Charlottesville 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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Ministry and Worship Committee of Charlottesville Monthly Meeting invited the Meeting to consider and comment on two queries in preparation for writing our annual report on the spiritual state of the Charlottesville Friends Meeting (CFM). We gathered during the Connections hour on February 4, 2018 and observed several moments of silence.
Then Laura Lockledge, Clerk of Ministry and Worship, read aloud a paragraph from our 2016 report:
After the November 2016 elections the meeting opened the meeting room for silent worship on several days. There have been more newcomers at Meetings for Worship than usual. As the current political climate challenges us to action, some feel there is an implicit distraction in this work. It is increasingly hard to let the Spirit rise as political ugliness has become so prominent. The tension between actions and an attempt to live a centered life challenges many. We need to try to balance action with silence and contemplation.
There was immediate vocal response. “Second verse, same as the first,” said one Friend, referring to the folk tradition of songs which repeat themselves changing only the number of the verses. Charlottesville has more than once during this past year found itself at the epicenter of powerful struggles that are rocking the nation. Last year’s political ugliness has become “a little bit louder and a little bit worse!” to finish the folk refrain. Provocation and response in Charlottesville has been witnessed around the globe. The very name of the city has at times been used as a symbol of racial strife and resistance.
The Meeting attempted to address the challenge identified in 2016 of balancing action and contemplation. Several people from the Meeting attended the Women’s March in Washington, DC on January 21, 2017. Some have become actively engaged with the issue of new leadership on the City Council. Members have participated in events sponsored or supported by the Charlottesville Clergy Collective throughout the year as well as joining other activist groups such as Indivisible.
During a lengthy and well attended process the Meeting declared itself ready to become a sanctuary congregation. Leaders of all ages carried this proposal through its many stages of dialogue with state and national sanctuary movement leaders, discussion with local individuals and organizations, historical research and a look at the legal implications of providing sanctuary, and not least, the decision to install a shower in the Meetinghouse (a prerequisite for housing anyone). The Meeting has not been called to provide sanctuary for anyone as of this writing, but the shower installation has helped establish a welcoming environment for the homeless women the Meeting houses in coordination with PACEM for two weeks in January, and reminds Friends that we are ready to shelter refugees when called upon.
On August 12, 2017, Quakers from CFM and other friends were present in two of the downtown parks and witnessed first-hand much of what was seen in countless videos across the internet. Wearing blue Quaker T-shirts as a silent means of identification, Friends from the Meeting worshipped in Justice Park, and were joined by others from the crowd. Some from the Meeting worked in the medic tents in McGuffey Park, helping many and gratefully receiving replenishment supplies from Friends outside the park. Quakers were quietly present in crowds that surged and retrenched, marched and in some cases, fled.
In these endeavors and others, including Friendly Circles and leadings to examine racial issues through various forums, there was attention both to the urgency to action and the unfolding of Way through contemplation. First Day School had stronger participation this year and the Junior Young Friends was re-energized as well. We were able to support leadings of all kinds and meditate on what it means to put faith into action. Attendance at both Early and Later Meeting increased in 2017. Several times during the year the meetinghouse was open for special worship with attention towards the contentious environment we find ourselves in.
We considered our second query of this session:
How did the Meeting enrich your spiritual life in 2017?
A Friend quoted Brother Lawrence’s premise that one should practice the presence of God in all that one does as a way of holding continuum between the spiritual and temporal life. Another Friend asked, “Who will take up a concern that a Friend has laid down?” Friends enumerated a number of ways that Meeting in 2017 addressed that question. We reflected on good action and follow-through in various areas of endeavor through the year.
One Friend found Connections, the First Day adult discussion, better attended than any time in the past few years and commented that the Bible study sessions had been particularly lively and enriching. Some Friends described as novel and empowering the opportunity to re-examine the faiths in which they were raised, and to examine their own beliefs about those teachings. Others spoke of Meeting in 2017 as a solid rock, an anchor in a difficult time, or a center in the midst of turmoil.
