Rod Keefe, convenor of CEQ Outreach Committee, reflects on how Quakers can engage with the wider community and make ourselves more known.
Outreach committee now consist of eight willing volunteers, we are still supporting / promoting events within the Central England area. In 2019 our most successful ones were Moseley Street Festival with a stall and display boards in July, and Bournville Heritage trail where up to 13 buildings in Bournville had open days, these included Bournville meeting house and Woodbrooke gardens. Moseley was quieter than usual with fewer people about but as this was the first weekend in July there were lots of other fetes or carnivals in the area so there was a lot of competition, Bournville Meeting House however attracted over a thousand visitors.
What of the future of Outreach, 2020 onwards, we all know we are an ageing population and need to increase our numbers but how do we do it, looking at reasons why people came to Quakers we learn it was because people knew one or had some kind of contact with a Quaker, rapidly dispelling the misconception that people had about Quakers, yes we still exist, no we are not Puritans, and yes some of us eat porridge for breakfast etc.
But how do we get to know and more importantly influence people? In a recent article in the Friend, Swarthmore area Meetings have all increased attendance, this has taken over three years but was done by getting to know people by having open days, coffee mornings, plant, book, and cake sales on a regular basis. I know many meetings engage with their local communities but do we need to do more? Do all meetings / individuals need to become outreach aware.
Inreach can be as important as outreach by inviting friends and users of our buildings to events helping to promote Quakerism and dispel those myths about us. Outreach committee can provide lots of resources: display boards, leaflets, and helpers if you are short staffed, one suggestion was a 20 minute mindful session, 60 minutes of silence can be intimidating especially for newcomers, Mindfulness is now widespread and many people find it useful, there are special features in Quaker mindfulness, we can help lead a short session for your meeting.
I was asked a few months ago what’s happened with Intervisitation, where once a month where people went to another meeting to worship, this would increase and help out smaller meetings and help people to get to know each other better, guest speakers at our shared lunches I know many meetings do have them but do we invite people from outside our meeting or people from other meetings.
I hope my comments are not seen as negative ones, I know many of our meetings do engage with the local communities but as Swarthmore area found out it took 3 years to show any results, one thing I have learnt over the years the best Outreach is US.
Outreach committee are here to help, is there anything you would like help with, or any ideas you have to help promote Quakerism not just for Quaker week but throughout the year, please do not hesitate to contact us for help or advice.