Patuxent Friends Meeting Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports
The text of recently received Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports are below, with the most recently received at the top and older reports below. To jump to a particular report, simply click the year listed below.
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Considering the Spiritual State of the Meeting allows us the opportunity to reflect on the prior year and be mindful of how we want to go forward in the coming year.
When Patuxent Friends made the decision to purchase our Meeting House in 2001, we labored over the pros and cons of owning property. Would the finances and the property upkeep take too much of our energy and too many of our resources away from the spiritual practice of our Meeting? When we did make the decision to buy the little house that became our Meeting House, we were committed to making our Meeting Huse and property widely available to others in our community. We didn’t want to have a building that was only used for a couple of hours every First Day. In the years since, our property has been used by singing groups, dance classes, the local community mediation centers, other faith groups, professional associations, and more. Friends and others who have needed temporary lodging have stayed in our Meeting House. And we continue to offer service to our community in other ways:
- We continue to host Safe Sunday once a month during the winter. The Safe Sunday program allows the homeless people of our community a safe, warm, friendly, nonjudgmental place to hang out on a Sunday. Sundays are a time when public buildings are closed and they have nowhere else to go that's warm and dry. Our Meeting House gives them the opportunity to take showers and wash clothes. They can go for walks and come back to some place that is warm and dry.
- We also reach out to community by providing dinners for Project ECHO, the homeless shelter, on fifth Fridays of the months, and by participating in and supporting Community Ministry of Calvert County.
- We continue to support both St. Mary's and Calvert's Mediation Centers, and we have a presence in Calvert Interfaith Council, as well as the St. Mary's Interfaith group.
- We have been supportive of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and their work and have hosted sessions in each of the three counties this past year on fracking issues. At these same sessions, Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (MAJR) has presented information on pre-trial justice reform and how to be an effective in lobbying our representatives for justice reform.
- We support OPEN International, which operates Adja Penda Ba school in Senegal. This year we sponsored four students and one teacher, as well as donating a number of laptop computers and clothing.
This past year has also presented some challenges. At a recent Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business, our Meeting labored with an issue and came to a difficult decision. We were addressing a request from an attender of a distant Meeting. He had temporary employment in the county and asked if he could park his camper on our property and hook up to electrical power and water for about a month. Our Meeting has always been very generous with use of our property so the decision to approve the request by this visitor should have been quick and easy. As it turned out, it wasn’t.
Twelve Friends participated in a called Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business. Eleven voiced strong support for approving the request. One attender, who has been active in our Meeting for a couple of years, strongly disagreed. The Friend who disagreed had been active in the life of our Meeting, initiating mid-week Meetings and providing extensive support for Safe Sundays. We listened carefully to what he had to say. He said that the visitor’s presence would be “too disruptive” to our Meeting. Friends spent over an hour in discussion with him trying to understand his concerns. He couldn’t articulate anything further about why he was so concerned, but he was adamant and intended to “stand in the way” of approval of the request. He said that the visitor was well paid and there were other places he could park his camper. He said he saw “red flags”. At that point, many at the Called Meeting said that it wasn’t so much about the visitor as it was about our desire to be generous and welcoming in sharing our property. It was about who we wanted to be as a Meeting. Friends were patient with our attender, although the stress level rose when he announced that he would just call the visitor himself and tell him that he was welcome to come to our Meeting for Worship, but that he couldn’t keep his camper on our property. One of our long standing Friends reminded him that he would not speak for the Meeting. In the end, Friends approved the request and noted in our minutes that “One Friend could not unite with that decision”. We made it clear that we should all be welcoming to the sojourner if he still chose to stay on our property.
As a result of approving the sojourner’s request to stay on the property, the Friend who held the dissenting view chose to leave our Meeting, saying that he “thought he had the confidence of the Meeting but he guessed he never did”. He couldn’t see that it wasn’t about our confidence in him. It was about his inability to experience the spiritual sense of our Meeting and accept the decision.
