Friends Meeting of Washington Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports
The text of recently received Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports are below, with the most recently received at the top and older reports below. To jump to a particular report, simply click the year listed below.
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This year the Spiritual State of the Meeting was conducted through gatherings of worship sharing. Over the years, from time to time, the committee has used surveys to analyze the spiritual state of the meeting. This year it was obvious we had a very low turnout of those who participated in the worship sharing. The Ministry and Worship Committee is tasked with preparing and presenting the Spiritual State of the Meeting Report however, it is the responsibility of all Friends to participate in this process. Inherent in any process, particularly one with a small, self-selected group of respondents, is the possibility of missing important themes or over-emphasizing views that are not widely held. The Ministry and Worship Committee continues to discuss ways to engage Friends at our meeting in the SSOM process.
We focused on our worship together and our experience of community within Friends Meeting of Washington. Several common themes emerged which are reported here. Friends’ experience and concern with the various Meetings for Worship, recent conflict and disturbances, our building project, and social action were shared.
A Friend observed that there are a significant number of young people who attend Friends Meeting of Washington. The Friend thinks this is important. “Young people change the character of the meeting,” said the Friend. Another Friend remarked that there was a sense of joy when the children join us for worship and this Friend said the presence of the children is a blessing. Another Friend was impressed by the support we give the children at FMW.
Several Friends concurred that committees are a huge part of the spiritual life of FMW. Committee work is important and contributes to the spiritual life of the meeting, Friends said. “It is important to be on a committee. It is how the meeting functions. It is how one gets involved.” one Friend said. Another Friend shared that there is a great strength to the FMW community now. There is activism and people are involved with various social causes these days.
Friends discussed our worship together at FMW over the last year. There has been some conflict and change within the last several months. One Friend noted that we now have 6 separate Meetings for Worship at FMW. The most recently added Meeting for Worship came into existence to address and resolve a recent conflict. The new Meeting for Worship has now taken on a life of its own. “All our Meetings for Worship shouldn’t be the same, each Meeting for Worship has its own characteristics” a Friend said. However, more than one Friend wondered if the newest Meeting for Worship will survive? A friend stated that the latest Meeting for Worship will survive but only if there is energy behind it. “The uncomfortable things that happen are a sign of some good which will come” another Friend said regarding conflict in the meeting. Other Friends also remarked on the various Meetings for Worship at FMW.
A Friend noted that there has been a “spiritual deepening” in the last several months since disturbances at Meeting for Worship, in the Meeting Room at 10:30, have been addressed. The goal of our worship is to be “gathered and deep”, a Friend shared. Other Friends agreed that it is a good thing to have Meetings for Worship which have different characteristics and numbers of those who worship together. “Different People have different needs” a Friend remarked speaking to the different Meetings for Worship at FMW. Although, another Friend observed that “…we are not meant to be a home for everyone, we are a lay-by for some who come to worship with us.”
Although the FMW construction project and our social action was not a specific topic of the worship sharing for the Spiritual State of the Meeting, Friends were led to share their concerns and thoughts.
The building project has gotten people “disturbed” and it is a part of the upheaval we have been experiencing one Friend said. “We cannot be a part of a community which is only about a building project” one Friend said. “We should be both about social action and a building project” another Friend said. One Friend raised a concern about whether our involvement with social issues will “flourish”? “Having to pay a mortgage is a huge part of what we have to do for the next 20 years. What will this do to our meeting” a Friend said and asked, “What is our dream for the next 20 years?” It was pointed out that the construction project leads to the vibrancy of the meeting because Friends see a future here at FMW. In addition, the growing meetings in Baltimore Yearly Meeting are those under construction, a Friend noted.
“What keeps us together at FMW? Is it the construction project or our social action? Or is it the reason for why we are undergoing a building project and for our social action?” a Friend said. One Friend concluded by stating that within the Religious Society of Friends, we value listening. The Friend said “I look forward to holding that value in The Light because we will be tested by the commercial aspect of what we are doing and our social action. Listening will be important to us as we move through the next 20 years.”
It is hard to ignore the impact of the presidential election on our meeting. It has at once raised hopes FMW can be a true Shining Light that will attract new members while reviving worries we may not be up to the task of being such a Light. Some are more engaged in political activities while Republicans wonder if there is a place for them at FMW.
