Gunpowder 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.
|2011 Report||2012 Report||2013 Report||2014 Report||2015 Report|
“It is not unusual for us to have a Meeting for Worship when there is no vocal ministry, but the presence of the divine is powerful, and this ministers in the silence. This roots all of what we do. It is a mystery—I do not have adequate words for it, but I think we share this sense in a very rich, deep, powerful and empowering way.”
In this way, one Friend describes the spirit of our Gunpowder Friends community and its grounding in the deep silence of Meeting for Worship. Out of this grounding we help each other attend to the Spirit in our practices and programs, including Spiritual Formation program, Silent Retreat days, Bible Study, First Day School, monthly Forums, and other activities. In all these gatherings there is a broad and deep commitment to listening, seeking, and caring in order to be open to a deepening call. One Friend spoke of a responsive flexibility in our Meeting, a testament to our love for one another and a mark of growing maturity as a spiritual community. Another Friend speaks of her awareness of a spectrum of spiritual gifts and development, and is grateful to those who share such gifts. She says, “I think of them as the leavening in the Meeting, not only elevating the spiritual state in general, but revealing spiritual gifts in those who do not recognize their own.”
Our Meeting community welcomes newcomers and visitors in a genuine and spontaneous way, whether a new individual or family that arrives on a First Day morning, or guests who gather for Quarterly meeting, a memorial service, or a wedding. This hospitality is a testament to the care and attention we extend to others, and we in turn are enriched by the spiritual gifts brought to us by visitors and new attenders.
The children of our First Day School bring joy to our Meeting. We continue to work to accommodate the needs of the children given the wide age range from pre-school to high school. “The vision of First Day School is to teach our young people that our testimonies are not only words but how we live,” says one teacher. A highlight of the year was the Christmas program when our young Friends not only performed an original play, but also prepared and hosted simple lunch at the rise of Meeting.
We are blessed to have wide generational diversity, including a number of older Friends, many from the Broadmead retirement community. Some queries have arisen: How do we attend to the unique needs of our aging Friends? How do we best tend to honoring, valuing, encouraging their presence and wisdom? One Friend noted his concern about attending to the ends of our age spectrum as well as to our working parents and their children in First Day School.
We were saddened by the deaths of a number of beloved Gunpowder Friends in 2015. Memorial Meetings and our annual Memorial Day gathering are times when we celebrate the lives of those who have died, affirming how much our community is carried forward through the gifts of each of us.
The Meeting is grateful to the many people who work diligently and lovingly in, and for, our community. We are sustained by the commitment of many Friends, those serving on committees (Ministry and Counsel, Care and Oversight, Trustees, Property, Finance, Nominating, Hospitality, First Day School) and those serving in other capacities, both official and unofficial. We are known to others as a beautiful rural meeting, and indeed our physical space and grounds minister to us and to others. The thoughtful and spirit-led stewardship of the Property Committee assures the healthy maintenance of our Meeting House and grounds. Thanks to the diligent work of Friends on our library collection this year, a rich variety of resources are readily accessible in pleasant and tidy surroundings.
We appreciate the presence of those in our community who are mindful of the environment.
A working group has come together to move forward the spiritually grounded work arising from our 2011 Spirit and Nature Minute. There has been a focus on care of the environment in the First Day School as well. This enriching and important work is a gift to the Meeting community.
A year ago a member spoke passionately about diversity and racial injustice as a spiritual issue that is “more about what we attend to than who sits in the room,” and we have taken steps to educate and open ourselves on such topics as white privilege and the ways we, often unwittingly, participate in and perpetuate racism. Three Forums and a presentation at Chesapeake Quarterly Meeting (hosted by Gunpowder) on the topic of diversity and racial justice were well attended. Two members of our Ministry and Counsel Committee regularly attend the Stony Run Working Group on Racism. There is strong interest in continuing this work in 2016.
Gunpowder Meeting is well connected with the larger Quaker world in a number of ways. Some Gunpowder Friends faithfully attend Quarterly Meeting and the various gatherings and committees of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, keeping us informed and involved in current business and concerns. As a Meeting, we are committed to the work of FCNL, regularly sharing updates with one another and holding monthly letter-writing sessions. Others contribute to the wider Quaker community by serving on the Boards of Broadmead and Friends School of Baltimore.
