Patapsco 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|
Recently, we had a Listening Session after meeting to begin to assess the Spiritual State of the Meeting (the SSOM). It was well-attended and everyone spoke. Below are some thoughts summarizing the speakers’ messages.
And Friends meet together, and know one another in that which is eternal, which was before the world was. George Fox, Epistle 149
To reflect on the spiritual state of the meeting is to address our connection with the Inner Light or Spirit within ourselves and within the corporate body of our meeting.
The SSOM also speaks to how our meetings for worship, business and committee meetings, as well as interest group meetings evolve in the context of the Spirit. Is it an aspect of ourselves that we connect with in our meetings? Are we connecting with others’ Spirits while together? Are we fostering this connection with Spirit as individuals and as a community?
Many Friends at our meetings for worship believe we are connecting, at times, with our spiritual selves. Some Friends report they often leave these meetings feeling refreshed and renewed by the community and the community of Spirit. For many Friends, Patapsco Friends Meeting is their home, where they can be authentic and feel safe. They appreciate the depth of feeling in many of the messages they hear in meeting as well as in their committee meetings. They feel the support of others while in their interest group meetings and feel led to participate in a manner that they may not have in other venues.
If we are unified with one another, we are, in turn, led to reach out not only to ourselves, but to the larger community beyond our Meeting. Nurtured by our Meeting, many Friends are led to work for social justice in the wider community. One example is that some members and attenders of our meeting hold weekly meetings for worship with South Mountain Friends Fellowship, a worship group of incarcerated Friends at Maryland Correctional Institution, Hagerstown (MCI-H); this experience spiritually sustains all involved. Others work for prison reform though the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform.
We have a variety of interest groups that provide on-going spiritual sustenance. Beyond our Meeting for Worship, Friends can participate in a Meditation Group, or A Course in Miracles Study Group, a Quaker pamphlet reading/study/discussion group, and a prayer group. Friends help serve at Our Daily Bread and/or assist an immigrant Syrian family. Our Spring Retreat and Friendly 8’s gatherings are also an opportunity to enrich our community and spiritual life.
Although there is a general sense of the meeting that Friends feel supported, nourished and loved as well as encouraged and supported to grow spiritually and to follow diverse leadings, we are not in unity that everyone has the experience of acceptance and inclusion. In fact, one Friend described our meeting as less than spirit-driven and that, in fact, we may have harmful intentions.
We have not found a solution to this issue but we faithfully seek to listen to all concerns and to maintain an open, receptive mind in our search for answers. How is the meeting contributing to these perceptions? How can the Loving Community be healed?
There are some issues that can be easily resolved. For example, on Third First Day when we have committee meetings before Meeting for Worship, why do so many of us come to meeting for worship 15 minutes late? Does this practice imply that our committee meetings are more important than Meeting for Worship? This is an issue that our committee clerks are striving to change.
Generally, we attempt to be mindful of others’ diet restrictions when preparing and serving Simple Meal, but we are not perfect and occasionally a dish is not properly labeled or explained. Diet restrictions at our Meeting present quite a challenge and include: gluten-free, vegan, nut-free and soy-free diets.
Other thoughts expressed were: are we as inclusive as we like to imagine ourselves, or are we in some ways exclusive and ‘cliquish’, either intentionally or unintentionally? Do we follow ‘Quaker process’ as faithfully as we might? These queries are certainly worthy of serious consideration.
Spirit is not hurt by such perceptions; we are mindful that in life there is always disruption and discord. The way of Spirit is not a smooth one. Think of the spiritual journey that we each, individually, have traveled throughout our lives. Has it been a straight, smooth path? Or has it had periods of unrest, doubt, outright atheism, and other such states? Our meeting is larger than ourselves and if, at times, it appears that we have little control over our own lives, is it not the case that we will experience diversity of thought and actions in our meeting—sometimes those that may be even anathema to Spirit?
Is it not also the case that we continue to have a choice as to how we respond to diverse opinions about our meeting and its capacity to be Spirit-led? It is up to us to maintain enough connection with Spirit and when we seek spiritual guidance, alternatives of choice will be open to us and to others.
