Roanoke 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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Especially in these turbulent times, Roanoke and Lynchburg Friends appreciate the centrality of the Meeting in their lives. Friends speak of Meeting as the calm in the storm of life, the place they can simply come and be, an oasis of quiet, a centering piece of their lives, and a well they can come to and be satisfied. We find our spirits restored through that spring of living water, which is the deep individual and corporate connection with Spirit in worship which William Penn called “nourishment and refreshment.”
We are nourished and nurtured through our close and caring spiritual community. One Friend noted the profound communion, love and compassion Meeting members share. Another likened the Meeting community to tribal members gathering around a fire sharing dreams and stories. The community is welcoming to guests and new attenders. It fosters close friendships through the fellowship of Meeting, mid-week worship, the chanting group, connecting during committee meetings, and two ongoing and active Spiritual Formation groups. The joys and sorrows of community life strengthen our bonds. This year brought the joy of new membership and the sorrow of a long-time member’s unexpected death. The latter gave Roanoke and Lynchburg a welcome time of shared community as we planned a memorial service and as we continue to deal with matters relating to the estate.
The close community challenges us. While Roanoke and Lynchburg Meetings lack racial or ethnic diversity (together the groups have only a few people of color as members), we have great spiritual diversity, spanning the belief spectrum from red letter Christians to non-theists and the Quaker spectrum from birthright Friends, to attenders still trying to find their way in Quaker process. Our differences can cause friction. The clerk and members of Ministry and Counsel take their role in fostering the life of the Meeting seriously, holding struggling community members in the Light, finding ways to educate newcomers gently concerning Quaker process and expectations and eldering honestly by speaking uncomfortable truth in love. Deep Religious Education and Pendle Hill pamphlet discussion groups give us the opportunity to appreciate members’ individual spiritual journeys.
We are challenged by the way our members live the testimonies, advocating for peace and justice as an expression of faith. The examples of members who connect with issues and organizations that embody the testimonies serve both as a source of inspiration and as a challenge leading individuals to social action. One member noted a three-page listing of organizations our Meeting supports through Peace and Social justice committee. Members of the Meeting are actively involved in FCNL, the local NAACP, and activities like lobbying, writing letters to the editor and attending marches and demonstrations. Religious Education and Pendle Hill pamphlet discussion have also served to educate members about peace and justice issues and initiatives and to encourage deeper involvement.
Especially at this time of turbulence, Meeting is an eye of calm spiritual presence in the storm. Meeting nurtures challenges and encourages us. It grounds us in what Thomas Kelly called, “an experience of the eternal breaking into time, which transforms all life into a miracle of faith and action.”
Roanoke Monthly Meeting and Lynchburg Indulged under care of Roanoke seem different on the surface. Roanoke is older, established and larger with twenty or more in attendance every week, a mature committee structure and a meetinghouse. Lynchburg Indulged is a small worship group meeting in the living room of the Spiritual Life Center on a college campus. But Meeting for Worship and the Meeting community is at the heart of both.
Friends feel that silence and vocal ministry both nurture the spiritual life of the Meeting. Each worship experience is unique. “Each of us is sometimes more ‘deep’ than others, sometimes more appreciative of silence or vocal ministry, sometimes more moved to speak or not,” one Friend remarked. “The silence is really moving, along with the certainty of one’s contribution being accepted,” added another. “The ocean refuses no river.” Opportunities for worship opportunities like midweek evening worship and monthly chanting sessions in Roanoke enrich options for worship and deepen the weekly Meeting for Worship.
Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Business are worshipful as well. Friends note that Business Meeting has become more worshipful over time. “Meeting for Business is deeper because we consider the queries in a worship-sharing manner,” said one Friend. Another remarked positively on the respect accorded to each person’s contribution during business meeting. The way business is conducted in our meeting shows “It is more important to bring our values out into the world than to conduct ordinary business. This is an example of living in a more worshipful way.”
A mature committee structure is integral to meeting business and the experience of worship and religious education. While committees function well, there is a concern they are under-staffed. Friends note that the maintenance of the Meeting House is a challenge as well as a joy since it requires additional time and energy from individuals and committees as well as added financial resources. Friends hope to see greater diversity within the meeting. There is a concern about an aging membership and the feeling that attracting younger people to the community would bring new energy to all aspects of the meeting including committees.
