Rufus Jones called local worship communities “the ganglia and arterial fountains of our spiritual life.” Our meetings and churches are the primary places, the most basic groups, in which we gather to listen to God. They are the communities in which we take on tasks too big for one person, designed to provide mutual spiritual and temporal care. Our meetings are where we are married, where our children are accepted into membership, where we expect our memorials to be held. And they are the place we go, habitually, for weekly worship and periodic potlucks, through all of the ordinary and extraordinary moments of living.
When a meeting is closing, its members will naturally have questions. They’ll have need of pastoral care. This can be provided by other members of the meeting, by loving outsiders, or—most likely—by some combination thereof.
Is there space for our grief? To lose a meeting is to lose something precious, even if laying the meeting down is absolutely the right thing to do. Friends are likely to need formal and informal opportunities to share their grief. This can happen in special meetings for worship, in worship sharing, in prayer gatherings, in small group conversations, and more. Because the process of closing a meeting is likely to take quite some time, there will need to be multiple opportunities for grief. Friends should also anticipate grief happening on its own timetable. It will come out at inconvenient moments and will need to be recognized and affirmed. Some Friends might want to write a memorial minute for the meeting itself, just as we do for individuals. There could even be a memorial meeting for worship.
Is there opportunity for us to celebrate? Not everything about laying down a meeting is sad! If the meeting has former members who have moved away, or if there are children and grandchildren of deceased members, the meeting might designate a particular day to gather (in person or online) for a celebration of the meeting and of each other. In such a celebration, Friends can share favorite memories of the meeting and old photographs. They might sing songs or participate in activities that have traditionally been part of the meeting’s culture. Some meetings will want to invite the people in their neighborhood to such a celebration; neighbors might also have joyful memories to share. Celebrations might also include announcements about what will happen next with the meeting’s assets. For example, if the meeting is going to make a significant donation to a local nonprofit, the meeting might invite a representative of that nonprofit to the celebration.
Where will we worship? Some meetings, when they close, will have stopped being a regular worship community already. But in other cases, Friends are still attending worship regularly. While individuals can certainly make their own arrangements for new worship communities, it might help for the group to have some conversations about this. Is there a meeting nearby where we can worship? If not, is there a meeting that we can join online? Or might we gather for worship occasionally in someone’s living room? The institutional end of a meeting does not prevent anyone from inviting personal friends to gather around a kitchen table.
How will we stay connected to our beloved Friends? Perhaps the meeting’s members will be going separate ways for worship in the future. This does not necessarily mean that they can’t continue to have social relationships. Monthly in-person gatherings, simple email lists, and occasional video calls all allow for ongoing social connection. Friends can continue to share recipes, help each other with yard work, and celebrate the birth of new grandchildren after the end of the meeting, but it helps to speak openly about whether this is desired. Maintaining social connections will take some deliberate effort, and it’s good to know for sure that it’s wanted.
Will our meeting be forgotten? A meeting needn’t be forgotten. Minutes, documents, and photographs can be gathered and archived. Also, Friends can record their memories of the meetings on paper, in sound files, or on video. If the intention is to store these personal memories in archives, they’ll need to be put together in particular ways, but it might be the case that personal memories are mostly preserved for meeting members themselves to watch, plus their children and grandchildren. Finally, remember: even if the name and history of the meeting itself is forgotten, its effects will continue to ripple through the world for who-knows-how-long, in ways that no human could ever trace.
f you’re looking to navigate the rest of this series, here it is in order: (1) The Life Cycle; (2) Acceleration; (3) Shame and Stigma; (4) Thriving and Declining; (5) All or Nothing; (6) The Meeting Member; (7) The Loving Outsider; (8) Practical Steps; (9) Pastoral Care.