AN ARTS AND LETTERS NIGHT IN THE MEETINGHOUSE

In many Quaker meetings, we have little idea of what other Friends do outside of the meetinghouse. Maybe it’s simply an unfortunate consequence of contemporary life as we live and work at distances from one another and find our schedules anything but simple.

Bridging that gap remains a challenge, especially if we intend, in the words of George Fox, to “know one another in that which is eternal.”

At Dover Monthly Meeting in New Hampshire, we’ve chanced upon what has become an annual event that other members of the Fellowship of Quaker Artists might want to expand on. For four years now, we’ve had an annual Arts and Letters Night – an opportunity for individuals of all ages to share something of their creative lives with the larger faith community. For us, it’s usually come on a Friday or Saturday night in March – a time when we in snowy winter landscapes are ready to start stirring again. (Hopefully, when the worst of the winter weather is behind us.)

While Dover Meeting is large enough to have a number of serious artists of various stripes within its community, other Friends might find the idea to be something more suitable for Quarterly Meeting or a similar occasion. Like Meeting for Worship itself, each gathering has been unique.

Visual artists bring their work into the meetinghouse beforehand. Much of it goes up behind the facing bench (in the “elders’ gallery”), but other pieces have been displayed on easels or even been passed around the gathered circle. Work has ranged from painting to prints to weaving and textile crafts to photography to furniture-making and sculpture – including one child’s Sculpee creations. One year, an attender ran home to bring back examples of commercial designs she was doing for paying customers – and her work was indeed impressive.

We’ve encouraged these pieces to be kept on display through Meeting for Worship the following First-day, so that everyone may have an opportunity to view them – or even revisit them.

The “letters” part of the equation has had Friends reading publicly from their original poems, short stories, or journals – or from pieces they’ve found especially moving.

We’ve also had music – ranging from one violinist’s performance of the “Meditation” from Thais to original songs – as well as children demonstrating their Tae-Kwon-Do martial arts patterns. Lately, we’ve had videos, including one a Friend had made for Public Television showing another Friend doing sculpture – three decades earlier.

Depending on the length of the readings and performances, there may be time to go around the circle, discussing what inspires and motivates us in the work we pursue. Questions seem to arise spontaneously.

And afterward, we’ve enjoyed repairing to the “culinary arts” – a dessert potluck with tea or coffee.

So it’s one idea. An easy program. One Dover Friend has taken on the responsibility for signing others up – and I’ve the pleasure of being emcee and reading a few of my own poems at the end. We arrange it all through our Ministry and Worship Committee, though it could fit under Pastoral Care as well. (We split our Ministry and Counsel several years ago, to lighten the load.) In any event, do what you want with this proposal. As I said, it’s an easy program.

Invite the public. Invite the news media. And then have fun.

Originally published in Types & Shadows:
Journal of the Fellowship of Quakers in the Arts,
No. 34 Fall 2004/Winter 2005

 

7 thoughts on “AN ARTS AND LETTERS NIGHT IN THE MEETINGHOUSE

  1. Jnana, the appeal of this suggestion and report is beautiful. The “creative juices” so often faltering and vulnerable. To share each one’s intimacy in this way is profound. Thank you.
    It is a suggestion I will take back to another gathering under a different label.

  2. This reminds me of a problem I have been musing over, on and off, for several years now. One of the recurring tensions in my denomination is the respective roles of clergy and laity, and how those roles ought to intersect for the good of all. One of the reasons for this, I believe, is that it is too easy for laity to feel that they contribute nothing to Sunday worship beyond putting money in the plate. Of course, artwork, music and other creative expressions are one way in which the work of many lay people enriches worship, but…

    What of those of us who are not talented in this vein? What does the scientist, the business manager, the salesperson (etc) bring as a liturgical expression of his or her contribution to the building up of the body of Christ? It’s a very difficult question, and one to which I don’t have good answers.

  3. Jnana, I loved reading about the Arts and Letters Meetings – what a great way to build community anywhere! I have attended “Arts and Letters” group exhibitions in galleries, your meetings are so much more personal; they make one gain even more appreciation for fellow group members. They are so very meaningful! Thank you for sharing.

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