We used this year’s Spiritual State of the Meeting to get a sense from members, attenders and sojourners about what brought them to Quakerism, their hopes for the meeting and the barriers they face in getting more involved.
Here are a few observations from this year’s survey:
Of course everyone’s path to Quakerism and FMW was unique. One fact stood out. Many said they decided to investigate the Quaker faith after seeing or meeting a Quaker in action. That leads to a natural question: Are we at FMW being “seen” enough? Are we active in our community?
Many members hope FMW can find a better balance between silence and vocal ministry.
Some believe we should try to find a better way to balance messages of social activism and the needs of the spirit.
There was agreement we must commit to working “consistently and persistently” work to remove barriers that keep many people of color away.
There was hope we would improve adult religious education to make sure everyone’s spiritual needs are being addressed.
There was hope of additional volunteers to go help in the First Day school so that parents can attend meeting.
There was hope the Meeting could become more welcoming.
There were indications that some unduly aggressive messages have dissuaded newcomers from joining the Meeting.
The work ahead for Ministry and Worship is to share the findings with our fellow committees and go through some joint assessments. We must be open to try new approaches while holding onto what has worked in the past. We must find ways to unify our meeting. The way ahead is not clear. But as one attender said: “Quakers get to the right place in the end.”
A recurrent concern is that the unprogrammed nature of the Meeting is put at risk by misbehaviors of some who insist on speaking every week. We doubt that weekly messages really come from the Spirit. We remind Members and Attenders that preparing messages is against Quaker practice. We are also concerned about the offensive nature of some of these messages. It is disrespectful to the Meeting to behave in such a way and the question becomes: to protect the special needs of a few but essentially one person, are we not putting the Meeting in crisis and sacrificing the spiritual needs of many others who long to have an unprogrammed Meeting and take refuge in the “smaller” Meetings or simply leave?
The idea for a new approach to the Spiritual State of the Meeting (SSOM) survey in 2016 originated in events of 2015. The SSoM report adopted in the spring of that year identified a tension in Friends Meeting of Washington between “long-timers” in the Meeting who had been attending ten years or more, and relative “newcomers” who are often unsure of “how things work and how they can fit in.”
Awareness of this tension was heightened in mid-2015 when incidents of inappropriate behavior and harassment on the part of one Friend came to the attention of the broader Meeting. These incidents, which had been ongoing for some time, were thought to evidence problems in communication and problem-solving between older and young adult Friends. One dimension of this challenge was the fact that, in addition to personal communication, digital and social media had been used as a tool for the troubling behavior.
In response, in their October 2015 annual report, the Committee on Ministry and Worship recommended the creation of a Futures Task Force to identify ways to better bridge the generational gap and make recommendations to carry the Meeting into a future that is more diverse, digital, and dynamic than any Quakers have ever experienced before.
Members of Ministry and Worship designed a 15-question closed-ended survey intended to lay the groundwork for a more substantive discussion about the Meeting in the Future. M&W made the survey available to members and attenders of FMW online via Survey Monkey. Hard copies were also available. A total of 91 people responded to the survey – a richer number than in recent previous years.
Once the initial survey results had been tallied, and following the custom of 2015, M&W convened a series of 5 (??) focus groups in order to gain additional perspective from Friends on some of the findings. These focus groups included Friends of all ages and were extremely helpful in expanding our understanding.
One of the most important messages from the focus groups is that Friends would like to have ongoing opportunities to dialogue about issues such as the ones that emerged from the SSoM survey. They feel that regular (monthly, semi-monthly?) opportunities to get together for substantive conversations will be much more beneficial to the Meeting’s spiritual health than a once-a-year survey that is presented, discussed, adopted, and then put on the shelf.
The Friends Meeting of Washington survey and focus groups illuminated a community that is remarkably diverse, but also grounded in a shared understanding of several key principles and testimonies. This draft report presents six themes that illustrate this diversity and commonality.
- Integrity and equality are foundational Quaker testimonies.
- Stewardship will be increasingly important in the future.
- Many in the Meeting do not expect that Friends will have a great impact in the world of the future.
- Our inspiration comes from many sources – well beyond traditional Quaker works.
- Our spiritual practices focus inward and outward.