Our community is consciously engaged with other Meetings, with Blue Ridge Gathering, Yearly Meeting, Friends General Conference, with our communities and with groups devoted to Quaker values. This year we host the Blue Ridge gathering, an opportunity to show other meetings our new Meeting House and to find additional ways to interact together during the year. Many of us travel to Friends General Conference and/or to Baltimore Yearly Meeting every year and renew acquaintance with the wider world of Quakers. Many are very involved with Friends Committee on National Legislation and lobbying. The Peace and Social Justice Committee develops and sponsors thoughtful and heartfelt programs on a wide variety of issues. The Meeting is committed to devote fully one-third of our annual income to causes relating to peace and social justice and many are active in community organizations including the NAACP and Plowshares Peace Center. We hope to expand our programs, especially including programs on racism.
While we face both joys and challenges, we are grounded and inspired by joy: joy in our shared spiritual journey and our caring community. When our faith community feels very much like family, how can we not feel great joy?
Roanoke Monthly Meeting completed the first year in its Meeting House and reflected on the challenges, joys and opportunities of this new stage in the Meeting’s life. “The hard work of finding this place is bearing fruit,” commented one Friend. “A building with no life is now alive. People working in harmony made it happen.”
The challenge of supporting the Meeting through caretaking and stewardship is outweighed by many joys. Having a permanent space lends support for spiritually enriching experiences like the regular chanting ministry, Pendle Hill pamphlet discussions, and the fall retreat as well as for deeper fellowship. A twelve-step group using the building is one way the Meeting can offer a resource to the community. We hope to become more deeply involved in our neighborhood as we increase our visibility in the community.
Projecting into the future, Friends hope this new stage will bring continued growth. Friends said, “People are hungry for what we have, this way of being in the world, with God, with each other. Our heightened visibility makes us easier to find. There are people in Roanoke who want what we have to offer. We hide our light under a bushel.” Many are pleased with the diversity the Meeting already encompasses although there is sentiment that diversity can be improved. One Friend described the Meeting as a garden with a wide variety of plants to be nurtured, each with different needs. Another said Meeting is like a bird feeder. The meeting puts out the seeds and the birds come. Some note that “We can’t be all things to all people. When we try to be, we risk losing our center.” It is important that the Meeting not only actively welcome newcomers, but that it lets newcomers unfamiliar with Quaker practice know what to expect and what is expected. The Meeting especially looks forward to welcoming young people and families with children and to growing a large and dynamic First Day School. Referring to “The Guest House,” a poem by Rumi, one Friend said, “May we be a truer and truer guest house welcoming the spirit who comes in many guises – in all manner of people and all manner of emotions and experiences.”
The Meeting also hopes for more engagement with other meetings and with the wider Quaker community. Ties between Roanoke and Lynchburg worship groups have deepened as Lynchburg, while still small in numbers, has gained in stability of members and attenders. Lynchburg Friends are members of the Roanoke/Lynchburg Committee structure and Lynchburg’s discussion after worship has used Pendle Hill Pamphlets and other resources recommended and used by Roanoke’s adult religious education to enrich sharing. Roanoke and Lynchburg have shared activities, planning a fall retreat together and enjoying social time at the Christmas party. Both Lynchburg and Roanoke hosted visiting friends from other Meetings. Roanoke Meeting members attended an FCNL event and participate regularly in regional and national committees and events like the Blue Ridge Gathering. “There is so much wisdom out there among friends that it would benefit us to have more contact,” one Friend remarked.
Worship remains at the core of the Meeting’s experience. The worship experience is bottomlessly deep. One Friend invoked an elevator image to describe worship. “We enter this deep space from where we are. We are gradually filled and moved into an ever deeper connection.” Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business also brings those who attend to a deeper place as participants bring the intention to be in worship and open to the Spirit’s guidance. Those who attend Meeting for Business regularly see their participation as integral to their identity as Quakers who participate fully in the life of the meeting. While lower attendance at Meeting for Business could be a sign of strength and trust in our process on the part of Friends who don’t come, greater attendance would deepen the life of the Meeting.
