Homewood 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|
We held our annual specially Called Meeting to assess our spiritual state on 2/12/17. After a period of worship, 45 Homewood members and attenders responded to the following queries: What are our strengths? Where do we need work? What do we envision for the future of Homewood Friends? Our children also participated in the process, exploring similar queries in first day school, reporting back to the adult meeting regarding their deliberations. We then invited all who wished to gather for a group photo to send to our legislators. It shows us holding a large banner: “Ban Fracking in Maryland – Homewood Friends Meeting, Baltimore.” We celebrated afterwards with a special luncheon provided by the Meeting.
Below is our discernment on the spiritual condition of Homewood Friends Meeting. Statements in italics are direct quotes from participants at our specially called meeting. Different speakers are separated by ellipses (…).
Average attendance at worship increased over the course of the year to approximately 50 persons per week by the end of the year. We are delighted with an increase in attendance of young adults.
Friends emphasize that our worship is strong. I treasure the quality of our Meeting for Worship. It is our central strength. There is a good balance of silence and vocal ministry. .. …Our meetings give me a powerful sense of communion. A relative newcomer to Homewood said that the collective shared seeking in Meeting for Worship is deep and powerful.
One strength is the introductory statement* that [continues to be] read near the beginning of meeting for worship that helps new and long-term attenders focus. Each week one of several worshipers brings floral arrangements to place in the center of our beautiful meeting room; many comment that the flora help them to center in worship.
Another Friend commented that a real strength here at Homewood is a deep tapping into the experience and inspiration of early Friends. This has been nourished this year by Homewood’s Quaker Book Club’s reading of Doug Gwyn’s A Sustainable Life and Marcelle Martin’s Our Life is Love.
Friends continue to experience a strong sense of community at Homewood, which our hospitality committee helps sustain by sponsoring a simple lunch following meeting for worship. This is my treasured community [where] I share art, politics and social activism. [Homewood] is a wonderful place to be nurtured & connected. .. … [Here we have] awesome continuity of people working together for a long time and a whole new group of young adults. .. …People surprise me by their kindness, their reaching out, the expressions that I don't always expect. [There is] not much gossip or anger.
In 2016, we created a working group for the arts, drawing on energy from both relative newcomers and existing interest. The working group has hosted several events, including an art exhibition and reception for a long-term member who was moving away and the showing of a movie about refugees that was directed by one of our members. The group also co-sponsored a concert/ fundraiser by Annie Patterson and Peter Blood.
It is noted that we still need work in getting to know each other better, and to provide more opportunities for fellowship and worship.
Our nursery for the youngest children is a very special place, nurtured by a dedicated, long-time staff member and two teens from our Meeting. Our nursery is an embracing space filled with toys and books, love and limits.
Our first day school remains small, with approximately 5-8 children participating each week. We remain pleased by the work of our first day school teacher, a young adult Friend who grew up in Baltimore Yearly Meeting. During spring semester the curriculum focused on Quaker history and in the fall on the life of Jesus.
After their special meeting our children reported on the following:
- What do we like? Simple lunch, service projects, art, meeting friends, helping people and playing
- What do we want to change? Try different foods, more diversity of people, and more craft projects
- Vision for the future: More outdoor activities, picking up litter, singing at nursing home, and ice cream socials!
Our Meetings for business are conducted monthly in a spirit of love and respect for each other. Average attendance is 19. The same relatively small group of individuals attend. In 2016, we were the grateful recipients of two persons who transferred their membership to Homewood and one new member.
Our nominating committee is examining the health of our committees, carefully discerning needs of committees, and identifying individuals with the talents and temperaments that match those needs. It remains somewhat difficult to fill committees. Two committees were moribund for part of the year, and two more committees—trustees and stewardship & finance—merged to good effect. We have attracted few new members to serve on the member-only committees.
One Friend commented that we don’t have ministers, believing that each of us can serve in ministry at some point. How do we learn of the gifts & passions of the persons who are new? How do we become even more flexible, to incorporate what God may be sending us through new people?
Over the past couple of years we have developed a flexibility which Quakers aren't always known for, where people who have leadings can, after seasoning, move forward. Examples include our new working group for the arts, the Green Organizing Action Team (GOAT), and our adult religious education program. The flexibility allows us to live more easily in this fast-paced time and express the things we want to express in a timely way. One Friend commented that for us to move forward deeply in faith and action that we should consider whether Meeting for Business is the best method to discern way forward for every issue.
Our house and grounds committee continues to lovingly maintain our very large, aging and handsome Meeting House. The space itself, which is no small task to maintain, moves me. We are glad to report that multiple groups are using the Meeting House; it seems to be always bustling.
Our Meeting administrator recently retired and we are delighted to have hired a long-time Meeting member to serve in this role.
Work in the World
We continue to be part of the joint Baltimore Quaker Peace & Justice Committee with Stony Run. We are pleased to report that the Homewood portion of this committee has been more active this year.