- The Society of Friends – and FMW -- face external and internal challenges to growth.
Preceding each theme in the body of this report is a quotation cited in the survey or focus groups. Following each theme is a query that may be used for further dialogue and illumination.
"There is that of God in everyone."
Nine of every ten of us agree.
Integrity and equality are foundational Quaker testimonies.
When asked to weigh each of six Quaker testimonies, more Friends selected “integrity” and “equality” as important than any other. We asked Friends to elaborate in our focus groups. They emphasized that integrity and equality are not necessarily higher in rank than the other testimonies; rather they are foundational. They underpin everything we believe and do. They keep us grounded. One Friend pointed out that we are Seekers of Truth, and integrity is a by-product of living in the Truth.
A majority of those responding to the survey indicated that the Quaker testimony on “simplicity” was less important. And yet, simplicity was cited as being “very difficult to implement” by more of us than any of the other testimonies. It also received the “worst” rating in terms of how the world we live in respects our principles.
What does “equality” mean in an interconnected global community with members of so many races, ethnicities, languages, cultural backgrounds, sexualities and gender identities, abilities / disabilities, income levels, ages? What does it mean in the community that is our Meeting?
In this world, have we given up on “simplicity,” or do we need to spend some time as a community redefining it in today’s context? How can we (should we?) let our lives speak?
"The best recreation is to do good."
Four of ten of us agree. An equal number say "probably."
Stewardship will be increasingly important in the future.
More than two-thirds of us indicated on the survey that the Quaker testimony of “stewardship” is not very important. And yet, an equal share of us believes that stewardship will become more important in the future. None of the other testimonies was considered to be increasing in importance by as many of us as was stewardship.
In the focus groups, Friends emphasized that stewardship is important in terms of the environment, but it also means taking care of the Meeting – financially, spiritually, and by nurturing and mentoring others.
Queries: What does “stewardship” mean in today’s world of finite resources (energy, land, clean water, food, money, time, talent, more)? What aspects will become more important in the future? Will we be challenged most directly at the personal, Meeting, community, national, or global level?
"I believe in the light of Love."
Three of every four of us agree.
Many in the Meeting do not expect that Friends will have a great impact in the world of the future.
The survey asked whether Quakers as a group will have an “important” impact, a “little” impact, or “no” impact on each of testimonies in the next ten years. Across all testimonies, the vast weight of responses was in the “a little” impact category. Friends were most likely to believe that we will have an impact on peace and equality over the next ten years – although this was true for fewer than one-third of us. When asked to assess the future influence of Quakers on all six testimonies, approximately one of seven of us said “I don’t know.”
In the focus groups, Friends pointed out that “largely silent meetings are not always nourishing.” Our Meeting is a place we can go to in order to restore “our connection with our values.” There are people in the Meeting who exemplify these core values; they let their lives speak? “What happened to the FMW of 1968 and radical activism?” The Meeting sees this pessimistic outlook as a challenge for our future as Friends have had a disproportional influence in the past.
Query: Do our responses to this question indicate a lack of confidence? Lack of inspiration? Too many things on our plates? Or do Quakers choose to let our lives speak through activism in organizations and causes outside the Meeting?
"There is more to spiritual life than complying with the rules and practices of a church."
More of us agree with this statement than with any other on the survey.
Our inspiration comes from many sources – well beyond traditional Quaker works.
Friends find spiritual inspiration and nourishment from many different sources. When asked what is “central to our lives,” more of us selected the teachings of Jesus, Mysticism, and Christianity than any other source. The teachings of Jesus were also cited as being “inspirational” to more than half of us – following the source of inspiration selected by an even greater number of Friends: the teachings of Buddha. Other sources of inspiration included Taoism and Judaism.
More than three-quarters of us “mostly disagree” with Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christianity – a more negative rating than was received by any other spiritual resource.
One-third or more of us indicated that we simply do not know much about Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, or the teachings of Moses.
Query: Are these various perspectives in tension in our community? Are there ways we can ensure they enhance our communal spiritual experience?
"I am seeking continuous revelation."
Almost seven of every ten of us agree.
Our spiritual practices focus inward and outward.