Although painful, out of this discernment process, Patuxent Friends Meeting reached a clearer understanding of who we are and who we want to be in community. We also reached a clearer understanding of the practice of “standing in the way” and “standing aside”.
There is Quaker lore that any individual can stand in the way of a decision and prevent the decision from being taken. This is not entirely true. “Standing in the way” is a mutual responsibility between the individual and Meeting to test our sense of the Truth as we are imperfectly able to sense it at the time. But no one, after prayerful consideration by the Meeting, can “stand in the way of a decision” without the meeting’s permission. The Meeting can proceed, in loving tenderness to those who cannot join in the decision.
When Quakers Disagree by Authur Meyer Boyd, Friends Journal.
Each of us may come to Meeting for Worship with preconceived opinions of how we personally think a decision should be made. It is through listening to each other and the spirit within that we discover the spiritual sense of the Meeting and a course of action or inaction. When a Friend “stands in the way” of a decision, we gather to listen profoundly to each other, taking time to gain understanding of opposing views and differences of opinion. Realizing that each of us has a spark of the Divine within but no one has the whole truth, we take time to discern the proper path. In each case we ask ourselves if the dissenting view speaks to who we want to be. Does it come from spirit or a personal bias or fear? Whatever the issue may be, we might ask ourselves:
Is it kind?
Is it generous?
Is it open and welcoming to others?
Is it community building?
Is it safe, doing no harm to anyone?
Do we have the means to undertake it?
Another continuing challenge has affected 21 members of our Meeting community over the past year, as 14 loved ones/immediate or extended family members have died. Meeting members are now preparing a binder/booklet on end-of-life decisions and information on practical and legal issues encountered as we approach the time of death. We hope this may be helpful to our members as we all, sooner or later, go through the end-of-life process with loved ones.
May we continue to gain strength from each other as members of the Patuxent Friends Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Chesapeake Quarterly Meeting, Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
What are your greatest joys as a Meeting?
- “We just do things.” While we have active committees doing the work of the Meeting, as individuals we don’t wait for a committee, a crowd, approval from others to act when there is a need.
- Inspired messages spoken out of the silence of Meeting for Worship
- The Commitment Ceremony for Cynthia & Tom
- The myriad of activities and actions we are engaged in in our Southern Maryland community
- Our faith in the value of the consensus process, that never fails us when there are challenges to resolve
- Our ready sense of humor
- The wide variety of ways we invite our community to make use of our Meeting House
- The unique and numerous ways we have been a part of initiating dialogue in our community, encouraging people to share and listen with respect
- Our cheery optimism hosting BYM Interim meeting, despite all the challenges of such a small Meeting taking care of a large crowd.
What leadings does your Meeting feel most strongly?
- Our considerable activities in support of people who are homeless
- Our active support of individual member’s community outreach efforts
- Our loving support of each other in our individual pursuits of our passions.
What challenges and troubles are you facing?
- Small size
- Only one young Friend in First Day School
- Limited participation by Friends in support of First Day School
- Tracking and supporting people who drop off our radar screen, whether in the short term or the long term
In what ways is the Meeting less than you might wish it to be?
- We feel the need to have a better understanding of what it means to be a Friend, a member or attender of the Religious Society of Friends.
- We often don’t know when Friends need extra help. We sometimes find it hard to determine if help is appropriate or intrusive.
- Some do not feel comfortable asking for personal help from the Meeting community.
- Quaker Quest momentum disappeared.
How does your Meeting nurture the spiritual life of members and attenders?
- Cooking and sharing food while enjoying the company of one another
- Lovingly holding the space for messages in Meeting, holding the speaker in the Light, then holding the space again for the quiet inner voice
- Gathering for discussion groups on chosen Spiritual literature (the Aramaic Bible Lord's Prayer and the Four Doors to Meeting for Worship)
- Caring for each other, offering emotional support to one another
How deep are your Meetings for Worship?