The past year has been significant for Roanoke Monthly Meeting as the long search for a meetinghouse reached fruition. Roanoke Friends reflected on the Meeting’s new physical space as an “at homeness” symbolic of the Meeting’s level of maturity and commitment. One Friend remarked, “We’ve been walking on a journey for 30 years – we finally bought a used minivan.”
In addition to the excitement, new energy and joyful spirit the new space brings, there is a realization that the space brings with it responsibilities. The concern that responsibilities of ownership could cause members to focus too much energy on maintenance is balanced by the hope that new obligations will help the Meeting continue to grow in an awareness of our accountability to each other as members of the same household. This core sense of home is not limited to Friends in Roanoke. Lynchburg Indulged Meeting under care of Roanoke has attended events in the new space and feels much more closely connected to Friends in Roanoke as a result.
Our core sense of home is grounded in worship and the life of the spirit that supports the Meeting. There is wisdom and spiritual nourishment in the silence, and spoken messages confirm and deepen our beliefs and support us in our spiritual journeys. We gain strength, support and comfort from the Meeting community. All are engaged in an honest search for truth. There is acceptance of members for who they are and where they are on their path. That everyone is searching together is a gravitational pull to keep us coming back. Although we occasionally struggle when confronted with divergent truths, we are learning to listen in love, seeing gifts in the differing ways we communicate and striving to create a community in which all are loved and respected.
The new meetinghouse provides us an opportunity for further development and growth. Friends would like to see a more diverse Meeting community that includes more children and youth. Having a physical space creates the opportunity to deepen our understanding of each other, to create community through personal sharing, and to have more and more opportunities to know each other in that which is eternal.
Our inner city environment allows us to work cooperatively with urban congregations and non-profit organizations in the city. We can have more connection and sharing with the community in which our new home is located. Basing social action in the wider world in our spiritual space erases the false distinction between faith and practice and secular and religious activism, so we can act from a place of wholeness.
As of this writing, the Roanoke Meeting is in the process of purchasing a building that fits the Meeting’s needs. Finding our own Meetinghouse has been a long but positive journey for our spiritual community. The Meetinghouse search has given Friends an opportunity to put Quaker process into practice, strengthening and unifying the community in a common direction and goal. The Meetinghouse will give Friends visibility in the wider Roanoke Valley community and show, as one Friend remarked, that we are serious about being an important presence in the community. This past year Roanoke Meeting also hosted a Quaker Quest event that was well attended by Friends from Roanoke, Lynchburg, and a few from Maury River. This event further energized the Meeting’s desire for community visibility.
This search for a property has been undergirded by the love and trust shared by members and attenders of the Meeting. At the State of the Meeting discussion, those present described members and attenders as warm, accepting, compassionate, non-judgmental, genuine and respectful of each other. This love and trust is manifested in worship, committee work, social gatherings and service to each other and to the wider community. These experiences create in many of us a longing for more: more time together outside of Sunday mornings, more opportunities to hear one another’s stories, more young families with children, more intergenerational sharing, more service. It is our hope that the new Meetinghouse will help us move toward this vision of a more vibrant, more deeply connected community.
We witness to our Quaker faith corporately and individually through service to our own and the wider community. The Meeting does not have a formal Committee of Care; however, those in need of care are identified for outreach by Ministry and Counsel. There is a sense among members and attenders that the Meeting is there for those in need or in crisis when support is needed. Friends in Roanoke and Lynchburg also support a large variety of social programs through direct volunteer activity and through the Meeting’s budget. One-third of our operating budget is dedicated to Peace and Social Justice projects, a commitment which has allowed us to accomplish a great deal.
While we are separated by distance from Baltimore Yearly Meeting and Friends General Conference, we have members serving on BYM and FGC committees, and one who works for the camping program. These ties, along with our hosting traveling Friends, help to connect us with the wider Quaker community as does our participation in the regional, yearly Blue Ridge Gathering.
State of the Meeting discussions in Lynchburg and Roanoke ended with the question, “If you had to choose a metaphor to describe your experience of Meeting, what would it be and why?” Here is a sampling of the responses:
- Our Meeting is like a big house, with lots of different people living in it. The residents love and respect each other even though they may be very different from each other.