Friends were asked how we enhance our spiritual lives. The responses were quite diverse and reflected an emphasis on both inward and outward expressions of faith. Half or more of all Friends said that we provide service to others; read philosophy, ethics, or spiritual writings; meditate regularly; meet socially with friends; study social issues; and pray. Fewer Friends participate in activities customary within other denominations, such as studying the Bible, fasting, or seeking to attract others to our faith.
In the focus groups conducted after the survey, examples of faith in action provided by Young Adult Friends were the most animated and wide-ranging. Young Friends illustrated their views with personal examples related to how we work, what we buy, what we eat, what we own, how we live, how we view global and national events, how we tap into talents, how we relate to one another.
Query: Do we foster and nourish an ongoing exchange of spiritual experiences and perspectives between older and younger Friends? Are there things we could do more or better?
"Those who are guided by the light of God are one."
Three of every ten of us agree, but four of ten said "No" or "I don't know."
The Society of Friends—and FMW—faces external and internal challenges to growth.
We asked why there are so few Quakers compared to other faith groups, and Friends answered both broadly and specifically. Half or more of us feel that people in general are growing more secular in their thinking, people who enjoy silence are not good at marketing themselves to others, and many people still have a stereotypical image of Quakers.
A significant number of us also referenced two concerns about our own meeting, which have come up repeatedly in previous surveys and discussions. One such issue involves vocal ministry that is jarring and spiritually unsettling – or as one Friend put it, “intempestive” – and that discourages newcomers from ever coming back.
Another issue is that “meetings are so tolerant that they tolerate bad behavior and harassment.” One Friend in a focus group said that “we live in denial, and don’t want to hear about these things.” Another challenged that “we need to equip ourselves better with communication and integrity.”
Query: These challenges have come up in different forms, but repeatedly, in SSoM surveys of recent years. What do we need to do differently to address them, or are we content to live with them as they are?
"Opting out is not a neutral choice."
"We have to make imperfect decisions in an imperfect world."
Observations from the Young Adult Friends Focus Group
We encourage Friends Meeting of Washington to use the results of the SSoM process to stimulate ongoing dialogue about ways in which individual Quakers and our Meeting can let our lives speak in the dynamic future that already surrounds us. Those who participated in our focus groups asked for regular opportunities to get together and discuss the issues that emerged. We believe that this is a very good idea, which will be enriched by the full participation of both long-time members and new-comers, and by those of all ages. Perhaps the queries presented in this report can provide starting points. There are many more, for sure.
The Spiritual State of the Meeting report is Ministry and Worship's annual effort to feel the pulse of the Meeting. In 2015, we used a refined version of the familiar short survey that eliminated open-ended questions, provided more detailed demographic information about those responding, and could be answered in ten minutes. Friends must have liked it because participation was considerably higher than in the last two years. In addition, a series of six focus groups encouraged Friends to look together at important questions regarding our spiritual health and well-being and speak to them personally and directly.
Here are a few findings from the survey. They show us what we look like from some slightly unfamiliar angles, and raise some important questions:
- Two-thirds of us have partners and children who are "close to Quaker values but are not Quakers." Is this challenging us to reach out and draw more family members into the FMW community? Are there ways to do this without proselytizing?
- Friends are out and about. In 2014, more than half of us attended a Friends Meeting other than FMW, and almost two-thirds worshiped with a different religious group. We might see this as an opportunity to be examples in the world of who Quakers are and what they do and an opportunity to bring new ideas and perspectives from other religious groups to our Meeting.
- Friends are divided about the nature of Quaker beliefs and the emphasis that God and the Bible should have in our worship. 21 percent of those who took the survey said we should put more emphasis on God, but 11 percent said we should put less. 19 percent said we should emphasize Christianity and the Bible more, but 23 percent said less. Can we create and maintain a vibrant community that balances differing views?
- Four items stood out on the list of things that Friends think deserve more attention from the Meeting: (1) welcoming newcomers, (2) enhancing relationships among Friends, (3) improving the quality of worship, and (4) Simplicity (this ranks above Social Justice, Global Issues, and God as a topic we should do more about). While the first three challenges appeared on previous surveys, the fourth was something of a surprise. What does “simplicity” mean in the context of the world we live in today, and how can we do more about it?