Quakerism 101 was presented as in prior years to favorable feedback. Committees seemed to be maturing, doing a better job of simply taking care of business. Fewer things were falling through the cracks.
Attendance at both Early and Later meetings for worship, as well as at Connections, is steady in numbers and it was expressed that Friends find this provided a strengthening both of community and of worship. The experience of being surrounded by familiar faces was itself an experience of community. Vocal ministry contributed to this sense and deepened our worship. There was much talk in town about the need to find and grow community, and Friends expressed the feeling that at Meeting we were in community already.
On August 12th, against the backdrop of turmoil and violence in our city, we held a long-planned celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of two long-time members. More than one Friend felt the clouds lift as we rejoiced in love. Friends agreed that the meeting had had great parties during the year and that friendships that originated in Meeting often continued to blossom outside Meeting.
Friends reflected on what we might have done better or further in 2017. For instance, Friends noted that early worship hour was very quiet in the last months of the year. Is there something that inhibits vocal ministry in some way? Are there undercurrents felt but not spoken? Conversely, Friends also expressed concern that education might be in order to clarify what is appropriate as vocal ministry and what is more pragmatic in nature and should be addressed at other times.
One Friend asked, “do we have hubris as a meeting?” responding to the hour of reflection on the spiritual state of the meeting eliciting a decidedly rosy picture of CFM. Do Friends believe we can fix things that do at other times destabilize the Meeting? Did Friends see the hand of the Almighty in the work the meeting had accomplished? Did Friends recognize that love through practical action could be an expression of faith for those who are not comfortable with verbal articulation of faith or abstract examinations of the same?
Friends wanted to express appreciation for the communications from other Meetings after August 11-12th events in Charlottesville. They were healing and supportive and are gratefully received.
We ended the hour with a period of silence.
A group met during our Connections Hour 2.12.2017 to consider the Spiritual State of Charlottesville Friends Meeting in 2016. Below are two queries from Baltimore Yearly Meeting that the group considered and the responses they elicited.
How does your Meeting nurture the spiritual life of members and attenders?
There is good structural support so that almost everything we do as a Meeting nurtures the Spirit. These include Friendly Circle interest groups; potlucks; support committees; the work of Overseers Committee; committee work and our Connections Hour. The Waking Up White study group has helped members stay true to the life each one tries to live. Outreach to sick and homebound Friends is another helpful support.
Meetings for Worship provide a community connection. Silence is our center, which allows us a way to shed our outer worries and consider the Spirit.
What troubles and challenges are you facing?
After the November 2016 elections the Meeting opened the meeting room for silent worship on several days. There have been more newcomers at Meetings for Worship than usual. As the current political climate challenges us to action, some feel there is an implicit distraction in this work. It is increasingly hard to let the Spirit rise as political ugliness has become so prominent. The tension between actions and an attempt to live a centered life challenges many. We need to try to balance action with silence and contemplation.
Our outreach to newcomers is inadequate. Those new to Quakerism are especially baffled by our practices. In 2016 we offered a successful Quakerism 101 class that met several times but in less formal settings we often leave newcomers to figure things out. We are not good at explaining what activities and opportunities we offer. We do not always succeed in making newcomers feel welcome.
Some feel that the moment of silence we call for at the beginning and end of committee meetings or other gatherings is sometimes pro-forma. The Men’s Group values the extended silence at the beginning and ending of each meeting, which might offer a better approach.
We are an aging Meeting and many of our committees have few if any members under 50. Older members need to make way for younger Quakers to take leadership roles. We need to continue to find ways to integrate the generations, taking into consideration the needs and values of younger adults and children.
A Friend asked why so few people attended this discussion. Does it mean those who didn’t come aren’t interested in the topic?
There are many more women than men active in the Meeting, which prompted the question of whether there is something about Quakerism that does not speak to men. Rarely if ever do men sign up to provide snacks for attenders of Meeting for Business. Can we change this imbalance?
