Midlothian 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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Midlothian Friends Meeting continues to be a small, vibrant Meeting led by the Spirit and guided by the ideals of equality and the importance of nurturing each individual.
- We work to create a feeling of inclusiveness, warmth, and love in everything we do.
- We believe that unity in the Spirit is most important. We de-emphasize control and structure. For example, membership in the Religious Society of Friends is not a prerequisite to any position or committee, nor do we have a facing bench or designated elders.
- We concentrate on the wisdom, love, and gifts each of us has to share, regardless of a person’s background or how long they have attended Meeting.
- We try to keep things “open and real”, sharing both our joys and the difficulties we all face in life.
In 2014 we continued to be led to grow spiritually. In addition to our vibrant Meeting for Worship, we have found that small, focused groups with ample opportunity for Friends to express themselves also provide for spiritual growth. For example, one of our seasoned Friends hosts a “Circle of Friends” spiritual discussion group for 30 minutes before Meeting for Worship.
Peace and Social Action
Our Peace and Social Action committee grew in membership, and was drawn to social action as an outgrowth of our spiritual leadings. For example, once a month they sponsored “Meeting for Nurture”, after Meeting for Worship, on topics such as unitive justice, values clarification, and FCNL. These have proven sustainable and rewarding.
We are fortunate to have a thrift store launched by the Meeting that provides significant funds to the greater community as directed by our Peace and Social Action committee. The Thrifty Quaker made cash gifts of close to $17,000 to twelve individual charities in 2014, and contributed about $160,000 through the donation of excess goods, clothing, and household items to individuals in need and other local thrift stores.
Our Friend$hare program is also affiliated with the thrift store, and is designed to provide emergency financial aid to individuals outside the Meeting. In 2014 it donated about $4500 to 20 individuals.
Religious Education for children
We cherish our children, and recognize our responsibility to provide for their growth within the spiritual reach of our arms.
We made some changes in 2014 which we think have strengthened the RE program and also conserved our energy.
- We offer formal RE on the second and fourth Sundays.
- We set out to hire two teachers, and we were fortunate to have two former Young Friends come forward. They both work with children professionally, and have brought renewed interest and excitement to our classes.
- We encourage Young Friends to sit in worship with the adults.
De-emphasis on formal structures
We did an informal survey of the Meeting in 2014 that turned up a discomforting trend: people would attend for a while, become involved, and then burn out, pleading “don’t put me on a committee again”. So we strove to be flexible, and de-emphasize a large, formal committee structure in favor of more ad-hoc requests and individual callings.
One simple example is the person who closes Meeting for Worship. We struggled to find a role or person to do that on a regular basis. So now we let the Spirit move whoever feels called to close, using a slip of paper with directions that we put on the mantle in the meeting room.
Signs are that this is improving attendance and teaching us to rely more on the Spirit.
Buildings and Grounds
Our Buildings and Grounds committee spent much of their energy in 2014 on providing universal access and maintaining our meeting house. The Meeting house improvements were Spirit led, and drew us together as a community.
We improved access to the meetinghouse considerably in 2014 and into 2015. We now have a concrete walkway from the parking lot that rolls straight into the building. In addition, we combined the need to replace our roof with the addition of a front porch, which provides an 8’ deep portico across the whole building. The porch features rocking chairs and benches that promote lingering at Meeting.
Repairs to the meetinghouse
The small building we purchased in 2002 is now about 30 years old, and consequently we have had to devote money, time, and energy to renovating and maintaining it. Fortunately we learned the value of a home warranty program, which has saved us some money on necessary repairs.
Our repairs, universal access improvements, and the four acre wooded area around the Meetinghouse seem inviting to visitors while serving our needs. As one Friend put it, “Now it looks like a real meetinghouse”.
We have begun the process of ensuring the permanence of Meeting by transitioning critical positions to younger Friends. For example, we added four younger Friends as trustees of Meeting.
Overall attendance at regular Meeting for Worship over the last five years has increased, although the number on a particular Sunday varies. We have some Friends who financially support Meeting while attending infrequently. It seems that people want Meeting to be there even if they don’t always attend.
We remain a small Meeting with few financial reserves. In 2014 we had to slash our budget to just the absolute necessities like the mortgage, utilities, and insurance. Fortunately our Meeting digs deep for large specific projects or tasks. That and a grant from FGC helped us provide universal access.
On May 3rd, 2014, Midlothian Friends Meeting met at our meetinghouse in Powhatan, Virginia for our annual Gathering for Clearness. Through worship sharing, we responded to queries to explore our spiritual community. These queries fell into five areas of reflection.
Spiritual and Emotional Safety
Midlothian Friends Meeting offers a sense of safety which arises out of our gathered silence. The lack of labeling and proselytizing allows the community to include attenders of many different backgrounds and beliefs. The increasing diversity we have seen develop over the years can only emerge out of a safe environment. One area of opportunity, however, is in our written communication. We must remember to allow all forms of interaction to be worshipful by receiving the ideas and feelings of others with acceptance. One Friend noted that filtering communication & framing statements without judgment are areas of personal struggle. Some members feel they aren’t searching for anything, and that path is accepted by the community. They are glad that Midlothian Friends Meeting allows them to attend and just “be.”
