State College Friends Meeting Spritual 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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2015 was a challenging year for State College Friends Meeting. We continue to experience a decline of membership and attendance, and to have difficulty filling leadership positions. Still, we had some successes as well, particularly with regard to the physical plant.
We gave great attention to stewardship of our physical surroundings in 2015. After careful deliberation, we decided to use a bequest to reduce our carbon footprint by installing solar panels on the meetinghouse, and that work was completed in the fall. Uneven pavement was repaired to make the entrance to the meetinghouse safer and more inviting. Our Building and Grounds Committee has also spent considerable time, energy, and financial resources addressing the need to remediate a serious mold problem in the garden level of the meetinghouse. Our meetinghouse is now identified by an attractive new sign, and a new pollinator garden enhances our grounds while supporting the local ecology. Friends labored together in stewardship during the annual spring cleanup day.
We welcomed Connie Wheeler and Johanna Jackson into membership. Several Friends who moved into Foxdale began to attend State College Friends Meeting, and we welcomed several other seekers from the local community. Other Friends moved out of the area, and a few have not attended regularly because of other life commitments. A number of Friends passed away: in 2015 we lost Mark Shaw, Howard Darnell, Bob Crauder, Stephen Thiermann, Eunice Merris, and Larry Jaeger, who remained a beloved friend beyond the years he attended. Overall, our numbers have continued to decline.
We have been laboring on several levels with our Religious Education program. The number of Young Friends has declined drastically, and the RE committee is finding it very challenging to maintain morale and sustain a viable program when there might be no children, or only one or two in a class. The clerks both needed to step down, finding the demands of the position to be overwhelming. Teachers express frustration and sadness about not having enough Friends to share the load and allow them to participate in meeting for worship. Our Care and Concern committee has been working with RE to try to provide support and seek solutions, and several Friends have stepped up to teach some First Day School classes to give the regular teachers a break. Going forward, the meeting has approved hiring a paid clerk to coordinate the program.
Successes in the RE program include the annual winter camping weekend, Right Sharing of World Resources program, and the high school Young Friends’ monthly visits to Foxdale Village. The First Day School’s Christmas pageant was replaced with a successful intergenerational effort, performed at Foxdale. Our annual candlelight Christmas gathering continues to pack the meetinghouse.
The meeting has discerned a need for more opportunities in the area of adult religious education. Some steps were taken in that direction; we continued the conversation on “bringing our differences into the light” that had started in 2014, with a follow-up discussion. Jay Miller led us in a discussion of John Woolman’s work. A book discussion group addressed the issue of racial bias in the criminal justice system. The Worship and Ministry committee is working with Religious Education to bolster the adult RE offerings in 2016.
One of the true high points of the year was a Fall Harvest Dinner, Celebrating 88 Years of State College Friends, with 100 F/friends in attendance. This number included Foxdale Friends and others we hadn’t seen in some time. It was successful from both a fellowship and a fundraising perspective, and we plan to build on this success by making an annual event and doing monthly fundraising dinners for local charities.
Worship continues weekly on First Day at our meetinghouse and at Foxdale Village. We continue our practice of holding meeting for worship at Foxdale every few months, to strengthen our ties with older Friends who find it challenging or impossible to join us at the meeting house. In the spring we held a coffeehouse in Foxdale’s café so that Foxdale residents could enjoy the performances with us. We also meet at State College Friends School on an annual basis; while this has brought the school more clearly into the sights of State College Friends, we have had less success in welcoming school families and staff at these meetings. “Quakers in the Classroom” has become an annual event at the school, with Friends engaging students in conversation about Quakerism.
Nominating Committee continues to struggle to populate and find leadership for committees. Friends who have carried disproportionate shares of the load are beginning to experience burnout. Efforts are underway to scrutinize our committee structure and solicit input from members and attenders on ways to revitalize the meeting. Our effort to make the Peace and Social Action a “committee of the whole” has not been entirely successful; while Friends appreciate hearing of each others’ efforts, we notice an overall lack shared purpose. One successful group endeavor is work with the local organization Interfaith Human Services; many Friends enjoy manning donation centers for holiday collections for this organization. A number of Friends have been active on an individual level. Individuals’ projects include work with AVP, the Center for Amazon Community Ecology, the local Prison Society, the San Diego Friends Center, Christian Aid in Iraq, and a local LGBTQA support network.