We continue to ask questions about how we can do better as a meeting. Are we open to the new? Do our traditions support us or ossify us? Our Meeting community is like a family, sometimes working well as a unit and other times being divided. Our Meeting experiences its ups and downs.
The call to sit together in expectant waiting is what guides us and offers a way forward.
Interested Friends met on February 28, and March 20, 2016, to consider the spiritual state of the Charlottesville Friends Meeting, guided by queries from Baltimore Yearly Meeting. Friends view our meeting as healthy. The two worship hours each First Day, which are the spiritual core of our Meeting, are nurturing and "deep." We try to hold Meetings for Business in a worshipful manner, and are perhaps as successful as is reasonable to expect.
During 2015 we had specific opportunities to learn of one another’s spiritual lives and beliefs during programs on individual spiritual journeys in "Connections," (the gathering between the two worship hours), a weekend retreat held at Camp Shiloh, and our Friendly Circles interest groups. We greatly value such opportunities.
There are areas of tension in the Meeting, offering opportunities to "see what love brings" as we allow the Spirit to move. Friends noted some tensions that have arisen around how to address what feels to be a growing number of newcomers. We have tried to renew our commitment to welcome newcomers, being mindful to provide them with friendly contact and information. We have also established a Communications Committee to address the need for information both for potential new attenders and for those who have long attended our Meeting.
We find that tension also arises over issues of race and class. We have been blessed by the activities of one member whose leading inspired us to offer the film "I'm Not Racist, Am I?" to the Charlottesville community. This work continues. Some friends express concern around issues of economic privilege as we seek to clarify our relationship with Tandem Friends School of Charlottesville. A member offered a Friendly Circle, which continues, on this topic.
The Meeting also has challenges over how best to foster the spiritual growth of our children. We struggle to find ways to keep preteens and teens engaged in the Meeting. One of our deepest hopes is that our young people will find a continued home in the Meeting as they grow into adulthood.
Many Charlottesville Friends are active in BYM and FGC, and find themselves and the Meeting enriched by this participation. However, few of us have met with nearby Quakers in Virginia. Meeting outreach to our immediate community is largely left to individuals with particular leadings. For 2015, these included welcoming Syrian refugees, and engaging with the community immediately around our Meeting House. In November Charlottesville Friends invited neighbors to join us for a potluck. The Meeting comes together as a whole to help house homeless women in PACEM, an inter-congregational effort in the Charlottesville area.
Many of the areas mentioned above describe the joys and challenges of living in community. Living well in community is an act of the Spirit; listening for the Spirit within and nurturing its growth in our individual lives is a more subtle process. We continue to look for ways to foster both these inward and outward leadings.
Ministry and Worship committee currently consists of Hank Schutz, (recording clerk) Elizabeth Shillue, Dave Lockledge, Joyce Hillstrom, and Judy Cahill (clerk).
We met to consider the spiritual state of the Charlottesville Friends Meeting, with an initial focus on the Meetings for Worship, including Business Meetings. There were many favorable expressions from Friends, suggesting a "healthy" spiritual state. Several reported feeling enriched by the worship and our community, and another that our meeting is a source of spiritual comfort. Regarding Business Meeting and referring to some discord we have experienced, a Friend opined that there was a "healing spirit amongst us that is quite welcome”.
A number of concerns were raised. One friend felt that we are not forthright enough in talking about how we are affected by the spirit. Another spoke of several years of discontent (but recently ameliorated) arising from her inability to discern that we are all seeking and serious about religion. Some friends feel that we are tending towards formalizing our practices and becoming too church-like. And there are those among us who feel a need for more clear, consistent, and effective processes. Sometimes our Business Meeting seems to disrespect the result of committee work and dwell on our deficiencies and problems rather than a search for unity.
