International; Conservative; and unaffiliated Holiness Friends.)

I would put An Introduction to Quakerism up there with Thomas Hamm’s The Quakers in America and Wilmer Cooper’s A Living Faith: An Historical Study of Quaker Beliefs as important works of Quaker history, theology, and theological history. If you’ve read a basic work such as Howard Brinton’s Friends for 300 Years (or its updated edition Friends for 350 Years) and want something more, I would recommend you read any or all three. I recommend the two short books by Pink Dandelion as well. All of them have a different and valuable perspective; together they present a well-rounded picture of the multifaceted faith community known to the world as the Religious Society of Friends.


A Teaching Meeting

A former member of San Francisco Friends Meeting transferred his membership to his new meeting last year. In his letter requesting transfer, he wrote very movingly of the importance of the meeting to him, and how it served as a teaching meeting not only for him but for many other Friends.

This Friend had himself truly grown and deepened in the nearly 15 years he had worshiped with us. He had eventually quit his job as a management consultant for a very large corporation, made other work arrangements that reduced his hours substantially, and used the time freed up to make himself useful to Friends in all sorts of ways. He now consults part-time for Quaker organizations.

We miss him, but I'm glad our paths crossed and we became friends as well as Friends.

Because the cost of living in San Francisco is so high, our population is more transitory than in many cities. Add to that the appeal of its culture, its weather, its many startup companies, and its rich array of nonprofit community-based organizations and arts groups, we get a lot of young people cycling through, checking out Quaker meeting for the first time or -- if they grew up Quaker -- for the 1000th time.

Finally, because San Francisco is a popular destination for tourists and for conferences, our meeting also has a regular stream of visitors from other areas.

Suffice it to say, it's not always easy to keep track of any individual who starts attending. We do our best to be welcoming and talk to new people. (For a recent reflection on this topic by Robin M., see "Worship with My Eyes Open".) We also offer a session called "Frequently Asked Quaker Questions (FAQQs)" for 15 minutes after the end of meeting for worship, so that's a chance for people to plug in.

On 2/13, we had a visitor who introduced herself as someone who had attended our meeting for about six months in 1997. She then moved elsewhere, and stayed involved with Friends. She said she is someone who would gladly be involved with Quakerism every hour of the day, or words to that effect. She is now the clerk of Ministry and Counsel for another yearly meeting on the East Coast, as well as a member of their Faith & Practice revision committee. She was enthusiastic to be back where she had started with Quakers.

It was rewarding to know that her experience with us had stuck with her.

Dear God, thank you for the many blessings in my life, including San Francisco Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.


Clerk of the Eternal Meeting

Today at San Francisco Meeting, a Friend gave ministry about his sense of growing up spiritually. He has the sense that God the Father wants his children to move from simple obedience to being co-workers. The idea of being God's co-workers was from Wilmer Cooper, quoted by Wess Daniels at yesterday's Quaker Heritage Day (pdf) at Berkeley Friends Church.

Further, this Friend imagined God as the Clerk of the Eternal Meeting. We are in that Meeting, working to find unity together with God. Occasionally, God may even defer to us, to let us try something ourselves.

I love this image, this new office, for God.

Off and on for the rest of meeting, I meditated on a new wording of the prayer taught by Jesus that this sparked for me: "As it is in the eternal meeting, so may it be in the earthly meeting."


Qwitters or Qweeters?

I've been using Twitter for work for some time now (@hlc_sanmateo). However, I have not used it personally, and so I haven't followed many Quakers who Tweet.

(That phrase just begs the question: Are Quakers on Twitter "Qwitters" or "Qweeters"?

(Or just your "Qweeps"?)

Until now.

Sparked by the imminent arrival of Quaker Heritage Day with Wess Daniels (@cwdaniels) this Saturday, 2/12, I decided to start a personal Twitter account and follow other Quakers. I'm @chrismsf, naturally.

My first tweet was actually a retweet of Wess's suggestion to use the hashtag #QHD2011 to follow Quaker Heritage Day on Twitter.

Back in the old days, in 2007, I organized the QuakerQuaker Blog Carnival (remember blog carnivals? does anyone still have them any more?).

Now, given today's social media environment, I'm thinking we need a Qwestival -- a Twestival for Quakers, naturally. If you're not that ambitious, you could just have a QweetUp -- a Quaker meetup.

Until then, you can find Qwitters or Qweeters through the QuakerQuaker list at @quakerquaker/quakers.



Temptation takes many forms.

Here's one form it takes for me:

The latest issue of Friends Journal has a display ad saying you can get a PhD from Woodbrooke/University of Birmingham through online study with 'Ben,' Pink Dandelion.

Here's the link to the program:

Postgraduate: Quaker Studies.


Gratitude for Grace

As I wrote in a 2008 post about another family mealtime grace, "Our family usually has mealtime grace at dinner. Each member of the family gets a turn to choose how to pray: silence, sing a song from a prescribed list, or speak a prayer. (Six Year Old [now 9] sometimes chooses laughter, but that's another story.)"

Yesterday evening at dinner, I noticed that we hadn't had our usual family grace. I decided not to say anything, but to wait and see what happened.

Midway through the meal, Twelve Year Old said, "We didn't have grace. It's Nine Year Old's turn."

Who promptly chose a moment of silence, concluded by quietly saying, "Amen."

I am grateful that this practice is sticking!