In addition to these perspectives on who we are and what we consider important, the survey and focus groups revealed a number of polarities or areas of tension, some familiar and some less so. These pose challenges not to be answered one way or the other, but for which the Meeting must strive to find balance, in the context of continuing revelation and loving awareness. There are tensions, for example, between:
- Small Groups and the Larger Community. At the moment, FMW rejoices in numerous small groups that allow Friends to pursue their varied spiritual interests. Many consider them a sign of the Meeting's spiritual vitality. Others feel concern that the number and success of these groups could fragment the Meeting and cause us to lose our sense of ourselves as a community. Some even see our worship groups as part of this problem. What if members of a worship group identify primarily with the group rather than with the Meeting community? Is the fact that we do not worship together a problem or is it part of our strength? Do worship groups encourage cliquishness or diversity?
- Old and New. This is the predictable tension between longtime Friends who may see themselves as the people who have "carried" the Meeting and more recent members/attenders, who are the bringers of new energy and new ideas. Longtimers, those who have worshiped here for over 10 years, may wonder why the new ones don't hurry to join committees and pick up "their share" of the work. In fact, the newer attenders, the majority of whom may also be new to Quakerism, could be a little uncertain of how things work and how they can fit in. With the Meeting's help, they'll find their footing in Quakerism – and spread their wings.
- Quiet and Jarring. Friends of all ages speak very movingly of what the silence means to them. They lament about having it broken by messages that come from "the head and not the heart," by "prepared statements" and "even harsh words." On the other hand, a Friend reminds us that spirit-led messages come in many different forms, not all of them attractive. He notes that one of the few messages last year that was important to him could have been called "extremely disruptive." He says we need to listen and discern.
- Difficult People and Safe Meetings. This is an acute form of the previous and a perennial question. How can our Meeting be open to and care for difficult and troubled people at the same time as we try to create a safe place where no one feels threatened or offended by anything that is said? Can efforts like those carried on by Healing and Reconciliation be helpful in reconciling the tension between “open” and “safe”? What responsibility do individual Friends have here?
- Laboring and Letting Go. One of the most remarkable differences between focus group discussions with Young Friends and Young Adult Friends and our older participants (who made up more than half the survey respondents) was the emphasis that younger Friends placed on the importance of letting go. YAFs said: “We can share each other’s burdens/crosses, but perhaps we have done as much as we reasonably can in some cases.... We should rely more on God and less on ourselves; we need to remind ourselves often.” Is it possible that we sometimes labor with difficult issues too long? After we have done our best, is it then time to let go and let God?
Friends in the focus groups were aware of how very hard it can be to deal with tensions in the Meeting, but they believed that, when we are faithful to our testimonies and leadings, we can do it. You have to learn, one said, “to be comfortable in uncertainty. This is difficult for our community.” A young Friend observed that we need to seek patience and that of God “in ourselves and others when we disagree.” Another added that we should be “gentler with others in conflict.” Finally, a member of the group that has been working with conflicts connected with the Child Safety and Welcoming policy said that all those involved could see Spirit working in the process.
Ministry and Worship believes that these voices sum up the Meeting’s challenges and its strengths and tell us much of what we need to know about its state of health. But the last word surely belongs to our youngest speaker, a First Day School student. When asked what he would like to tell us for the report, he said “the Meeting’s okay.” We hope you all agree.
Respectfully submitted by the Committee on Ministry and Worship: Bertie Rossert, Debby Churchman, Gene Throwe, Greg Robb, Hayden Wetzel, Marcia Reecer, Marsha Holliday, Michael Huffington, Blair Forlaw (clerk).
Addendum: Looking to our Future
Words We Most Often Heard in Focus Groups with Teens and Young Adult Friends
“The Meeting is as active as I have seen it in the 40 years I have been a member. Wonderful to see it come alive as it has in the past few years.”
During the first months of 2014, 55 FMW Members, Attenders and Sojourners shared their thoughts about the spiritual state of our Meeting. While a majority of these respondents worship at the 10:30 First Day gathering in the Meeting House, more than one-third meet for worship at 9:00 in the Parlor or at 10:30 in Quaker House. Our two other weekly worship groups also were represented. Of these Friends who shared their views, more than half find that the Spirit prospers “well for us collectively” and another one-third feel the Spirit prospers “well for them individually while less well collectively.” The majority feels that FMW well supports our spiritual growth particularly through: the time we spend with one another, Meetings for Worship, First Day School, memorial meetings, and the Young Adult Friends group. Many of us also find the Spirit manifested in: study groups, Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Business, committee work, and Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Marriage.