We are also connected with our local non-Quaker faith communities in our ongoing support of and contributions to the United Churches Assistance Network (UCAN) in northern Baltimore County.
In any Meeting community, transitions occur as members age. We encourage new and younger Friends to become involved in the life of the Meeting according to their gifts and leadings. We will continue to be mindful of the importance of invitation and mentoring in this process.
This report was compiled by members of Ministry and Counsel. The wider Meeting community had an opportunity to contribute through a worship sharing Forum held 10th First Month 2016. To frame our sharing, we used the Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) Vision Statement along with the following queries:
1) Where and how is the BYM Vision Statement alive at Gunpowder?
2) What is most needed to deepen the spiritual life of the Meeting and to strengthen its witness in behalf of Friends’ testimonies to the world? (from 1988 BYM Faith and Practice)
Our Meeting community is grounded in the deep silence of Meeting for Worship. Meaningful and spirit-led vocal ministry arises most First Days, and we conclude worship together with the sharing of our joys, sorrows, and concerns. Through our gathered worship and the sharing of our life’s journeys, we secure a foundation for our growth as a Quaker community.
Members strive for healthy, open communication within the Meeting, listening deeply to each other, growing together as we listen and are heard. We can work through difficult issues and address our challenges as long as we can be open with each other. Members continue to care for each other in a number of ways. One Friend expressed gratitude for the loving care that members provided to her family during an extended illness.
There are many ways in which we listen to, support, and nurture each other on our spiritual journeys. One member has described a “beautiful” listening in the large and small groups that are a part of the Spiritual Formation program. There are other forums for questioning, listening, and seeking such as First Day School, Bible Study, and a broad commitment to being open to continuing education.
Several Friends commented that the geographic distance of Friends in our Meeting presents a challenge for broader attendance at activities other than on First Day morning. An opportunity for our Meeting is to explore alternate venues and times for our community-building activities. In addition, as we plan activities for spiritual deepening, we need to be mindful of the stages of life of Meeting members and attenders, including absent Friends.
Our Meeting community welcomes newcomers in a genuine and natural way. New attenders have commented on how apparent it is that the Meeting cares about its members and visitors, and they hope that our welcoming process will continue to be enthusiastic and spirit-led. This year the Meeting has begun to present a book about Quakerism (A Quaker Book of Wisdom by Robert Lawrence Smith or Letters to a Fellow Seeker by Steve Chase) to new regular attenders. One such recipient commented, “It was a wonderful welcoming as a new attender to receive a gift about the spiritual life of Friends.”
We are very grateful for the presence of children in our Meeting. Our First Day School continues to be active, flexing as necessary to adjust to changing family stages and schedules. Steps have been taken to develop programs/activities that maintain connections with our teens (e.g. a sleepover at the Meeting House). In addition, we initiated an annual presentation of books to our First Day School students at milestones in their school lives. Some young Friends have reported how much they have enjoyed reading and re-reading the books, and others have been delighted to be affirmed and celebrated by the Meeting in this way. We have taken another step to support our families and children: a paid babysitter on First Days allows parents of our youngest Friends (kindergarten and younger) to attend Meeting For Worship and to participate in the work of the Meeting. The children themselves participated in the Meeting’s discernment concerning the timing of their participation in Meeting for Worship, a process valuable for all generations.
We appreciate the presence of those in our Meeting who are mindful of the environment. They help to root our community in our biological and ecological place, and remind us to find ways to be attentive to sustaining the natural world. We remind ourselves of the importance of this in our use of non-disposable dinnerware, launderable napkins, composting, etc. We look forward to furthering this spirit-led environmental work within the wider Quaker community in partnership with Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
In years past, we have tried to develop a greater diversity among us, yet our numbers do not reflect this. One Friend presented her view that diversity “isn’t about who sits in the [Meeting] room, but what we attend to.” Indeed, we have called attention to issues of racial justice in our reading of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and several related educational opportunities. A Friend notes,
“Given the realities from the outer world this year, we are called to attend to the way in which the White community can be very blind to its own privilege, to our own lack of understanding of how we participate in, perpetuate, and don’t understand racism… This is not only a political issue, a justice issue, or a public policy issue – this is a spiritual issue.”
