Church of Mary Magdalene 1: State of the Church
[A report prepared for the Ministry & Worship Committee of Atlanta Friends Meeting on the progress of the semi-programmed midweek meeting for worship we have named Church of Mary Magdalene]
When we (Hannah Hill and Ashley Wilcox) first proposed the idea of semi-programmed midweek worship to Ministry & Worship in December, we really did not know what this would look like, though we had a clear leading to do it. After having the midweek worship for six weeks, we have a much better sense of what this worship is and what we hope it will be.
The midweek worship is a place where women preach. It is a community where the voices of women, queer people, and others on the margins are centered. This is not just a worship where women and queer people are welcome, but rather a worship by and for women and queer people. We meet on Wednesday nights at 7pm at Atlanta Friends Meeting. Our semi-programmed format includes singing, scripture, a prepared message, 20-30 minutes of open worship, an offering, and prayer. Worship usually lasts about an hour and 15 minutes.
Our attendance had a high of 23 and a low of five, and in the past few weeks has averaged about eight. The largest demographic is white women in their 20-30s. Many of our attendees are new to Friends worship; we have welcomed people who are Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Catholic, and United Church of Christ, in addition to Quakers. Through the semi-programmed worship, we are teaching newcomers about Quaker worship, and they are worshiping and offering messages out of the silence.
As a central part of this worship, and to make the worship more accessible to people with disabilities and who live at a distance, we are using social media in innovative ways. For example:
- We named the worship Church of Mary Magdalene, with a corresponding Facebook page and Twitter handle, @ChurchofMaryMag. This name is drawing people who might not come if we just called it “semi-programmed midweek worship.”
- We are putting the order of service on the Facebook page as a note each week, and asking people to follow along there instead of printing it out.
- We ask attendees to check in on Facebook, to help spread the word.
- We are live streaming the prepared message each week, so that people who are unable to come in person can participate in worship.
People are engaging with us through this social media outreach. Currently, our Facebook page has 183 likes. The live stream of the first message on January 4 has 338 views, and messages we have live streamed since average about 100 views. Our Twitter account has 77 followers (and was featured on Unvirtuous Abbey!). In addition, Friends in other yearly meetings are interested in how we are using social media and using our social media outreach as an example.
Here are some of the ways we have connected with others through social media and in Atlanta Friends Meeting:
- We received a direct message from a former Friend, who found us on Twitter. He left an Evangelical meeting in Virginia over LGBT issues. He was glad to know that we are inclusive of LGBT people, and planned to watch the live stream.
- A member of Atlanta Friends Meeting offered to play Easter music for midweek worship the Wednesday before Easter. He said that he enjoyed doing this before when there was semi-programmed worship in Atlanta Friends Meeting.
- A law school classmate of Ashley’s who lives in Idaho listened to the live stream message “On Being Salt and Light,” Matthew 5:13-20. She said that the message helped her when a member of her community passed away later that week.
- Friends of Hannah who reside in Pennsylvania and New Jersey watch the prepared messages. They have stated that growing up in a male-dominated clergy was oppressive and are happy to be see women preaching.
We are working on how money should flow in and out of the midweek worship. At the suggestion of the Atlanta Friends Meeting Treasurer, we proposed a budget to Finance Committee. The amount we came up with to value the time of the people contributing and make this worship sustainable is $210/week:
- $60 for two people to provide childcare for two hours
- $50 for two musicians
- $100 for the prepared message
The amount we have taken in the offering so far includes:
- $132 in cash and checks (all has gone to the AFM general fund)
- $100 of in-kind donations (musicians giving back the $25 we offered them, to support the worship)
- Total of $232 in six weeks
The midweek worship’s expenses (paid by Ashley and Hannah out of pocket) so far are:
- $25 for one musician on 2/1
- $30 for one childcare provider on 2/1
We are currently under budget because we have not yet had the full amount of people we envision participating in the work of the worship (i.e., two childcare providers, two people leading music). There are people who have expressed a desire to donate to support the midweek worship, but we have told them to wait to donate until we have a clear sense of how our finances will function.
Our goals for the future at this point all have to do with relationships. We want to work toward financial sustainability (be clear on our relationship money); find elders from within the worship to provide support and accountability; and continue to connect with the online community.