- We are a way station in the wilderness.
- The Meeting is a watering hole that satisfies a deep thirst and draws many different animals from miles around.
- The Meeting is a swimming pool where when one person is swimming it is somewhat mystical. When a team is in the pool, it is full of life and energy. The pool is simply there, for all to use in the way and time that fills their needs.
- Each of us is a book. Out in the world, one often has little time to do anything except glance at the cover. Here we can learn what is inside the cover.
- Meeting for worship is like a quiet walk in the woods. It’s always interesting and sometimes there are wonderful surprises.
How does the Spirit prosper among us? How does our Meeting ensure that ministry is nurtured, and that members and attenders are cared for?
During Meeting for Worship, we settle into a deep sense of presence and listening. The peaceful quietness means so much in this hectic-paced world, opening a space in which we hope to hear what the Spirit may speak to us through the ministry of another or in our own hearts. Messages less from the head than the heart are moving and often build on each other.
We have had discussions about vocal ministry in adult religious education following meeting for worship. We nurture the meeting and vocal ministry by building a spiritually grounded and caring community. We want to know each other better, to support each other both personally and in developing and using the individual gifts of ministry that each has. A spirit of openness, helpfulness, and welcoming envelopes all. Friendliness sparkles in the fellowship that follows worship. Our growing numbers and supportive atmosphere reflect a prospering collective spirit.
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?
Our desire to listen deeply for Spirit’s leadings as we consider business in the context of worship opens us to spiritual growth both personally and as a Meeting. These Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Business are well attended, even by new attenders.
The active participation of so many on committees supports the life of the meeting. The scope and effectiveness of our various committees is impressive. Working with each other through the Quaker process in our committees enriches our community's growth in the Spirit.
Our meeting has been searching for a Meeting House or land to build one on. We have not yet found a dwelling that meets our needs. This search is taking a long time but the process has helped us develop as a meeting community.
At least for the present, we face no major troubles. Our Meeting is very much in unity with caring, tranquility and vitality prevailing, thanks in no small measure to effective shepherding by our Meeting Clerk and committee clerks.
How is the presence of Spirit manifested in our lives, individually and as a meeting community?
Service and community are manifestations of Spirit in action. Thanks to an effective committee structure, we are able to serve both our individual members in need of material or emotional support and the wider community through a variety of ways including service projects and public witness through vigils and letters to the editor.
We are intentional in offering opportunities for fellowship and spiritual development. We offer children's programming during adult worship every Sunday. Children are present during the opening and closing minutes of adult worship and occasionally offer vocal ministry, which is welcomed by the Meeting. We have adult religious education every month and have instituted a regular Pendle Hill pamphlet discussion. Smaller groups within the Meeting participate in Bible study, book discussions, potluck meals, sharing on Quaker topics, and spiritual formation. Members from our community together attended Godly Play training at Pendle Hill this year, and we have made the commitment to host Quaker Quest in the near future. Our religious education committee is a place not only for planning and evaluating programming but also for bonding among young parents in the Meeting. Our Meeting also contributes one third of our budget to the outside world. During 2012 we donated to 34 agencies and programs, Quaker and non-Quaker, which are witnessing to peace and social justice or are providing for basic needs.
How can we learn to welcome those in our Meeting with different concepts of God and find ways to support one another on our spiritual journey?
Our Meeting is open to many ways of seeing God. We have tried during the last year to provide opportunities for all to tell their stories so that we may learn from each other by listening, rather than by attempting to correct, refute or convert. We feel it is critical that all feel listened to and respected. We do not have a monopoly on the Light, though we are led to share the Light we do have which we know to be abundant and transforming. Although not a large meeting, we do have a broad theological scope including members who are traditional Christian believers, those who identify as agnostic, and many gradations between. While this diversity can bring challenges, it also makes for a rich tapestry of views grounded in our core belief: there is that of God in everyone.