For some of us, this concern has led to a sense of urgency to discern what our corporate prophetic witness might be. An opportunity for the coming year is outreach to the nearby Stevenson AME church to connect with our neighbors there, and to continue with education and reflection on ways that we, as individuals and as a meeting, can be more mindful and active in this area. It is important to recognize that there are a number of Meeting members and attenders who are active in social justice work on racial and other issues and that the Meeting community provides a spiritual grounding and sustenance for these efforts.
This report was compiled by two members of Ministry and Counsel with the support and input of the full committee. The wider Meeting community had an opportunity to contribute through a worship-sharing Forum held 11th First Month, 2015. The guiding queries for this gathering were excerpted from “Recommendations for Monthly Meetings” from the report of the ad hoc Vision Implementation Committee of Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
We gathered on a cold January morning under threat of freezing rain. We were thirteen gathered for this time of sharing. We reflected on queries that were sent for our consideration by the BYM Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee.
On another First Day, the children shared their own reflections. Quotations from these two gatherings as well as written submissions were sorted under four headings for this report. We begin with “Community” because this arose first for the group, and Friends spoke at length about it.
- I find this Meeting has a great sense of community – it is a very stabilizing part of my life. I think I put this first among my communities. There is a wealth of things to become involved in, and it is where we can relate to one another on a much deeper level than elsewhere. I have come to think of this community as a place where the everyday world and the sense of eternity meet; we find what many of us are seeking, a part of that “invisible world” of eternity. Gunpowder is the right place for me to experience this and I am grateful to be among all these Friends.
- There is a spiritual depth and breadth to the life of this Meeting that has always seemed to me one of its enduring characteristics. There is a commitment to spiritual formation by a number of individuals who are long practiced in spiritual practices that sustain them and allow them to bring that depth to the Meeting. There is a broad commitment to being open to continuing revelation and a deepening call, not only through the Spiritual Formation program, but also through the questioning, listening, and seeking in such forums as the Quaker Way sessions, First Day School, and Bible Study.
- There was a sense of great loss this year with the deaths of beloved elders in our community and friends and family outside the community. We bore this sadness together, as a community. I feel the great interconnectedness of our lives. We also welcomed many newcomers to our community, friends of all ages and stages of seeking, from young couples to families with young children to those further along their lives’ journey. More Friends also became involved in Spiritual Formation, in the life of our Meeting, and in the broader Quaker world. The groundedness of our community was felt, therefore, through sadness and loss, but also through welcoming of newcomers.
- There is a true sense of community in this Meeting which is felt by newcomers instantly; it is easy to feel nurtured, cared for and affirmed among Friends here. It is easy to feel that way will open, that we might find a voice and a path to help lead.
- The generosity of this Meeting is so heartwarming and I feel very accepted. When we received the holiday photograph of the Meeting community, I put a line under the photograph that says, “This is where my strength comes from.”
- Gunpowder Meeting is a place where the Spirit is alive and well in such a way that we can leave our egos at the door and be comfortable in our thoughts, feelings, and being.
- The inward and outward spiritual journeys are inseparable. This is why we find our individual journeys to proceed more fruitfully within a web of community, even as our gathering may be silent. At Gunpowder, I perceive an exceptional level of intentionality about “knowing one another in that which is eternal.” Meeting for Worship, sharing of joys and sorrows at the rise of meeting, forums, spiritual formation, First Day school, bible study, Exploring the Quaker Way, meeting for business, monthly silent retreat days, weddings, memorial services, standing- and ad-hoc committees, newsletter, electronic communications and other celebrations of our spiritual journeys: these cannot but enliven and enrich each of our journeys when done intergenerationally in a spirit of openness and love.
- Ministry can be heard in our Meetinghouse as the children are taught, as we gather at Spiritual Formation, and as we do our committee work.
- A FDS lesson involved making rope from natural fibers. The question was posed: How is rope similar to Meeting? One young Friend’s response:
Every person is like a strand and when you put them together you get rope.
Other observations: Rope is strong, flexible, lasts through time; it is used to tether things and hold them together.