Interaction with the wider Quaker community continues to be a challenge, as State College is a geographic outlier in both Baltimore Yearly Meeting and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. We did have several Friends attend BYM annual sessions and serve on BYM committees. Our ties with Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Upper Susquehanna Quarter have been strengthened somewhat, with Friends participating in quarterly meetings, a fiber group, and the annual Camp Crystal Lake gathering. Christie Duncan-Tessmer, General Secretary of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, met with State College Friends in part to encourage inter-visitation; while some efforts have been made in this area, more work remains to be done.
We continue to build on our successes and labor with our challenges in trust that Way will open.
The year held its share of joys and sorrows for State College Friends Meeting. We welcomed some new Friends and said goodbye to others; we continue to face challenges in declining attendance but are energized by some new and ongoing initiatives.
Attendance at our regular Meetings for Worship varies, as does attendance at Meetings for Worship with Attention to Business. Vocal ministry at Meeting for Worship might flow from threads rising out of Friends’ inner reflections, or we might spend the whole hour with only one or two separate messages or in silence. Many Friends assume the responsibility for welcoming visitors and newcomers in order to help everyone feel comfortable. Judy Melville continues her “ministry of soup” at social hour following meeting, and once a month we share a potluck lunch. Some Friends enjoy staying beyond the meal, sharing music and conversation. An informal midweek gathering has been working with the Worship and Ministry Committee to find its role in the meeting. Our dedicated newsletter editors, Deryn Verity and Marianne Stevens, have labored with the Meeting to find the most effective way of serving the Meeting’s needs. We continue to be blessed with the leadership of clerk Selden Smith and assistant clerk Polly Dunn.
The Nominating Committee continues to face challenges in populating committees and finding clerks. When the Peace and Social Action Committee experienced a decline in membership, particularly among younger Friends, we tried a new approach. We laid down the formal committee and made Peace and Social Action a committee of the whole with a standing slot on the agenda of Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business. While this action was successful in bringing actions of individual Friends to the attention of the Meeting, we found that it was less successful than we had hoped in uniting Friends in shared action. However, in bringing these individual efforts forward, several foci were identified, and the committee is being reinstated for 2015-2016 with Friends taking on projects in such areas as the environment, prison ministry, and race relations. It should be noted that one annual tradition, Friends’ ringing bells at Christmas to raise money for the local group Interfaith Human Services, has been an ongoing success both for the target group and for the Friends who participate. We also continue to support two released Friends, Campbell Plowden and Martin Melville, as they pursue leadings in work with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology and pursuit of a masters degree in religious studies at Earlham College, respectively.
Although the number of young Friends participating in our Religious Education program has declined, the RE committee has offered a vibrant program. The meeting as a whole has had an opportunity to hear what’s been happening in RE, with teachers reporting on First Day activities each week at rise of meeting. The program hasn’t been bounded by the walls of the meetinghouse; this year RE traveled from the streets of New York to the wilds of Black Moshannon State Park. In New York a group participated in the Climate Walk. A winter family camping trip to Black Moshannon has become an annual tradition for our meeting. RE friends organized another outreach/inreach effort, an Arts Sharing Coffeehouse that took place at Foxdale.
Our Meeting has become aware of a thirst for more religious education opportunities for adults. We took some steps toward meeting this need through hosting David Fitz and Erik Hanson from BYM, who presented an afternoon workshop on “Bringing our Differences into the Light”. Jay Miller led a discussion on John Woolman’s writings, and Doug Miller and Ruth Fitz led us in singing. Several Friends will soon be joining the Religious Education Committee with the intention of developing a more robust adult education program.
Our Building and Grounds Committee is working hard to make the Meeting House a healthier, more environmentally friendly venue. A bequest has made it possible for us to invest in solar panels; the committee is currently working to select the best system for the Meeting House. We have also become aware of a serious mold problem on the lower level of the Meeting House and are working to remediate that. Considerable refurbishment has been done to the apartment in the Meeting House where our tenant, friend, and groundskeeper lives.
The transient nature of the State College area is a mixed blessing for us; while we rejoice to welcome new arrivals to the community, including several residents of Foxdale Village, and visiting students and families from Penn State, we are saddened to have said farewell to members and attenders who have moved out of the area. Having had several families move away has affected the number of children participating in our First Day School program, and we have also lost several very active members who were stalwart members of Meeting and its committees. We rejoice at welcoming the Misangyi family (Becky, Vilmos, Hannah, Erszi, and Ella) into membership and welcoming Kersey Bradley back into membership. We mourn the passing of Carolyn Rudd, Effie Jenks, Peg Doms, Mark Shaw, Bob Crauder, Howard Darnell, Stephen Thiermann, and Gary Hansen.
