Monday, February 17, 2014

H is for a Home away from Home

Having a second home is not on my wish list. It would drain our resources even if we had some to drain. A spiritual home away from home is another matter, though. We could all use one. Here I am not thinking of sojourning minutes, although others might. (For those outside the Quaker fold, a sojourning minute is a document used by some Yearly Meetings to request a sort of temporary membership in a local Meeting for a person in town for long enough to take full part in the life of that Meeting; Yearly Meetings that do not have sojourning membership, like Britain, use other procedures in this situation.) A sojourning Friend may be likened to a person who rents an apartment (“flat” for my British readers) while studying or living away from home for work for an extended period; indeed, some sojourning memberships last long enough for a Friend to buy and sell a house used as a principal residence.

I am thinking of something a bit different: either a Meeting or a place of worship of a different religious community that one visits enough to feel comfortable and to know at least some of the “regulars,” but not often enough to be called upon by Nominating Committee, say, to teach First Day School or serve on the property committee, or to be expected to contribute financially to the extent of one’s ability to do so (although, of course, treasurers and finance committees always welcome donations). Part of the responsibility of a sojourning member is to take part in the host Meeting in just those ways. Non-resident Friends also have responsibilities to their home Meetings.

Since I lived a rather peripatetic life for some years, I have had several candidates for such a spiritual home away from home, but the only one which has worked out in the longer term is the wonderful Meeting in Hanover, New Hampshire, because of its reasonable proximity to close family members. I lived in Hanover for several years as an undergraduate, and the only reason I did not obtain a sojourning minute is that Hanover Meeting and my “regular” Meeting are part of the same Quarter; there have been Friends equidistant between them. While a sojourning minute was technically feasible, it struck all parties concerned as unnecessary.

When I first left Hanover, I did not expect the Meeting to become a home away from home. Undergraduates are not always in their most congenial phases of life, and I certainly was not.  I was delighted when Friends asked me to keep in touch. That gesture meant the world to me —it still does—and thus began years of insight into how another Meeting functions. This is not only a question of touching base with old (F)friends. About fifteen years ago, the Meeting I currently attend was asked to consider what was at the time a controversial issue. I knew that my “home away from home” Meeting had a relevant minute (Quakerese for “written statement that met with Friends’ approval”) that could be used to help formulate a draft for discussion. The minute was available on the Internet by that point, which made it appropriate for consideration, but knowing at least some of the people who would approved it gave me some perspective as to how we might approach the situation. Indeed, within the past six months I have made an inquiry to that Meeting because of a property-related issue forwarded to me by someone in yet another Meeting. The person who answered my question was a preschooler when I was part of her Meeting.

Aside from making an occasional financial contribution and “paying it forward,” I am not sure what I can give back in this situation. This is probably an occasion in which opening one’s wallet is especially appropriate. It is certainly true in the other example of the “home away from home” that springs to mind. Many Friends have this type of relationship with another faith community. The Meeting of which I am a non-resident member rents space from another such community, and at least one family in that Meeting has connections with both. On a broader scale, Friends do not have remotely close to the numbers to run relief and development efforts in all areas that need them. When I asked someone with a Quaker service organization about a suitable response to a major disaster in another part of the world, the Friend was happy to point me in the direction of several organizations affiliated with other churches, as well as secular entities, because we ourselves had nothing to offer. It is vital not to let our own desire for leadership stand in the way of what needs to be done.

I now live in the village of Elora, Ontario, in which many people, of all faiths and of none, owe a huge debt to a group who started a summer music festival a generation ago. Front and center (or “front and centre,” as Canadians would put it) were Noel Edison, the music director of the Church of St. John the Evangelist, the local Anglican church, and Robert Hulse, then rector and now rector emeritus. There is still a large overlap between the parish choir of that church and the Elora Festival Singers; both have recorded under Noel Edison with Naxos and can be heard from time to time on the radio. Other area churches also have significant musical offerings. Some are connected with the Elora Festival, most notably St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic parish in nearby Fergus, which has a brand-new church with superb acoustics and is the only year-round venue in the area suitable to host the numbers attending performances of Handel’s Messiah and J.S. Bach’s Passion music. (Unfortunately, the nearest Friends Meeting is in Kitchener, thirty minutes’ drive away, and the Meeting House is quite small.) Like many Quakers from unprogrammed Meetings, I want to see the Elora Festival and similar ventures succeed, and I would also like to make at least a token gesture in support of the musicians whose day jobs are elsewhere. After all, unprogrammed Friends aren’t typically in the forefront of promoting choral music on an institutional basis.
© Kristin Lord 2012
“And the granite of New Hampshire/Is made part of them ‘til death.”
(from the Dartmouth alma mater, by Richard Hovey ’85 and H.R. Wellman ‘07)

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