In January, we sponsored a talk by U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings on “One Baltimore” as part of our response to the death of Freddie Gray and the unrest that overtook our city. Over 200 community members filled our Meeting House to hear Elijah Cummings’ view of the problems and what we can do singly and collectively. At the reception afterwards various local Quaker efforts were featured.
We continue our weekly vigil in front of the Meeting House, on Fridays at 5 pm, holding signs that say “Black Lives Matter,” “We are All One People,” and “Love Your Neighbor (No Exceptions).” Focused on solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, the vigil has drawn consistent participation since 2015, although sometimes just two or three people. Those passing by often seem grateful with enthusiastic honks and waves. One especially cold evening a thankful young woman stopped and brought us each steaming hot cups of coffee.
Stony Run and Homewood Friends participate in the weekly court watch and have shared their observations with the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform and an expert at the University of Maryland Law School. Going to court has made me stronger and broadens peace and justice in our city.
We offered “Peaceable City,” an 11-part series on causes and responses to violence that was attended by 2-3 dozen Friends and non-Quakers, newcomers and long-time-members. The week-night series made use of TED talks as springboards for discussion.
In November, Homewood hosted a well-attended viewing of a film on fracking in Maryland for Maryland Quakers. This resulted in the formation of an ad hoc group of Quakers from several meetings to advocate for a fracking ban in the 2017 legislative session.
One Friend commented at our Meeting that it is powerful to belong to a group that cares about justice and empowering those who don't have power. Another described an extraordinary individual and collective tenderness at Homewood, equanimity of taking in bad news as trivial as a hangnail or lost jacket and as magnificently awful as a war or personal calamity. Tender equanimity is not a familiar thing outside our meeting. We need to work on feeling that tenderness as a strength. Our city needs this strength from us.
Outreach and Inclusion
Several years ago, at the Spiritual State of the Meeting session we seemed to come to the conclusion that Homewood Meeting would die with us as we age because we were attracting so few new people. Recently, it has been amazing to see numerous young adults coming and some staying. It makes my heart sing to share what was so important to me as a young adult . .. …One participant in our specially called meeting said, As a newcomer I am grateful to feel so welcomed.
Particularly since the 2016 election, we have had an increase in attendance at worship. This presents an opportunity and a challenge. Most of the new attenders are also new to Quakerism. We currently lack sufficient educational opportunities to orient newcomers to Quaker faith and practice. We also lack effective ways to incorporate newcomers into the life of our meeting. [As a newcomer] who doesn’t know much about all the committees [I need] to know how to plug myself in.
We have a significantly improved website which may be helpful in attracting new attenders and is much for more useful for regulars.
We remain a mostly white community. It seems that we attract some people of color to our meetings for worship, but few stay. To change this will require intention and creativity.
One Friend expressed an aspiration: I hope that as we build our family, as we grow, that we become a little more bold, a little less shy, to be a beacon on the hill, to not hide our light under a bushel.
Worship, the center of our community life, is grounded and deeply nourishing. Love abounds. We are acting more in concert to address concerns related to peace, justice and the environment. We envision our collective work in the world expanding in response to these challenging times. We are thrilled to see a growing new group of seekers at Homewood. We are also aware that it is critically important at this time that we develop and implement strategies to engage newcomers in learning about and experiencing Quaker faith and practice and involving them in the life of Homewood Friends Meeting.
* The following Introductory Statement is read at the beginning of each Meeting for Worship at Homewood: The Quaker experience is that each of us has a measure of that radically loving spirit which guides us to live justly and peaceably. In worship, we enter into silence in order to feel that spirit of love within and among us, to give ourselves over to it, and to discern what it would have us do. Sometimes during worship, that spirit will lead one or more of us to offer vocal ministry. If you are so led today, please stand and speak loudly and clearly, allowing a period of silence after any previous message.
It has become a Homewood annual tradition to hold a specially called meeting to assess our spiritual state. This year our meeting was held at our usual First Day worship time on 2/28/16. After a period of worship, 55 Homewood members and attenders responded to the following queries: What are our strengths? What are our shortcomings? What do we envision for the future? For the first time our children participated in this process, exploringthe same queries in First Day School and creating a collage of their responses. At the conclusion of the adults’ meeting, the children joined the adults and presented their findings. We all celebrated afterwards, singing “This Little Light of Mine,” followed by a special luncheon provided by the Meeting.
Many commented that the sense of this year’s meeting was quite different than in previous years – more grateful, more hopeful. Last year we identified a substantive list of challenges for Homewood including lack of sufficient numbers to support the work of the meeting, lack of diversity, deficits in our outreach, struggle to provide a vigorous education program for our small group of children, and lack of energetic and unified service in pursuit of peace and justice. We concluded last year’s report by saying that we were committed to “uplifting the sense of Spirit we experience in our Meeting, facing our concerns about our Meeting’s condition, and exploring creative ideas to invigorate Spirit-led service beyond our doors.” We are thrilled to report this year that love abounds and we are responding to the challenges we
identified last year.
