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Feeding Spiritual Hunger: A Retreat for Small Meetings

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Maurine Pyle and Mariellen Gilpin, Southern Illinois & Urbana-Champaign Meetings

Invitations to Blue River Quarterly’s November 2016 Fall Retreat, held at Clear Creek House, were sent along with a few juicy queries to BRQ's smallest, most isolated Friends groups. Eleven people, some with no previous experience of the wider circle of Friends, came from very small meetings and a community where Friends do not have a local meeting. We agreed, we were all spiritually hungry.

What is calling you to this circle of Friends? The first query seemed to help Friends and newcomers alike open up in a surprisingly deep way. One of the people new to Friends seemed very touched by the heart-level sharing she had heard from everyone present.

Friends then conversed in three successive pairs (an exercise called SpeedFriending) in response to the following three queries:

  • What is on your mind and heart as we gather together?
  • What are you seeking?
  • Where does it hurt?

The heart-level conversations continued over lunch and during walks down Quaker Lane to the meetinghouse of the yearly meeting. Our newcomers walked into the  meetinghouse and sensed at once the inner hospitality of our spiritual ancestors. They seemed to feel safe and welcomed, responding open-heartedly in many very moving ways. They wanted to bring their children and grandchildren to Annual Sessions. All, Friends and Seekers alike, became more open, less shy, eagerly seeking community. Old Friends seemed to feel renewed and more grounded, more fed. All reached out to support one another.

Our newcomers began to prepare for their first Quaker worship experience by hearing the story of the Mysterious Seekers of the Midlands in England, who later met George Fox. With Fox, they shared a desire to look inward and find God for themselves. Visitors also heard Margaret Fell’s story of first hearing George Fox preach, and his challenge, “You say Christ says this, and the apostles say that, but what canst thou say? Are you a child of God, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”

All present were invited, if so moved, to sing or speak in worship. And thus worship began. In closing, all were invited to form friendships for continued spiritual support before they left Clear Creek House to return home.