Peggy O’Neill was a full-year student in the 2007-2008 Resident Program. Below is a letter she wrote to her Quaker meeting in Richmond, Virginia, in spring 2008:
Greetings from Pendle Hill where I am starting my third term as a Resident Student. Since many of you have not had the opportunity to visit Pendle Hill, and may not know about the incredible opportunities here, I wanted to share a little about my experience with you. I am deeply appreciative of the support and encouragement I received from Richmond Friends Meeting to help make this possible.
This term, which runs from March 31 to June 7, I am taking 3 courses designed for Resident Students, “Discerning Our Calls,” “Organic Gardening,” and “Claiming the Creative Path.” These courses meet once a week and involve extensive reading and follow-up activities, like working in the garden or the art studio. In addition, I am taking several short courses, available for anyone, including “Facing Our Shadow,” “Making Time, Taking Time,” and “Nurturing Faithfulness.” I am also auditing a weekly French Conversation class at nearby Swarthmore College, only a 20 minute walk along a gurgling stream through a lovely wood.
My time in the art studio this year has been so satisfying. It feels so good to get my hands into clay and come out with unique little funky pots. I also have tried watercolor and mosaics and bookmaking for the first time, with surprisingly good results. At the end of each term we have an art show so we can all show the community what we have been working on, and everyone here is so encouraging and supportive of our tentative steps into new forms of art.
Every week I sing with the Gospel Choir, led by Niyonu Spann, the former dean of Pendle Hill and a fabulously gifted musician and leader of the awesome group, “Tribe 1.” Our gospel songs have become anthems for my life, with lyrics like, “Courage my soul, and let me journey on, though the night is dark, and I am far from home…,” “Thank you God for one more day!” and “God’s been good to me, She’s been good to me, He’s been good to me!” In the fall and winter terms I sang with the Pendle Hill Chorus, which is led by a professional chorale director, herself a former Pendle Hill student. We performed concerts of diverse and interesting music at the end of each term. I also have led Sacred Circle Dance and chanting for the community several times, and plan to lead a workshop here next May Day, complete with the traditional May pole.
Much of the work at Pendle Hill is done by the students as part of our experience. Every Wednesday, after a rousing Work Morning Song at the rise of Meeting for Worship, we all go off to our assignments for the day, which may involve chopping vegetables for meals, clearing garden beds, spreading mulch on the trails, or deep cleaning of sojourner rooms. Each student also has daily and weekly jobs to help maintain the community. As a Work Scholar, I have additional responsibilities as the Host for visitors.
In the fall and winter terms, I enjoyed courses on Quakerism, prayer, and meditation, including a 7-day silent meditation retreat and a workshop on Centering Prayer, creating with clay and making handmade books in the art studio, movement meditation, and several workshops on a variety of topics.
Each term I have taken a personal silent retreat for several days at the Spring House, a cozy cottage nestled in a bamboo grove overlooking a pond. I will spend a few days there in May enjoying the sounds of the frogs and the breeze blowing through the bamboo as I meditate and pray about how to integrate all this learning into my life.
As you can tell from this long list of activities, it has been a full and rich time for me here, and I haven’t even been able to do all the things that are possible. From daily Meeting for Worship every morning to Epilogue every night, the days are packed with special opportunities for learning, sharing, and growth.
I would like to encourage each of you to consider a visit to Pendle Hill, to take a workshop, to walk around the gorgeous grounds, to join daily Meeting for Worship, which has been held continuously for 80+ years, or just to come by for a meal...the food is amazing, largely organic and homemade.
I am so grateful to have had this time at Pendle Hill, and I look forward to sharing more about it with you on my return to Richmond.
With love and blessings, Peggy O’Neill