Midlothian Friends Meeting Interchange Reports
We are seeing positive changes in our community and have held recent spiritual nurture sessions on the work of FCNL, advice on being a committee clerk, and on participating in prison visitations. Besides ongoing work with the Thrifty Quaker to provide monthly monetary, clothing, and furniture donations to local non-profit organizations, MFM also opened its doors to the BYM Junior Young Friends to provide a safe, secure setting for their March weekend conference. The Meeting is also raising funds for much needed repairs to the Meeting House roof which includes the addition of a porch to start this Spring. MFM has moved toward Universal Accessibility to make it easier for anyone who may wish to come to Meeting. The porch is the last phase of that project.
Midlothian Friends Meeting continues our quest to simplify the operation of our Meeting. We are content to allow the Spirit to show us the way forward in love and gentleness. In keeping with our 2012 Spiritual State of the Meeting report, we are heeding our communal leading to stop asking Friends to do things: to be on this committee or that, to meet a particular financial goal, to sign-up to teach First Day School.
Instead, at the end of 2013 we hired First Day School teachers, so parents are able to be present in worship. We began 2014 by putting a “freeze” on filling our committees in order to give the Spirit a chance to take us where it would have us go. We met the challenge of financial shortfalls during 2013 by just sitting together in silence. We trust that if we simply provide a place of spiritual nurture and refreshment, way will open.
With the busyness of our Meeting purposely laid aside, way is indeed opening in a number of respects. For example, due to a long-time Friend’s leading, we have reinstituted our Meeting for Nurture. It gathers once a month after worship, where for one hour Friends discuss various practices and issues related to Quakerism. We are actively doing outreach for these monthly sessions by utilizing our Meeting’s two thrift stores to invite the public. Between Friends from Meeting and friends from the public, we are attracting nearly two dozen participants. Quite a lot for our small Meeting! Finally, our spiritual sharing (called Circle of Friends) continues every Sunday for 30 minutes before commencement of Meeting for Worship. Circle of Friends started early in 2013, and is well attended every First Day by the adults in Meeting. Further, we have received a generous grant of $3,000 from the FGC’s Friends Meeting House Fund to assist us in financing our Meetinghouse’s Handicap Accessibility Project. We also are accumulating funds for our roof replacement, which may be assisted by the removal of several diseased trees that endanger the security of our Meeting House should they fall during a storm or other natural event.
With the decrease in the number of “standing” committees, we have found the Spirit leading us to utilize the whole meeting community to address the spiritual, communal, and financial issues that arise. We believe that this more “committee of the whole” Quaker process resembles the process used by very early Friends and works quite well for our small Meeting. After an individual Friend brings forth a leading or concern, our Meeting Clerk uses Quaker process to guide us toward a unified way forward. Consequently, we are finding during our Meetings for Business that silence is more consistently utilized as an essential part of our Quaker process. Once a sense of Meeting emerges, Friends are eager to offer their talents to Meeting. Such offers may be in the form of an individual Friend taking action with Meeting’s approval; or it may be several Friends offering to serve on an ad-hoc committee with the result being brought back to Meeting for Business with a proposal for Meeting’s consideration.
Participation in Worship has more than doubled over the last few months, and Meeting for Business is now well attended. We feel that the spiritual and physical growth of our Meeting is rebounding and are hopeful that it will continue. Perhaps Friends are more aware that each individual’s participation is very important to our Meeting’s viability and that Meeting is evolving into a place of Worship with no strings attached; a community where spiritual refreshment and listening to the Spirit are at our core.
During 2013 Midlothian Friends have been discerning together how we might simplify the operation of our Meeting in order to lessen activities that are not essential to our core purposes: worship and community. Simplicity led us earlier this year to streamline our finances by eliminating multiple bank accounts, increasing the transparency of our financial state, and reconstituting our financial committee to be more effective. We have also changed the bylaws for the two charities under our care, so that redundant financial activities between the charities and the Meeting have been eliminated. Through a seasoned process of discernment regarding our religious education program we have come to realize that we need to provide a simple grounding of a consistent teacher who will then be supported by our RE committee and the adults at Meeting. To ensure this consistency, the Meeting has decided try hiring young adult friend or two as teachers for our dozen or so children for our twice monthly First Day School.
We are also making efforts to encourage a more simplistic approach for the care of Friends who are in need, rather than relying on a Care committee to formally handle all of the needs of Friends. For example, at the end of worship each Sunday and during a silent time at our monthly business meeting, we are now taking time to discretely reflect upon those among us who may have a need for support; and we are arranging the necessary coordination at that time. In addition, we utilize our e-mail distribution list to make sure all Friends are aware of situations where a Friend would like our support. Numerous Friends are enthusiastically stepping forward to provide care and support.
We are eager to see where this simplification process takes us in the coming months; but already, a hopeful Spirit and natural energy is manifesting itself among us as participation increases in our weekly worship and adult religious education program. The Spirit is indeed present among us.
Finally, our year-long experiment with conducting our Meeting for Business on the Second First Day as part of our worship has been successful. The support for this idea has been demonstrated with increased attendance at our Meeting for Worship with Intention for Business. There is often true worship sharing taking place more regularly.
