Tuesday, February 28, 2006

on being Resident Friend

Cherice's post and a recent email from a WGYFer considering applying for a wardenship post asking me for advice has made me think a lot about my role here - both what I do and what I'd like to do with it. The two aren't always compatible! This post is a mishmash of my emailed reply, my comment on Cherice's blog and further thoughts...

In Wellington we have 3 buildings - the QMH, the Quaker Centre and George Fox House. For the first 2 it is a matter of bookings, cleaning etc. GFH is run as Bed & Breakfast accommodation for travelling Friends and is what takes up most of my time - probably not what most wardens (or whatever they get called!) have to deal with. My post is supposed to be 20-30 hrs a week on average. Note the 'on average' bit of that sentence!!!! When I first got here there weren't many B&B bookings and I reckon I was doing about 15-20 hrs a week. Over the summer it has been flat out full time as B&B numbers have gone through the roof and I gave up even trying to count my hours.

I'm really lucky here with my RF Support Committee, mainly because Marion (who is my main contact on it) and I have been Ffriends for a long time and socialise a lot anyway so I get support at the drop of a hat when I need it. Were one of the others my official support person I'm not so sure how it would be. The 'down side' is that Marion and I tend to forget to have official meetings as we see each other & chat on the phone so often! In the past I've been on the wardening team at Edinburgh QMH which is a busy city centre building where if there are bookings you have to be present on duty unlike here where groups have their own key and let themselves in and out, but beyond that many of the issues are much the same.

I'm not sure how it would have been coming half way around the world to a Meeting where I didn't know so many people so well beforehand. What with Marion, Quentin & Fran all of whom I've known 16 years or so (ex pat British YFs!), Jonathan & now Charlotte from the FWCC Triennial in 2004 as well as WGYF, plus those I met at NZ Summer Gathering 10 months before I moved out here it meant I had a pretty good starting point. Also I have far more relatives around here than I'm used to having on my doorstep! It's been good having contacts here outwith Quakerdom - stops the cabin fever setting in... There is a strong YF+ group which has made getting to know others easy. The various residential events I have been to here, plus getting to know Friends who stay in the B&B accommodation means I have a strong network of Ffriends the full length of the country and far more offers of people to visit than I'll ever manage to take up!

Contact with the RFs here in Auckland and Christchurch plus knowing various RFs/wardens etc in Britain and Australia provides an extra level of support - all 5 of the Aotearoa NZ RFs were at Summer Gathering in January and many a story and wry smile was shared between us!

I love having this opportunity to serve, the main problem I have is that I am soooo not a mornings person and with high guest numbers at present that's a lot of early morning breakfasts to get ready and be coherent at! However that is hardly a tragedy in the greater scheme of life =)

Is this role really akin to the pastors of the programmed Friends churches though? I think so. Thankfully unprogramed Meetings don't expect a sermon/message prepared in advance each week as me giving ministry is a blue moon occurrence and never yet during Sunday morning worship! I'm here on a Minister of Religion missionary visa - that still creases me up but the more time goes by in this post the more I realise how accurate it is, well maybe not the missionary bit.

I have my rent and utility bills covered by the Meeting in return for not only the practical services to the Meeting I've mentioned but also taking an active roll in the spiritual life of the Meeting. I admit to not having been as pro-active as I'd like to have been with regard to helping support the YF/JYF groups but B&B duties have been somewhat heavy over the summer.

However I am finding that I end up acting as both an elder and an overseer here despite not officially being either! Overseering I am used to, but dealing with eldership issues is new ground to me and a bit scary at times. Logging on to the online Meeting for Worship during some challenging phone calls (thank heavens for broadband!) has just about got me through. There is enormous potential for RF posts to be more than just wardening and there is an expectation that you will contribute to the life of the Meeting. Apart from at Summer Gathering and doing WGYF feedback with the others my main contribution so far I guess is the bible study group - one of the last things I would have expected to be doing! The rest has been having an awareness of what is going on, making suggestions for the newletter, representing Friends at various things and slowly but surely improving the ecological footprint of the Meeting.

I find that many Friends turn to me with issues within the Meeting as I'm seen as a neutral zone in many ways - this is often far from the case but hey it's good being at the hub of things still - I think I'd've missed that after WGYF. Most of the time being here to listen is what is needed more than anything else and thankfully I'm fairly good at that. As with my WGYF post, and FWCC EMES one for that matter, my role is often one of support and being a sounding board as people test their concerns and bounce around ideas as well as frustrations. Also I'm the only person with a foot in every camp of Sunday Meeting, Midweek Meeting, YF+ group and is involved with the children (that's a lot of feet, maybe it should be fingers in pies!!!)

Posts are usually just for a year which limits what a RF can do (Quaker process being slow!) - it wouldn't be right to barge in and start doing whatever you felt was right. It takes time to understand where a Meeting is at, what it's needs are and also what is sustainable. Sure I could have run a residential event by now for the JYF age range but it makes more sense to work with Friends across the YM to strengthen the existing structure for JYFs. I have to recognise that I might still have to leave here in just over a year so enabling others and sharing my skills is far more beneficial than providing a one off experience for a few. Hopefully we'll get something more going for the JYF age range this year here in Wellington but that is because those here have seen there is a need and have asked for help rather than me waltzing in an imposing it on them with there being no sense of local ownership.

As I said some time ago I have had a distinct sense of calling to be here, of needing to be here and being needed here. Working for Friends is not that dissimilar to becoming a monk, nun or joining the clergy in the sense of it becoming a way of life, a life of service to the church/meeting/organisation. It is not something to take on lightly and would be hard to fulfil without a sense of calling, of mission. So maybe having a 'missionary' visa isn't so wide of the mark after all?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. It sounds like a very full "20-30 hours". With the bit of taking an active role in the spiritual life of the meeting, sounds scarey and exciting at the same time. Remember to take some time/space for yourself, too!