In my unprogrammed meeting we have one program and I'm on the program committee that plans it. It's called "Connections," and it falls between the two worship hours. Last Sunday, Pentecost for those who believe in liturgy, we planned for Connections a worship sharing on the topic of departed elders. By "departed" we meant anyone who no longer came to meeting, whether they had died or moved away or couldn't come because of illness or other reasons. By "elder" we meant anyone we had loved and admired.
The worship sharing was very serene. Friends spoke of a number of elders whose lives and ministry had given us joy and hope and guidance. One particular elder, who isn't dead but rather in the late stages of Alzheimer's Disease, came up again and again. It was as if she was present there with us and we were thanking her for the many gifts she brought to the meeting for much of her life. Several Friends spoke about her ability to welcome everyone and make newcomers feel known and cared for. I spoke about the memorial meeting we had held recently for her husband. She had offered ministry there and had seemed to be having a vision of reunion with her parents and other loved ones after death. She said she saw her mother among us. She felt overwhelmed with joy. A Friend said that this elder had often had such experiences even before she developed Alzheimer's. She seemed to live in two worlds at once.
Welcoming, deeply living the belief that "all are welcome," was the gift these elders all seemed to have in common and the one we remembered with the most gratitude.
After the worship sharing, a Friend said he'd like the program committee to offer a discussion about Friends and disabilities because he doesn't feel we welcome people with disabilities very well.
A Friend I didn't know told me that he had grown up in our meeting but hadn't been there in twenty years. He remembered all of the people who had been mentioned, though. And he said he wished Memorial Day was celebrated in the way we held our worship sharing, not by large crowds watching parades and speeches, but by small groups of people gathering to remember and honor each unique human being they loved.