Meeting for Worship
- I find myself thinking about the arc of Meeting for Worship each First Day. I especially like it when I can arrive a bit early and be among the first in the meeting room and watch the procession of Friends come in and settle. You can feel a sense of an oasis or being embraced by community, and I think we settle rather quickly, and the children settle remarkably quickly. It is wonderful to see even our very youngest friends learn what MFW is. And then I think of the “Joys and Sorrows/Concerns” at the end of MFW which is a place where people feel comfortable to share in love and support. There are many First Days when I am in tears by the close of worship, which speaks to an openness and tenderness of spirit-led life in this community.
- Another Friend added: The arc metaphor is “U” shaped—we start at the surface and go to the depth and then return.
- As Quakers we say that in an unprogrammed Meeting we do not have ministers, but I find that there are many ministers here. To be a good minister you need to listen deeply, and there are many friends here who are able to do that.
- The messages here speak to me. I am so grateful that this Meeting opened in my life.
- In our Meetings for Worship, I am so pleased when we meet both inside and outside on the porch. This is a special feature of our community.
- More from the FDS rope lesson: Meeting ties all of us together. That's why everyone comes here instead of staying home and sitting in the silence there. They want to be tied together in friendship.
Work of the Meeting
- I appreciate that our Meeting is encouraging younger people to take leadership roles in a way that is a salvation to the Meeting. I think our Meeting has many younger people who are willing to take on difficult tasks, and these may be done in somewhat different ways. It is important for the older members of the community to let go and for younger people to help the meeting develop in what may be different ways.
- I think both the young and the elderly are asked to stretch in order to change when it is right to do so.
- I appreciate the presence of those in our community who pay greater attention to /are mindful of the environment. They help to root our community in our biological and ecological place and remind us to find ways to be more attentive to sustaining the natural world. This work is such a gift to us.
- Another Friend added: We also value those who lead us in action for social justice via organizations such as FCNL and AFSC.
- Even as we attend to the spiritual aspects of our community, the work of the community/Meetinghouse gets done: newsletter, website, benches restored, snow and ice cleared, First Day school lessons delivered, etc.
Matters for Our Attention
- We have made an effort to educate our members and attenders about opportunities in the wider Quaker world for service, social action, and spiritual growth. Although more Friends have become interested and involved, this is still a growing edge for us as a Quaker community.
- I have a concern that we have not found a way to achieve more cultural and racial diversity. Visitors are welcome, but some may observe that there isn’t a place for them here because they feel more alone. How can we achieve greater diversity? I don’t know how except to live the question and continue to be welcoming.
- Another Friend added: Our community is quite diverse in age. I also appreciate the ways we have made the Meetinghouse accessible with the ramp and the hearing loop. People with handicaps are welcome here.
- I know that in the fullness of life nothing is ever complete and that we are invited to go more deeply in our commitment to knowing our impact as a Meeting on the environment. Reusable plates, launderable napkins, composting, etc., are some reminders of this work.
- We should be very tender with newcomers who come to us without their life partners. We need to be especially welcoming to them.
- In terms of our members and attenders feeling valued and cared for, we have people whom we don’t see that often. I am not sure what we could be doing for some who are less present. How can we know more about those who are not here each First Day? It is always good to know more about our stories.
- There may be an opportunity for us to help and support parents of young children who want to fully participate in the life of the Meeting.
- Our Meeting could benefit from learning more about resolving interpersonal conflicts as they arise.
- Our ministry to each other is always evolving; there is always more that we can do.
Our clerk closed our worship sharing with these words:
We have evolved our practice of preparing the Spiritual State of the Meeting report. As I sit here today, among this spiritually led, heartfelt worship sharing, I realize how much we learn when we trust the process.