Described below are various facets of Homewood Friends Meeting. Statements in italics are direct quotes from participants at our specially called meeting.
“During worship, the silence is rich, and those who speak from the silence have messages that clearly come from the silence ... and speak to other people.” “Much of ministry arises from a gathered silence and not from a chatter of opinions.” “It feels like the Spirit is really moving among and through us.” One new young adult attender said, “One of the reasons I keep coming back is that I feel like this is a place where I am free to find my own path to find the Inner Light within me and see it in others. The emphasis is on welcoming people, doing good works and living as Christ lived and doing what he would do in the flesh here.”
In 2015, average attendance at meeting was ~34, up slightly from last year. Our worship is nourished and supported by a thriving adult education program. In September 2015, we embarked on a year-long monthly discussion of Doug Gwyn’s A Sustainable Life. Committee-led adult-education sessions are being offered once a month as well, so that adult education precedes meeting for worship two first days of the month. In addition, last year we offered two well attended programs of weekly Experiment with Light meditation (a guided meditation developed by Rex Ambler that is thought to evoke the worship experience of early Friends), and a less well attended 4-session Introduction to Quakerism.
“It feels like home to me.” A Friend recently returning to Homewood said,”There is a lot more love. There are hugs. We have these newcomers who are staying.” “As a new attender I am aware and appreciative of a sense of community here.” “As another newcomer I have been overwhelmed by the welcome, the mutual respect and the touching kindness that people show to each other and to me. I am deeply grateful.”
Friends experience a strong sense of community at Homewood. We continue, with loving support from the Hospitality Committee, to provide each week a simple lunch following worship, allowing Friends extended time for fellowship and a chance to make a contribution to an organization chosen by Homewood members of the Baltimore Quaker Peace and Justice Committee. And thanks to a dedicated organizer and a rotating group of greeters, worshipers are consistently greeted each First Day.
Our Ministry and Counsel Committee recently reported to our business meeting that we could do a better job helping Friends with personal needs. We are exploring a new model of supporting Friends in need by relying on volunteers from the whole meeting rather than solely on our small Ministry and Counsel Committee.
We have a very strong nursery program with a longtime staff member who provides a loving and creative space for our youngest children. Our First Day School, however, is very small, with approximately 2-5 children participating each week. This year we took a big step and hired a First Day School teacher to teach two Sundays a month. She is a young adult Friend who grew up in Baltimore Yearly Meeting, and she is doing a wonderful job. Our children’s strongest message to us was, “We need more children!” The children enjoy coming to First Day School but “sitting for long periods is very difficult.”
One adult who has long served the children of our meeting commented: “This is mostly a grown-up meeting; there are very few children. Most of the conversations are grown-up conversations. [At lunch, the] children are at the children’s table. We could benefit from engaging children in the conversation.”
Our meetings for business are conducted monthly in a spirit of love and respect for each other. Average attendance is ~19. We have continued to streamline our process, with our Administrative Committee (all committee clerks and officers) meeting every other month rather than monthly.
Our Nominating Committee is carefully discerning needs of committees and identifying individuals with the skills and talents that match those needs. It remains a struggle to fill some committee assignments. On the other hand, we find meeting-approved working groups, which are time delimited and have more narrow foci than standing committees, an energizing way to meet some goals. This year we also agreed to and completed a long-sought, simple kitchen renovation.
Work in the World
It is impossible to speak of Baltimore in 2015 without remembering the significance of the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody and the outpouring of pain, fear, anger and frustration that followed. The Friday after the April 27th uprising, Baltimore Quakers gathered for our weekly peace vigil holding signs: “WHEN BLACK LIVES MATTER / Then All Lives Matter” in front of our Meeting House. We were grateful for the supportive attendance of our Baltimore Yearly Meeting Clerk and General Secretary that night. We have continued with Black Lives Matter vigils every Friday since, and we now have an explanatory flier on racial justice and Quakers to distribute as vigilers stand at a busy intersection of Charles Street.
Homewood participates in a joint committee with Stony Run, the Baltimore Quaker Peace and Justice Committee. This year we were excited to strengthen the Homewood portion of that committee with 4 new members. Several Homewood Friends are also participating in “Court Watch” –Friday afternoon visits to Baltimore City court rooms to bear witness.
We have a new Green Organizing Action Team (GOAT) working group. An energetic group of five members is working on a plan for Homewood to continue greening our building and is helping support individual actions and organize local political action to protect our planet.
This year our Trustees largely succeeded in divesting from investments in fossil fuels!
Our Website is increasingly a source of ready information and updates, thanks to two cyber-sophisticated Friends. It is both a better tool for outreach and more helpful to members and regular attenders. In addition to our printed and digital announcements and newsletter, we now have a prominently displayed poster in the meetinghouse that reminds Friends of the month’s events.