Be patterns be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you. – George Fox, 1656
Nurturing the Spiritual Life… The Light is shining brightly at Patapsco Friends Meeting. It is guiding and challenging and instructing us to more faithfully be the ‘patterns’ that George Fox encouraged us to be. We continually support each other in a variety of ways and patiently, with love, search for resolutions to issues within our community which trouble us.
Our weekly meetings for worship are deep, often moving and well attended. Sometimes a Friend will share a love for music and bring a musical message in song during meeting for worship. Visitors to our meeting are welcomed almost every week. Our monthly Meetings for Worship With a Concern for Business always reflect our love for each other though our listening and mindfulness of the Light. We are consciously aware of the Spirit among us.
Religious Education is always a challenge and we are continuously seeking new ways to respond to young friends who come to meeting.
In addition to weekly First Day School, we offered opportunities to our young friends to meet socially at two teen and pre-teen events.
After meeting for worship Friends regularly have the opportunity to continue the exploration of our spiritual paths through study of A Course in Miracles, how we seek to let our Testimonies inform and spiritually form us (Real SPICES), or just to continue meeting for worship with other friends after the community worship period has ended. The 'Real SPICES' discussions were followed by a spiritually deepening worship sharing focused on the Quaker Quest pamphlets, "Twelve Quakers and..."
We each have an opportunity to exercise our writing skills by submitting articles for publication in our occasional newsletter, The Quaker Heron. Topics recently covered: Quakerism and Other Faiths and Growth and Change.
A small group meets regularly for meditation and to explore the practice of meditation. Another group meets to support others in our community who are caregivers. How can we be more responsive and helpful to each other?
Additionally, Patapsco Friends were very enriched to host the Interim Meeting of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. Another way we participated in the greater Quaker community of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting was to hold several meeting-wide conversations reviewing specific sections of the 2013 Revision of Faith and Practice.
We have other small groups which meet regularly. One group is on-going and devoted to reading, discussing and exploring Quaker pamphlets. A men’s group meets monthly and Friendly Bunches have been re-started where Friends can enjoy each other’s company over food. All these groups, large and small, serve the community to better understand what George Fox meant when he said ‘Friends, meet together and know one another in that which is eternal, which was before the world was’ (1698)’
Patapsco Friends have long supported a ministry of visitation. A friend regularly takes a traveling minute as an introduction to monthly meetings visited and reports periodically to Ministry and Care Committee. Friends feel supported by an active program of community outreach and each of us is encouraged to participate as we feel led. We can help serve meals to those who are hungry at Our Daily Bread in Baltimore. We can engage in political and social justice outreach through our membership in People Acting Together in Howard (PATH). We can connect with our incarcerated Friends through weekly meetings for worship at Maryland Correctional Institution, Hagerstown (MCI-H), or at regularly scheduled semi-annual or annual celebrations at the prison. Additionally, several of our members participate in a reading discussion group focusing on racial issues. Others focus on issues centering on prison reform and justice for returning citizens through their work with Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (MAJR).
Patapsco Friends is very active in the wider Quaker community, serving as leaders and board members of Quaker organization, locally, nationally and internationally.
We continue to minister to Friends who are unable to attend Meeting for Worship. Each month Friends gather for worship at a local retirement community.
We were very enriched during our Annual Retreat when we participated in a day long Workshop on Forgiveness. We were able to explore forgiveness through small group discussions and exercises.
We recognize the central importance of the need to practice forgiveness and it is a frequent topic of conversation and discussion.
Patapsco Friends were active participants in the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Spiritual Formation Program. We formed small groups focused on prayer, art and following the spiritual path. Several Friends attended the weekend retreats that opened and ended the year long program.
Several women in our meeting once again were greatly enriched through their participation in the Annual Women’s Retreat.
A disappointment for Patapsco Friends has been our inability to award our Emma and Tom Byrne Peace Award to honor a deserving local student for significant contributions to peace, justice and service. To date, we have not received any applications. Our efforts to establish this award continue.
Our meeting was especially enriched through a Meeting for Worship With a Concern for Marriage when we experienced a joyful blending of Quaker and Jewish traditions as two of our friends were married.
In short, the Spirit is thriving at Patapsco Friends Meeting, illuminating, leading and healing us.