We have had some success in strengthening our bonds with the two local Quaker organizations in State College: State College Friends School and Foxdale Village. Members of our Meeting serve as trustees for both organizations. In the last few years we’ve taken our Meeting for Worship on the road, gathering three or four times a year at Foxdale and once annually at Friends School. Several members of Meeting have taken wheelchair training at Foxdale to assist residents who need assistance in getting to the worship venues at Foxdale and the school. The Meetings at Foxdale have been valuable in forging and maintaining relationships with Friends who are no longer able to join us at the Meeting House. Foxdale Friends continue to hold Meeting for Worship at Foxdale on other first days. Several Friends School staff and families have worshiped with us at the Meeting House after our Meetings for Worship at the school. Friends from our Meeting also serve on Friends School’s Quaker Life committee; among this committee’s activities is an annual Quakers in the Classroom day, when Meeting members and attenders visit the school and share their spiritual journeys.
Interaction with the wider Quaker community continues to be a challenge, as State College is a geographic outlier in both Baltimore Yearly Meeting and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. We did have Friends attending both Yearly Meetings’ annual sessions and participating on BYM committees in the past year, though, and several State College Friends participated in FGC’s gathering at California State University near Pittsburgh.
Overall, the spirit is alive and well at State College Friends Meeting. We welcome visitors to our loving community!
We have experienced a winter of snow and bitter temperatures that have made attendance at Meeting for Worship a challenge on many First Days. On any given Sunday throughout the year, however, the meeting house is nearly full of families, newcomers, and stalwart Friends.
Outreach efforts have proven successful in attracting some new attenders and introducing people to Quakerism. One such effort was having First Day Meeting for Worship at State College Friends School in April 2013. Members of the school’s Quaker Life Committee first introduced school parents to what happens in Meeting. They then gathered with members and attenders of the Meeting in the school’s community room for Meeting for Worship. Meeting was well attended, with many new faces. Some who attended have since visited State College Friends Meeting.
Another outreach between Friends School and the Meeting occurred on February 7th of this year. “Quakers in the Classroom” brought seven members of Meeting to Friends School for part or all of the day sharing meeting for worship, discussing Quaker beliefs and responses of testimonies, and participating in classroom activities as appropriate. This is an on-going effort of the Meeting and the School to strengthen ties and understanding between us.
We have also continued holding Meeting periodically at Foxdale Village Retirement Community. Last year we began that practice, and we are continuing to meet there once every three months. This enables members unable to travel, and interested Foxdale residents, to attend Meeting for Worship in a gathering larger than their usual Sunday Foxdale meeting for worship.
Another outreach program occurred during January and February 2014. Quintessential Quakerism (Quakerism 101) was held in three separate sessions. It drew a number of people from Foxdale Village, teachers and parents from State College Friends School, and regular members and attenders of State College Friends Meeting. This resulted in lively discussions on history, testimonies, and general information about Quakerism.
The Meeting also continues to occasionally be blessed with visits of students from Penn State. Some have continued to join in our community and regularly attend Meeting for Worship. They are a welcome addition.
Two other workshops of note at the Meeting over the past year were not intended for outreach. A regional gathering on Quaker ministry was organized and led by Friends General Conference. State College Meeting provided hospitality for ten Friends from throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland and Indiana. The workshop was held at the Meeting and those who attended found it to be a wonderful experience.
Beginning in January 2013, approximately 22 State College Friends and Friends from the PYM Quarter participated in a nine-month spiritual formation process. Five small groups met twice a month: once to discuss readings and once to provide spiritual support. The process was well attended and many participants found great meaning and a strong sense of community.
Another joyous community occasion occurred this winter when Douglas Miller, retired professor of music at Penn State and previous member of our Meeting, came to lead an afternoon of singing with those who were able to stay after potluck. He was accompanied by Ruth Fitz from York Meeting who had previously attended the FGC conference in State College. Some wider community members also attended.
Each year the Meeting community participates with other local churches in bell ringing at Christmas. This raises money for Interfaith Human Services.
