Spiritual Formation Program Working Group Annual Reports
Every spring, each Committee of the Yearly Meeting is requested to prepare a report of their activities over the prior 12 months. These reports are gathered and shared during Annual Session, and then are printed in the Yearbook for that year.
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The Spiritual Formation Program hosted a fall retreat at Priest Field Pastoral Center in Kearneysville, West Virginia from 8th - 10th Ninth Month 2017. Forty seven Friends from 19 Monthly Meetings gathered around the theme of “Pilgrims on the Journey.” We enjoyed time for individual reflection and writing, sharing in small groups, fellowship during meals, and walks along the wooded pathways of Priest Field. Our voices were lifted in song and our times in worship were deep. Friends returned to their Meetings after the retreat to begin the year in their local Spiritual Formation groups.
We were also joined for this retreat by two Friends from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Spiritual Formation Collaborative, who were eager to experience one of our BYM Spiritual Formation retreats and to deepen their connections to and collaboration with the BYM Spiritual Formation Working Group. These Friends’ presence with us was a blessing, as it granted us the opportunity to reflect on how the BYM Spiritual Formation has evolved in recent years--an evolution that has grown the health and vitality of the program. The PYM SF Collaborative would like to use our new program marketing materials as they broaden and deepen their reach within PYM.
We also gleaned helpful information about the program through a survey conducted by the BYM Spiritual Formation Working Group. Program participants expressed gratitude for the spiritual nurture and fellowship they experience through the program. One noted that “in the warp and weft of our Monthly Meeting as well as BYM. . . the Spiritual Formation Program is important to a sustainable tapestry.” Friends enjoy “meeting Friends from other Meetings” and affirmed that “whatever is done to foster fellowship between Meetings is great.” The structure of the retreats was affirmed to be helpful as Friends loved “the balance of individual free time for personal meditation and prayer with time for one-on-one, small group, and whole group sharing.”
At the winter meeting of the Spiritual Formation Working Group, we reflected on the survey responses and discerned a need to move the retreats--for at least the near future--to Shepherd’s Spring Outdoor Ministry and Retreat Center in Sharpsburg, Maryland, where we had hosted the Spring 2017 retreat. The staff at Shepherd’s Spring proved to be lovingly accommodating of dietary and other physical needs of retreatants (in ways that Priest Field could no longer do given some organizational change). The lack of such accommodations had made the physical hospitality of the retreats challenging for some Friends.
Therefore, in the Spring of 2018, we hosted our retreat at Shepherd’s Spring. Thirty-seven Friends from 13 Monthly Meetings gathered around the theme of “Living Into and From the Center.” We followed a path of stillness to the center in chant and prayer based on the words of Psalm 46, “Peace, be still and know that I am God.” We meditated on the words of early Friend Isaac Penington who encouraged us to “give over thine own willing, give over thine own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything.” From this place of deep rest we could feel the seed of God “grow. . . be. . . breathe. . . and act” in us as we moved outward from the center. Joan Gugerty (Stony Run) led us in a peaceful body prayer and a connecting circle dance; Ruth Fitz (York) drew beautiful harmonies from us as we chanted and sang in the round. We celebrated our year of connection and mutual nurture through the retreats and our local Spiritual Formation programs.
We attribute the growth in retreat attendance (both more individual retreatants and more local Meetings represented) to our new marketing and outreach campaign. In close coordination with the Associate General Secretary of BYM, we stage a series of visually appealing email messages that are sent to our widening Spiritual Formation listserv. We have also focused on supporting individuals in local Meetings who can help to recruit new participants and ensure the stability and nurture of their local Spiritual Formation group. At each retreat, we host a session for local program organizers. We continue to offer an Interest Group at Annual Session to help Friends start or renew programs in their Meetings. The booklet we created in 2017 continues to serve the program well; we regularly send copies of the booklet to Meetings and individuals who express interest. They regularly affirm that the booklet is inviting and helpful in their discernment about whether or when to participate in the program. We are well supported by the BYM General Secretary, Director of Development, and Presiding Clerk who help to promote and tell the story of how Spiritual Formation helps to deepen the sense of spiritual community within and across Monthly Meetings. We are grateful for this support, and for the ongoing nurture of the BYM Ministry and Pastoral Care committee.