Meeting for Worship
When asked to consider their experiences of Meeting for Worship in the past year, our children noted that in the quiet “you can think about things,” and that the stillness gives us “time to calm down.” Indeed: this sense of sinking “down into the seed” during worship was shared by older Friends as well. One noted that “I feel God’s presence in Meeting”; another that the Meeting for Worship reminds him how he is nourished by this “blessed community.” As we reflected on the gifts of this gathered worship, we also noted that they are the fruits of our intentional preparation for Meeting. Friends shared their practices of prayer, meditation, and reading in the days leading up to worship each week. During worship, there is a deep and rich silence, balanced by nurturing vocal ministry. One Friend noted that “many times the messages I speak are for me as well [as for others]; they are revelations as to what I should be doing.” Our children expressed gratitude for the queries read aloud in Meeting once each month, as “the queries help me to think about what I am doing.” The children would like to hear more vocal ministry during the time they are with us in worship. A sense was also expressed that Meeting for Worship helps to knit us together, and to “expand our knowledge of ourselves and our community.” A part of our knowing of ourselves as a community came as we restored the Meeting Room benches this year: the carpenters whose gifted hands made this work possible joined us in worship and sharing of this journey. From this deepening worship and sense of spiritual community, we realize that we are called to “take the Meeting with us when we go out into the wider world.”
Meeting for Worship With a Concern for Business and Committee Work
Love for one another and a “spirit of listening and respect” has allowed us to live into our recent (Ninth Month 2011) minute in support of same-gender marriage under the care of the Meeting. As one Friend noted when reflecting on this continuing process, “our love is stronger than any differences among us, and it will always be that way.” Our work on this, and other matters, happens both inside and outside Meeting for Business. While our Quaker process can sometimes feel slow to some, we acknowledge that “it is meant to be that way: as the Light ignites our bones, the process lives in each of us.” Some of our children ventured into Meeting for Business this year, which is a good sign of their connectedness to the community and their readiness for their maturing roles in the Meeting. Our clerk acknowledges that she feels supported in her work, and she affirmed that “we all practice leadership [in the Meeting community] because we have to.” Our work in committees represents a place for growth into this understanding that each of us is responsible for the work of the Meeting; to this end we invited two outside Friends in Eleventh Month to lead a Forum entitled “Quaker Committees: Responsible to the Meeting, Responsible to the Spirit.” Friends acknowledged that our deepening knowledge of one another and our sense of caring for one another are important foundations for our business and committee work.
First Day School (FDS)
Our younger Friends (spanning infancy to teen) continue to be highly valued for the life, joy, wisdom, noises, and occasional vocal ministry they bring to the Meeting. As one Friend put it, “the opportunity to gain wisdom from their insights is something that I see as an area for my personal growth,” and similarly, another said “children are spiritual teachers for me.” Following the first 15 minutes of Meeting for Worship, children gather in the First Day School rooms and often outdoors as well. A number of Friends share the joy of teaching FDS classes. Regular monthly lessons have included Conflict Resolution, Environment/Spirituality, a Service Project, and Godly Play/Faith & Play. The Godly Play stories are valued by one younger Friend because they are “an interesting way to learn about Bible Stories” and are “really creative and fun,” while another found the conflict resolution lessons especially applicable to sibling relationships. When asked about their favorite Meeting activities and those that brought them closer to God, children listed a variety of activities that brought them into contact with a broader range of adults: “Exploring the Quaker Way,” the Coffee Social, the Camping Trip, the Christmas talent show, Godly Play, and Intergenerational Game nights. Children found it easier to get to know other children’s parents, FDS teachers, and adults who came to talk in FDS.
Activities and Gatherings
Our Meeting-sponsored activities arise from our spiritual yearnings and provide opportunities for deepening our spiritual growth, broadening our knowledge, and cultivating interpersonal relationships. Various monthly First Day gatherings now regularly occur before and after Meeting for Worship. (See list.) Three highlights from 2012: 1) “Exploring the Quaker Way” has opened up much sharing on different aspects of the Quaker experience using a format from Quaker Quest. 2) The Spirit and Nature group has evolved to a worship sharing group on Matthew Fox’s Original Blessing, a gathering that Friends find deeply spiritual. 3) Friends have commented on the ongoing value of the Spiritual Formation program “where people get to know one another more deeply and care for one another.” Delving into one text, Cynthia Bourgeault’s Wisdom Jesus, has been fruitful for a number of participants.