Over the past year approximately 25 children have participated in our religious education program. Most of them attended the third annual Black Moshannon State Park family winter weekend in February 2014, with a total of forty people attending. There was general agreement that the beautiful natural setting, complete with fresh snow, created a peaceful and awe-inspiring environment in which to enjoy a time of worship, fellowship, and spiritual renewal. Our First Day School students also presented their annual Christmas play, written by the students themselves, in December as part of meeting for worship held at Foxdale Village, which allowed Friends living there to enjoy it with us. Along with their religious instruction, focusing on Quakerism, the Bible, and God in the world around us, First Day School students have engaged in community service projects, such as raising money for our local housing transitions program for the homeless and for Right Sharing of World Resources. Looking ahead, a long standing clerk who has provided years of dedicated service to RE will be stepping down in May, and two Friends who have been very active in the RE program have agreed to serve as new clerks this year.
Some challenges continue to force us to look for ways to improve our Meeting. Inter-committee communication is one ongoing challenge. With many active committees and attempts to plan onsite and offsite activities, there are times we are confronted with our inability to coordinate everything. We are working on designing checklists and procedures to improve our planning and communication.
Another challenge is interaction with the wider Quaker community. Distance between State College Friends Meeting and other Meetings require a time and financial commitment to visit or attend gatherings. Not many Friends are able to make that commitment so it may sometimes leave us feeling more isolated.
In last year’s Spiritual State of the Meeting we were sad to report a number of deaths of long-time members. This year we are relieved to have fewer losses, though any loss is difficult. In January 2014, Amy Weber passed away at Foxdale Village. She was a long-time Friend and a loving spirit.
Welcoming new members to our Meeting is always a joy. This year Aileen Querry and her daughter Nina Querry-Goncalves joined the meeting. Marjorie Nelson transferred her membership to State College Friends Meeting as well.
Life continues to be busy for many people in the Meeting and this impacts our ability to do the work of the Meeting. We are lucky to have a consistent and dedicated clerk and assistant clerk, Selden Smith and Polly Dunn. Some Meeting committees are functioning well; others are struggling to find the time and ability to commit to their necessary tasks.
Attendance at Business Meeting for Worship has varied. In an attempt to strengthen participation and effectiveness with BMFW, a survey was sent out to determine what influences people’s decisions regarding BMFW. Forty-eight people responded, with a variety of comments that ranged from someone wishing they attended more to those who find it not spiritual or not worthwhile. The Meeting will continue to explore ways to increase participation in Business Meeting.
Meeting for Worship continues to be a time and space to enrich our spirits. The amount of vocal ministry varies and one First Day can be silent worship and the next First Day may have many speakers. The deep thought, prayer, and messages of all provide us with strength and thoughtful meditation.
Conversation goes on long after the end of Meeting for Worship and some people stay to play music after the refreshments are gone. Attendance at once-a-month potlucks is usually robust, and though the food is not always as plentiful as the people, we do manage to feed everyone. On non-potluck Sundays, Judy Melville is still making delicious soup for all of us.
Overall, the life of State College Friends Meeting continues to be active, warm, and caring. We invite everyone to come experience our loving community.
Every monthly Meeting has areas that need improvement and needs that can be difficult to meet. However, State College Friends Meeting continues to be a warm and caring community and a center for spiritual growth.
Two well-attended events in the past year have illustrated this. One was a daylong Spiritual Discernment Workshop. The attendance of 27 people presented an opportunity for spiritual growth and also to create new bonds of understanding with other Meeting members and attenders. In January, a workshop on Spiritual Formations kicked off a nine-month commitment for a Spiritual Formations group and a reading group. Those who attended reported a very valuable experience and a way to form closer bonds with other people who attended from the Meeting and from Upper Susquehanna Quarterly Meeting.
On most Sundays we gather to socialize after Meeting for as long as people wish. One member, Judy Melville, continues to feed us with wonderful soups after worship, and we have the opportunity to spend time together and improve our understanding of each other’s lives. This is a wonderful interlude between worship and the upcoming busy afternoon.
Religious Education focused on making Quaker education more vibrant, and on building community. A highlight of this work was a weekend-long winter camping trip to Black Moshannon attended by 12 families and totaling more than 36 individuals. Family movie nights and participation in community service have been other attempts to build community among young people as a way to make our community stronger.