"I was impressed with the great community connectedness of Washington meeting…and how well organized the meeting is in all that it does. I have been telling others… how impressed I was [with] the way the meeting is responding to community needs and is so welcoming and affirming."
Many feel a deep appreciation for the variety of worship, service and community engagement opportunities at FMW. There is a general feeling that FMW grew spiritually during 2013 through: a focus on the inclusion of children and young people, fellowship opportunities, invigoration of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee, and by reaching unity on how we will make our buildings fully accessible. For some there is a sense of trust and caring that allows both “friendly and difficult conversations”, such that “honest speaking seems to be cultivated” at FMW. Many consider FMW their spiritual home, retreat, haven, refuge and beloved community. Still, there are lingering concerns about our ability to welcome all seekers, in particular individuals with difficult histories, while maintaining FMW as a safe, nurturing spiritual home for all.
“FMW – big, and sometimes jumbled and fractured, but with pockets of real beauty, joy and community.”“A bit crazy and annoying, like any good family.”“A quietly supportive community that requires significant patience and an investment of time to realize and feel the sense of community.”
Ours is a large and diverse community with many outspoken, assertive individuals, and some with physical and mental challenges. Most of us welcome this diversity but it also can challenge us to quiet our inner voices and listen deeply to one another with openness and generosity.Some feel that FMW is particularly burdened by an abundance of vocal messages that seem pre-planned or self-serving, and by electronic messages that come across as hurtful or self-righteous rather than Spirit-led. Some note that it is difficult to receive such messages with compassion. Others observe that “the Spirit is often visible in the patience, care and kindness Friends manifest towards some FMW community members who have special needs or difficult personalities.”
“We can bring the Spirit and peace into our conversations by being open, by actively listening, and by asking ourselves continually whether we are responding to others as though we truly believe there is divinity in each of us.”
Another continuing challenge and opportunity for FMW is the mobility of our community with its steady stream of seekers and sojourners. Many wish for a more organized welcome for newcomers and a few even worry that FMW has “grown too large to foster a sense of community and shared responsibility.” Others find we have made progress building community and they foresee this expanding as we continue joyful inter-generational events, spiritual journey sharing, active committee work, enhanced First Day School, and efforts to be more inclusive. An often expressed wish is that more FMW members and attenders “live” their Quaker beliefs through committee service and greater engagement with disenfranchised populations in the D.C. community. Some hope FMW also will rise to the challenge of spiritually supporting our eldest members and attenders.
“Our history seems more powerful than our present or our future. Our religious community was known for activism and commitment to social reform. How are we doing now?” “FMW is full of members and attenders who want us to do ‘more’ in terms of outreach, peace and social concerns…but many of those, even the most outspoken, are absent when it comes to committee work or financial support.”
Our Meeting, like many others, finds itself to be a community of individuals who are committed to “Quaker values” while having a wide variety of conceptions about “God”, “Christianity”, and other faith traditions. For many, a joy at FMW is that we are generally open and accepting of this sort of diversity, not only at Meetings for Worship but also in our committees and in social interactions.
“I wish that more members and attenders recognized the strengths of FMW. There sometimes is a yearning for a type of meeting that no longer exists in modern America. Instead, we need to embrace the way that FMW is establishing a new path, a way of showing what a meeting can be, a new pattern.”
As we move into 2014, our community seems gratified that we have been led by the Spirit to address major challenges: our young adult friends are vital and engaged, our children’s programming spiritually enriches us all, beloved departed Friends have been celebrated with profound sorrow and joy, new-married couples have been embraced under our care and couples not allowed to marry in their homes have found in us a safe haven, and, following years of painful effort and growing trust, we have reached unity on an elegant renovation plan for which a capital campaign has been launched to make it a reality. While we continue to struggle with important concerns, we are holding these concerns in the Light and trusting that both the Spirit and our Meeting’s resources will open the way as we care for one another, contribute to the greater community, and demonstrate our caring for the world.