- Depth of worship varies - some are deep, some not, some felt, some gathered or covered.
Are Meetings for Business held in a spirit of worship?
- Yes, and with humor, joy and laughter.
- It is not uncommon for Friends unable to make it for worship to show up for Business Meeting.
Is your Meeting as diverse as you would like it to be?
- We would like to be more diverse. Our Meeting community has a rich diversity of religious backgrounds.
How well do you attend to the needs of newcomers?
- For those who have stayed on and become attenders, “Pretty well, no complaints”.
Do Friends of all ages feel fully a part of the Meeting community?
- Adults and older Friends do
- Younger Friends are included in Meeting activities and discussions.
Do you engage with other Meetings through visitation or shared projects?
- In 2015 we hosted BYM’s Interim Meeting at our Meeting House.
- We held a Quaker Quest session with enthusiastic participation by almost all of our members and attenders.
- Our kids participate in BYM youth projects.
What message would you like to share with others in Baltimore Yearly Meeting, and with Friends around the world?
- We come together with Spirit when we have group projects. Many Happy Helping Hands make projects more fulfilling and uplifting.
What supports the life of the Spirit in our Meeting?
Laughter is one of the rich Spiritual wellsprings of our Meeting. There is a strong current of humor throughout our Meetings for Worship and Business, as well as our committee meetings. Jokes and puns abound.
In the cooking and sharing of food the Meeting community creates time to commune outside of Meeting for Worship. In addition to the educational value of the cooking experiences our children have in First Day School, the dishes they make offer them an opportunity to contribute to Meeting as a whole, and then to join the larger community in a meal they helped to prepare.
Social action supports us individually as well as our Meeting community. Environmental and humanitarian goals hold us together. These central themes encourage our action because we believe they are central to right relationship. Conversely, silent worship together gives us strength to do things for other individuals, our community and our world.
One member shared that even when he can’t be in Meeting on First Day it is a comfort to him that we are having Meeting. He likened our sense of togetherness to concepts from abstract math, a multidimensional reference point.
Our community is strong. As one Friend noted, “I feel like I can pick up the phone and call any of you.”
What challenges and troubles are we facing?
We would like to be a larger meeting. Because we are a small Meeting a few people do so much, finding themselves spread thin with commitments to Meeting. It seems that the level of involvement has become less balanced now that we are more established as a Meeting. We wonder if our Meeting is sustainable without some key people. Maybe others would step in, but we wonder.
Finding the balance between contributing from one’s own need for fulfillment and feeling that it is OK to say “no” is a challenge.
We would like to be a more diverse Meeting. While we are not racially or ethnically diverse, we do have religious diversity. That brings a flavor to Meeting that we cherish. For example, it’s OK to struggle with whether we are Christian. Our spiritual journeys are not all the same, but they are all supported.
We are looking at options for growth and opportunities to reach out to the larger community to expand our membership. Most in our Meeting are enthusiastic about the possibility of engaging in the Quaker Quest program. We have an active committee leading Meeting through the planning process necessary to commit to Quaker Quest.
How do we reach beyond boundaries?
We feel good when connection to the larger Quaker community happens but we don’t go out of our way to make that happen as much as we would like. We host Quarterly Meeting. Some Friends attend Quarterly Meeting when it is elsewhere. We send our children to Quaker camps. Some of us attend Friends General Conference and Yearly Meeting activities. Part of our problem is our geography. Our meeting population is drawn from the two counties, St. Mary's and Calvert, each county located at the end of its own peninsula, with the Meeting House itself located almost at the end of the Calvert county's peninsula.
We value visits from those outside our Meeting. We have had visits from Riley Robinson, General Secretary of Baltimore Yearly Meeting and Maria Bradley and Beth Gorton, who do inter-visitation from Baltimore Yearly Meeting and New England Yearly Meeting, respectively.
