Bethesda Friends Meeting 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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|2016 Report||2017 Report|
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
In preparing for the Spiritual State of the Meeting Report for 2017, the Ministry and Worship Committee reflected on the approach taken in recent years and on the queries posed by Baltimore Yearly Meeting last year. We reached out to committees and continued our past practices of requesting insights through the weekly bulletin, the Bethesda Friends Meeting (BFM) website, potluck, a conversation at the Rise of Meeting, and a worship sharing session using the Experiment with Light format.
The three queries suggested for reflection by the Meeting were:
1. How has meeting for worship and our community supported my spiritual growth?
2. In what ways have we and have we not lived our vision of being a spiritual community?
3. How has the Meeting supported our members’ leadings to let our lives speak to the challenges in our communities, country, and the world?
We thank all who took the time to respond prayerfully to those queries that spoke to them. With their responses informing our committee’s discernment, we offer the following report. As a Meeting, we ask ourselves to remain attentive particularly to concerns that offer opportunities for growth and to take action to address them as Way opens.
How has Meeting for Worship and our community supported my spiritual growth?
Those involved in the Bethesda Friends Meeting community value meeting for worship as a place where Spirit is present. Meetings are thoughtful, not political, and that is helpful in these times. Our children like hearing the messages and learning from them. We find Spirit in messages shared, while we also appreciate the occasions of largely silent meetings for worship, with only one or two or even no messages. Meeting for worship provides us a time for renewal and comfort in tumultuous times. Our sense is that our worship together has deepened in recent years, and we believe that the Spiritual Formation program contributed positively to this, as has our regular practice to invite the sharing of joys and sorrows as a continuation of worship but at the end. The quiet time in meeting gives us time to stop, center, and get away from the daily bustle of life, providing a spiritual grounding that can carry over into our lives outside of meeting. Some among our youth like the silence of the meeting, while others said it was “kind of boring,” which can be a good thing in these times of frenetic schedules and overstimulation. Un-programmed worship also gives individuals the opportunity to seek revelation of spiritual truth experientially for themselves.
Committee work enables many of us to participate in the life of the Meeting beyond just the hour of meeting for worship. Serving the Meeting also provides opportunities to grow spiritually, as we learn to recognize and act upon our shared values. Our Nominating Committee recognizes this and strives to reach those who are hungry for such service. Other small groups, such as the spiritual friendship groups that grew out of the Spiritual Formation program also help us meet our human need for fellowship and give us some direct, practical ways to see that of God in ourselves and others.
Our librarian noted that the two categories of books checked out the most often are Quaker history and Book Group selections. Newcomers often ask at Book Table about borrowing introductory books about Quakerism and are steered to that section of the Library. The Library Committee also notes an increased interest in books and literature related to caregiving and grieving, which reflect spiritual needs in our aging Meeting community.
While our relocation to a future, consolidated Sidwell Friends School campus in northwest Washington DC is several years into the future, we anticipate that it will lead to new opportunities as we engage with the larger Sidwell Friends community. Some have started to think about other implications of the move, including longer travel times for those who live farther north. For example, a small group has begun to worship together in Boyds, Maryland, in part as an experiment with holding meeting for worship in multiple locations.
With respect to other aspects of our spiritual life as a Meeting:
- There is some sadness that the midweek meeting for worship initiated in the last year has not taken off more actively.
- We find that people usually have something spiritual and from the heart to say in their messages in meeting for worship.
- The silence brings us closer together – somehow all being in one space together in silence creates community. It feels like “it’s OK not to talk about it” because the connected feeling is there.
- A friend finds the Experiment with Light gatherings very helpful and nurturing. He feels confident and comfortable speaking and sharing messages in this smaller group.
- Another shared that activities like the book group foster our individual spirituality, but also expressed concern that the person power to support these activities is limited. We can’t do everything and may need to find a way to manage time and people resources better.
- There is hope that the Spiritual Formation Groups will be offered again soon.
In what ways have we and have we not lived our vision of being a spiritual community?
Generally, we find a good balance in our attention as a Meeting to nurturing our spiritual lives and working from that spiritual base outward in letting our lives speak in the world.
Committee work is an important way we are in community with one another. The relationships we build in doing committee work can nurture our spiritual growth apart from simply the specific accomplishments of a committee, when we are mindful of Spirit in the way we work together. However, we recognize that we need to watch for and think about how to be more Spirit-led and what practices stray from that ideal.
We also recognize our need to seek a deeper understanding of what we mean by the term “community.” We feel it is a challenge to create community, in part because members and attenders are spread across a large area. This can make it more difficult to find a center that is spiritual, social, educational and even commercial that some of us have seen in other spiritual communities where people live much closer together and are more a part of one another’s daily lives. Some also find it challenging to participate in opportunities for social connection, such as potluck, because their partners are not involved in the Meeting.
The value of diversity in our vision of being a spiritual community is an important concern, and we continue to ask ourselves how to enhance the diversity in our Meeting – and what we mean by that. We aspire to reach both outward and inward to understand how people identify culturally, ethnically, racially, by age, sexual identification, and differing views and experiences. We hope to become more aware of the ways privilege and unconscious bias influence and limit us and how our spiritual community might change and grow from that learning and from new relationships that we hope to find. Nurturing our youth and being a welcoming Meeting for families with young children is a long standing concern of our Meeting. In the past year, we have seen a strengthening in the sense of community among the children, and we are looking for better ways to integrate them with the adults. This year’s pageant was especially meaningful, being written and created by the children, who had a wonderful time producing it. Many appreciate the support the Meeting gives to the First Day School and Child Care programs through individual interest and volunteer help. This “concern made visible” through recognizing the young people and families within the Meeting contributes to their sense of belonging and spiritual growth and enriches all of us as we try to realize our vision of becoming a more multi-generational and inclusive community. Some of our older children appreciate that the Meeting provides a place to meet people of all ages, though some of our younger children do not feel as much connection to the adults in the Meeting.