We have had a few more young adult attenders in recent months and are seeking ways to invite them into the life of the community. We need to continue to strive to improve our outreach. “At our business meeting the other day I noticed that almost all of us are over 50 and many over age 60. We have a hard time keeping our children.” We have attracted very few young families with children in recent years. And while we have some socioeconomic diversity, we have little racial or ethnic diversity.
Each week at the beginning of worship we read a statement that reminds us about what Meeting for Worship is all about.
The Quaker experience is that each of us has a measure of that radically loving spirit which guides us to live justly and peaceably. In worship, we enter into stillness of body and mind in order to feel that spirit of love within and among us, to give ourselves over to it, and to discern what it would have us do.
Indeed, divine Light and Love is moving within us and among us and changing us. We feel more connected, that our meeting is a more loving home. We are slowly starting to grow for the first time in years! However, we still struggle to muster the people power to smoothly accomplish the tasks needed to sustain a vibrant and connected meeting. We have made great strides in strengthening our religious education program for children. Now we need to attract young families and a more diverse group reflective of Baltimore’s population. We need to find ways to incorporate our young adult attenders into the life of the meeting. We are starting to coalesce in outward support of peace and justice. However, some of us continue to long for more clear, focused action in support of our broken Baltimore. It is important to remember in our outreach that “we as Friends have something distinct to offer, to generate hope in the world.”
Homewood Friends continues to meet each First Day at 10:30 am for worship. We hold Meeting for business on the first First Day of each month at 12:30PM.
We held a specially called meeting for Worship in Second Month, 2015 to inquire into the spiritual state of our meeting. We posed and answered out of the silence three questions: What are our strengths? Where do we need to do work? What do we envision for the future? Responses during this meeting form the basis of this report.
What are our strengths?
Overall, our Meeting brings a strong sense of worship to our meetings for worship and business and is a gathered community. These strengths are particularly meaningful in light of members’ and attenders’ concerns over the years that these qualities were not sufficiently present. That our Meeting has unified on reinforcingthese foundations in response to concerns speaks to a willingness to listen to concerns and act to change them. This willingness is another strength.
During the specially called meeting for worship, these messages were shared and speak to the statement above:
- I am aware of a deep wish on the part of many in this meeting to go deeper and deeper into faith together, deeper into community together, and a certain trust that in so doing itwill carry us out into the world.
- The statement that we read at the beginning of each meeting for worship is an important touch stone to evoke and embrace us for our work in the world.
- Quaker worship is based in silence. It is our experience that each of us has a measure of that radically loving spirit which leads people to live justly and peaceably. In worship we enter into silence in order to feel that spirt of love within and among us, to give ourselves over to it, and to discern what it would have us do.
- The amazing capacity of the individuals in this community to express love and support has carried me through dark times. Love is perhaps our greatest strength.
- …. a lot of really nice people ….
- I have experienced both a very small meeting and a very large meeting. This small community is a real community….. less fragmented than a larger meeting.
- The outreach is wonderful, the welcoming is great, the support is there, and the peace is here. These are four areas of strength.
- To me one of the strengths of Homewood is meeting for business. When we are conducting business we are holding questions for business and each other in the Light. It is a process of divine discernment. It is a joy to watch it unfold.
- My perspective is one of a person who has raised children in this meeting. They identify themselves as Friends and a part of this community. Whatever we are doing here is deep and lasting. This place has given my children roots.
- I appreciate the opportunities in adult religious education to talk about Quaker writings and Quaker beliefs. These opportunities help bring Quakerism into our everyday lives. Experiment with Light is offering us an opportunity to explore together the worship experience of early Friends. Adult Education leads to spiritual friendships that will ultimately underpin our next steps.
- One of the strengths of Homewood is our glorious facility. Our House and Grounds Committee has lovingly tended our demanding building. It is exciting to see that the building is now in used by so many different groups each week.
Where do we need work?
Overall, our Meeting needs to continue deepening and strengthening our sense of community and to increase our engagement with the broader community in which we live. Our community’s children tend to seek community of Young Friends outside of this monthly Meeting as they age. We want to welcome and involve new people in our Meeting and to act more energetically on peace and social justice concerns. People connect when they work toward common goals and projects and we are more visible when we participate in our broader community. So, outreach and action are intertwined. An ongoing challenge is balancing and integrating the work of the Meeting with the work and functioning of our lives outside of the Meeting.
During the specially called meeting for worship, these messages were shared and speak to the statement above:
- One of the things that attracted me to Homewood in the 1980’s was our strong Peace Committee. Now we have only 3 members on a joint committee with Stony Run. This makes me very sad because working for peace is the core of who we are.
- Our complicated building and the basics of running the community take so much of our time and energy. I wonder if we shouldn’t stop doing all the work ourselves. Perhaps we should explore paying someone to do more of the work of the running the Meeting so we have more time to do the other things that we want to do.
- We could do a much better job explaining who are, what we are doing and what we believe in.
- We spend a lot of time recording reports in relation to the amount we are doing.
What do we envision for the future?