Locally, in Southern Maryland, our Meeting and individual members provide an impressive level of financial and personal support to nonprofit organizations in our community.
How do we help newcomers feel welcome?
Some members of Meeting are especially tuned in to first-time attenders. They welcome newcomers warmly and orient them to Meeting for Worship. However, we do very little follow up. Overall we would like to do a better job of encouraging newcomers and visitors to return to Meeting, as well as to embrace them in all Meeting activities.
As one of our members said, “This Meeting puts me at peace to know that I am loved in a community. I am able to give in return to Meeting knowing I am valued.” Another said, “We, as individuals, come to Meeting vulnerable and feeling spiritually depleted. It is there in the circle of communal worship that we find support, gain strength and experience healing.”
Our willingness to listen to Spirit was tested this fall. During a called Meeting for Business in late October we were presented with the framework of an opportunity. Our trepidation led us to enter into discussion at November’s Meeting for Business pretty sure we couldn’t do it. Through prayerful listening we were led to say “Yes We Can!” Spirit opened our minds and hearts, way opened, and we joyfully proceed.
This artwork, created by a young friend 8 years of age, spoke to us during this time of introspection.
Members of Patuxent Friends, with support of the Meeting, founded the Community Mediation Centers (CMCs) of Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties over a decade ago. Many of our members serve as mediators. Members also facilitate conversations in the community about difficult topics such as race. In mediation or in these community events, the goals are the same – to share perspective based upon personal life experience and discern areas of common understanding, as well as to understand why we might disagree.
We are reminded weekly to donate to a local food pantry. The spiritual messages provide food for thought as well as a loving reminder to think beyond our family’s needs.
• How does the Spirit prosper among us? How does our Meeting ensure that ministry is nurtured, and that members and attenders feel valued and cared for?
It has been our custom for many years to stand in a circle at rise of Meeting for Worship, holding hands at first. The clerk asks for “afterthoughts.” We use this period to share vocal ministry that may not have been fully formed during meeting. Subsequently, Members and attenders express personal concerns, such as holding loved ones in the light or asking for spiritual support, while others respond with listening and kindness. We are comfortable with this practice, and it helps us feel included as members of a caring community. We make a general effort to stay in touch with each other’s issues and struggles, and while we don’t always succeed in knowing just what each person needs, we all benefit from the feeling of support this generates. We strive to nurture each other without being overbearing, and we struggle about how to be aware and give care where it’s needed without being too nosy.
• What supports the life of the Spirit in our Meeting community? What challenges and troubles are we facing? In what ways is the Meeting less than we would wish it to be?
We are a very social meeting and greatly enjoy our potlucks, work days, and special events. We have had some “meetings for skiing,” where some of our community go to Canaan Valley in West Virginia during the winter for skiing (cross-country and downhill), snow play, or simply enjoyment of nature and each other’s presence. One friend commented that we seem to like each other in addition to sharing spiritual directions.
We also note that there is too much noise and bustle in our daily lives, and we value very much the quiet space that the meeting for worship and other Quaker activities provide.
As a very small meeting, we have had the usual troubles with first-day school. Sometimes first-day school will have just two or three attenders but might still span an age range from toddler through teenager. Other times it is difficult to find two friends to be in charge on a given first day.
• How is the presence of Spirit manifested in our lives individually and as a Meeting community?
One friend wrote that the presence of the spirit is “manifested in a flower growing through the snow.” Our Meeting has always given high priority to social action directed toward our local community, and many members and attenders are active in this way individually, in addition to acting through the meeting. Homelessness has recently become a focus of concern, as we learn how many more homeless people there are than can be supported by local agencies, such as Project ECHO, which we have supported enthusiastically.
• How can we bring that of God or peace into political or other difficult conversations?