We also deeply appreciate the work of our Pastoral Care Committee. For example, several individuals have offered appreciation for the gentle, quiet support they have received as caregivers to loved ones with Alzheimer’s. Pastoral Care also has undertaken a multi-year process of outreach to young adults who became junior members of the Meeting as children but have not been active participants for many years, often because of distance. This process has resulted in the discernment by many of these adults raised in our Meeting to become full members of the Meeting and by others in laying down their membership, knowing that they will be welcome to return to this Meeting or other Meetings as Way Opens.
Adult Religious Education sessions help us to build community. A six-session course in the fall of 2017 called “Introduction to Quaker Faith and Practice” introduced many newcomers to the principles of Quaker faith and practice and helped integrate them into our community. The Adult Religious Education Committee also arranged for two members of Bethesda Friends Meeting to present their spiritual journeys in the spring, and those of us in attendance were very grateful for the opportunity to know these individuals more deeply.
Our Fellowship and Hospitality Committee feels a strong commitment to service to the Bethesda Friends Meeting community through the organization and execution of refreshment for snacks and conversation after the Rise of Meeting, potluck, Spring Fling and ad hoc services for other meetings and memorials. These responsibilities provide spiritual growth through community service, living our vision through fellowship and inclusive opportunities to both serve and provide food for all, a highly functional, yet symbolic aspect of worship. While we currently structure provision of refreshments by committee, we might want to involve individuals who are not members of committees.
We also acknowledge times of tension among us and missed opportunities to experience the presence of Spirit working in us outside of meeting for worship. One of us has shared that he feels his offer of a spiritual leading was ignored this past year. While grateful for support from some in the Meeting, he feels there is something lacking in our Meeting and has been led to worship elsewhere. Another, reflecting on this concern, shares a vision of Quaker Meetings “seeking to embody an orientation and set of practices/values that are non-mainstream – rare and valuable,” worries that this vision is not realized well in aspects of our community life outside of meeting for worship, and suggests that we have an opportunity to explore the operating beliefs and processes that shape the Bethesda Friends Meeting community “with curiosity and thoughtfulness to identify ways in which we could deepen the presence of Spirit in how we interact with each other outside of meeting for worship.”
We accept that being open to the Light often will show us where we fall short, and we hold our Friend’s concern as an attempt to call each of us to think deeply and listen to what we are called to do in how we can serve the Spirit, our Meeting and ourselves. How can we be more spirit led in our Meeting? What part does and/or should individual spiritual leadings play in our Meeting as we go about trying to do God’s work? What does it mean to us to answer that of God in one another, and do we still affirm our belief in and commitment to doing so?
We continue to hold one another in the Light as best we can, trusting that Spirit is always present while what varies is how aware we are of it. We seek to draw on in the fabric that holds us together for the strength and love that will help us to be open to one another’s’ concerns and, thus, to grow.
How has the Meeting supported our members’ leadings to let our lives speak to the challenges in our communities, country, and the world?
The Meeting supports those who have concerns and are willing to work on them. This continues to include our long standing support for Ramallah Friends School, and our annual Spring Fling fundraiser for the school has become a major highlight of our year. Our First Day schoolers like the sense of community they get from going as a group to volunteer at A Wider Circle. Others find meaning in a concern to provide resources for young people in the District of Columbia who have earned opportunities for higher education, and the Meeting continues its strong support for these young people through the Mary Jane Simpson Fund in partnership with Friends Meeting of Washington and Langley Hill Friends Meeting. More recently, several individuals have brought a concern about refugees to the Meeting and, with the formal endorsement of the Meeting, are serving as a catalyst for us to ready ourselves to support a refugee family that we anticipate meeting in the near future. The Meeting also approved a decision to join a network of sanctuary congregations in the DC/MD/VA region that are providing support and solidarity to neighbors, friends, and family who fear being detained, deported or profiled. We thank our Peace and Social Justice Committee for its practice of identifying other opportunities to contribute to our local community, the country and the world, which we include in our annual budget and which helps individuals so led to get involved in issues they care about. Many individuals also regularly share information with us about educational events, marches and other opportunities to let our lives speak in the world.
Our Adult Religious Education Committee reflects deeply on how the choice of programs and speakers can enhance the spiritual life of the meeting as well as inform us about how Quakers deal with social and political challenges. Overall, this year’s programs did help us think about the spiritual aspects of the social and political upheaval we experienced this year while also offering opportunities for us to learn about various leadings and people’s attempts to work on these challenges.
However, some wish that we could be more mobilized as a Meeting and ask how we can become more active with those abused by the justice system - making our spiritual life more real in more active ways. A concern also has been expressed about the difficulty in sustaining our contribution to the Rockville Men’s Shelter. Others wonder if we are trying to take on too much and suggest that we may need to reflect on priorities.
We appreciate that the activism at Bethesda Friends Meeting is undertaken from a feeling of love, and we affirm the spiritual foundation for acting on behalf of the powerless. That said, it often feels hard to know how to confront the evil and ignorance in the world without lowering oneself to its level. Some see Nelson Mandela as a good example of how to do this, although this is a high standard to reach. As individuals and as a community, we require significant spiritual holding at this time. Noting Gandhi’s admonition to “be the change you want to see in the world,” we are mindful of the need to be present as we interact with one another.
We are grateful for the opportunity to grow together towards the Light, each in our own way and each finding our way into relationship with one another and with the Spirit. We seek ever more open and loving ways to sustain one another as we strive to let our lives speak.
Friends come back from their worship with a new sense of ordination, but not the ordination of human hands. Something has happened in the stillness that makes the heart more tender, more sensitive, more shocked by evil, more dedicated to ideals of life, and more eager to push back the skirts of darkness and to widen the area of light and love.