Supporting the Life of the Spirit
We continue our spiritual journey as a community. We find we are being spiritually drawn together to build an inclusive, welcoming, and safe community of Friends. As one person put it: “We laugh, cry, sing, dance, and pray here. It is all good.” Several groups meet before meeting, each an opportunity for inviting the Spirit. After our worship, which is often rich and deep, we share a simple meal, fellowship, and frequent programs that give us an opportunity to “know each other in that which is eternal.” A Friend said, “No matter what is going on in your life, you can share it here and be comforted.”
Nurturing the Spiritual Life of Members and Attenders
A brochure for Patapsco Friends was completed in 2014. We use the brochure to welcome visitors to Patapsco Friends Meeting, "a loving community for your spiritual journey." In our brochure we reflect that, as a community, we "listen deeply to the Spirit and each other; seek divine Truth each in our own time and way; share our spiritual journeys in community with each other; explore and support spiritual practices; help one another live more fully in the Spirit; and nurture the spiritual growth of our children.”
We are concerned at times that there is too much traffic into and out of the meeting room that interrupts Meeting for Worship, especially when someone is sharing a message. Too-frequent movement in the room breaks our focused attention on the Light Within. Some of us would prefer a more mindful transition from worship to greetings and announcements. In the coming year we will seek to grow in awareness of the need to enter the silence gently and be attentive at all times to the Voice that speaks to us, individually and as a body, in worship.
Although we are a small Meeting, we have many active groups that foster our spiritual fellowship. One meets monthly to discuss pamphlets on the life of the Spirit, usually chosen from the extensive library of material available from Pendle Hill. Discussions are often deep and thoughtful, encouraging Friends to relate readings to their spiritual lives and share what they find to be true.
We have been more intentional in our approach to spiritual enrichment. A prayer group, formed as a spiritual formation group, continues to meet regularly, and several other spiritual formation groups are also active. A monthly meditation group is cherished at which participants share their approaches to meditation and practice meditation together. One member commented, “We feel blessed by our union of hearts, minds, and spirit.” The group has attracted some new community members to Patapsco. The meditation group offered an exploration of meditation practices at our meeting’s annual meeting retreat, featuring speakers from within and beyond the meeting. One Friend noted that the list of possible connections she has with groups that have been formed within PFM is astonishing for a meeting of this size.
To accommodate an older member of our community who can no longer attend weekly Meetings for Worship, we continue to hold a Monthly Meeting for Worship at Vantage House, a retirement community. This intimate gathering draws 4-8 people and is meaningful to those who attend. Clearness and support committees also offer deeply rewarding and intimate spiritual experiences for those who participate. Monthly singing before meetings also nurtures community. As one Friend observed, “When I sing, I feel connected to those singing with me.”
The deepening of spiritual relationships, the coming together in small groups or as a Meeting as a whole, deep listening, the ongoing support offered in love to members and attenders –these qualities are difficult to describe, but they capture the spirit of PFM.
Welcoming and Encouraging the Participation of Members and Attenders
Toward the end of 2014 the numbers attending Meeting for Worship increased and we began to run out of chairs. Newcomers, to our delight, included parents with young children. The Religious Education Committee has organized itself so that there are teachers assigned to meet for First Day School with the different age groups, whenever they are in attendance. This has meant that the Religious Education Committee has had to be imaginative and flexible in the arrangements. We have started meeting with the teens/pre-teens in periodic pizza nights and are reaching out to them with quarterly correspondence as well.
Advancement and Outreach continues to send postcards to guests who leave their addresses in the guest book and now sends a welcoming email as well.
We have welcomed several young Friends in the past year. While their numbers are not large, they contribute to the life of the Meeting.
Several afternoon Quaker 101 discussions were planned and presented by the Advancement and Outreach committee. These discussions focused on sections of the proposed Faith and Practice of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. However, those who attend Quakerism 101 are not always the newer or less-seasoned members we would like to see there. We need to discuss ways to attract newcomers to attend.