In the coming year, we hope to develop a broader sense of how many Friends across the Yearly Meeting are participating in local Spiritual Formation groups through their Meetings (since not all participants attend our fall or spring retreats each year). This continuing nature of the program is one of its great strengths, and we hope to better understand what sustains the program in local Meetings. So, too, we hope to discover ways to connect Friends at very small Meetings with other Friends for the ongoing nurture and support the program provides between the fall and spring retreats.
Amy Schmaljohn (Gunpowder) and Alan Evans (Gunpoweder)
The Spiritual Formation Program hosted a fall retreat at Priest Field Pastoral Center in Kearneysville, West Virginia from 2nd - 4th Ninth Month 2016. Thirty eight Friends from 14 Monthly Meetings gathered around the theme of “Renewing our Connection to Spirit, Practice, and Community.” We enjoyed time for individual reflection and writing, sharing in small groups, fellowship during meals, and walks along the Opequon Creek. Our voices were lifted in song and our times in worship were deep. Friends returned to their Monthly Meetings after the retreat to begin the year in their local Spiritual Formation groups.
At the December meeting of the Spiritual Formation Working Group, we discerned a need to approach our Spring retreat a bit differently than in past years. While our Fall retreats are regularly attended by 40 Friends, Spring retreats in recent years have been about half that size. As Priest Field Pastoral Center can only accommodate us on the Mother’s Day weekend each year, we decided to move the retreat to Shepherd’s Spring Outdoor Ministry and Retreat Center in Sharpsburg, Maryland. We also shortened the retreat to one night, hoping that more Friends could thereby attend. Finally, we designed a new marketing campaign for the retreat that included a printed brochure shared at Interim Meeting in Third Month and a series of email communications coordinated through the Yearly Meeting office.
These efforts yielded a stronger turnout than in past years: 32 Friends from 11 Monthly Meetings gathered at Shepherd’s Spring from 5th - 6th Fifth Month 2017. The staff and setting could not have been more hospitable. Despite the cool and rain, we were warmed by the fireplace in our gathering room and by the nourishing meals prepared by the chef. Our theme of “Living in Unity with Spirit” invited us to deep reflection and worship. We enjoyed time out of doors on woodland and meadow walking paths and at the Heifer Global Village (a teaching site that includes homes and gardens from the many countries where Heifer works). Asked about their experiences through a post-retreat survey, Friends responded favorably to both the new location and the shortened format.
The Working Group is now focusing on new methods of outreach to Monthly Meetings and Friends across Baltimore Yearly Meeting. We have written and designed a new booklet (and other marketing materials) for the program that we will share at Annual Session in 2017. We hosted a session at the Spring retreat expressly for Friends who wanted to begin or renew a Spiritual Formation Program at their Monthly Meeting. We will, once again, host an Interest Group at Annual Session for this same purpose. We know from experience that Spiritual Formation programs thrive in Monthly Meetings where a Friend or two are willing to serve as facilitators. We will, therefore, continue to focus our efforts on identifying and supporting Friends who can serve in this way.
The Clerks of our Working Group remain in communication with members of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Spiritual Formation Collaborative, who have expressed interest in joining us for an upcoming retreat. One of our clerks is also serving on the Advisory Committee for the Friends General Conference Spiritual Deepening Program. Through these connections, we hope to continue to share the evolution of the BYM Spiritual Formation Program and to benefit from the wisdom and experiences of other programs supporting the spiritual nurture of Friends.
We remain grateful for the care and attention provided for the Spiritual Formation Program by the Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee and by the Yearly Meeting staff.
The Spiritual Formation Working Group hosted a Fall Retreat at the beautiful Priest Field Center on the banks of West Virginia’s Opequon River from 4th-6th Ninth Month 2015. Forty-three Friends from ten Monthly Meetings gathered for a weekend of fellowship and reflection on the theme of “Intention and Attention: Our Journey in Spiritual Formation Community.” In our opening circle on Friday evening, each participant offered a word, phrase, or image that represented the “greatest contributor to the formation of my spiritual life”: through this sharing our circle of fellowship deepened. Over the course of the weekend, we explored various spiritual practices, practiced the deep listening at the heart of spiritual friendship, nurtured and forged relationships within and across our monthly meetings, and enjoyed the woodland setting of Priest Field. On Saturday evening we expanded our usual format of soulful singing to include movement and dance inspired by several participants—the joy and laughter carried us to Quaker “midnight” and beyond. Our worship during the retreat was covered and gathered; we departed Priest Field prepared to steward our local Spiritual Formation groups during the coming year.