~ Rufus Jones, 1863-1948
2016 was a year in which change, both immediate and less imminent, has been a central focus at Bethesda Friends Meeting. The prospect of leaving our current meeting house gave us an opportunity to reflect on our values and priorities as we discerned our way forward. The climate leading up to and following the presidential elections has challenged us as we seek to put our faith into practice. Individually many of us have undergone major changes in our lives. In response to these conditions, the Ministry and Worship Committee asked the community to reflect on the following query in preparation for this report: In the past year, how have the changes in our lives, our Meeting, and our nation affected our spiritual lives and the spiritual state of the Meeting?
In preparation for discerning our response to the prospective sale of the property on which our current meeting house sits, we both gathered practical information about alternatives, and reflected on who we are and what is important to us as we digested that information. We were deliberate in hearing each other’s concerns and hopes as we considered the pros and cons of various alternatives. We determined that we did not want to divert our funds and energy to property concerns if that meant giving less of either or both to others. We recognized that whatever decision we made would present logistical challenges for some, and committed ourselves to finding solutions for those challenges. We took our time in a worshipful pair of called meetings and decided to accept the invitation of Sidwell Friends School to relocate on its Wisconsin Avenue campus, and to encourage and facilitate remote worship groups for those who find travel difficult; one such group is already being established. We felt some uncertainty about what would happen to the Meeting’s commitments to charitable organizations and activities in Montgomery County, a concern that we will address as the time for the move gets closer.
Events on the national level have left many in our community feeling alarmed, overwhelmed, and buffeted by a hurricane of events. We have found refuge in our meeting community. Our meetings for worship, for the most part, have remained spiritual sanctuaries in which we try to tune out the noise and listen to that still, small voice. We have added a mid-week meeting for worship on 4th day evenings for those desiring a break from the turmoil during the week. We have tried to support each other as we oscillate between consolation and desolation (to paraphrase St. Ignatius of Loyola). We have been moved to find various ways to support those under attack in our society. The Meeting supported a months-long weekly vigil for Black Lives Matter which was felt to be a vital nurture of our spirit for justice. We have sought to inform ourselves about climate change and our effect on it, hoping to influence local and national policies as well as act to reduce our own personal carbon footprints. As we have become more keenly aware of the importance of our beliefs and our work, we have tried to help each other respond to events from a grounded, spirit-led place, rather than reacting from a fear-based, frantic place. We have begun a series of presentations at the local library around topics of interest to the wider community like climate change and over-incarceration. At times during our worship, we have been reminded of our privilege and our opportunities to act for racial justice. We strive to speak truth to power in ways that do not add to the disheartening divisiveness that has infected our environment.
On a personal level, many of us have found spiritual and other forms of support in times of loss or illness. We have helped each other downsize. We have supported each other as we have pursued educational goals and new careers. We have gathered to support each other in times of grief and loss. As a result of discussions about our move, many of us have become more involved in the life of the Meeting in various ways. We are being explicit in our welcoming of the children in our Meeting, letting them know they are valued members of the community. We are being deliberate in our encouragement of our junior members to discern their relationships to the Meeting as they become young adults. As our schedules have become more crowded, we have laid down our Friendly Eights program, but we are searching for effective ways to connect with one another socially; for example, we have begun regular gatherings to discuss selected books relevant to our practice.
Bethesda Friends Meeting continues to evolve. We look forward to reaching out to folks of diverse ethnic and other backgrounds who share our basic beliefs. We look forward to channeling energy into our corporate and individual concerns around peace and social justice, seeking to avoid falling into despair. We look forward to keeping our members and attenders from all over the area involved in the Meeting, especially as we prepare to shift our physical presence into the city. We look forward to continuing to support the members of our Meeting community as circumstances change and needs arise. In the years ahead, we hope to grow our Meeting, as well as continue to grow within the Meeting.
It has been an introspective year for Bethesda Friends Meeting. The nature of meetings for worship has, for the most part, been centered and spiritful. It has not been unusual to have silent or nearly silent meetings for worship, and the messages folks have felt led to share have been profoundly searching. We have found the time spent in meeting to be spiritually nurturing and supportive.
Learning late in the year that the property on which our Meeting is located may be sold has inspired us to examine what it means to be a spiritual community. The questions we have been asking ourselves in recent years continue to be important in that larger context. These themes include looking at ways to get more members of our community more deeply involved in the life of the Meeting, especially the young among us. We have also looked at how we relate to our environment, individually and corporately. In anticipation of this possible move in 2019, we started a process of discernment about the physical location of our Meeting. To help prepare for this decision, the Ministry & Worship Committee built our spiritual state of the Meeting inquiry around who we are and what kind of community we wish to be:
- What does it mean to be a spiritual community?
- What is our responsibility to one another as members of the same spiritual community?
- What can I bring to the Meeting in this time of transition to support all of us?
- What are the opportunities to strengthen our spiritual community, as we reflect on this transition? What is my role in identifying these opportunities?
Members of the community were able to respond to the queries individually and in group settings.
What does it mean to be a spiritual community?
The first of these queries stimulated a variety of thoughts. We were reminded that a spiritual community has more to do with the ways people connect to each other than the geographic space in which those connections occur. It is a way for people who choose to worship in the manner of Friends to join together in a harmonious, uplifting experience. In particular, some find that the ideals of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship are helpful guides to them. The social aspect of these interactions is important – breaking bread together or working together to support shared concerns such as Ramallah Friends School, for example.
A spiritual community involves a joint responsibility to create a safe space to be authentically present and to support each of us in searching, questioning, and sharing. In meeting for worship, Friends find sustenance, sometimes as a simple time of quiet away from the demands and distractions of the rest of the week, at other times perhaps more profoundly in finding Light as a refuge or a source of support during difficult personal times.
What is our responsibility to one another as members of the same spiritual community?
