Taking a fresh look at our meetinghouses to notice design elements that signal who is and isn’t welcome.
Materials and Setup
Consider sharing this article for participants to read ahead of your session: How our Meetinghouses affect our effort to become actively antiracist faith communities
This exercise is designed to invite meeting members and attenders to view the meetinghouse through a new lens. It gets people out of their seats and moving and can energize a meeting to consider ways to make its space more welcoming and inviting for each other and for visitors. You can do this on your own or with a group from your meeting.
Begin with a moment of gratitude for the hard work of the Friends who have carried the responsibility of tending to the meetinghouse as members of the Facilities committee or the House & Grounds committee. Thank them for the many ways that they have created a sense of beauty and welcome in the meetinghouse, especially given constraints of time and resources. Divide into groups of three and invite Friends to imagine themselves as seekers looking for a spiritual home. The key questions to consider are:
- What is it like to visit the meetinghouse for the first time?
- What do newcomers see in this space that those of us who have been around for a while may not notice anymore?
- In what ways can we make our space and our practices more inviting and welcoming for visitors and each other?
- How does our meetinghouse send messages about who is welcome and who is an outsider?
Point out that this focus of this exercise is to celebrate what’s working well and share good ideas for going forward.
Send the groups outside to the street and ask them to walk toward the building with their ‘newcomer eyes’ on and see what they notice. If there are multiple ways to approach the meetinghouse, from a front walkway and a back parking lot, for example, or from multiple streets if the meetinghouse is on a corner, make sure to assign groups to each approach. Towards the end of their 20 minute “tour,” eEach group should consider the questions below, confer, and report back with what they experienced and what suggestions they may have for enhancing the welcome for newcomers. at the end of a 20-minute “tour.” As it may be helpful, refer each group to the questions below. Or use them during the full group discussion if no onementions an important area or concept. In all of this, be sure to allow the groups to have their own experienceand come to their own conclusions. That said, these queries can be of help when thoughtfully used.
- How does someone unfamiliar with our meeting find information about who we are and the faith we share?
- Are directions to the meeting clear? What about public transportation?
- What about way-finding signage? How many “Do not . . .” signs do we encounter?
- What does the sign on the meetinghouse say? Is it clear that visitors are welcome? Is the wording understandable to a visitor who does not speak “Quakerese”? Could phrases like “Monthly Meeting,” “First Day,” or “Religious Society of Friends” be translated into contemporary language?
- Is it clear where visitors can park? Is it clear what entrance to use?
- How accessible is the meetinghouse to people with limited mobility or other special needs?
- Does the meetinghouse look well cared for? Would a fresh coat of paint be useful? How’s the roof? What do the landscaping, exterior, and interior of the building say about how the meeting cares about its property?
- On a Sunday morning, who’s welcoming at the door? What do they say? Is there more than one person? Did the welcoming go beyond a greeting? Would a brief tour of the building be helpful, if there is time?
- What’s the first thing you see when you enter? What do you want people to see? Is the area clean? Well lit? Cluttered?
- Is there a welcoming brochure? Other resources about the Quaker Way, Meeting for Worship, Programming for Children? Is the language approachable and inclusive?
- How are children made welcome? What is a “First Day School” anyway?
- Are the restrooms easy to find? What about the coffee? Is it clear where Meeting for Worship takes place? Is there adequate signage inside the Meetinghouse?
- Are there instructions as to what form our Quaker worship takes? How does a newcomer learn what is happening during Meeting for Worship?
- Are newcomers alerted that they will be invited to stand and introduce themselves briefly? Is this optional?
- Are seekers acquainted with the library and various brochures? Are they given the newsletter? How does a newcomer learn about ways to get involved in the life of the meeting?
- What does the organization of our space say about our priorities as a community? Is history our priority? Spirituality? Activism? Outreach? Youth? Community?
Pay attention to messages about who is welcome and who is an “outsider”:
White supremacy permeates everything, not just the words people say but all kinds of things about our culture. This culture is part of what our meetings and meetinghouses are built on and of. Are there other design elements you see in your meetinghouse that signal that different kinds of people are or aren’t welcome?
- What does the imagery in the meetinghouse say about race and other kinds of diversity? If images of people are present, do they demonstrate a contemporary and diverse picture of who Quakers are? (Different races, ages, gender identities, couple/ family units)
- What can you tell about who is part of this community and whose ideas are valued?
- What books are in the library?
- Whose pictures or words are on the walls?
- In what ways does the design of the meetinghouse, library, bulletin board, and after-meeting announcements reflect assumptions about the political beliefs, economic class, and education level of the people present?
- Can people outside the gender binary use the bathrooms? Are pronouns shared?
- In what ways is the space welcoming or unwelcoming for babies, children, and families?
Share your findings
When all groups have gathered after the tour, spend 20-30 minutes discussing your observations, suggestions, and next steps. Encourage a positive and constructive conversation by focusing on what’s working well and good ideas for going forward. To that final point, at the beginning of the exerciseas well as in front of the discussion, do. Again, be sure to care for the House & Grounds committee by highlighting what is good about the meeting’s facilities andand make surethanking them to thank the facilities committee ffor all the work they and others havebeen able to dodone for the meeting, given constraints of time and money and such. Similarly, it may be appropriate to honor the Friends who have gone before us and whose legacy can been seen in the artifacts, artwork, signage, furniture, flowerbeds, and design choices throughout the meetinghouse.
Queries for Worship Sharing:
- What makes you feel comfortable in a space and in a new space?
- What are the physical things that make your home feel like home?
- That make your meeting feel like home?
- What about if you’ve been a guest, what have been physical things that made you feel comfortable and welcome– or uncomfortable and unwelcome?
Credits: Contributed by Rick Seifert, Multnomah Meeting, and John Helding, Lopez Island Preparative Meeting. Some questions adapted from the Center for Congregations Resource Consulting Guide, 2010. Updated to include white supremacy lens by the Welcoming Friend Working Group.