Many of us feel that it is largely through participation in activities outside of worship that we are able to get to know others within the Meeting. These activities include Friendly Circles, committee work, helping with PACEM (a local coalition of religious groups housing homeless people during the coldest months) and work days. While, in general, there is a sense amongst us that we need to continually stretch ourselves in order to assure that newcomers are welcomed and included in our community, we are (for the most part) comfortable with how we are handling this concern. An area where some are feeling less comfortable is around the question of whether our channels of communications are effective.
Most of us long for a greater diversity. This is a challenge for our Meeting and numerous others. However, we are fortunate to have diversity in several areas: age, family structure, gender, sexual orientation, and philosophy. Our quest for diversity requires us to diligently reach out to new attendees and welcome them warmly.
We value our youth and hope that the way is clear for them to lead Quaker lives. This includes a path to membership in the Meeting. How we handle youth membership is unclear at the moment. Our Meeting is blessed with many children who are served by a dedicated group of Friends offering religious education. This year the Meeting laid down first day school for the teens in favor of a youth fellowship. We will continue to seek ways to support and guide the older youth within our meeting community. We are also unclear with our relationship with Tandem Friends School and our obligation to the spiritual life of Tandem students. Currently a few of our members are joining students and faculty for weekly midday worship. In addition there is a Tandem liaison, representatives to their spiritual life committee, and two of our members are school Trustees.
The meeting as a whole engaged in only a few projects related to social issues. However, there was much individual initiative among members. For some, our worship provided the needed focus to live the testimonies through social activism. Others believe that corporate activism detracts from our Meeting's attention to spiritual nourishment. Yet others make no distinction between spiritual life and practical witness.
Our Meetings for Worship continue to be the spiritual center of the life of the Meeting and are often held in a spirit of expectant waiting and communion with the divine. Early and late First Day worship sessions, as well as mid-week meetings for worship, are usually spiritually enriching varying from silent to rich in vocal ministry. We treasure the silence and engage in a continual discernment process regarding when to speak, what constitutes a message and when to preserve the silence.
In worship we seek leadings of the spirit. Such leadings inspire friends to reach out, both individually and corporately, to those in need. Some friends are also led to work to improve the social order. We feel nurtured by our spiritual community. Friends have reported feeling transformed by worship while others say they practice faithfulness by attending even in the absence of transformative experiences. “It strengthens me to be among people who have faith and are seeking”, commented one Friend.
We have room for growth in our meetings for business. Sometimes we seek divine guidance together but at other times we try to persuade others rather than seeking the truth. We can be unwilling to speak what can be uncomfortable or unpleasant. Friends are concerned that some meetings for business felt rushed while others seem to drag on endlessly, with deep divisions not always acknowledged or healed.
At times there was tension among the expectations of individuals, committees, and the Meeting as a whole; a few friends experienced this tension as unloving or disrespectful. Some Friends lost trust in the meeting’s ability to live the Quaker way. We need greater clarity about the relationship between committees and Meeting for Business and the process to follow when we lack unity. Friends have spoken clearly about the need for continuing education about Quaker process; we must learn to listen to one another.
Our Meeting offers numerous opportunities beyond Meeting for Worship to deepen relationships and for spiritual growth. Committees form part of the core of spiritual experience in the Meeting. We value the opportunity for getting to know each other at a deeper level, spiritually and interpersonally.
The year 2013 highlighted the need for mindfulness in our practice of Quaker process, including the need to speak our understanding of truth, to listen deeply and to take the time needed for discernment. We are heartened that we have started to identify some of our problems and we are open to change and committed to healing. We have begun to take steps to correct our course.
Our Meetings for Worship continue to be the spiritual center of the life of the Meeting and are often held in a spirit of expectant waiting and communion with the divine. Both early and late worship sessions are usually spiritually enriching, varying from silent to rich in vocal ministry. We treasure the silence and engage in a continual discernment process regarding when to speak, what constitutes a message, and when to preserve the silence.