We are concerned that we could be a more inclusive community. We appreciate the efforts of Advancement and Outreach and others to redesign our website to be more inviting and informative, making it easier for other seekers of Light to find us. We also appreciate that the Child Care Committee has adopted the philosophy of “count on care,” making child care more widely available to encourage our younger families to participate in more aspects of the Meeting.
As we observe that some of our junior members have remained so into their thirties, we are concerned that we have not been as spiritually connected to some of them as we might have been. As a response, we appreciate the work of Pastoral Care to implement a process to reach out to our young adults, as well as asking the Meeting as a whole to invite and encourage junior members to consider and discuss their relationship to the Meeting and Quakerism as they exit high school and become autonomous young adults. We are encouraged that while a few of our older junior members have chosen to lay down their memberships, many more have chosen to become full members of the Meeting or strengthen their ties to other Meetings or spiritual communities.
We are concerned about the extent to which the members of our community participate fully. We notice that as we age, there are fewer of us to fill committee and other responsibilities, and we are looking at ways to get more and younger members of the community more involved. We may be overloading our committees, resulting in burnout and reluctance to take on tasks, and affecting Friends’ ability to address those tasks with love and full presence. We are concerned that a few among us feel disaffected, and we wish to reach out to them to help discern how we might resolve conflicts better.
What can I bring to the Meeting in this time of transition to support all of us? What are the opportunities to strengthen our spiritual community, as we reflect on this transition? What is my role in identifying these opportunities?
Our responsibility to one another is to be active participants in the effort to be authentically present. It includes assisting in mutual spiritual growth. It involves finding ways to sustain a multigenerational community over time. It involves looking at what we do from time to time to make sure we are not continuing a practice only because that’s the way we’ve always done it. It involves helping one another relate our ideals to our everyday lives, enabling and supporting ourselves and each other as we strive to let our lives speak. For some, it involves doing the logistical and practical things that make the maintenance of such a spiritual community possible.
As we look forward to our anticipated move and the transitions that will bring, we find ourselves needing to listen to one another deeply, recognizing and honoring each of our insights and emotions. Being patient with one another is always important, but especially so in times of change. We find that we can strengthen our spiritual community when we celebrate the opportunities to re-create our community, as well as facing the challenges. We are stronger when we are open to the Spirit, listening to and hearing the Inner Light as expressed in a variety of messages and thoughts. We need to remember that it is our spiritual connection to each other, and not our physical home, that makes us Quaker. As members of the Ministry and Worship Committee, we intend to approach the upcoming year with the following query in mind: What can I bring to this community, through my service on a committee and as an individual, especially at this time of transition? We invite others to consider this question as well.
As Approved at Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business on April 12, 2015
And this know, that there are diversities of gifts, but one spirit,
and unity therein to all who with it are guided. (George Fox, Epistle #47)
In preparing for the Spiritual State of the Meeting Report for 2014, the Ministry and Worship Committee again offered a set of queries for reflection by the meeting, covering four major facets of our meeting life: personal spiritual development; community; children and youth; and living in right relationship with nature. We thank all who took the time to prayerfully respond to those queries which spoke to them. As one Friend remarked, “One of the best things about [the meeting] is that we ask these questions and try to improve ourselves continually.” With these responses informing our committee’s discernment, we offer the following report.
Personal Spiritual Development
As in past years, Friends continue to experience our meetings for worship on First Days as the focus of our spiritual life together. One Friend remarked that her experience in meeting for worship is often so powerful that it brings her to tears. A long-time Friend observed that, while some aspects of our meetings for worship “change like the seasons,” meetings also have a changeless and deep core of silence. Another Friend expressed that this “soul-replenishing quiet” allows for deep contemplation. Others expressed gratitude for the opportunity, in the spirit of worship, both to share their joys and sorrows with a caring community, and to hold others in the Light.
Many Friends commented on the power of vocal ministry during meetings for worship, noting that messages seem usually spirit-led, or, as one Friend said, to come from the “Caring Power of the Universe.” Friends found messages to be inspiring and thought-provoking regardless of whether they spoke to one’s condition or were entirely new to them. Friends also trusted that when they offer messages they are listened to with openness and respect.
With respect to meetings for worship with a concern for business, Friends generally reported that they experienced them as spirit-led and conducted with a deepening sense of open worship. However, Friends also observed that we would all benefit from having more of our members and attenders participate in this core part of our community life together. While initially a sporadic effort, the co-clerks have the intent to write a regular “notes from the clerks” article in the monthly newsletter to foster deeper reflection on how we conduct our business as a community of Friends.
Friends appreciated the nurture provided by called meetings for worship, such as the candlelight meeting at Christmas. Last year Friends also participated in a memorial meeting celebrating the life of one of our meeting’s founding members, an opportunity to reflect on the blessing of her life and on the spiritual roots of our meeting. Of particular note was the inspired way in which music was woven around that memorial meeting, respecting both our tradition of silent worship and the family’s desire to include hymns important to their deceased loved one. Aside from meetings for worship, Friends continue to value other opportunities for personal spiritual nurture, mentioning especially those found in the offerings by Adult Religious Education, the Experiment with Light sessions, and the book discussion group.
Our Spiritual Community
Friends described the ways in which our life as a community reflects our spiritual condition. One Friend described how being part of a community that is doing so many good things, which one values but hasn’t the time for, helps that Friend to be more of the person they want to be. Another likened being in the meeting to being in a body in which the parts work together such that the whole community is appreciated. A Friend noted that the ways in which the community responds “to the needs and feelings of others enriches the spirits of both givers and receivers almost as much as sitting in silence.”
