Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2018 Concord Quarterly Meeting Newsletter. Reprinted here with premission.
For a while Thomas Swain had been noticing traffic backing up at our Meeting’s entrance on Rt. 352 at rush hour. Last Spring, Paul Indorf from Swarthmore Meeting and a member of the PYM Membership Development Committee emailed us data showing about 17,000 cars pass our Meeting House every day. Thomas wondered, “What if we handed out Quaker outreach cards to those drivers waiting for the light to change.”
He brought the idea to the Middletown Men’s Group, a regular meeting of some of the men in our Meeting. The Men’s Group encouraged him to think of possible strategies. This past May he brought a written proposal to Meeting for Business for discernment. The proposal was to hand out a professionally printed “rack” card containing an intro to the Meeting and Quaker Meeting for Worship, along with bottled water. Through discernment the Meeting decided the bottled water was environmentally unfriendly and changed to it to a small can of juice. The card and the can would have our contact info printed on each. Friend Indorf had encouraged Thomas to apply for a grant from the Membership Development Committee for the project. The Meeting approved the project and asked Thomas to fill out the Committee’s application for a $1000 grant. Meeting also approved funding of $300 from our resources, which we knew to be a committee requirement.
Thomas completed the necessary development form by July, having talked to some of Development members who suggested refinements to improve its appeal. The grant was approved for about $900. This plus the $300 in funds from our resources went to fund the following: printing 2 flag banners, about 1000 rack cards, two "Middletown Welcomes you @ 11:00 AM Worship” signs, and 500 6-ounce juice cans. Thomas personally printed Avery labels for the cans that reiterated our welcome and worship time. Rich Ailes and Clem Gerdlemann from our men’s group volunteered to come at the appropriate afternoon rush hour times to hand out the juice and card. They started to hand out materials at the end of October and did so about once or twice a week until the beginning of December. The three Friends will now wait until Spring for warmer temperatures and longer daylight to begin again.
Responses from those receiving our “gifts” have been very positive. Some people wanted to give us a contribution thinking we were raising money for some worthy cause. It was a delight to say “no thank you” and then hand them the card and juice saying, “Here’s something for your body and something for your soul!” Most people rode by looking straight ahead however almost all turned to look at our “Quakers Welcome You” signage as they drove by. In the five weeks of the project, the three “evangelists” gave out 200 cans of juice and a bit more of the outreach cards. A few people said they knew Quakers and appreciated what we were doing. One pleasing part of this activity was the opportunity to hand materials to people of all classes and races, a population that is quite different from a typical Quaker Meeting.
An obvious benefit to the Meeting is increased visibility. There were several drivers who did not realize our Quaker Meeting was active. But an additional benefit was making a public witness to our faith. The act of giving something nourishing as well as providing a clear statement of the spiritual gift that Quaker Meeting for Worship provides to folks who might never be touched by Quakerism was a deepening experience. The three Friends did feel a sense they were doing a little bit of God’s work in this world. . –Rich Ailes, Middletown Meeting