Fulfilling the Needs of Spiritual Life
As our lives have become increasingly busier over the decades, expectant waiting has become more important. Our spiritual need for silence is as important as our physical need for food, sleep & exercise. The distractions of everyday life make it hard to experience silence outside of meeting for worship. Gathering together in worship changes the quality of the silence and the accessibility of the spirit. This gathered silence allows for direct communication with the spirit, which our members find better meets their needs than a designated minister. This communion with the spirit is available to anyone who wishes to attend meeting – it’s not necessary to identify oneself as a Quaker. The lack of a creed has increased our diversity, allowing the expression of many different ideas and beliefs, and Friends find they learn from this variety of ministry. Of course, our spiritual life isn’t just the meeting, our spiritual life IS our life. The meeting and testimonies give us strength to express the Spirit in our everyday lives. We are supported in this by the energy of our local spiritual community, as well as the Baltimore Yearly Meeting visitors, which have given us a connection with the wider Quaker community.
Promoting Testimonies through Religious Education
Midlothian Friends Meeting fosters the spirit for a lifetime. For us, religious education isn’t just something that happens in another room for 45 minutes during worship. The entire meeting, with all of its interactions, is religious education. Every member is involved. Our children speak wisdom, and we listen. In a world where children are told simply “do this,” it is our responsibility to help them recognize their individual talents and the value of those talents. Adults who grew up in this meeting are a reflection of the influence that this Meeting and the testimonies have on children. One member notes that his children have become kind, loving adults and believes this is a direct result of their time as Young Friends in MFM. Recently, an adult who grew up in the meeting, chose to pursue a masters degree in public policy, and a teenage Friend received a college scholarship for an entry on Quakerism. The children raised in this meeting carry the testimonies forward into the world.
Promoting Social Justice and Outreach
Rather than aligning ourselves with particular political persuasions, Midlothian Friends Meeting made a conscious effort to focus on the Quaker testimonies. Sometimes, however, we are called to exercise our responsibilities as citizens. When we feel the actions of our leadership are an affront to the testimonies, we “let our life speak” by taking a stand to give a voice to the voiceless. A few in our community find that the term “social justice” itself has too many political connotations, but appreciate that Quakerism allows for thoughts that challenge the status quo. We ask ourselves, “Do I avoid partisan concerns and rhetoric?” Friends recognize that laws have moral consequences, and just as Quakers before us, we must stay active and engaged in the decisions of our government. Midlothian Friends Meeting has begun questioning what social justice means to us, and in what ways we are reaching out to those in need. We are searching for ways in which the Thrifty Quaker, a thrift store supported by the meeting, can provide even more support to our surrounding community. One Friend is pondering why they are willing to invite friends to social activities but not to attend meeting. They feel we should reach out to include people who may find our meeting meaningful.
Our children are also engaged in outreach efforts. A few teens participated in a walk-out from their Richmond school to participate in a march on city hall. Even though their own school is in good repair, they were moved to protest the poor physical conditions of many public city schools. Giving a voice to the voiceless is an important aim of Midlothian Friends Meeting.
Impact of Meeting on Personal Life
Midlothian Friends Meetings has impacted the lives of members, attenders, and the wider community. We have enjoyed new attenders recently, which has given us a renewed sense of hope and energy. Because we welcome seekers of all spiritual persuasions, the diversity of our meeting has increased. The Friendly Eights interest groups enjoy attendance by both Quakers and non-Quakers. While we don’t push, we would be pleased to see any of these people attend meeting. The responsibility of committee participation and holding positions within our meeting has helped some people live the Quaker values because they are more active with the community.
No report received.
This year, Religious Education was changed from being held every week to being held only on the second and fourth First Days of each month. This was intended to support the RE teachers.
Beginning in March 2012, Meeting initiated a pilot to hold Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business during the worship hour. So far, we have had two healthy business meetings manifest the spirit among us. Friends have had encouraging words following this new time for business meeting and participation has been increased.
Friends expressed the desire to keep the spirit alive in worship because it is the web, the interconnectedness, the synapse to each of us and what connects us. We all acknowledge the spirit in each of us. The spirit prospers with silence and our respect for silence. We are not afraid of the silence and waiting on the spirit. What supports the growth of the spirit is the desire to have it grow within us. Recognizing spirit within us and have it reflected back, is what our worship offers. Worship often doesn’t have immediate results, but we notice over time that we are more loving and gentle. There is a sense of being open and vulnerable to hearing what God has to tell us.
Friends have shared about walking up to the Meeting House and feeling a presence of spirit and of the people who have come before us and are there now. When Friends come to Quaker meeting they feel as if they can acknowledge the spirit within and feel support for their spiritual journeys.
Friends were affected by the loss of members who left Meeting recently as well as in previous years. There was concern that the Meeting did not respond effectively to the needs of these individuals who were struggling. We acknowledge that the hurt is still present among us, but that we are working through it as a community by reaching out to absent members, by being honest and personal with each other, and by staying connected to the wider Quaker community.
Friends shared that during the past year some challenges were not addressed using Quaker process. Although we regret the resulting turmoil, we hope we have a deeper sense of spirit and resolve to bring ourselves back to silence and appreciating the Quaker Way by following the leadings of the spirit.
At the same time, Friends among us feel Meeting has been a tremendous blessing in their lives and encourage us to look to the future. Some Friends expressed that being a Quaker, and being part of this community, had made them better people, and provided a template for how to treat people. We are a community moving toward spiritual development and renewal.
The “busy-ness” of life and demands on our personal time may have affected attendance. As expressed by one Friend, the silence of Worship provides an opportunity to slow down.
Submitted by MFM Spiritual Nurture Committee