In December I visited family in Kentucky, USA and took the opportunity to attend a Meeting from a different Quaker tradition. Interestingly, the Cincinnati, Ohio area has Meetings affiliated to FUM, Friends General Conference (the liberal, unprogrammed tradition similar to British Friends) and even both! I chose Cincinnati Friends Meeting which had a very nice, large building spread out on ground level in one of the city's posher suburbs. The large Meeting Room had a heating fault so we crammed cozily into the library which I rather liked. I was surprised to see a nativity scene in the hallway and something else I hadn't seen before in a Meeting House was a collection of pieces of wood with bible references on them.
I knew that the meeting for worship would be semi-programmed and that a pastor would be doing something pre-prepared. Ultimately though, the Meeting felt almost identical to one of our Britain Yearly Meeting local meetings. About halfway through, the Minister gave a 10-minute pre-prepared ministry that included Christmas, Dickens, Oliver Cromwell and Quaker attitudes to Christmas traditions. I didn't find it obtrusive, but it also didn't speak to me at the time. Fifteen minutes before the end is reserved for something I had never come across before - an Elder (I think) invited people to minister on 'joys and sorrows' (I think that's what he said) from the past week. This was wonderful. Generally people spoke about illnesses in their/their family's/their wider social circle's lives, some people gave good news and one person asked us to remember when we're shopping how stressful this time of year is for people who work in 'service' which I believe meant retail(!!). I got a bit bored of hearing about the 5th cancer story in about 10 minutes, but I also thought people in this meeting must know each other very well when sharing these things is part of the worship. I thought that was fabulous. Afterwards were the typical notices, but also a member of the meeting was given an award from the American Friends Service Committee (I think) recognising the decades of youth work he had done. This included the Minister presenting a medal with the Quaker star that was sent with the prize certificate. I'd never seen anything like that and enjoyed it. Cake had also been laid on to go with the coffee after meeting as part of the prizegiving celebration.
I couldn't stay long afterwards, but I did get to meet a few folks who were very welcoming and warm and friendly. I don't think they get many visitors from Europe. I picked up a few bits from the large literature collection in the foyer. This included something I though was great for outreach - an envelope for newcomers with the pamphlet of that Meeting but also various pamphlets from Friends United Meeting with some really good information about Quakers. There was a whole shelf of info aimed at both people considering entering the armed forces and people already in the armed forces about conscientious objection. They even had car bumper stickers with the phone number of the 'GI Information Line' which I think must be some pacifist service. I was very impressed by all this stuff - clearly it's an important concern for Friends in the area.
A couple of bits I picked up from Quaker Earthcare Witness
really impressed me. Freeing Ourselves from Possessions
has exercises one can use at home. A few of their publications address over-population explicitly an uncompromisingly which made me feel - 'Finally!' Examples of the queries from one pamphlet:
If relieved of the burden of feeding, clothing, and housing an ever-growing population, what higher goals of human fulfillment would society be able to pursue?
What is the spiritual basis of our desire to reproduce? How do we related this to responsibility for the fate of the earth?
I recommend their other pamphlets which can be downloaded here: http://www.quakerearthcare.org/Publications/Pamphlets/Pub-Pamphlet.html