Meeting for Business has been regularly well attended, with about thirty Friends. Meeting decisions were implemented appropriately. However, we have encountered challenges this year. Meeting ran into difficulty when there was tension among the expectations of individuals, committees, and the Meeting as a whole. Some Friends lost trust in the Meeting’s ability to live the Quaker way. We need greater clarity about the relationship between committees and Meeting for Business, and the process to follow when we lack unity. By year’s end, we had begun to actively explore these issues as a community, and we continue the work at this time. Members have spoken clearly about the need for continuing education about Quaker process, and we seek to rededicate ourselves to it.
Committees form part of the core of spiritual experience in the Meeting. Members value the opportunity for getting to know other Friends at a deeper level, spiritually and interpersonally. We grow through participation, although this may be uncomfortable at times. Other activities, such as the spiritual formation group and the “Connections” hour between the worship hours, provided similar opportunities for deeper relationships and spiritual growth.
Our Meeting community continues to strive to seek truth and to address our failings. Our experiences this year have highlighted the need for mindfulness in our practice of Quaker process, including the need to speak our understanding of truth, to listen deeply to others, and to take the time needed for discernment. We entered 2013 more aware of our yearning for the divine, desiring to know each other in that which is eternal.
We are most grateful for the Spirit’s presence among us this year. We experienced this presence through acts of kindness, through the humility and forbearance needed to work through difficulties together, through gathered Meetings for Worship, and through intense but prayerful Meetings for Worship with a concern for Business.
This year, much spiritual energy was expended in laboring with a Friend who was excluded from Meeting activities due to incidents of aggression. The Meeting deepened in prayerful consideration as we struggled with finding a way to support this Friend. We tried to settle differences among us in a loving way. We grew in our value for worship as we recognized the need to protect both our Friend and our Meeting. By the end of the year there was growing unity that removing this Friend from membership was the only way forward. As we labored with this issue, we experienced a variety of emotions, personally and corporately, including sadness and a sense of failure based in an awareness of our limitations.
The presence of the community in our lives, through our Meetings, Friendly Circles, committees, and outreach, supports our individual spiritual lives. Our Quaker endeavors outside Meeting for Worship deepen our worship together, while at the same time the Spirit manifest in Worship informs our outreach as a community. The spiritual lives of those participating in the Religious Education program have been enriched through a Friend’s leading, which has resulted in the implementation of the “Playing in the Light” curriculum, and a focus on engaging teens, whose attendance has increased. The Meeting continues to serve the wider community by offering a safe space for a wide variety of groups to meet. The spiritual lives of some Friends were enriched through their relationships with the wider Quaker community, including Quaker camps, Pendle Hill, Baltimore Yearly Meeting and Friends General Conference.
Friends were sustained by our Meetings for Worship. In addition to our two regular First Day Meetings, increased opportunities for worship came with the addition of mid-week and extended two-hour Meetings. Vocal ministry was rich and sustaining. We continue to encourage Friends to be open to all vocal ministry.
We have been reminded this year that conflict offers an opportunity to listen carefully and deeply to one another and to the Spirit. In asking "what would love have us do?" we learned the necessity of waiting for Way to open.
Appendix: list of activities and outreach
Early, Late, Mid-Week and Extended Meetings for Worship and Meetings for Healing
Religious Education for children
Connections (weekly adult religious education)
Providing a caring presence for a beloved elder of the community to accompany her on her journey from this life
Friendly Circles, including Spiritual Formation
Community outreach, including work with PACEM (homeless ministry) and IMPACT (community organizing)
Neighborhood outreach with the Rose Hill Neighborhood Association, including a neighborhood Halloween activity and a Saturday Spring Festival in the park.
Expansion of our webpage as outreach to the wider community
Financial support for many organizations, such as food banks, African American Teaching Fellows, Offender Aid and Restoration, and a training program for trauma healing in Burundi.
Support for Tandem Friends School, including the spiritual life group
A partial list of groups using our Meeting House includes:
On Our Own (mental health)
Gift of Hope (support group for women released from prison)
PFLAG (parents and friends of lesbian and gays)
Dialogue on Race
Dances for Universal Peace