The work of our various committees continues to be an important reflection of our communal life and spiritual well-being. Our review of each committee’s annual report over the past year revealed the Spirit moving in many varied ways to bring Quaker values into action and enriching the life of the meeting. In the words of one Friend, “Being an active participant in different committees, and working with others to do things that feel meaningful and important…helps create a sense of belonging and common purpose.” Other committee members expressed “how satisfying and enriching committee members find the opportunities to share our love, energy, and care.” Our co-clerks observed that Coordinating Gatherings have been held with a conscious sense of serving the meeting as a whole, with representatives across our committees working together with joint purpose, especially where committee responsibilities overlap.
The health of our committees seems affirmed by the relative ease, compared with some years, with which nominees for committee membership were recruited last year. Yet, some Friends expressed concern that the work of our committees continues to be borne by a relatively small group of people compared to the total number of people who attend our meeting. They note especially that those committees requiring membership in the meeting tend to shuffle the same members between them each year. This has led some Friends to ask why so many people in our community are not active in committee work and how more Friends might be engaged in this dimension of meeting life. They ask, too, why many long-time attenders do not request membership.
A related concern expressed by several Friends was whether the meeting appears to those outside our meeting as being welcoming to racial or sexual diversity, or to young families with school-aged children. They note that there continue to be few people of color and seem to be fewer LGBT persons attending the meeting than in prior years. Some Friends, including a recent visitor from Baltimore Yearly Meeting, remarked that our web site and building signage could be more welcoming and do not state explicitly that we are an open and affirming community. Others said that the meeting lacks effective outreach to draw into our community those who would resonate and benefit from what Quakers have to offer.
But another Friend observed that our meeting in many ways reflects the broader community in which it resides: predominantly white and upper-middle class. Another was impressed with the vitality of the meeting, feeling it clearly “is serving the needs of most of [the meeting community],” noting that most in our meeting “are convinced Quakers rather than people who were brought up in a meeting.”
At the same time, the Ministry and Worship Committee believes a clear-eyed understanding of the Spiritual State of the Meeting requires compassionate reflection on the experience of those within our meeting who feel estranged from the meeting or from Quakerism generally. We recognize that not all within our meeting have felt reached or supported this past year and that some have separated from our community for various reasons. We believe it is incumbent on all in our meeting to engage in self-reflection on whatever ways might have contributed to any such estrangement through our action or inaction. In this situation these words of Parker Palmer seem appropriate and may offer guidance to us all:
“Community reminds us that we are called to love, for community is a product of love in action and not of simple self-interest…And the disappointments of community life can be transformed by our discovery that the only dependable power for life lies beyond all human structures and relationships. In this religious grounding lies the only real hedge against the risk of disappointment in seeking community. That risk can be borne only if it is not community one seeks, but truth, light, God.”
The concern for young families and youth relates to the third focus of our queries:
Nurturing Our Youth
Last year’s Spiritual State of the Meeting Report noted that nurturing the spiritual life of young families and children was a continuing concern for our meeting. In response, Ministry and Worship felt called to adopt an annual query addressing this concern and invited other committees to do likewise. Over the past year some progress has been made in generating active dialog between committees and individual members around these issues. Our Religious Education Committee, embracing a mindset that “way will open,” persevered in offering a First Day program despite sparse and intermittent attendance and noted that the program “enjoyed many inspiring innovations in addition to energetic continuations of long-standing traditions.”
Yet many Friends continue to express deep concern about the future of First Day School. Friends also reported concern that efforts to engage young Friends in ongoing peace and social justice activities have fallen short because young Friends, especially those of high school age, are too busy with school, sports, friends, work, and outside social service projects. A Friend commented that some children in the meeting, particularly those in high school, do not feel that adults in the meeting care about them or want to hear their concerns. Friends ask how we might better connect young families with the meeting and Quaker values and motivate them and their children to attend on First Day and engage in Quaker-related activities. In light of these situations, some Friends expressed a broader concern for the future of our meeting if we are unable to attract and retain young families and young Friends.
Right Relationship With Nature
Friends noted that living in right relationship with nature is one of the great moral issues of our time and in magnitude and difficulty is similar to turning the tide against slavery in the 1700s and 1800s. The degradation of our planet, and the terrible dangers it imposes on those least able to cope with the consequences of climate change, are our collective responsibility. Baltimore Yearly Meeting has asked all local meetings to discern how we are called to respond to climate change, resource depletion, and environmental degradation.
Friends agreed that our meeting would grow spiritually and communally by addressing these environmental issues. Many in our meeting are seized to act, but dispirited at the magnitude of the problem. Friends suggest that our process should include three steps: gathering information, clarifying our values, and discerning how truth/ Light/ Spirit calls us to act.
To further our process, members of the Peace and Social Justice, Adult Religious Education, and Ministry and Worship Committees are collaborating to organize a series of forums for our meeting which began in January 2015. These forums seek to educate Friends about the problems generally and about immediate and long-term actions that can be taken on a personal level, as a community or in support-groups, and to introduce societal and policy changes to address the issues we confront.
Yet another Friend believes that living in right relationship with nature also involves working to improve human welfare in other ways, including peace-making, an inherently spiritual pursuit. Similarly a Friend observed that those who seek to live their Quaker values through focusing on good works, such as addressing climate change, and those who are drawn to interior spiritual experience through focusing on worship, are both grounded and flowing from the same Source. Both contribute to our collective response and are essential to a strong spiritual community .
As noted before, last year’s annual query adopted by Ministry and Worship seemed to serve the purpose of prompting dialog and action relating to children and young families. However, the situation remains concerning to Friends and further attention seems not only called for but of some urgency. The added concerns expressed by Friends, about our not appearing welcoming to diverse populations, seem to us to compound the gravity of the challenges facing us. Simply put, we can envision that these two essentially spiritual challenges could threaten our ability to sustain ourselves in the future as a vibrant and growing meeting community.
In response, Ministry and Worship has discerned to renew its annual query on children and young families and to expand that query as follows:
- How is the Spirit calling us to nurture the worship experience of younger children, older children, teenagers, and families and to provide greater opportunities for their spiritual development and understanding?