Midlothian held an Open House for Friends and the community to celebrate the completion of the Meeting House and grounds renovation. It was a four year process starting with the kitchen and ending with the worship room, and included everything in between while also establishing trails and outdoor meeting spaces on our 4 wooded acres. All funding, materials, and labor were donated by Midlothian Friends.
We launched an expansion of one of our two Meeting sponsored charities: Friend$hare. We opened a Friend$hare boutique next to our already established store, The Thrifty Quaker (TQ). The new store, is also a thrift store but it displays and sells higher-end items. The additional funding from sales at the new Friend$hare store will allow us to support many more area families who are in dire financial need. The Quilting and Handiwork “Friendly Eight” continues into its 2nd year and is now an inter-generational gathering of Friends ranging in age from early teens to active elders. Meeting monthly at the Meeting House for 3 hours of fun, food and fellowship, their current projects are patchwork potholders to donated to Friend$hare.
Our Financial Stewardship committee has been streamlining our finances and accounting with the goal to simplify things so that Friends are better able to understand our financial condition while minimizing the effort required from the treasurer. Finally, our Spiritual Nurture Committee has started a weekly adult RE session before worship each Sunday to consider and discuss a spiritual passage for just 30 minutes.
The two charities under the care of Midlothian Friends Meeting, The Thrifty Quaker and FriendShare, continue to fulfill their missions beyond our expectations. Over the last 3 months about $10,000 has been raised by the Meeting’s thrift store, The Thrifty Quaker, and given primarily to local charities. Additionally, about $40,000 worth of household goods and clothing have been given away to those in need. Due to its continued good work, the store is held in high esteem by the Midlothian community. Over the last year, our Meeting’s QUAKER (outreach) committee has started to utilize the public witness of the store as a setting to provide the general public with information about Quakers. This effort has brought us new attenders at our Meeting. FriendShare had its annual fund drive during the end of 2011, raising about $12,000 for its work of providing one-time financial assistance to non-Quakers. FriendShare partners with private and governmental social services efforts to assist recipients to end their cycle of poverty, violence, or addiction.
Our Meeting thoroughly enjoyed hosting the BYM Junior Young Friends for their December conference at our Meeting House. We have a comfortable wooded location that is easily accessible with lots of outdoor spaces and nature activities to occupy any visiting group. We really enjoy sharing our Meeting House and grounds with other Quakers. We hope to see other groups in the future.
The renovation of our Meeting House continues due to gifts of money, time, and talent from Friends. The Meeting House has recently been painted, and a troublesome and damaged extra large glass sliding door has recently been replaced. We are now exploring the replacement of the old, stained worship room carpet, and the removal of very large dead trees from near our Meeting House and RE building.
The Meeting community has been making an effort to re-energize our commitment to our Quaker values and process, and the spiritual community we have built over the last 25 years. A gradual, significant decline in participation within the Meeting, including the decline of children in our RE program, had resulted in a loss of energy and sense of community for a number of Friends. This has required some honest soul-searching as individuals and as a group–not an easy process. We are committed to continue with this spiritual process in faith that we will heal each other and our spiritual community. Although we have lost the presence of some dear Friends over the last few years, we have also been blessed with many new Friends who are bringing us enthusiasm, wisdom, and a fresh spiritual awareness as we all go through this process together. We are hopeful that those we’ve lost will rejoin us - we miss them! We are beginning the New Year with a renewed sense of community, a gradual increase in worship attendance, and new approaches in how we practice our Quaker faith.
Midlothian Meeting has two legally chartered charities under its care: The Thrifty Quaker and FriendShare. The Thrifty Quaker generates funds for mostly local causes by selling thrift items at a store in the heart of Midlothian village. Donations and sales have decreased significantly due to the economy. Despite this, during 2011 the Thrifty Quaker has been able to generate nearly $10,000 for under-privileged children, animal rescue groups, homeless and poor families, and peace organizations; as well as provide free of charge clothing and household items to many people in need.
FriendShare is a type of community chest fund available to non-Quakers that provides one-time financial assistance to pay utility bills, clothing, medical services, housing costs, transportation, educational costs, and childcare. During 2011, FriendShare has provided $7,500 to nearly 30 individuals in need. Fourteen of these were refugee children from the Congo who have settled in the Richmond area. The upcoming annual fund drive for FriendShare will be held again in November.
Over the last few years, Midlothian Friends Meeting has experienced a gradual decline in attendance at worship and Meeting events. In response, the Care and Community Committee has encouraged the formation of a number of Friendly Eights to help Friends become better acquainted. In October, the committee will be sponsoring an event at the Clearing retreat center in Amelia County to provide a leisurely opportunity for Friends to join together in fun.
Finally, Midlothian Friends gathered on April 30 for the annual Gathering for Clearness. As a central part of this day, Friends shared a meal, held a worship sharing, and responded to a series of queries about the spiritual life of our community. Friends who attended found this to be an enriching day that deepened our sense of connection and spiritual community.