“Take a chill pill and turn off the cameras,” remarked one friend! The media seem to thrive on the “show” of political debate—the anger and frenzy—rather than the substance of the issues, and we find that this attitude often spills over into personal conversations. Political conversations often become so charged and fast that we often find that simply walking away from them is the best policy. Several people cited a recent article in Friends Journal about the gun issue as an example of a quiet, understanding political discussion.
• How can we learn to accept seekers in our Meeting with different concepts of God and find ways to help them on their spiritual journey?
We listen to other’s views and try to accept them without judging. We realize that everyone has a different concept of God and religion. We feel that our meeting does this fairly well, and indeed our members and attenders follow a wide variety of spiritual paths.
• Should we make the community more aware of our spiritual concerns and how they drive our social actions, and if so, how should we do this?
We added this query during discussion of our Spiritual State of the Meeting Report, because as a very small meeting we sometimes wonder if the community is aware of us at all. However, as we discussed the matter we decided that the community—particularly those parts of the community involved in caring for others—is quite aware of our activities and our motivations. Occasionally someone involved in one of the projects we support will come to meeting and remark with great surprise on our small size; we seem to have an outsized influence, which gives us joy. As a meeting we have written letters to the editor of our local papers in spiritual support of marriage equality and repeal of the death penalty, and this too helps make the community more aware of us.
Patuxent Friends Meeting
How have we recognized and addressed (or failed to address) issues that have caused difficulties among us?
We have found ourselves this past year transforming conflicts in our meeting over some issues. We have done this by caring more for and about each other, than about the difficult issues that have arisen. Have concerns been voiced and not heard? Have concerns been heard, but forgotten or not acted upon? We wait and let the way open as the Spirit so moves us or our committees to make things happen. We found that with patience, speaking plainly, persistence and holding the matter or person in the Light, the way would (eventually) open and resolve itself. We are learning the importance of identifying issues and referring them to the appropriate committees to be worked upon and brought back to the meeting for business. We now have a new bathroom in our Meeting House, after five years of being a 'concern'. We have found 'profound listening' in Meeting for Worship while allowing the silence to manifest knowing.
How do we as a meeting appear to ourselves and others and how do we wish to be?
A board member of Project Echo (the homeless shelter in Calvert Co.) commented on the seemingly high quantity of Quaker members in our community, and was surprised to learn we have less than 25 members. Our robust activity in the community suggested a larger presence. We are action-oriented. We show a willingness to listen. To ourselves we appear as a small, caring community. A circle of trust exists, despite the eclectic gathering of spirit.
How is the presence of the Spirit manifested in our lives individually and as a Meeting community?
Spirit manifests itself on the individual, corporate and universal levels.
The realization of spirit is different for each person and has been defined as:
Belief, Light, Service to Others, Loving, Prism of many paths, God (code word)
Spirit supersedes anthropomorphism
Spirit created the universe; exists outside the Universe; contains it
Spirit is beyond individual experience and definitions
Spirit is Quiet, not dogmatic (breathing room)
One cannot know spirit in itself, for it is an abstraction; one can only perceive manifestations of the spirit, such as love, gratitude, respect, tolerance...
Spirit as Truth (each of us carries a small piece of the truth)
Spirit is joy for each other (as can be experienced with children)
Spirit is Movement, Drive
In the healing tradition of the 12 Steps:'...Sought through prayer and meditation to
improve our conscious contact with God, as we name that ...'
How does the Spirit prosper among us?
The spirit prospers via our social actions in the community. In the messages shared in our Meetings and our coming together as a community and fellowship. It also manifests through silence and inspiration.
What supports the growth of the Spirit?
A collected gathering.
Energy, Life Force, Community action.
Spirit as the 'Good' in a Platonic sense.
How is the presence of spirit manifest in our lives?
In the level of sharing under the surface known in silence and inspiration
A collective gathering with intentions and with joy.
Meeting for Worship is a source of spiritual nourishment.
Silence and messages are equally important.
Through social action-oriented activities in the larger community.