Our Working Group met on 2nd Fourth Month 2016 to reflect on our Fall Retreat, plan the Spring Retreat, and to attend to the overall needs of the program. We noted that the changes we made to our registration and communication practices (as noted in our 2015 report to BYM) had yielded fruit and were among the factors contributing to the good turnout for the Fall Retreat. So, too, was the availability of financial aid made possible by the Yearly Meeting: four Friends were able to attend the retreat because of this fund. At this meeting, we more formally defined our roles and responsibilities within the Working Group and happily committed to two formal meetings each year.
During Second Month 2016, the clerks of our Working Group met with the clerks of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Spiritual Formation Collaborative. We enjoyed a time of worship together. We then shared the journeys of our respective programs, noting how each had evolved over the past several decades. We feel a deep kinship with the PYM program leaders and will continue to find ways to support and learn from one another. We hope to extend our fellowship to include leaders of Spiritual Formation Programs in other Yearly Meetings.
We hosted our Spring Retreat at Priest Field from 13th - 15th Fifth Month 2016 on the theme of “Dance of the Spirit: Wholeness, Community, and Co-Creativity.” While the number of retreatants (21) was smaller than in the Fall, our time together was rich and gathered. We shared “steppingstones” on our journey to wholeness, named and affirmed the gifts present to us in our Meeting communities, and considered how we were being led to use these gifts with faithfulness and courage. A member of the PYM SF Collaborative joined us for our Spring Retreat, thus deepening our working relationship and understanding of one another’s programs.
Among the leading emphases in our work over the coming year will be reaching out to Young Adult Friends to learn how the Spiritual Formation Program might support them. We also hope to find a pathway to helping individuals gather and facilitate Spiritual Formation Programs at Monthly Meetings (and regions) where the program is not currently active.
The Spiritual Formation Working Group expresses our gratitude to the Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee (under whose care we work) and to the Yearly Meeting staff who, collectively, provide us with the spiritual and practical support we need to steward this beloved program of the Yearly Meeting.
The Spiritual Formation Working Group, comprising Friends from Gunpowder, Baltimore-Stony Run, York, and Friends Meeting of Washington, met recently to reflect on our year’s work and on the state of the program under our care.
Our Fall Retreat in Ninth Month of 2014 at the beautiful Priest Field center in Kearneysville, West Virginia provided space and time for participants to reflect on our experiences of trusting in the Spirit’s abiding presence. Thirty-six Friends from twelve Monthly Meetings attended the retreat. We practiced the deep listening at the heart of spiritual friendship; we were nourished by the fellowship of singing, shared meals, and walks along the beautiful woodland paths at Priest Field. New and continuing “local” groups started another year of shared spiritual journeys and deepening spiritual community that would sustain Friends beyond the retreat.
As the time approached for our Spring Retreat in Fifth Month 2015, we did not have sufficient registrations to hold the retreat as planned. After careful discernment, we canceled the retreat. By taking a step back from our usual program routine, we have gained insight and perspective that will strengthen the program going forward. Our Working Group sat in worship to consider how the Spiritual Formation Program can best nurture the spiritual deepening of individuals and Meetings across the Yearly Meeting. Out of worship, we were led to carefully examine all aspects of the program, from the format, to registration and accounting procedures, the location and costs of retreats, and our communication and outreach activities. We developed a survey now being conducted among past participants to better understand what draws individuals and Meetings to the Spiritual Formation Program, and what barriers may prevent others from participating. We also traveled to Sandy Spring for a very helpful meeting with the Yearly Meeting staff.
From this analysis and reflection, we have made some changes. Our more disciplined registration and accounting practices will help us to work more effectively with the Yearly Meeting staff. After considering other possible sites for our annual retreats—weighing costs, location, dining services, and accessibility—we have decided to stay at Priest Field for the near future. We have secured dates for the upcoming retreats in the Fall of 2015 and Spring of 2016 (avoiding a conflict with Mother’s Day). We have requested that $2000 be made available by the Yearly Meeting each year so that we can provide financial assistance to those who request support.
In the coming year, we will consider what support local (Meeting) groups may want or need from the Working Group between the Fall and Spring retreats. WE will also continue to learn with and from our counterparts in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, whose program has been evolving in ways both similar and different than our own. We seek to diversify our Working Group to include Friends from more Monthly Meetings and to make the program more attractive to Young Adult Friends.