Monthly First Day Gatherings
- Coffee Social
- FCNL letter writing
- Spirit and Nature
- Exploring the Quaker Way
- Bible Study
Other Monthly Gatherings
- Spiritual Formation
- Silent Retreat
Groups meeting a few times a year
- Quaker Parenting
- Intergenerational Game Night
- Property Committee Clean-up Days
- Meeting for Worship for Remembrance (Memorial Day)
- FDS Camping trip
- FDS Christmas program
Relationships in the Community
We are mindful of and grateful for our connections with generations of Gunpowder Friends, past, present and future who have and who will steward our community and our home. We are fortunate to have vibrant groups across the lifespan for whom faith and spirituality are central to their lives. Their willingness to talk about this is a gift. The community draws strength from the deep and trusting relationships here.
Newcomers are welcomed to the Meeting. One newcomer stated, “In the brief period of time I have been attending Meeting for Worship and the Spiritual Formation group, I have felt embraced, I have felt accepted, and I have also felt immediately the sense this was a place I could grow by listening to a variety of different viewpoints.”
Friends spoke about relationships of the Gunpowder community with the wider Quaker community, with the local community, and with the cosmos. We could be more aware of Friends’ involvement in activities in the wider Quaker community; steps are needed to help us broaden and deepen our understanding of such opportunities. One Friend noted the value of the Meeting fully recognizing what impact our individual and group efforts have outside of the Quaker world. Another Friend noted the importance of our awareness of, connection to, and respect for our cosmos and spoke of this as central to our spiritual lives.
“Exploring the Quaker Way” opens paths for newcomers and attenders to gain a clearer understanding of our beliefs, our worship practices, our history, and our testimonies. Other activities and gatherings, such as Spiritual Formation and Silent Retreat, serve as a form of outreach, attracting visitors and seekers.
Our Gunpowder Friends living at Broadmead Retirement community conduct informational sessions to educate fellow residents about Quaker beliefs and practices.
We understand that it is important to consider other ways to further our outreach efforts. Our young Friends continue to be exemplars in their dedication to community service projects.
Looking Forward: Queries for Our Worship in the Coming Year
- For what is our worship preparing us as individuals and as a community?
- How can we best nurture the developing vocal and other ministries of our children?
- As we attend to our process of business, do we discipline ourselves to engage in a worship-based Spirit-led discernment process, to “really wait” before sharing and allow our clerk to recognize us?
- Do we make leadership opportunities and corporate discernment processes consistently accessible to all interested Friends, members and attenders?
- Do we find ways to speak Truth that some might have difficulty hearing? How do we continue to learn from the “pieces of truth” each of us has for our shared work? How do we invite one another and hold one another accountable in truth seeking? Do we remain open to continuing revelation?
- Within the Meeting community, how do we strengthen bonds -- between those who currently attend regularly and those who do not, between those who are actively parenting young children and those who are not?
- How can adults and children get to know each other better? How do we take advantage of opportunities for intergenerational interaction?
- Although we are diverse in our spiritual journeys and in some of our opinions, we are not diverse in race and ethnicity. What are the reasons for this lack of diversity in our community? What are the effects of this lack?
- How do we bring our Meeting with us when we go out into the wider world? What community service are we led to offer to the world? How could we be more involved in the wider Quaker community? What steps can we take in conveying Quaker Faith and Practice in the wider community?
“May we think about our [responses] together in a loving way. Our Quaker process may feel slow but perhaps it is meant to be that way. Weariness is only temporary.”
-- Sharon Daily, Clerk of Gunpowder Meeting, 1/6/13
Meeting For Worship
Meeting for Worship is at the center of everything we do at Gunpowder Monthly Meeting. The worship is characterized by a silence that is deep, with a few messages interspersed. An often expressed sentiment is that the presence of other people helps individuals draw more deeply into the worship. As has been the habit in recent years, queries are read aloud in Meeting once a month. We engage in ongoing dialog regarding vocal ministry: its nature, experiences of being led to minister, how it differs from other forms of public discourse, and how we can nurture it in one another. A hearing loop installed in this year is helping Friends to hear spoken messages with greater clarity and ease. Bible reading at home is believed to deepen the worship. The children—including stomping into Meetings for Worship—are cherished. They and their parents feel the community’s love. The children eloquently voiced their observations of the first 15 minutes of Meetings for Worship:
We do: Sit and be quiet, sometimes speak if we have something to say, and remember people who have passed away.
We think about: The testimonies, family and friends, what fun things we are going to do in First Day School and after Meeting.
We see: God in our minds, and he sees us, people think, people relaxing, people closing their eyes—maybe they are thinking about God.