Reaching Beyond Our Borders
Members of our community continue to worship with the South Mountain Friends Fellowship, a group of men incarcerated in Hagerstown Correctional Institution. (Their Spiritual State of the Meeting Report is attached.) Their experiences gave a heartfelt resonance to our reading of The New Jim Crow. Lively, thoughtful, and at times difficult conversations about the book, combined with the moving experiences and close relationships developed over the years of the PFM prison ministry, led to a deep commitment among some members to join the coalition led by Annapolis Friends, the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform. Others continue to meet regularly to foster awareness of related issues. We continue to participate in the work of PATH, an ecumenical organization in Howard County which organizes, advocates and works for social justice. Among other activities led by our social concerns committee, members have volunteered to help serve food through a Baltimore organization called Our Daily Bread and prepared Christmas packages for women who were victims of human trafficking,
Women from PFM joined the women of Annapolis Friends meeting as members of the coordinating committee for the 2014 Women’s Winter Retreat. PFM women reported that the weekend was an incredible experience, despite the bitter cold and icy conditions. The opportunity to bond with other women of all ages from BYM-- to laugh, worship, sing, and create together--was exhilarating . One PFM Friend reported that her “worship sharing group was fabulous. The women were generous in their sharing and compassion.”
This year, the Advancement and Outreach committee developed and offered the Emma & Tom Byrne Peace Award. Directed to Howard County students, this award is established to recognize students who have demonstrated their commitment to" promotion of peace and peaceful resolution of conflict “in their school, their community, or in an area of conflict. While our first year did not attract applicants, we hope to widen familiarity with the award in its second year.
“What is Quaker faith? It is not a tidy package of words which you can capture at any given time and then repeat weekly at a worship service. It is an experience of discovery which starts the discoverer on a journey which is life-long.”
During the past year, we have felt guided and supported in discovery, sharing our individual journeys and discerning our path as a community. Friends sense that we are being spiritually drawn together to build an inclusive, welcoming, and safe faith community. One Friend described what has taken place in PFM this past year as a “coming together”—an intangible synergy among our many expressions of community life.
What supports the life of the Spirit in our meeting community? How is the presence of Spirit apparent?
Our spiritual community was nurtured in many ways throughout the year. Our sense of fellowship deepened through an overnight Spring Retreat in the woods at a Quaker camp. Several Friends offered workshops, but the highlight was a standing-room only workshop led by a middle school Young Friend. We are also engaged, at the suggestion of the Clerk, in home visits by the Clerk and members of Ministry and Care to members and attenders. The tender outreach by the Nominating Committee to every member and attender each year also deepens our sense of commitment to each other. Our practice of sharing a simple meal after meeting (with varying degrees of simplicity) also gives us time to share ourselves.
Often, we are offered second hours sponsored by committees or individuals. For example, the peace and social concerns committee led a second hour on human trafficking that was attended by other community members. We also teamed with Sandy Spring Friends meeting to highlight the work of Friendly Water for the World. The Peace Committee used the Pendle Hill pamphlet on “Waging Peace” to explore how we live the peace testimony.
We have many opportunities to come together in smaller groups. Many of us gather frequently to read and discuss a short pamphlet (often from Pendle Hill); topics have included spiritual friendships and “the practice of the love of God.” After a discernment process in which we shared our hunger for deeper community, we began several small spiritual formation groups where we hope to know each other more deeply and help each other grow in the Spirit. A monthly Meditation Circle that meets before meeting for worship offers a chance to explore a wide variety of topics and techniques, including Tibetan singing bowls, Himalayan Salt lamps, walking, music, and guided meditations. Active support and clearness committees also draw us together to seek and share the Light.
We are graced with one or more visitors most First Days. As new people come to Meeting for Worship, they are welcomed with warmth and greeted individually after rise of Meeting. The Ministry and Care Committee and the Advancement and Outreach Committee met together to explore how we may better serve the needs and concerns of those among us and reach out to newcomers. We are starting the new year with several new community members and an infusion of energy for which we are very grateful.
This year, our community lost and celebrated the lives of two beloved members: David Johnson, who was also a member of Annapolis Meeting, and Tom Byrne, who had moved to Friends House in Sandy Spring.
During the past year, our sense of community with other Quakers has been strengthened:
- We instituted a practice of holding monthly Meetings for Worship at a senior retirement community, Vantage House, to make us more accessible for members who live in the facility.