We have also experienced the loss of several important and dear Friends. Some long-term stalwarts of the Meeting passed on over the past year: Deborah Austin, Raymond Ayoub, Jenifer Goetz, Shirley Tuttle, Carol Tuttle and Russell Tuttle. We also lost some active families who moved away. We miss them and all they brought to our community.
We have been happy to welcome some new members: Elizabeth Skowron, Richard Geiger, Walter Geiger, Owen Geiger, Jessica Clothiaux, Sam Findley, and Kana Findley. Their presence has been a wonderful addition.
The Meeting continues to look for ways to improve outreach and inclusiveness. We are blessed with the presence of Foxdale Village, a Quaker Directed Continuing Care Community. However, it has become more difficult for Foxdale Friends and potential attenders to get to State College Meeting. Last summer, Meeting for Worship was held at Foxdale and response was so positive that Meeting has decided that four times a year, regular Meeting for Worship will be held at Foxdale. Members are welcomed and an invitation is issued for all Foxdale residents interested in attending. The two additional times Meeting has been held at Foxdale have lifted the spirits of us all.
Additional outreach is being planned. The Head of State College Friends School has invited the Meeting to have Meeting for Worship at the school in April. An invitation has been extended to the parents to join us. We all felt that parents would be more likely to try to attend when the Meeting was held in a familiar place. There will also be an opportunity for parents to learn more about Quakerism just before Meeting.
The number of Meeting committees has remained consistent, and filling all those committees with dedicated people has often been difficult. Last year saw the “retirement” of a wonderful long-term Clerk, Gary Fosmire. We are blessed to have people willing to step up as a new Clerk and Assistant Clerk. Selden Smith, as Clerk, has brought energy and new ideas to Business Meeting for Worship. Polly Dunn has been an active and involved Assistant Clerk. Filling other committee positions has not always worked as well. Some committees are complete with active members while others often are asking for assistance.
Care and Concern and Religious Education have begun dialogue about young Friends and their transition to full membership in the Meeting. This has been a difficult subject with strong emotions attached for some members. It will take some time of loving and open communication before an understanding is reached on how best to handle this as a Meeting.
On any given First Day, one could find a small group gathered in worship or a large group filled with families with young children (always a source of joy). State College is a transitory community so at times this is reflected in our religious community. We may have several Penn State students one week, and none the next. Meeting for Worship often feels driven by the spirit no matter how many are present.
How does the Spirit prosper among us?
We continue to have new families and individuals attending. While the end of the Cooperative Playschool was a sad event, the space in our Meeting House has been occupied by a new venture of the State College Friends School, a preschool called the Friends Schoolhouse. Our RE program is well served by enthusiastic teachers. The classes have “interviewed” seasoned Friends as a way for young friends to develop their understanding of what it means to be called “Friend.”
What supports its growth?
We have a large, active meeting. Shared time & activities are among the best ways to support growth of the Spirit. In the past year these have included Quaker Quest, a presentation on “what Quakers believe,” Quakerism 101, the fall gathering at Camp Crystal Lake and painting the meeting room. Friends in the Foxdale retirement community continue to meet at Foxdale. While we miss their weight and seasoned input at meeting, we support them in meeting where they are able. Friends seem to be willing to ask for a committee for clearness in helping them reach decisions in their lives that are rightly ordered going forward. Vocal ministry continues to be spiritually centered. A concern has been raised about the way(s) we grow and nurture both new and experienced speakers of Truth.
How is the presence of the Spirit manifested in our lives individually and as a meeting community?
Meeting members and attenders feel supported in doing the work of the Spirit in a variety of ways. Work has included support for local charities and indigenous people in South America, support for FCNL and environmental initiatives, social justice, and AVP.
How have we recognized and addressed (or failed to address) issues that have caused difficulties among us?
Some Friends perceive that there is an increased willingness to listen and to seek input. Examples are worship sharing with parents to hear concerns related to how meeting can be more welcoming to families, and another meeting to discuss “division of labor” among committees. We continue to struggle with committee (especially clerk) staffing, our budget, getting to know and integrate newcomers into the life of the meeting and the continued passing of Foxdale friends as they follow life’s natural progression. There is a continued need to lead F/friends in growing leaders. We share joys and concerns at the end of silent worship. We have addressed the sharing of graphic or intensely personal matters by cautioning Friends that the children are present and such matters should be shared directly with Care & Concern.