Early in 2013, sixty FMW Members, Attenders and Sojourners provided heartfelt comments about the spiritual state of our Meeting. Over two-thirds said that the Spirit prospers well among us or for them individually. They feel especially supported in their spiritual journeys through interactions with Friends and community members, participation in Worship, Memorial, and Wedding Meetings, and FMW committee work. As our Meeting has been offered sometimes challenging opportunities for spiritual growth, many have seen the Spirit moving among us as we have sought to know one another better, to manifest our love and concern for children, families and elders, and to find clearness on how to best welcome all into our community, embracing “the Divine” in everyone.
Many noted that the very character of our Meeting provides challenges and opportunities. Its large size allows us to support a variety of fulfilling worship, service, and learning opportunities while also making it difficult for some of us to know each other well and foster the trust and love that nurtures true fellowship and community. Our membership includes socially active, opinionated and often transient individuals who bring us a deep commitment to spiritual growth, energetic and vocal interaction, and strong individual expectations which are sometimes disappointed. Our serene, historic campus offers an opportunity to witness our faith by welcoming many visitors and others seeking safe-harbor or a community with Quaker values. However, our facilities also demand an ongoing commitment to access improvement and maintenance. As we struggle to find the Light in each other and in our community, we are thankful for the gifts we have been given by our predecessors. We turn to the Spirit to help us use our unusual strengths and special challenges to forge or strengthen movement toward shared spiritual enlightenment.
In many ways FMW seemed to find its way in 2012 with some issues that had been challenging for many years. Our physical spaces were greatly improved and plans for enhanced accessibility approached unity through tireless efforts by dedicated committees. We undertook many actions to provide a safer and more embracing environment for our children and their families. We re-invigorated our Peace and Social Concerns Committee. Our Young Adults expanded their fellowship and service activities. Lastly, efforts have been made to accommodate those with hearing loss, particularly in our Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Business.
The major challenge facing FMW this year was how to welcome individuals with troubling histories, including child sexual abuse. In addressing this, hurts and differences were revealed among us, often linked to perceived inattentiveness toward our children and their families. Many felt this challenge also revealed a need to build trust, community and caring. And many individuals and committees responded to this situation by seeking to listen and hear each other with an open heart, and by convening additional opportunities for worship and fellowship. These efforts met with partial success, still some families felt a need to step-back from FMW. l As the year progressed, most of those responding to the survey saw real progress while there are still concerns that many efforts remain “works in progress”. In our daily lives, many find that the Quaker Spirit manifests through patience, compassion and service in our professional work, family interactions, and continuing personal growth.
Aspirations for our Meeting include hopes for greater tolerance, unity, cohesion, self-forgiveness, and trust. Friends recognize that more financial stability and funding support will enable our meeting to serve better the shared Spirit of its members. Many are deeply concerned that financial support for our Meeting seems to be diminishing. This is particularly troubling as we foresee needing to fund physical alterations that will make our buildings accessible to all and more accommodating to children, families and elders. Many wonder if individual’s spiritual connection to our Meeting is reflected in the level of funding support provided by Members and Attenders. Friends trust that as capital fundraising gets underway and the overall economy improves, we will find our commitment to financing FMW refreshed.
The other concern that continues to arise (and has for many decades) is focused on the frequency and character of vocal ministry, particularly in the Meeting for Worship held on First Days at 10:30 a.m. in the main Meeting Room. While many recognize and appreciate that individual vocal ministries in all our Meetings for Worship do not “speak” to everyone and that we all have different needs and capabilities, there is a feeling that we should all be more careful to ensure that vocal ministry is truly Spirit-led and in keeping with Friends Faith and Practice.
In sum, the Friends Meeting of Washington is a community that continues its spiritual journey within a challenging climate of vitality, questioning, expectation, and deep abiding attentiveness to the well-being of our Meeting. We see many opportunities for improvement and compassion toward one another and the world at large. We also see that many of our struggles have long histories and that, in the measured often lengthy manner of Quaker engagement, we are making progress toward unity and Spirit-led understanding. While we often grow weary from efforts to resolve tender issues and better care for each other, we know that in all things we are linked by the Divinity that resides within us and within our community of believers and seekers.