Overall, we see ourselves increasing the diversity – in age and race, among other qualities – of the active members of our Meeting and our activities around peace and social justice concerns. A common wish is for a larger group of children and Young Friends in our Meeting. We see this aspect of our community growing through programming, outreach and clarifying our sense of what it means to be a Friend and a member of Homewood Friends Monthly Meeting. We continue to explore how we can and should increase our peace and social witness. Exploring new ways to use our resources, whether they are the energy and activity of the Meeting community or financial, and clarifying what are the priorities of our Meeting may be ways forward.
During the specially called meeting for worship, these messages were shared and speak to the statement above:
- People walking by have no idea this is a Quaker meeting house. I think we should find a way to communicate to those on the outside what we do on the inside … that we worship in a different way than everyone else.
- I hope that we can share Quakerism with the next generation … that we can welcome and nurture young adults and young families and encourage them to become part of our community.
- We are a very white congregation. We need to change that. We need find ways to embrace and include a more diverse group of people to Homewood.
- As one of only 3 small peace churches I pray that we give more time more work to the Peace Testimony.
- Perhaps social action should not be relegated to a few people but to the Meeting as a whole. Maybe we need a committee of the whole for an entire year … to commit ourselves to what Quaker action really means.
- We took an important step by going solar with our solar panels. We are steadily divesting from fossil fuel companies. We are excited about continuing to work towards becoming a green congregation.
- Led by the Spirit, we hope to explore creative and bold ideas that will strengthen our outreach and social witness.
Meetings for worship and business remain the heart of our meeting. Our worship is deep and centered and is enriched by a lively array of adult religious education offerings. Homewood is a small Meeting which many experience as a community in which love abounds. We have invested significant time and money into our beautiful, aging, and challenging building, recently resolving some major structural problems and making significant progress in “greening” our building. We are glad to see our meetinghouse used most days by multiple Meeting and community groups.
We also identify significant concerns about the condition of our Meeting. Each year this report reflects on the fact that we have too few people to fill too many committees. We are an aging group, having attracted few young adults and young families in the last decade. In comparison to our local urban environment - which is diverse in age and race, among other qualities - we lack diversity. We have identified some significant deficits in terms of our outreach and are finding it challenging to implement a stronger outreach program. We also struggle to provide a vigorous religious education program for our small group of children. In addition, many of us mourn our lack of an energetic and unified service to peace and justice.
We have faith that as we open ourselves to the workings of the Inward Light that way will open. In the coming year we are committed to uplifting the sense of Spirit we experience in our Meeting, facing our concerns about our Meeting’s condition, and exploring creative ideas to invigorate Spirit-led service beyond our doors. As our hearts grow, so will our community.
In order to discern together the state of our community, we gathered on Second Month 23, 2014 for a specially called worship-sharing session during the time usually reserved for worship. A total of 34 members and attenders participated. Using a worship-sharing format, we sequentially considered and responded to the queries regarding Meetings for Worship, Meetings for Business, the Meeting Community, and Outreach found in Baltimore Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice (BYM, 1988). The content of that session forms the basis for this report.
A Friend who had returned to Homewood after an absence observed that what brought her back was the “deep, centered quality of worship.”
Each week as meeting for worship settles, a member of Ministry and Counsel reads a statement that helps gather us together and introduces newcomers to our practice: “Quaker worship is based in silence. The Quaker experience is that each of us has a measure of that radically loving spirit which seeks justice and peace. In worship, we enter into the silence in order to feel that spirit of love within, to give ourselves over to it, and to discern what it would have us do in our lives.”
Individual and collective preparation for meeting for worship has been aided by several offerings at Homewood. Each month we offer “Experiment With Light,” a guided meditation based on the worship experience of early Friends. Quaker Book Club also meets monthly, focused around a shared reading. During the year we offered two well-attended evening series entitled “Midweek Explorations into Quaker Faith and Practice” which explored early Quaker writings and their relevance. These programs provide an opportunity for fellowship and deepening our sense of community in addition to helping to prepare for worship.
Late arrival for meeting for worship has been a recurring concern for some, and a number of participants spoke about it during the session. However, we were not in unity on whether or not we should do anything about it. More than one person noted that lateness is a distraction but also that he or she would rather have people come late than not at all. A Friend commented that for him coming late is not good for him and that he brings a little less of himself when late, but that the most important thing is getting to meeting.
Attendance has increased somewhat this year with an average of 35 adults attending. We are delighted with a new group of young adult Friends who have been attending recently.
One Friend commented that meeting for business is one of the most important things in her life. It has the quality of true Quakerism, divine presence, and leadership. Our meetings for business are well planned, and we have been fortunate to have effective and spirit-led clerking as well as effective and careful recording. A member of Ministry and Counsel oversees each business meeting, beginning the meeting by reminding Friends to meet together in the spirit of love.
We continue to struggle having many standing committees and too few Friends to fill them. We have had some success in working on an ad hoc basis, and it was suggested that perhaps we need to do more of that.