- How can we reach out to all constituencies of our meeting and be more connected as an intergenerational community?
- Where and how can we as a meeting reach out to constituencies who are underrepresented in the meeting and might thrive with us as Quakers? What are the ways we might be led to grow our “core” of members and attenders?
As before, in adopting these Annual Queries, Ministry and Worship does not intend to constrain or dictate to other committees, but rather to invite other committees, and concerned individuals in the meeting, to discern whether and how they might be called to focus more intentionally in these or related areas.
In conclusion, while the spiritual state of the Meeting is strong for many members and attenders, there is also a need to invite and encourage more people to actively participate in the circle of those who are sustained by and growing in the Light at Bethesda Friends Meeting.
Recognizing that ‘walking in the Light’ is sometimes a difficulty, we should see that the point of having a community of faith is that it provides an environment where we can support one another in our endeavors to be faithful…the Light is often more clearly discerned by many than by one.”
Meeting for Worship
Friends have shared that our gathering for Meeting for Worship is the core of our spiritual life together as a Meeting. In the words of one Friend, “The Meeting is a holy, sacred place that makes you want to be there.” As Quakers, we have faith that our experiences in Meeting for Worship bring something beyond ourselves that instructs and sustains us. It is this group mysticism that is a prime source of spiritual nurture and attracts people to Meeting. One Friend has heard in messages a greater openness and vulnerability arising from the deep silence in Meeting during the past year.
The Meeting has sought to nurture vocal ministry, particularly among newer members and attenders, both through Adult Religious Education forums and worship-sharing sessions focused on the monthly queries which invited sharing from those who might feel reluctance to speak in Meeting for Worship. We recognize that such nurturing raises the tension between the freedom to offer messages in Meeting for Worship and our openness to messages which we find unsettling, inappropriate, or too long. Some Friends remarked that messages that irritate can prompt us to reflect on whether we have fully heard the message or whether the message was meant for us or for others. Other Friends shared their belief that all messages were enriching and that we as a Meeting are open to any spontaneous, Spirit-moved message. We believe that our receptivity to diverse messages in Meeting and our willingness to hold differences among us and allow Truth to show itself are reflections of the spiritual health of the Meeting.
Several Friends mentioned experiencing spiritual growth through meetings relating to major life events. Friends joyfully celebrated the union of two lives in love and commitment in the meeting for marriage held during the year. And Friends had opportunities to contemplate more deeply life’s fragility and meaning through the three memorial meetings held: one for a member’s mother, in the fullness of her years, appreciated for a life well spent; the second for a member taken unexpectedly in the prime of his life; and the third for a young adult who showed courage and wisdom in the face of her terminal illness.
Meeting for Business
We are inspired by naming our business meetings a Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business, and we aspire to experience decision making as a spiritual process. We also find the concept of decisions that are based on a sense of the meeting thought provoking. What is it? How do we know it? This likely does not mean discovering some one course of action that God has already chosen for us. Rather, we believe that the sense of the meeting can be recognized by our experience: whether we have affirmatively asked the Spirit for guidance, waited for a leading, been open to the insights shared by others, and recognized beauty in the path forward that emerges. It can be easy to find ourselves debating our individual opinions, with the result that the tone of Meeting for Business (or committee meetings) becomes more of a discussion than one of seeking together. However, we also often have experienced our Meeting finding its way to a deeper process of discernment and the benefit that comes of inviting silence to center ourselves during our decision making. We are nourished by those experiences.
There are many ways we can grow spiritually as a community in the year ahead with respect to Meetings for Business. One is to reflect on the times when we have been gathered spiritually and why, so that we can be more intentional about that in the future. Another is for more members to participate in Meetings for Business. During 2013, the average attendance was about 30 out of 220 adult members. Recently attendance has been growing, which we hope will strengthen us spiritually as a community.
As always, the spiritual well-being of the Meeting was reflected in the work of the various committees. Many members and attenders reported that committee work deepened their individual experience and offered a way to translate their Quaker leadings into concrete action and meaningful service. The Meeting as a community benefited from the focused and sustained work of the committees; indeed, our review of each committee’s annual report over the past year revealed the Spirit in everything from the development of budgets, the care of our children, and social justice activities, to fellowship and social interaction, as well as almost bi-weekly discussions of Quaker-themed books, pamphlets, and the monthly queries. For some committees the Spirit appeared in their discernment of what work needed to be laid down. Each committee, within the scope of its mandate, found opportunities to live Quaker processes and values.
Opportunities Outside of Meeting For Worship
Our Adult Religious Education Committee offered a rich series of study and discussion groups this year, such as the spiritual journeys series. The Experiment with Light guided meditation gatherings continue to deepen many Friends’ spiritual lives and enrich Meeting for Worship. Also small groups formed during prior years’ Spiritual Formation programs have continued as an important component of their members’ spiritual nurture; whether and how to offer another such program, as some have suggested, remains an open question for the year ahead. Friends shared that smaller group settings provide a safe, less intimidating space to discuss one’s thoughts, hopes, doubts, or concerns. They feel they learn through hearing how others struggle spiritually, and that trust is often needed before one can openly share one’s own spiritual struggles.
Some Friends shared that service projects contributed to the sense that we are a “vibrant, connected, vigorous community.” Friends have also experienced spiritual growth through their service on the boards of other Quaker organizations and schools, which deepened their understanding of Quaker decision-making. Other Friends said they would welcome more inter-meeting visitations with time after to reflect on observations and experiences from other Quaker meetings. Friends have also expressed a desire to have a mid-week Meeting for Worship or worship-sharing gatherings as a way to nurture better the integration of Quaker values into the rest of life.