Spiritual State of the Meeting (SSoM) – 2011
During January and February of 2012, 56 members, attenders, sojourners and others (58% of whom were members) provided heartfelt comments on the spiritual state of our Meeting. These comments were made partly in response to queries posed by Baltimore Yearly Meeting. And, they were provided at a time of challenge for FMW, when we had been asked if we could welcome a newcomer with a troubling past into our community for worship. As our meeting has struggled with this request many have seen an opportunity to directly express our faith and delve more deeply into issues that long have needed attention. Thorough our collective response we are learning much about our core spiritual strengths and our weaknesses as we are all still seekers.
“The Meeting [is] a haven and support network for values and spirituality that I rarely find outside.”
Many Friends and Attenders say FMW allows them to quiet their minds; to see blessings, hear messages, be guided and feel love. Eighty percent of those providing comments noted that Meetings for Worship (including those attentive to business) and personal interactions with one another are our primary supports for spiritual growth. Over half of respondents also found Study Groups, First Day School, Spiritual Growth Groups, Coffee Hour and Committee work spiritually rewarding. Many have a special connection to FMW work days, special service events, Young Adult Friends and Friendly 8s as groupings that nurture the spirit. The Evening Worship Group, having met on First Days for 15 years, customarily “feels the living spirit of our Lord during worship” and in interactions following silent worship.
While FMW has made progress welcoming visitors, “feeling gathered for worship”, and assisting some with physical limitations, many feel our focus has been too internal and our progress toward universal access too halting. Some families with young children feel FMW should provide more support to allow them to be more engaged in the spiritual life of the Meeting and to feel that FMW is more of a spiritual respite. There are many yearnings for more trust, goodwill and kindness toward one another so we can listen and hear with a caring spirit. Concerns remain that vocal ministry is too often not a reflection of Spirit-led revelation. Friends struggle to embrace the testimony of inclusion as it concerns others with physical or mental challenges and sometimes Friends are troubled by accommodations, such as changes in seating, that feel disruptive or behaviors that wound or confuse. Many long for deeper understanding of Quaker ideals and testimonies and a personal and communal commitment to living these testimonies within our Meeting and in the world at large. Questions that continue to press include: “Are we living our faith? and “Are we truly stewards of the faith we profess?”
While ours is a large and ever-changing meeting where many feel centered and at home, some feel excluded and perceive internal groupings that can feel cliquish. Others deeply appreciate and trust the fellowship and nurturing provided by fellow Members and Attenders. Some are concerned that Friends approach FMW as “consumers” rather than supporters and others feel inadequately supported by the Meeting. Many Members and Attenders feel overburdened by committee service and the pace of Meeting decision-making. There are serious concerns that Meeting seemed unable to trust the recommendations of our Committees and fully utilize Quaker deliberative process in a Spirit-led way to welcome the troubled newcomer seeking a community for worship. And in that situation, others felt inadequately included in the process of discernment. Many noted, however, that this event also revealed how powerfully the Spirit moves among us to help us grow in unexpected directions and to reveal where our community needs to give its attention as it struggles to build and be a truly loving and trustworthy community. In addressing this and other challenges 60% or our Members and Attenders felt we responded well while 40% felt our response was mixed or poor.
“I see Spirit manifested in tenderness between Friends; willingness to labor faithfully with people who appear difficult”
As we consider what we want from our Meeting, Friends and Attenders seek the “reaffirmation of our faith and practice.” We are inspired by what has been accomplished by our community’s commitment to revitalize our buildings and gardens even before we undertake major renovations. We are encouraged by the growing number of young Friends and families drawn to Quaker practice and FMW, and we are invigorated by the re-establishment of our Peace and Social Concerns Committee and by our spirit-led support for the Occupy Movement. In all this and more we see what our faith can deliver as we nurture the Light within and work together in trust and harmony.
And yet, we still aspire to “listen with openness and attention”, to respond to “our need for more unity with urgency”, “to concentrate on spiritual development,” and to speak to one another “with kindness in our hearts.” In concrete terms, we see the coming year as one of renewal and renovation both spiritually and within our historic campus. With faith that we will be led by the Light within toward more inclusiveness, inter-generational interaction and openness to multiple differences we strive to strengthen our bonds with each other and with the greater world by truly living our faith. There is an abiding sense of love toward our Meeting and a deep sense that it has yet untapped potential.