Significant progress was made this year in our effort to remediate a serious problem with mold in our meeting house. This and other recent building improvements, including the installation of solar panels, reflect clarity that we plan to stay in the building.
One Friend likened the experience of coming into our community each week to a butterfly in the Amazon that is usually brown but becomes an iridescent blue when it comes into the light. Many experience Homewood as a small, warm, and embracing community. At the rise of meeting we make an opportunity for Friends to share joys and sorrows and to requests for persons to be prayed for or held in the Light. This is a time when we get to know each other better. Many conversations begun at the rise of meeting continue afterwards at our weekly “simple lunch.” We seek more opportunities to share our spiritual lives in depth.
It was noted that our monthly newsletter and weekly announcements could be more inviting in form and content and might improved as tools for communication.
The children at Homewood are wonderful to work with, and we celebrate them; they are, however, few in number. In its recent annual report, our Religious Education Committee concluded that we have enough children to have a program, but not enough to sustain a strong program. It was suggested that we might be more intentional about growing our program starting with the group of 4-7 year-olds that we now have. We have a marvelous nursery program managed by a long-term employee who provides a nurturing place for our youngest children, but we tend to lose families when children become school-age.
With input from the Religious Education Committee, Homewood's trustees finalized a new Youth Safety Policy. The implementation of the policy will be challenging for our small program.
Homewood Friends cherish the intimacy of our small meeting, but many believe that we need to grow. Several Friends commented that we are not very visible -- “humble to a fault.” Worship transforms and nurtures, but people need to know that we're here; we need to be more visible to the local community. Years ago we laid down an Advancement and Outreach Committee; this year, we formed an ad hoc committee on outreach which is working to make Homewood more welcoming.
In terms of the number of people involved, our participation in the joint Homewood-Stony Run Baltimore Quaker Peace and Justice Committee has been minimal. And while we continue to sponsor a weekly peace vigil, it is sparsely attended by Homewood people. However, it seems that a new, ad hoc model for action may be arising. We recognize, too, that our public witness can help draw people to Quakerism.
Although we appear to have grown slightly in the past year, many Friends sense that we need to attract more members to thrive. This is a matter we intend to consider more thoroughly in the coming year. We continue to struggle with such challenges as providing religious education and staffing committees with our smaller numbers, but we are exploring alternative approaches together. However, our business meetings are characterized by careful discernment in a spirit of respect and care for each other, and worship, the core of our corporate life, is alive, deep, and centered.
On May 5, 2013, 38 members and attenders of Baltimore Monthly Meeting of Friends, Homewood gathered to reflect together upon our spiritual state as a Quaker community. Using a worship-sharing format, we sequentially considered and responded to the queries regarding Meetings for Worship, Meetings for Business, the Meeting Community and Outreach found in Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice (BYM, 1988). The queries and summaries of the responses follow, as well as the general sense of the Meeting’s spiritual state.
Overall, Homewood Meeting is experiencing a growing sense of spiritual vitality guided by the Light. We are hopeful that we will expand our outreach and our corporate witness.
1. Meetings for Worship
Are meetings for worship held in expectant waiting for divine guidance? Are Friends encouraged to share spiritual insights? Are special gifts of ministry recognized and encouraged?
Do we come to meeting with heart and mind prepared? Are we careful not to disturb the spirit of the meeting by late arrival or in other ways?
Overall, we made some real strides this year in fostering a stronger sense of spiritual community. Meeting for worship felt largely centered. Centering through activities such as the book club and weekly learning contributed to this sense. Meeting for worship was held in two different spaces in our meeting house, which led to reflections about the impact of space on the quality of worship. Average attendance at meeting for worship in 2012 was 32 people.
Our community could benefit from less tardiness and from some small aids for centering in our meeting space. A number of Friends spoke about the problem of lateness, seeing it as disruptive to our work of gathering into one body. Friends expressed the feeling that lateness, although disruptive, is preferable to absence.
One Friend said that one can be nourished by the gathered meeting even when one does not hear spoken messages. Another said that he has noticed a deepening in the meeting since he returned after an absence, that worship is more gathered and there is a sense of love and warmth in the room; that was echoed by a person who has attended worship sporadically over a period of years. We re-arranged the benches in our very large meeting room to promote sitting closer together.
A Friend attributed some deepening of his experience of worship to our monthly Experiment with Light meetings before worship. Adult education has been lively including a monthly Quaker book club discussion and a well-attended series entitled “Midweek Explorations into Quaker Faith and Practice”. Another Friend spoke about the “momentous” nature of what we do together in worship, and she expressed the wish that those whose discernment in worship is deep but who seldom speak in worship will be able to speak more often.
We were also reminded that any may be called to minister and that preparation for accepting that responsibility includes spending time during the week in communion with God.