Roanoke Monthly Meeting and Lynchburg Indulged Meeting
Approved February 19, 2012
1. How does the Spirit prosper among you?
Evidence of the Spirit prospering among us is seen when regular attenders continue to return. Evidence is seen in the quality of both the silence and the messages that are given during the Meetings for Worship. There is a worshipful manner among us that continues during Meetings for Worship with Attention to Business each month, and during committee meetings and service projects. Evidence is also seen in our process of long-term planning and saving for a meetinghouse that will allow us to attract more individuals searching for a spiritual home. We see evidence of the Spirit when comfort and joy seem to settle upon us whenever we gather.
Our Meetings for Worship offer spiritual refreshment for those who attend, and many deeply grounded messages are shared. We are becoming more clearly grounded in Quaker process, which has nourished deep listening and patience toward one another when we have met to consider business. The small size of our Meeting helps us to know each other better. When we send out rays of love, we aspire to gentle generosity and simple compassion. A spirit of trust allows space for us to be who we are, and to accept others in the same manner.
Where there is love, there is God.
2. What supports the growth of the Spirit in our lives?
The growth of the Spirit in our lives is grounded in our conviction that all begins and ends in shared silence and in our being touched occasionally by ministries and moments of focused concern for each other. Attending Meeting for Worship, sharing our responses to readings and queries, and participating in Quaker gatherings, like our book group, enable us to be more attentive to the Spirit.
Involvement in committee work can be especially nourishing for one’s spiritual journey, and supports the growth of the Spirit in our lives. Those of us who participate in this work find it a valuable part of our own worship. Personal spiritual practices also support some members’ and attenders’ spiritual growth.
Learning from the good examples and witnessing of others, sharing our difficulties as we live in non-violence in the midst of a violent and often hostile world, and experiencing the courage to face darkness or discord when it arises all support the growth of the Spirit in our lives.
3. How is the presence of the Spirit manifested in our lives individually and as a Meeting community?
One Friend states that individual manifestations of the Spirit are often fleeting, “but as I learn to slow down to see and hear the Spirit, I am reminded that I am a part of Spirit, whether I am distracted and unaware, or whether I am feeling my place within Spirit. Within the community, the Spirit speaks through words and inflections of caring love.”
Another feels the presence of Spirit individually manifested “when I am able to be present… open and trusting in difficult times, and when I feel the joy of communion with family and friends…”
Another person says, “I hope my own responses to people and situations in my daily life manifest the presence of Spirit. The more deeply grounded I am, through my prayer practices and spiritual reading, the more I believe I am able to allow Spirit to work through me. I think our day-to-day interactions with others are the most significant reflections of Spirit’s effect upon our lives.”
When we show concern, and when we give time and resources to others, we express our belief in “that of God in all of us.” As a community, Spirit is manifested in how we care for one another, in how we enjoy not only our worshiping together, but also when we break bread together, sing together, visit one another, hike together, and share our joys and sorrows.
4. How do we as a Meeting appear to ourselves and to others, and how do we wish to be seen?
Our Meeting has been growing slowly. We are sensitive to the need to preserve our closeness and to support each other. We are working toward a greater presence in the larger community. As one Friend states, “We wish to be more widely known and of greater numbers, thus enriching the collective Spirit and allowing for a more significant role as we serve the common good.”
We would like our growth to include young people, especially young families with children. We want to be a Meeting of caring and love in which everyone can feel welcome and find a place among us. Through our Peace and Social Justice work, we are supportive of sisters and brothers in the wider world. We are committed to core values as embodied in our testimonies. May we approximate ever more closely this ideal.
5. How have we recognized and addressed (or failed to address) issues that have caused difficulties among us?
Overall, this year has been one of general peace and goodwill within the Meeting. Many friends have commented on how nourishing and helpful they have found their association with our Meeting to be. We have addressed as sensitively as possible the issues that have come to our attention.
Under the guidance of the Clerk, the Meeting has gradually reached unity on the matter of seeking a Meeting home. The search for a home of our own is being conducted in a careful manner. Our Meetinghouse Committee has helped us move along with their thorough research and frequent reporting to the Meeting. The opportunity arose to purchase benches from the Dunnings Creek Meeting in southern Pennsylvania. Our decision to buy the benches could have been divisive, but we were sensitive to one another and came to unity.
All in all, our Meeting has much to celebrate as we try to live our lives in openness to the Spirit.