- Acknowledging and celebrating the aging process with passion and patience, women in PFM gather with other women over 50 years old in BYM to embrace their combined wisdom as crones and create a community to nurture and support each other.
- Women from PFM came together with women from Annapolis Monthly Meeting to plan and facilitate all aspects of the BYM Women’s Retreat for January 2014. The experience of working together has been richly rewarding and we appreciate the vibrant new connections.
- PFM hosted the Chesapeake Quarterly Meeting in September, where we explored “Embracing the Interfaith Community” and shared experiences working with people of other faiths.
We have also deepened our awareness of issues related to justice and equality. This year, the reading group on racism completed reading and discussing Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship. We came away with a deeper understanding of Quaker history as it relates to race. In September we joined other monthly Meetings in BYM in reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. This book argues that the War on Drugs in the United States was not solely about crime control, but also about the creation of a racial undercaste.
As an outgrowth of reading group discussions, as well as our experience in prison ministry, members are considering actions we can take to reform policies in the criminal justice system in Maryland and across the nation. Patapsco Friends, now joined by Friends from Frederick meeting and Goose Creek meeting, worship each Saturday with members of the South Mountain Friends Fellowship who are incarcerated in Hagerstown, Maryland. Issues related to fairness in the prison system are especially alive to those of us who have listened first-hand to the experiences of these men. Their struggle to live as Quakers in an environment charged with unpredictability and violence has touched and taught us.
What challenges are we facing?
The lack of a decision by the Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) about the adoption of the draft Faith and Practice document has led to some uncertainty and some pain among members. We are currently using the 2013 draft as the basis for an adult series on exploring the Quaker way.
Another challenge is that we continue to have more older people than younger people active in our faith community. As children in our monthly Meeting have grown up and moved on, it has been difficult to attract families with pre-school and school age children. The Religious Education Committee has been creative and flexible in offering individualized programs for Young Friends. Our middle school Young Friend, who is a serious student of Roman history, has been studying Meditations of Marcus Aurelius with adult Quakers. While we do not have many Young Friends at any one time, we feel that our spiritual work is to be responsive to whoever comes. Much work and thought has been given to acquiring appropriate materials and organizing them so they are ready.
How does the Spirit prosper among us?
The Spirit has been with us as a wise counselor, a loving presence, a prompter of caring actions, and as a weaver and mender of our Quaker community. Spiritual leanings and messages that seemed to transcend all others during the year came from the queries on Caring for One Another, namely:
• In what ways do I show respect for that of God in every person?
• Do I reach out to those in distress? If I find this difficult, what holds me back?
• Am I comfortable making my own needs known to my Meeting?
An unfortunate incident that occurred during our annual retreat reminded us how important it is to continue to pay attention to our words, our actions, and our inactions so that the spirit of warmth, community, and sensitivity to others will remain with us in our spiritual circle of Friends and in our lives in the greater community. Our response to the incident was Spirit-led. It deepened our sense of what it takes to make each member of our spiritual community feel welcome and safe.
What supports the life of the Spirit in our meeting community? What challenges are we facing?
What began as a painful experience during our retreat evolved into an ongoing deep listening and healing process that took our Quaker community to a healthier place. The fact that we all took responsibility for what happened at the retreat has been cited as a reason the healing process was more successful than attempts at healing from prior incidents. We held a threshing session, followed by several meetings of an expanded Ministry and Care Committee, and a healing circle gently guided by a Quaker facilitator. The healing circle process included worship, worship sharing, and a discussion of the following queries: What do we need to feel welcome and safe in our meeting community? What do we expect from others when we have been wounded by a hurtful comment or action? What is needed to repair harm and make things better in our community? What are some possible next steps?
As a follow-up, we have available written procedures or Advices on Dealing with Disagreements/Conflicts/Issues, a flip chart available each week to record thoughts from Meeting for Worship or regarding other matters, and procedures to increase access to members of the Ministry and Care Committee for those with concerns.