2. Meetings for business
Are meetings for business held in a spirit of worship, understanding, and forbearance? When direction and unity seem lacking, is this seen as a challenge to a more prayerful search for truth? Do we humbly set aside our own preconceived notions as to proper action, seeking instead divine guidance as to the right course? Is the Meeting aware that it speaks not only through its actions but also through its failure to act?
Do we participate regularly in meetings for business, discharge faithfully our committee responsibilities, and assume our share of financial support of the Meeting?
Overall, we have some concerns about our ability to set aside preconceived notions or thoughts and listen actively and with openness and willingness to change. There was also a sense that our community struggles with participation in committees and finding energy and labor for the tasks that are before us. At the same time, we have accomplished a lot in meetings for business and through committee work.
It was noted that not all Friends participate in meeting for business, and Friends were reminded of their responsibility to do so. Friends were asked to consider serving as clerks, whether of the meeting or of a committee; finding clerks has been difficult.
While we are an active community, with many members participating, we lack sufficient numbers of people to serve on committees and perform other tasks, a lack which results in some Friends feeling overburdened.
Sometimes, a Friend said, we seem to spend too much time talking and not enough doing. Others spoke about being more able to act by moving past preconceived notions: sometimes we seem to be stuck in the past. At other times, our meetings for business exemplified a Spirit-led process that supports acceptance of a leadership role in difficult issues. Beginning in 2012 and continuing into 2013, we labored together and at length on the Baltimore Yearly Meeting proposed revisions of the Faith and Practice book.
3. The Meeting community
Are love and harmony within the Meeting community fostered by a spirit of open sharing? Do we endeavor to widen our circle of friendships within the Meeting, seeking to know persons of all ages and at all stages of the spiritual life? Does the Meeting provide for the spiritual refreshment of all members and attenders? Do we provide spiritual and practical care for the elderly, the lonely, and others with special needs?
Overall, we continue to learn how to build a strong community.
Friends share joys and sorrows after the rise of meeting. Weekly simple lunch is lively and well-attended. Families gather annually at Catoctin Quaker Camp and it produces a strong sense of community and sharing. Our community hopes for more of those kinds of experiences. Financial contributions increased by 10% this year, compared to the previous year.
Several Friends expressed feeling unsupported when people do not show up to help or even express appreciation for work done. It was noted that single parents may wish to contribute time and energy but may not be able to do so due to practical challenges. It was observed that a Friends meeting can be “difficult to break into.” Friends were encouraged to take advantage of all opportunities for engaging in activities together.
Do we, as the way opens, share Friends' principles with non-Friends? Do we witness to our Quaker faith by letting our lives speak? Do we make non-Friends welcome in our meetings for worship? Do we find ways to encourage their continued attendance?
Do we reach out to children and their families? Do we provide spiritual nurturance for future generations?
Overall, we want to improve our outreach efforts. It may be helpful for us as a community to work more at clarifying what we believe in order to communicate more clearly to newcomers. Also, while we have a longstanding, weekly peace vigil and many individuals in our Meeting community participate in peace and justice work, we have very little active, Meeting-community-generated peace and justice work.
“We tend to put our light under a bushel,” said one Friend. We do not focus on outreach opportunities, even to the extent of not having our name on the sign at our weekly peace vigil. We have not had an Advancement and Outreach Committee for a number of years. Some of our efforts at efficiency, such as merging committees with Baltimore Monthly Meeting, Stony Run, may be lessening our visibility as well as our opportunities for corporate discernment.
We have a strong preschool and elementary-age children’s program, but it has been challenging to retain children after that. We need an intentional effort at outreach to families with children and more programs for families.
We have improved welcoming new people but could also make it more of a priority. Sometimes visitors and newer attenders are not spoken to after worship. Nevertheless, an attender who participated in the worship sharing noted that, in her experience, it seems much more loving and connected than when she first attended 7 years ago.
Spiritual State of the Meeting 2011
Baltimore Monthly Meeting, Homewood continues to be a spiritual community where members and attenders of all ages come to be refreshed and to seek meaning in their lives. This report is the result of a process started by Baltimore Yearly Meeting, which asked Monthly Meetings to respond to five questions for their annual Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports. Homewood’s Ministry and Counsel Committee made the questions available to members and attenders during the months of December 2011 and January 2012. We received a number of thoughtful responses from which we derived this report, primarily from our older members, which seemed to reflect what the Ministry and Counsel Committee members observed during the year. It is worth noting that a number of survey respondents expressed that they were confused by the questions or felt that they were repetitive. For the sake of brevity, answers were distilled to their essence and redundancy was eliminated in this report as much as possible.
Question 1. How does the Spirit prosper among us?
Messages that we hear in meeting for worship suggest that the Spirit prospers among us. It also prospers in religious education, in the work we do for the Meeting, and in projects and events. Words that respondents used to describe this prosperity include integrity, intention, purpose, fellowship, love, and the good among us. Despite these strengths, some of us can imagine an even stronger sense of community and purpose within Baltimore Monthly Meeting, Homewood and the neighborhood, city and broader environment of which our Monthly Meeting is part.
