2007 Gathering of Conservative Friends
The Gathering of Conservative Friends was held at the Lampeter Friends Meeting House near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, from the 22d to the 24th of Sixth Month, 2007. Exactly 100 Friends attended, though not all at the same time.
The Gatherings have been held since the early 1960s. The first was held as a conference called the "General Meeting of Conservative Friends," among the three Conservative Yearly Meetings (Ohio, Iowa, and North Carolina). After a concern was raised in North Carolina Yearly Meeting that the three Conservative Yearly Meetings should hold periodic meetings, the General Meeting became a biennial event which rotated among the three. The General Meeting of 1974, held at West Grove NC, played a seminal role in the formation of a new meeting of plain Friends at Harrisonburg VA, which became part of Ohio Yearly Meeting. From that time, Iowa and North Carolina Friends began to step away from the General Meetings, and the meetings developed a growing attraction to plain-dressed Friends. In the early 1990s, the event was re-named the General Gathering of Conservative Friends. It is held biannually at Stillwater, with Friends outside of Ohio invited to host the event in odd-numbered years. The Gathering was hosted by Keystone Fellowship Monthly Meeting this year.
The 2007 Gathering
Keystone Fellowship Friends made a number of planning decisions with major consequences. First, the Gathering was free, though attendees could donate funds to assist with costs as they felt led. The result: several young families came with their children. Roughly one-third of attendees were in the 0-25 age range. Second, one member was able to make arrangements for Friends to stay at a local private school nearby. That allowed visiting Friends to have plenty of time together throughout the day.
On Sixth Day evening, Friends arrived at the home of a Keystone Friend for supper. Evening worship was held in a large workshop building behind the Friends' house. As in all the times of worship, the ministry met the general high standards of Ohio Friends. The leadings of the Lord were crisp and clear throughout the weekend.
On Seventh Day, breakfast was held at the local Friend's house. We held worship at the Lampeter Meeting House at 10 and had dinner at noon. The afternoon was reserved for fellowship, though during this time various committees also met. After supper, we returned to Lampeter for worship. A local man who had never attended a Friends meeting saw our cars and stopped in. At the end of the worship, he gave a brief testimony. A Friend started a campfire, and we had additional fellowship.
On First Day, Friends gathered for worship and Bible reading again in the morning. Worship was held at Lampeter at 10:00. Four people from the community attended the first Friends meeting of their lives. As usual, the ministry was particularly inspired. We returned to the local Friend's house for dinner. At 2:00, Keystone Friends held a discussion on current drawings of Christ among us, and a group of scattered plain Friends discussed online worship sessions they have been holding the past five months. After supper, a final time of worship was held, though by this time the gathering was down to about a dozen people.
An interesting aspect of the worship was the mixture of plain-dressed Friends and those who did not wear plain clothing. The two groups were about equally represented. Four plain-dressed young women, who roomed together, have been involved with the online worship. This Quaker Quadrilateral made an impression, as they often sat together wearing their bonnets. In fact, the number of plain Friends present was probably the largest such gathering of plain Friends held in many decades.
During the worship, Keystone Friends generally sat on the facing benches. At Lampeter, we worked the previous week to adjust the existing platform for the facing benches to improve the seating arrangements. These changes increased the seating capacity in the building, as we already knew that the attendance was twice what we had originally anticipated. Keystone Friends invited other appropriate Friends to sit on the facing benches, including visiting ministers and other public Friends.
The ministry generally fell into three categories. The most common was the FGC-influenced ministry, in which the speaker would start with something like "yesterday on our way to the grocery store..." The second type of ministry was the common Wilburite style, which features more Scriptural references less autobiographical material. Third was prayer. As common, Ohio Friends follow the traditional Quaker practice of the person appearing in supplication kneeling. Men remove their hats while another Friend prays.
The Gathering was a time of spiritual renewal for many Friends, a time during which the Lord created many new friendships and gave each of us new direction in meeting the needs of those around us. It was a wonderful time for many and will be long remembered by many.