We hear: Footsteps when people walk in [on the wooden floor], nature, quietness, people breathing, people speak and say something that’s really important to them.
Committees and Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business
Friends expressed mixed discernment related to our committee work and our MFW with a Concern for Business. Friends discussed the importance of guarding against agendas that are too full, the difference between just completing a task versus spiritually led work, the need for each committee to fully contribute to the spiritual life of the meeting, and the importance of accountability to one another and to our work.
Friends offered some positive thoughts on our work and some queries that may help us to improve upon our Quaker process during committee meetings and business meetings. Now that MFW with a Concern for Business starts eat the rise of worship, more Friends are able to attend. Each Friend has his/her own strengths, weaknesses and gifts that we bring to our committee work. The prayerful, loving attention to Quaker process in regard to the issue of same sex marriage was an example of healthy committee work and a worshipful business meeting. Although our meeting did not reach unity, we did discern a sense of the meeting to support the marriages of same-sex couples to further our actions in equality after several years of discernment and worship on this matter.
There is a sense among Friends to continue to work on listening to the spirit during our business matters. How can we prayerfully consider how to strengthen our committees? What stands in our way of a loving collaboration with each other? How can we reach the same depth of spiritual attentiveness in our MFW with a Concern for Business and committee meetings as we do in our Meetings for Worship? How do we balance work and worship? Finally, how can we assist each committee to work in the way of Quaker process?
Activities and Gatherings
When reflecting on our experience with Meeting activities and gatherings, one Friend affirmed that the offerings provide diverse opportunities for deepening our spiritual lives and our relationships to one another. Monthly Silent Retreat days continue to draw Friends from both within and outside our Meeting; the Bible Study group meets regularly; the Spiritual Formation program is strong; we continue to sing together once each month. Our Spirit and Nature Group discerned and shared a minute for ecological stewardship that was approved by the Meeting; the group has evolved and welcomed new Friends to its worshipful work. Friends of all ages appreciate the multiple opportunities throughout the year for intergenerational activities. Pizza and Game Nights continue to be a favorite as well as our summer family campout. The Christmas Program and simple lunch that follows provides deep fellowship during the holiday season—the music and ministry shared by the children are gifts for which we are most grateful. New opportunities for learning and growth emerged this year through our “Exploring the Quaker Way” series, based on our learning about the Quaker Quest program with two facilitators from Friends General Conference. This monthly program regularly draws twenty Friends, including some of our young people.
As we affirm the richness of our activities and gatherings, however, we also acknowledge some challenges. We need to continue to support our parents of young children, whose schedules do not always allow them to participate in our formal programs for spiritual nurture. A newly reformatted Quaker Parenting Group began in 2011 and will continue in 2012 to nurture our families. With so much happening inside the Meeting, we also risk being too insular. One Friend asserted that too few of us have a longing to connect with the broader Baltimore Yearly Meeting or wider Quaker community. How can we reach out more? As we consider the challenge of keeping our pre-teens and teenagers involved in the life of the Meeting, it was suggested that the children be encouraged to take advantage of BYM summer camps. Mention the spirit and nature group.
First Day School
We have an active First Day School, comprising 23 children from age 2 through age 14. It is apparent to the children that they feel embraced by the community, as reflected in a comment from one of our older students that ‘the adults enjoy our company.” When asked about their experiences in FDS classes, the children responded with very positive feedback. The children feel that they are “taught in fun ways but [are] still learning.” They also appreciate that they are given many opportunities to “gather together and make a lot of good friends.” Another young Friend stated, “I am so happy to have our great teachers, who teach us so much about God, peace and so many other things. I am so happy to be a Quaker. It is just great.”
The teachers continue to provide service learning opportunities for the children, (see section on Outreach) as well as monthly experiences with Godly Play and Faith and Play stories. As one of our older children stated, “The Godly Play stories we find interesting and fun.” Since many Gunpowder Friends are trained to teach Godly Play/Faith and Play lessons, the children have been able to enjoy the presence of other adults in the classroom in addition to their regular teachers. Likewise, adult Friends have shared their joy in being able to take part in FDS classes in a way that may not have been possible for them before. This is a great support to the teachers, as it reduces the amount of teaching hours shared by those who carry that responsibility.