The Baltimore Yearly Meeting Spiritual Formation Program continues to nurture individuals and Meeting communities across the Yearly Meeting. During the 2013-2014 program year, eleven Monthly Meetings hosted “local” groups for the program, which provided space and time for sharing our spiritual journeys, reflecting on selected readings, and exploring the ways in which spiritual practices inform our journeys.
Complementing these “local” spiritual friendship groups are the Fall and Spring retreats, held at the Priestfield center just west of Charles Town, West Virginia. Forty-three Friends attended these retreats, which provided times for deepening relationships across the Yearly Meeting and exploring themes that connect our lives as seekers. This year, Friends gathered to worship, share stories, and engage in creative work around the themes of “Co-Creativity with the Inward Spirit” and “Darkness, Light, and New Growth.”
The program’s Working Group includes Friends from four Monthly Meetings. We are especially grateful for the ministry of singing and music provided by Ruth Fitz of York Monthly Meeting. We are working to sustain the program’s service to the Yearly Meeting by exploring lower-cost retreat options and program scholarships.
In its thirtieth year, BYM’s Spiritual Formation Program in 2012-2013 served 56 Friends from 15 Monthly Meetings through participation in the fall and spring retreats. The retreats are consistently cited as opportunities for deepening our individual spiritual lives and for knitting relationships of Friends, friends, and Friendship throughout the Yearly Meeting. A group of Friends from three Monthly Meetings facilitates these retreats. Many more Friends participate in the program through Monthly Meeting large- and small-group formats. Friends from the Spiritual Formation Program have visited several meetings, and are exploring ways to improve communication with Friends in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
Participation in the Spiritual Formation Program in 2011-2012 increased considerably from the previous year: 56 Friends from 14 Meetings attended one or both retreats (up from 34 Friends from eight Meetings in 2010-2011). Local groups drew additional Friends who did not attend the retreats. Through donations and careful stewardship of funds, we were able to provide full or partial retreat scholarships for four Friends.
Our Fall and Spring retreats at the Priestfield Pastoral Center in West Virginia provide time for fellowship and deepening of relationships across the Yearly Meeting. We experienced deep worship, shared our spiritual journeys, explored various spiritual practices, and sat quietly in the beautiful landscape of the Opequon Creek and surrounding woodlands. Reflecting on the retreats, one Friend noted that they “took me away from everyday concerns to a quiet place for contemplation.” We are blessed by the generous hospitality of the staff at Priestfield and by the frequent presence of retreatants from the wider Catholic community.
Between the Fall and Spring Retreats, Friends gathered twice monthly in local groups to nurture one another on the spiritual journey through shared meals, readings, and worship. One Friend expressed gratitude for this “relational format to nurture spirituality,” which is “exactly what I have been looking for my entire spiritual journey.”
As rich as the Spiritual Formation experience is for many Friends, we are aware of the need to nurture the local groups more deliberately in the coming year: some struggled with inconsistent attendance and others with a drift in focus and structure. We continue to explore how to foster continuity and cohesiveness of the program if some Friends participate only in the local groups. We also hope to grow more fully into our new standing as a working group under the care of Ministry and Pastoral Care. We remain grateful for the support and encouragement of the Yearly Meeting, and for the continuing call to this ministry of spiritual nurture within this blessed community.
The Spiritual Formation Program nurtured deep spiritual growth in its participants this year. Thirty-four Friends from eight Meetings within BYM participated in the September and/or May weekend retreats held at Priest Field Pastoral Center in West Virginia. We were able to grant partial scholarships to three of these Friends to enable them to attend the retreats. An additional thirty-six Friends from among these eight Meetings participated in the Spiritual Formation Program but did not attend the retreats, giving a total participation of seventy Friends. In addition to these eight Meetings represented at the retreats, several other BYM Meetings continued their own Spiritual Formation Programs during the year. The September opening retreat introduced participants to the Program, allowed participants to sample several spiritual practices, and provided guidance for local group organization and sharing. Local groups met throughout the year in a spirit of community hospitality and fellowship, read spiritual books together, and shared their individual spiritual journeys and spiritual practices. The May retreat included sharing of personal stories and seasons of the spiritual life, worship sharing around a wonderful Faith and Play story about the journey and faithfulness of Mary Fisher, and sharing around queries about hidden blessings in the tapestry of life. On the final day of the retreat, we had a worshipful discussion of what the Spiritual Formation Program means to the participants. Several Friends commented on the importance of the Program in their spiritual lives. It was a wonderful year!