State of the Meeting Report, 2021


State of the Meeting Report 2021 - Manasquan Quaker Meeting

(Approved, Meeting for Business, February 20, 2022)


Like every other faith community in 2021, Manasquan Quaker Meeting has dealt with both joys and sorrows this past year, striving to be faithful as we have done our best to overcome challenges and welcome the growth that change can bring. This State of the Meeting report represents the results of worship sharing and both collective and individual reflection on the life of the meeting in 2021.

We have met the hard work of staying together as a faith community during the COVID-19 pandemic with mixed results. As one Friend observed, “A contagious disease, fatal to so many, changes things.” As the pandemic continued, with new variants of the virus emerging, we struggled to adapt our meeting for worship to reconcile the needs of those members and attenders who yearned for face-to-face contact with those who needed to worship virtually.

Ultimately, we settled on a hybrid meeting that combines both groups in one worship session. The practical nuts and bolts were addressed through purchasing a computer, a large flat screen monitor, and camera, and obtaining a WiFi connection, as well as imposing a mask requirement inside the meetinghouse. These allowed us to offer hybrid meetings that brought our members and attenders together in both real and virtual space, with our numbers almost equally divided between in-person and Zoom worshippers. Committee and business meetings held on Zoom had about the same number of participants as those formerly held in the meetinghouse.

But balancing the conflicting spiritual requirements of Friends so that everyone felt that their needs had been heard and respected has proved more complicated. The ability to meet virtually during the pandemic has attracted a number of new attenders to the meeting, allowed members who had moved far away to attend, and empowered others whose health concerns prevented in-person presence. One Friend said, “I am happy with hybrid worship until it is really safe enough to return in person.” Vocal ministry has increased, and we have renewed our monthly Bible study by relocating it to Zoom. A member said, “Being able to attend worship in whatever form has not only enabled me to survive the pandemic, but I am also thriving spiritually.”

But not everyone agrees. Some Friends have expressed real discomfort with the presence of technology in the meetinghouse; a few stopped attending and gave this as a reason. One Friend compared the tensions raised by this conflict to a jigsaw puzzle: “The pieces used to fit together, but now the box has been shaken and some of the pieces have gotten lost.” Another said that our Quaker process had been affected by these dynamics. “Prayerful consideration of any action is the order of the day, not impatience and harsh words. Recent argumentative encounters at Meeting for Business make me much less interested in returning to in-person worship any sooner than necessary.” Others who remain absent have offered no explanation. We know that some are experiencing aging and diminished capacities, and some have faced other kinds of interruptions. The meeting’s few small family groups with children stopped attending during the pandemic.

Regardless, Friends continue to make numerous efforts to stay connected to those who have dropped away in recent months. A new regular attender expressed deep gratitude for our frequent email outreach, which brought our meeting to her mind when the pandemic kept her away from her previous church. “When the time was right, I got to come here to this community, because of Zoom and because of COVID,” she said. “I feel like I know and love each one of you and it’s strangest thing, because I have never met any of you in person.”

It appears that virtual meeting for worship may continue to play an important role in the meeting’s future, as one Friend noted: “It is perfectly possible to form a Quaker meeting without any bricks and mortar . . . to participate fully in the life of the meeting without somebody having to cart me back and forth to the meetinghouse. Yes, the quality of worship in the meetinghouse is different with the screen there, but there is also lots of silence. Part of this is really a blessing, and I hope Friends can work towards seeing it that way.”

The spiritual and social life of our meeting has been influenced in other ways by the pandemic and the related national mood. Protests responding to the 2020 killing of George Floyd led to a greater awareness that we live in a profoundly unjust society that benefits the mainly white, middle-class members of our meeting more than other citizens. As a result, our witness in 2021 has been redirected toward an inward searching and understanding of our complicity in this system, and efforts to learn how to make changes in our practices that lead to more inclusive and just communities.

Friends attended a number of virtual racial awareness sessions in 2021, including some offered by the One Spirit organization and the four-week AFSC program, “Radical Acting in Faith for White People.” Many who had attended these sessions then met monthly over the course of the year to share experiences and racial justice leadings, and we continue to work toward becoming an antiracist Quaker meeting. We also engaged in an online screening and discussion about the film “Purple,” which illustrated how people on different sides of the political divide might have constructive dialogue and disagree with one another without becoming hostile.

The pandemic has disturbed the social life of the meeting in other ways. A decision that may have long-term impact on the Meeting was the resolve to lay down our annual Friendly Fair. This fund-raising event, held every July for the last 63 years, formerly raised about 1/3 of our annual budget for the operation of the meetinghouse. The event was postponed twice because of the pandemic, but then Friends became clear that our community is aging and unable to marshal the human resources necessary to stage the event in the future. Donations increased by about 25 percent after this decision was made, and because the meeting is also blessed with bequests that have been soundly invested, we have hope that we will be able to cover our operating budget as necessary.

During the holiday season, a Friend created a virtual, intercultural and nondenominational Advent Service for the meeting, with vibrant images, poetry, silent reflective periods, and moving music selections. Our usual Christmas celebration was also held virtually, and, on the same day, some members and attenders gathered at the meetinghouse and brought food to share. This reminded us of the togetherness of our covered dish lunches and made us yearn for the informal socializing we enjoyed before.

Despite physical separation, we have worked to make the meetinghouse more hospitable for when we do reunite: installing air conditioning and redesigning one of the small back rooms to serve as both a classroom and reading room. Friends say they long to get back to our face-to-face activities such as witnessing for peace, being able to invite people from the community to attend movie nights and other events, and gathering for potlucks and social time. One said, “I feel the loss of people, the loss of that connection with them.”

In the past year, the meeting also experienced significant life events, with the deaths of Dolores Applegate, a longtime member, and Ruth Ramsdell, a longtime attender of our meeting. On a joyous note, a wedding was held in the meetinghouse, and a child was born to a member.

Manasquan Quaker Meeting looks to this new year with hope and faith. We treasure our worship, seeing that of God in each other’s presence, and longing to resume the fellowship and witness that we enjoy so much together. COVID-19 has demanded resilience and flexibility from us, and we have not always been able to rise to the task. However, we are blessed to share our faith and witness under these conditions, and we recommit to caring for one another and for the needs of the communities around us. We will continue to listen expectantly for the still small voice and seek God’s guidance in our ministry and our daily lives.

Respectfully submitted,
Eleanor Novek
Clerk, Ministry & Counsel
Manasquan Quaker Meeting