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

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