Question 2. What supports the growth of the Spirit in our lives?
Many of us have trouble taking care of ourselves because we are so busy with work and family responsibilities. The Spirit grows in us when we can be quiet and still with each other in Meeting for worship. It also grows in our relationships where we can nurture one another, let go and forgive, and connect with each other in a spiritual community where our beliefs are supported. These relationships deepen as we learn together in religious education, work together on work days, meet to conduct business, and attend committee meetings.
Question 3. How has the presence of the Spirit manifested in our lives individually and as a Meeting community?
The Ministry and Counsel Committee and other respondents see several ways in which the Spirit manifests itself. These ways include Meeting for worship, which has rich silence and messages from wise and seasoned Quakers. The Spirit manifests itself in the sharing of our space with Young Friends and other groups such as the Occupy movement. It is clearly present in the active practice of the peace testimony, exemplified by the continuing presence of our peace vigil for 10 years, even as it only engages a few from our Meeting. The activity of new attenders and members who contribute to the work of the Meeting shows us the presence of the Spirit.
In addition, the Spirit is felt during Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, committee work, celebrations of passage for members and attenders, and adult first day school activities. Some people expressed in their responses to this question that nurturing proper stewardship of our own needs in Meeting helps us give individually to others with fewer resources. We strive to love ourselves, those in the Meeting community, and co-workers and neighbors, and to have, in our wider community, a gentleness towards others and a greater appreciation of diversity. We feel the Spirit when we acknowledge our shortcomings and seek to better ourselves and live in harmony with God.
Question 4: How do we as a Meeting appear to ourselves and others, and how do we wish to be?
Physically, our place of worship is not very visible along Charles Street, although our small but continuing witness on Friday evenings leads many to feel that in general our Meeting is, and is perceived to be, progressive on peace and justice issues. Nevertheless, we are plagued by physical building issues that may turn some away. For example, excessive mold, which seems to continue despite great effort, may keep some from returning, as may acoustical issues in our large meeting room.
In addition, our form of worship is not transparent to attenders and to the outside world. The words and language we use may be abstract, even to those of us who participate frequently in worship. Waiting on the Spirit, and listening to the Voice within – which is our intention and tendency – do little to communicate explicitly what Quakerism is all about.
The apparent absence of leaders may mean that visitors and others unfamiliar with our community and the Society of Friends perceive that no one is in charge. We may know ourselves to be supportive and welcoming, but we are also aware that we have a number of one-time visitors and attenders. We see ourselves as a small Meeting that is perhaps losing in attendance. Some of us want more participation, more attendance at worship and at business meetings, more people actively at work on committees, and more contributions.
There is a general feeling that we should be more visible in the community. Because we do not proselytize and do not tend to act as a group outside of our Meetinghouse, our outreach is largely confined to gatherings at the Meetinghouse. The process of becoming a member is not readily available. We have regular visitors and the sense is that we could be doing more to encourage them to return.
Question 5. How have we recognized and addressed (or failed to address) issues that have caused difficulties among us?
Ministry and Counsel Committee oversees the life of the Meeting in a variety of ways to identify challenges and potential solutions. Our sources include spoken messages at worship, discussions at Meeting for Business and Administrative Committee, exchanges at Simple Lunch, and conversations at committees. Through our interactions, we realize that Homewood is a small Meeting with people whose personal, work and social lives place limitations on the amount of time they can devote to Meeting. In response, we attempted to assess our capabilities realistically, try new ways to complete our tasks, and prioritize our concerns. We have Co-clerks for Meeting. The two existing committees on peace and social witness from Baltimore Monthly Meeting, Homewood and Baltimore Monthly Meeting, Stony Run were consolidated into one committee, the Baltimore Quaker Peace and Justice Committee, with an uptick in energy. Committees showed flexibility in changing their meeting dates or location to accommodate the schedules or the health concerns of their members. Two committees do not have a clerk: Ministry and Counsel and Nominating committees. These committees found ways for different members to take responsibility for clerking the committee’s monthly meetings and attending Administrative Committee, as well as other clerking tasks.
For years Baltimore Monthly Meeting, Homewood struggled to have a vibrant First Day program for its high schoolers. The relatively small number of children in that age group, combined with fluctuating attendance, made a viable program difficult. These teenagers are now participating in the program at Baltimore Monthly Meeting, Stony Run and thriving in that religious and social setting. Parents of those children may continue to attend Homewood, have become part of the Stony Run or are involved with both Meetings.
Baltimore Monthly Meeting, Homewood took steps to strengthen and increase its sense of community. The Religious Education programs, including the Quaker Book Club and Experiment with Light, attracted members, attenders, and newcomers to Homewood. There is a renewed emphasis on the nurturing of people new to Homewood. Simple Lunch continues to involve a wonderfully diverse population in conversation and socializing. Homewood tried to address difficult issues, yet we recognize that other concerns will undoubtedly arise in the future. We believe solutions will continue to evolve and we remain open to new paths.