We recognize that in a meeting as diverse as ours, it can be challenging to build community. Several feel that efforts over the past year to provide dinners and other venues, where members and attenders can get to know each other and grow together in Quaker values, have fallen short of their potential because too few people took part. A particular concern expressed by Friends was connecting younger adults with those in our Meeting who don’t have school-aged children and those in the second half of life. Another continuing area of concern is how best to make newcomers feel welcome and to discover common interests. The Meeting continues to ponder how we are called to address these situations or, as one Friend recently shared in Meeting, how can we be better f/Friends to each other and our community?
Some feel that assertively inviting attenders to participate in committee and other Meeting work and activities is an important path for including and connecting them to the Meeting community. Yet Friends recognize the Meeting also should be a sanctuary for those who, for whatever reason, are able only to attend Meeting for Worship and are unable to take part in other ways. As one Friend stated, “We recognize that just attending can contribute to the spiritual richness of the Meeting.”
Nurturing Our Youth
Several Friends expressed concern that while our Meeting offers adults a variety of ways to deepen their spirituality, in recent years it has been challenging to sustain an active First Day School (FDS) program for the youth. In the past some difficult conflicts arose among parents over how to teach the Bible in FDS, with some wanting the Bible taught more traditionally as a focus, while others preferred more emphasis on Quaker history. Many felt that the effects of that conflict are still felt by the FDS leaders and parents. Recently members and committees have been taking more responsibility in leading particular events for the youth. But challenges remain and, in the words of one Friend, our FDS is “not out of the woods yet.”
The continuing situation with our FDS is part of a broader question: how can we better nurture the spiritual life of our young families, who often seem over-scheduled and time-constrained? For many such families, sports and other youth activities compete with the Meeting on First Day mornings and limit their ability to join in Meeting for Worship or FDS. Recurring concerns about adequate staffing of our First Day child care only add to the complexity of the situation.
As we look forward, we ask how we are called to respond to continuing problems such as that showing in our FDS and whether a more intentional response is needed by the Meeting as a whole. One Friend reminds us that a Meeting and its members must periodically be “refreshed” in order that continuing revelation inform their life together. Queries traditionally have been one means by which Quakers seek to be refreshed, both individually and corporately, by prompting self-examination and re-grounding in the Inner Light as our source of guidance.
While we currently use the various monthly queries proposed by Baltimore Yearly Meeting, some Friends have suggested that the Meeting might consider an Annual Query around particular areas we have chosen to foster spiritual growth and attention. An Annual Query could then serve as a core theme around which committees might plan their activities over a particular year, with the hope of bringing a broader, more cohesive effort to bear on significant issues the Meeting identifies.
In reflecting on this situation and its role in our Meeting, the Ministry and Worship committee feels called to adopt the following Query as its particular focus for the coming year:
How is the Spirit calling us to nurture the worship experience of younger children, older children, teenagers, and families and to provide greater opportunities for their spiritual development and understanding? How can we be more connected as an intergenerational community?
In adopting this Annual Query for itself, M&W does not intend to constrain or dictate to other committees what they might do. Rather, M&W invites other committees and concerned individuals in the Meeting to discern whether and how they might be called to focus more intentionally in this or related areas. In so doing Friends can be inspired by the quote from Thomas Jeavons that begins this report and by the following words of Isaac Penington:
Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness, and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against the other; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.
How does the Spirit prosper among us?
Our worship together is integral to who we are as a Quaker Meeting; we feel the Spirit moving among us most strongly when we join in Meeting for Worship. Friends often speak in worship from personal experience, yet these messages frequently contain some universal truth that elicits a response from the gathered group, with subsequent messages building one upon the other.
Some Friends find that their ability to share from a deeper place has been enhanced by their participation in the periodic guided meditation of Experiment with Light sessions as well as by involvement in the Spiritual Formation program offered in past years. They also feel that the quality of our worship is strengthened by a shared understanding of Quaker history and practice gained though Adult Religious Education's programs. The worship experience for the Meeting as a whole has been deepened as a result, these Friends feel.
Friends recognize the preciousness of our time together in worship and that it can be diminished when people arrive late or when outside or personal distractions keep us from settling into worship. We value all those who join in worship, acknowledging that circumstance may at time prevent some from arriving at the scheduled time.
Our sense of the collective whole that we often find in worship is strengthened in our working together in committees, Friends say. In addition to opening with an initial period of worship, some committees begin their meetings with brief "check-in" time of sharing that enables members to know one another on a more personal level. "We hear where the pain and the joy are," one Friend said of such sharing. Another Friend felt there is "a personal spiritual gain" in the committee work itself.
Yet, we know too that some are reluctant, or simply unable, to participate in committee work because of family and other real demands in their daily lives. Nominating Committee has told us that it had difficulty this year in finding people willing to accept committee assignments. This has led us to consider what things are essential to us as a Meeting when we undertake activities like community service projects and even Spring Fling that we have done in the past. We questioned whether the fast-paced demands of life today may impinge at times on what we can do as a community. Yet we discovered this year that we are able to focus our collective energy on particular events, such as hosting the weekend meeting of the Friends General Conference and the fall BYM Interim Meeting. We found that such challenges bring us together as a community in unexpected ways.
We also know that when individuals within our Meeting are in need of assistance as they recover from serious illness or mishap, we are able to provide sustained love and support. We ask ourselves, how can all of us better serve -- not merely help -- those in our community with their spiritual as well as their material needs?
A bequest this year from a departed Meeting member prompted us to discern how our values and aspirations intersect. Unencumbered by property or other significant financial demands on our resources, we considered how we might best share this unexpected gift. In a threshing session, Friends voiced their desire not only to strengthen our efforts to better share Quaker values and practices with our own children, but also to support educational programs that serve disadvantaged youth, both in the local community and overseas.