In addition to our service learning and Godly Play lessons, we have begun a review of the Quaker Testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship. In response to our strong desire to keep our Stewards (children in grades 4 through high school) interested and involved in the life of our Meeting, the FDS teachers created opportunities for the Stewards to plan and execute their own lessons about Simplicity and Peace to the Foxes (our 2nd grade and younger children). We have received positive feedback from those involved, and feel that this strategy seems to be working at the present time.
“Let your life speak”. Many of us feel that our greatest outreach is in identifying ourselves as Quakers and in being able to answer questions about our beliefs and our manner of worship. To this end we engaged in the initial training program of Quaker Quest to better prepare ourselves for explaining the Quaker way.
Some of us have individual leadings in outreach and social justice that are supported by our Meeting community. Our Spiritual Formation program and our Silent Retreat days draw people from outside the Gunpowder community. We continue to actively participate in UCAN (United Churches Assistance Network), the CROP Walk (local and national work against hunger), and the Native American community in Baltimore. Letter writing sessions to the President and members of the U.S. Congress, facilitated by our contact person to FCNL, are going strong. Our First Day School has several community service projects under way (support for our local Food Bank, support for the “Our House” program in the city for young mothers working to get their GED, raising money for Japan for rescue efforts).
We married two couples under our care in 2011—both ceremonies afforded opportunities for many newcomers to Quakerism worship to experience our ways of worship. Our attractive website is off to a good beginning. We continue to reflect on the query, “How can we encourage cultural diversity in the Meeting?”
Relationships in the Community
Relationships have an opportunity to broaden and deepen through our wide variety of Meeting gatherings and activities. We are blessed to have among us a mix of long-standing Quakers and newcomers, elders as well as children. Newcomers report feeling welcome and they value the grounded community, the ministry, and the mentoring they find here. As one of our youngest Friends said, “We get to know each other well and that’s how we get to care for each other.”
However, in a spiritual community where people are open, they are also vulnerable, and feelings can be hurt. A Forum presented in October by Elizabeth Meyer helped us address this issue in a timely way: In the sensitive time before and after we had approved the minute on same gender marriage, some Friends felt that relationships within the Meeting were being tested. Another practical step in building relationships is being explored by Care and Oversight; they are gathering a list of names of those who have particular needs and those who have the skills to meet them. We hope that helpful matches will emerge. Friends who have recently gone through a crisis or life change appreciate the “practical presence” and “caring arms” of fellow Quakers. There remains for our growing Meeting, however, the question from 2010: Do we need a pastoral handbook, or at least a more clearly defined list of suggestions for important things to remember to do as we deal with the needs of individuals in difficult times such as illness or death?
Friends are grateful for the increasingly frequent intergenerational activities, but some feel that we could do better at learning the names of children and knowing more about them. Thanks to a different format this year, the First Day School Christmas program helped us to learn more about the younger generation’s extracurricular interests and talents through their musical performances and readings.
Although one Friend shared her learning about racism at a Forum and another hosted an intergenerational evening about African-American culture, there is the sense that we need to devote more attention to this topic as a step toward nurturing a greater racial and cultural diversity in our Meeting.
In 2012 we look forward to the growth of our Meeting community in the following directions:
- Sharing and learning together on the topic of vocal ministry
- Completing the bench refurbishment which will help to provide a more comfortable and welcoming worship room
- Expanding the First Day School curriculum to include more about Jesus and his teachings
- Helping committees to function in healthy, productive ways that best support the work of the Meeting
- Allotting the time, energy, and resources to be responsible stewards of our historic Meetinghouse and its land
- Broadening our outreach through community service, nurturing a greater racial and cultural diversity, and fostering more involvement with the wider Quaker world
- Our First Day School children are eager to engage in continuing and new activities in the coming year: snow/river tubing trips, hiking, movie and pizza sleepover sat the Meetinghouse, potluck gatherings, coffee socials, game nights, camping trips, and more opportunities for sharing their musical talents and other interests with the adults (as they did in the Christmas Pageant for 2011). There has also been talk of trying to coordinate a day-long teambuilding and outdoor adventure at Genesee Valley Outdoor Learning Center in the near future.