Three ongoing reading groups speak to the healthy life of the Meeting. A group that meets monthly to read and discuss Quaker pamphlets has rich and thoughtful discussions that deepen our spiritual lives. Friends that meet after rise of meeting to discuss Howard Brinton’s Friends for 350 Years have broadened their understanding of Quaker history, values, and practices. A third group that is reading Fit for Freedom not for Friendship is finding this provocative historical overview of American Quakers and race a helpful introduction to sensitive conversations about race, diversity, identity, and respect for that of God in every person. For many of us, it is a revealing experience that nudges us forcefully out of complacency. The reading programs are often attended by people outside our meeting community. We also have a monthly meditation group that meets before Meeting for Worship.
Our Meetings for Worship usually include vocal ministry and deep silence. Some people speak often and others seldom or never, which may be a challenge for us, but there is space between messages and a sense of connection among them, indicating that we are Listening. We integrate time to hold others in the Light as they are named, and this practice helps foster our sense of community.
We have a rich program of “second hours” that challenges us spiritually and connects us with others. Examples include workshops on “spiritual simplicity” and polarizing talk, presentations on Quakers in Kenya and on a local daycare center for people who are homeless, and a fundraising workshop on “un-cooking.” We also came together to sponsor a successful yard sale to benefit a homeless shelter and sponsored a showing of the movie “Friendly Persuasion.” A sale of Quaker books at Christmas time was much appreciated and filled many of our stockings with nourishing reading.
Our religious education program continues to present a challenge. It is difficult to attract children to a program when we have so few families with pre-school or school age children. We recognize how much families with young children have contributed to the life of the meeting since the first planning session for Patapsco Friends Meeting in August 1996. In 2012, we held a joyous (but bittersweet!) pool party in June celebrating the graduation of most of our original First Day School children. Currently we enjoy staffing a nursery for one young child, who is cherished. Another young Friend attends Meeting for Worship.
Because we are a small community, we find it challenging to continue the tradition of simple meal each week, although we recognize the importance of continuing this practice which everyone enjoys and which promotes a sense of fellowship and warmth in our community. As one visitor noted, “For a group that meets in silence, I have never heard any group more talkative during simple lunch.”
How is the presence of Spirit manifested in our lives individually and as a meeting community?
Members who participate in the groups described above say they have deepened their spiritual lives and our sense of community. Members also comment appreciatively about the kinds of support Friends receive when they are going through difficult times. Although we saw a decline in the number of attendees at Meeting for Worship last summer and early fall, we are seeing our numbers increasing. We also have seen increasing numbers of our members attending Baltimore Yearly Meeting. Our Sunday noon conversations and presentations have been meaningful and often attract people from outside our monthly meeting.
Individual members are active within and beyond the meeting, often with support from our community. Many members participate in a weekly worship session with the South Mountain Fellowship, a group of men imprisoned in the Maryland Correctional Institution at Hagerstown. We find their dedication to living Quaker lives in prison inspiring, and our discussions of Quaker literature and our worship together – though accompanied by external clanging and loud talk - full of Light.
Several members participate in People Acting Together in Howard (PATH) a multi-racial, non-partisan coalition of faith communities that engages congregations and community leaders on issues of justice and fairness that benefit families and individuals in our community. Two members travelled to other meetings to listen to their thoughts about the Faith and Practice. One member served as Recording Clerk at BYM, and another clerked the Chesapeake Quarterly Meeting and participated in BYM’s intervisitation program. Several women share life experiences and offer support to women from other BYM monthly meetings in quarterly gatherings for “Crones.” We also have members who active in the boards of Quaker organizations. One just completed a 3-year term on the Board of Pendle Hill, and another has begun a term on its Governance and Nominating Committee. Two members serve on the Board of Friends House, and another serves on the Board of Friends Journal. In both senses, one Friend observed, we are a “mighty little meeting”!
"How does the Spirit prosper among us?"
Attendance at Patapsco is about 25 to 30 each week, similar to that of the previous year. We have been blessed with the addition of two new members and welcomed another Friend who transferred membership to our meeting. We feel the spirit in the Meeting for Worship. Our vocal ministry seems spirit-oriented and we experience cohesiveness and a feeling of enjoyment in being with each other. The Meeting is becoming better known. There was an article about us in the local newspaper, complete with photograph. Patapsco is now on Facebook. In the wider community we are reaching out more to those in need. We are building ties with members of other religious groups in PATH, an organization in Howard County working to improve living conditions and management of the natural environment.
