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.

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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