A good laugh heals a lot of hurts.
(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)
It starts with six Friends in a circle on the floor. We’ve come together because our community’s in pain. The meeting is stuck in a decades-old conflict, with all kinds of old hurt and trauma, and everything is serious and everything is work and everything is eggshells all the time. We know we can’t fix the very real problems, and the last thing we should do is whisper behind closed doors. So we take everything that’s wrong and put it to one side and ask the question: how can we inject some joy and playfulness into this meeting?
From there comes Joyful Wednesdays. Everyone’s invited, but most of the meeting says, “I’m there for worship and committee meetings and business meetings and I’m not coming in an extra evening for fun.” And that’s okay; the group that comes is simply the group that comes.
We alternate. One Wednesday, singing and worship sharing—the next Wednesday, games and discussion. Then back again.
Hymn singing’s completely new to some of us. We discover that “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” is the perfect theme song, not because it’s on topic (although it is) but because it’s Beethoven and everybody’s heard it before. We also love “Jubilate” and “I’ve Got the Joy Down in My Heart,” especially the part with “the wonderful love of my blessed Redeemer,” which is more Christocentric than most are on board with but comes so fast in the music that it’s lost in laughter anyway. A bunch of stodgy Quakers, dissolving into giggles…
For worship sharing, we use Britain Yearly Meeting’s little red book of queries and delight in asking newcomers to the group to “pick a number between one and forty-two.” This choose-a-random-query thing is delightful. Sometimes we accidentally choose one that’s boring. But that’s okay. We don’t have any rules against do-overs.
Games are fun. We invent Quaker Pictionary and Quaker Charades and eventually Quaker Hangman. (We justify it as Quaker Hangman because, instead of hanging the man, we’re rescuing him, erasing his little body one part at a time.) Gary uses either “Jesus wept” or “Margaret Fell” every time it’s his turn.
The discussions are the best. We choose topics based on what people want to talk about. We start with death. It’s the best conversation about death I’ve ever had, maybe because we’re all giddy, because here we are, discussing this thing we’re usually silent about. We decide at the outset to just say things and not worry so much about whether we’re right or not. Other nights, we talk about addiction, sex, happiness, lying, power, marriage, family, and books. One night, we talk about life.
I learn that Hayden is an occasional smoker. Austin has crazy political theories. Robert hates that worship happens on Sunday mornings—he’d prefer afternoons—and Lucas loves chicken nuggets but feels morally conflicted about eating them. One night, quite by accident, we discover that every person in the room is afraid of the police. On another night, we share mystical experiences, we realize we’ve all had them, and yet, we’ve all hesitated to tell the stories for fear that we might be ridiculed.
Ava, who is new to Friends, starts to cry one night and can’t explain why. Lyle brings in a soft lamp because he’s bothered by institutional lighting. Renee comes only once and is annoyed to find us on the floor in a classroom and not in the meetinghouse; she didn’t expect the informality of some people in chairs, some people on the floor, and for her, Sunday morning worship is better, and that’s fine. Jonah lectures too much—but he’s learning to listen.
Oddly, we don’t call it “Joyful Wednesday” right away. It doesn’t have any name, really, in the beginning. When we settle on Joyful Wednesday—it sounds right to all of us after about six weeks—we start writing it down on the space request forms, and so JOYFUL WEDNESDAY is what’s written on the bulletin board and in the meeting’s newsletter. Every Wednesday for a year, I write JOYFUL WEDNESDAY in my planner.
It doesn’t last forever. The group begins to dwindle. Occasionally, no one shows up but me. I can hold the space for awhile, but I’m not going to push. I put out a message: “Is anyone else willing and able to host?” They’re not. So about fourteen months after acquiring its name, Joyful Wednesday dies.
This is not sad. We’ve proven something; we can gather together intending joy. We can make a space for vulnerability. We can set an intention and write it in our calendars. Singing and laughing and playing and talking can be part of this community, and that’s what we needed to know.
This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed.
If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.