"What supports the growth of the Spirit in our lives?
We have meditation and reading sessions that may lead to the Inner Light. Our clearness committee process is alive and well and provides opportunities for growth for all of us. The "Quaker Quest" spiritual development program was introduced at our annual retreat. We created a "Radical Quaker" series of discussions about matching our behavior with the Quaker testimonies. We get together for simple meals after each meeting, giving opportunity for better understanding of each other.
The Meeting took under its care the spiritual marriages of two couples. Our Meeting chooses not to perform civil marriages for couples until gay and lesbian Friends can be legally married as well. Both weddings were moving celebrations which heightened our experience of being a loving, caring community.
There are dedicated teachers for First Day classes, which include Bible stories, discussions, and crafts. A "joyful noise" is made by some of us in a singing session held each month.
"How is the presence of the spirit manifested individually and as a Meeting community?"
Many significant leadings were pursued. Each Saturday morning one person from our Meeting travels to the Maryland Correctional Institution at Hagerstown to worship with a group of inmates. The group chose the name, South Mountain Friends Fellowship, and our members have been meeting with them for eight years.
Reports of individual leadings were given in "Enhanced Spiritual" sessions held throughout the year. A young man visiting the Meeting described his work in the West Bank with impoverished farmers and his encounters with others of differing beliefs. One member of our Meeting, who works as a pastoral counselor, shared her thoughts about hospice care. Another member, who consults with companies in the United States and Canada, shared with us the sociocratic way of organizing, which has Quaker roots.
There were many other individual leadings. Some involved participation at the quarterly, yearly, and national levels. One member did intervisitation with other Meetings. Another member currently serves as the Recording Clerk for the Baltimore Yearly Meeting at the annual business sessions. Another has contributed greatly towards revision of the "Faith and Practice" manual and has arranged for the posting of Quaker pamphlets on the Internet. He is also on the board of the Friends Journal. Many of us write articles for our meeting periodical, "The Quaker Heron." A librarian has provided valuable reading resources for our group. Our clerk and a former clerk serve on the board of Friends House in Sandy Spring, Maryland. Another member continues to share her leading of “Cooking for Peace,” eating fresh, vegan meals that are environmentally responsible and that show compassion for all beings. Several of us have visited Old Town Friends Fellowship in Baltimore. One Friend feels “there is a mission for Friends in downtown Baltimore.”
The Meeting’s spirit was extended through the involvement of a Friend on the BYM Camping Program Committee and a Young Friend who serves on the Executive Committee of Young Friends, acting as webmaster. Patapsco had the joy of hosting the Young Friends Executive Committee for a weekend planning retreat.
Among other leadings were giving aid to homeless shelters in the county and contributing to the NAMI organization promoting mental health. A member is on the board of the Howard County NAMI Chapter and also on the Citizens Advisory Board of the Springfield State Hospital Center. Another member has worked with Springfield patients in gardening projects.
"How have we recognized and addressed or failed to address issues that have caused difficulties among us?
1. A major change occurred in one family within the Meeting. As a result, connections with some members of the family were lost, while others remained.
2. We continue to struggle with religious education, as we have very few children. This makes it difficult to pursue a consistent curriculum.
3. We have supported each other in losses and serious illnesses. It is a challenge to continue to address long-term needs and "looking out" for people having a hard time.
4. We work to encourage attenders to return. One member regularly sends follow-up postcards to everyone who signs the guest book.
5. It is a challenge to get many people to participate in after-meeting sessions. When we have these opportunities, they are often rich, but many do not stay. We need to do more personal encouragement of individuals. We wonder if we have too many such opportunities.
6. Over the last 2-3 years we have been struggling with the question of how best to advertise our Meeting and how to reach out to those who do not have Internet access. In the fall we held a threshing session on these queries. We listened deeply to each other and agreed that we are all seeking to be visible, accessible, and welcoming. Identifying a common, overreaching goal has helped us to see the way forward and to move beyond less significant differences.