How do we enable our children to thrive and grow with a sense of themselves as Quakers? A Friend who grew up in a Quaker meeting said it was his informal interactions with adults in his meeting that helped enable him to gain an understanding of what it meant to be a Quaker. Another Friend questioned whether our children "feel loved by the adults in the Meeting. How many adults take time to know the Meeting's children personally?" she asked. Two Friends whose children have grown up the Meeting said that their children gained a sense of their Quaker heritage and found supportive communities in attending Quaker camp and school rather than in the Meeting. Another Friend said he had sometimes questioned whether his children's participation in the First Day School gave them any concept of what a spiritual life is. Yet as they have matured into young adulthood, he now has a sense that in fact they have absorbed some important values that are reflected in how they carry out their lives.
While reflecting on the past year, we also look to the future in asking ourselves:
How can we deepen the worship experience for more of those who come together on First Day?
Can we better share the satisfaction of committee work, enabling more of us to see the spiritual dimension of this work? Can it be seen as a joy and not a burden?
What can individual adult Friends do to know our children and youth on a personal level? What interests and talents do each of us have that we can share with them?
Can we identify occasions when our youth can be mentored into being full participants in the Meeting? How can we nurture our children and youth to become ethical, spiritual beings?
- Approved by Meeting for Worship for the Conduct of Business, April 7, 2013
"And Friends, meet together and know one another in that which is Eternal, which was before the word was."
-- Excerpt from a pastoral letter from George Fox to early Friends
The core of our spiritual life together is the time we gather in Meeting for Worship. Friends find the quality of the worship deeper and more centered than at times in the past. Even when no spoken messages are offered, Friends often find that the worship feels gathered.
The sense of a spiritual community experienced during worship is enhanced for many Friends by other opportunities to be together outside of Meeting for Worship. Friends value the Spiritual Formation program, now in its second year with 21 participants; the regular Experiment with Light guided meditation program; and the many and varied pre-worship forums offered by Adult Religious Education, including on themes related to the Bible and to Quaker testimonies. All these offer occasions for personal spiritual growth. "We learn from one another and explore and discuss what is in our hearts and minds,” one Friend said. We are able "to walk together and hear what others are thinking and doing."
We recognize that Meeting for Worship for the Conduct of Business is central to our lives as a worshiping community but is not as well attended as we would desire. How do we better convey to both active members and to those who want to become more involved, the importance of Business Meeting? A dialogue is currently under way about how we might increase participation at Meeting for Business. The emerging consensus is that Meeting for Business offers a way for members and attenders to better understand how Quakers work, to spend additional time in fellowship, and to “own” the Meeting. This is relevant to the spiritual state of our Meeting in that the strength of our community supports and reinforces our communal worship.
Friends express a desire for other opportunities to come together outside of worship, but the busy daily lives and limited discretionary time of many members and attenders complicates the task of providing such occasions. Modest participation at some Meeting events has disappointed and even frustrated some Friends. Is this a lack of interest or a response to the over-scheduled nature of many of our lives? Others wonder whether alternatives, even simply "fun" activities, might offer new occasions for us to know one another on a more personal level.
Yet, while we contemplate adding more activities, are we availing ourselves fully of the existing social opportunities like Friendly Eights and zip-code dinners? We know that building and strengthening our spiritual community is important. It is also a process that is never complete as individuals move away or are absent due to family commitments, even as others join the meeting with new interests and concerns. One Friend said, "It is a challenge to orient people who are new to Quakerism, but a notable number keep returning." We have felt this ever-evolving change in our Meeting this past year as several long-time, deeply involved members moved elsewhere, even as other, newer members have taken on responsible positions.
Our spiritual community is undergirded by the ties of love and caring we build both through the Meeting's committees and the personal bonds that are created as we worship and work together in the Meeting and in our everyday interactions.
We recognize our responsibility to ensure newer individuals, and particularly families with young children, are welcome in our community. Yet some Friends who have come more recently to BFM feel the need to become involved gradually. "It is helpful to me not to feel pressured to socialize or commit to multiple committees and activities before I am ready," a Friend who recently joined the Meeting said, "I have appreciated silent worship and the opportunity to approach the meeting at my own pace." Another said, "For someone eager to get involved, there are plenty of openings. For others, like myself, who are grateful for a community with which to worship, but with existing service commitments, I haven't felt pressured to join in more than I already have."
We accept that it is not uncommon for groups to have a highly committed core on one end, occasional and infrequent participants on the other end, and a range of participants at different points on the spectrum. We want to be warm and welcoming to everyone and to make room for them to participate in whatever way is meaningful to them. So we try to offer opportunities for people to connect, but respect that they will participate in whatever way is consistent with their desires and abilities.
Friends also recognize our need to more intentionally engage our children and youth. Friends involved with our First Day School (FDS) program express concern about the erratic attendance of many of the children and youths in the program and would like to see more adults involved as part-time teachers or occasional volunteers. One parent observed that if families had more information about the FDS curriculum they would be better able to talk to their children about what they are learning and reinforce the program's themes at home. Friends agree that children also benefit from interacting with older individuals. At the same time adults can gain an appreciation of the growth and vibrancy of the Meeting by joining even the youngest children in nursery in the simple task of rolling out Play-Dough for them to press into stars and animal "cookies."
Several Friends expressed the hope that the Meeting might become more involved in service projects. Recent examples, such as adults and children working together in events like Spring Fling or outside activities such as collecting food for Manna, are good ways to put our Quaker values into action. As one Friend said, "Instead of telling children what we believe, we show them by example." For their part, the youths in the Senior High group said they have enjoyed community service projects they have done through the Meeting and would welcome more such opportunities.
Several Friends expressed an appreciation that the Meeting is "doing well." One member suggested, however, that "rather than saying we’re doing well, so let us keep things as they are, could we not hold the thought that we’re doing well, and wonder together how we can draw on our strengths, become more conscious of how change might work for us as a Meeting, and invest in it?"