Valley Friends Meeting Interchange Reports
This past fall we reduced our committees from 7 to 5 and are encouraging Friends to take on leadings and responsibilities regardless of committee status. Clerking Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Business is being shared by various members, some of whom are serving in the role for the first time. We are very pleased to welcome four new members, two who have transferred from Milwaukee. The year closed with our traditional candlelight and solstice celebration which included the joy of seeing old Friends who had traveled a long distance to be with us. We were privileged to host FGC/BYM sponsored workshop, Growing Our Meeting. We enjoyed meeting new Friends from across BYM and are discerning ways to implement what we learned.
The charge of reducing or eliminating our Meeting’s carbon footprint is an outgrowth of our Minute on Climate Change and is being led by an ad hoc committee. Having completed an energy audit and sought advice of experts we are at the point of decision making regarding significant expenditures to replace our old oil furnace possibly with a combination heat pumps and a solar panel array.
Following approval of our Minute on Climate Change, Peace & Social Concerns Committee showed the inspirational video, Bidder 70 and participated in a local organization addressing Climate Change in our community. An ad hoc committee, involving input from the whole Meeting is exploring how to best, reduce our VFM “carbon footprint”. One major concern is the high cost, both financially and energy-wise, of maintaining and heating our historic building. The Climate Change Minute also spawned discussion of “Creator,” denoting a dualism or supernatural entity outside of ourselves. As we acknowledged, the writing of the minute was just the beginning. The work, the learning - is ongoing.
Numerous Friends participated in community discussions around a proposal in build a $60 million prison complex asking questions regarding the treatment of prisoners and the high costs of incarceration as compared to alternatives which have not been fully explored.
We recognize that our location in a small town has helped to keep our Meeting, as one Friend put it, “a best kept secret.” We are looking for ways to become more visible to those who are seeking and more available and connected to those who have already found their way to our door.
This winter we began a series of Friends’ sharing the stories of their spiritual journeys. We look forward to continuing these through the spring. The older youth are creating a timeline of “notable” Quakers to eventually include some of our very own.
VFM was privileged to provide a scholarship for Adrien Niyongabo from Barundi to attend the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University. Adrien’s presence enriched our worship and our understanding as he shared of his work with Barundian and Rowandan refugees.
In June several Valley Friends participated in the Interfaith Peace Camp (Christian, Jews and Moslems) attended by about 50 children aged 8-15. One friend was active in leadership while others helped with preparing and serving lunches.
In March we began a long process of creating a minute on Climate Change. The minute was approved August 10. This important work continues as we share the minute and live out our commitments to right relationships with the earth and all its creatures.
In the past months we have experienced a resurgence. We are very pleased to have found a Quaker recipient from Burundi for our scholarship to attend the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University. One of our youth will be teaching the whole Meeting about the peace crane symbol and how to make them. Though small in numbers, our children are vibrant and treasured Meeting participants. One member’s interest in Quaker mysticism and purchase of 11 different Pendle Hill pamphlets on the topic have stirred others to study them as well. We continue to weigh the demands of our old building with how it nurtures us and how we can share it with others. In addition to our ongoing Book Group and Circle of Trust, the building is used by a meditation group and a healing group. Recently we’ve begun a monthly yoga session before Meeting and a once a month game night has brought Friends of all ages together at the Meeting House for fun and fellowship.
Nearly 50 individuals attended our annual corn roast hosted by Sam and Bev Moore on the banks of North River. Following a period of silent worship we recognized those who had graduated and enjoyed a potluck meal and lots of fresh corn on the cob. In addition to boating and kayaking we enjoyed a range of games and fellowship.
Our connections to camp are varied. Shiloh was again the site of our 5th annual retreat. When we arrived we examined the trees we had planted around the pond the previous spring. The steady rain all day Saturday forced our fire circle indoors but spirits were bright despite the restriction. Another smaller group participated in the Shiloh service weekend in October and two devoted Friends serve on the BYM camping board.
Not being able to meet our annual budget ending in August led us into a long process of exploring who we are, what we are about and how the responses to these queries inform our budget and our financial practices. Through discussions, worship sharing and Meetings for Business, we are attempting to come to terms with the expenses and resources of our old building, the loss of several families who have moved from the area, the strengths of our Meeting and the opportunities to share what we have with the wider community.
Our winter candlelight worship and celebration was begun with a scene of a table set with a tea pot and cups, a dim lamp, shoes of many sizes and children dressed from the period when shoemakers played a prominent role among trades people. Martin, the shoemaker awaited the most important guest of Christmas Eve only to be visited by a street sweeper, restless street boys and a poor woman and her shoeless child. Each is welcomed by Martin and treated with dignity and kindness. Each of the various roles were played by one of the Meeting children.
As twilight faded to darkness on the outside, the candles added to the table one-by-one brought a warm, yellow light to the faces of all in attendance. The messages shared were poignant and heartfelt containing reflections of hope, sadness, wisdom, joy, and humor. We closed with the singing of carols followed by refreshments. As children enjoyed the food they were presented with an ornament created especially for each of them by an older member of the Meeting.
In May, Valley Friends sponsored a well-attended public discussion and video based on Parker Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy at the local library. Our book study group had also been reading this book. Saturday movie night and dinner at the Crawford home was a popular monthly event this past spring as was the annual youth camp-in, camp out at the Meeting House. We will all miss the Siderhurst family and wish them well in their new home in Hawaii. Mid-summer VFM hosted 18 Teen Adventure bikers Saturday night and enjoyed their presense with us for worship the next morning.
For the third year in a row, Valley Friends enjoyed a September weekend retreat at the beautiful Shiloh Quaker Camp. Through a multi-generational listening game we gained deeper appreciation for each other. Our traditional s’mores, poetry, storytelling and singing around the campfire brought Saturday evening to a climax. The weather cooperated to allow us one last Meeting for Worship for the season in the beauty of the outdoors.
Three weddings highlighted the fall. We signed and sent wedding congratulations and blessings for two young members both whose weddings took place out of town. The third wedding took place at the Meeting House on the last day of the year and brought together a new family of four.
New committees and officers took effect in September bringing needed change. The wonderful dilemma of having a wider age range of ages of youth has resulted in Religious Education Committee creating three separate groups. We continue to enjoy having the youth spend the last 10-20 minutes in Meeting with the adults. Ministry and Worship is sharing the role of greeter with anyone who is interested in doing so. In an effort to help increase participation at Meetings for Worship with Attention to Business, our new Clerk instituted having food available throughout, has asked each committee to describe their particular responsibilities and goals, and has invited children of all ages to gather in the middle. Alternative child care was also made available. Attendance so far has shown an increase.
Valley Friends are appreciating the sound panels that were erected in our Meeting Room. Older folk have remarked about the improvement in being able to hear spoken messages. We were happy to have the Teen Adventure group from Camp Shiloh spend a night at the Meeting. Our book group and circle of trust group continue to meet for a soup supper Wednesday evenings. The Buddhist Meditation group gathers on Thursday evenings except for the month of August. We were able to aid two students from Kenya attend Eastern Mennonite University’s Summer Peace Building Institute this year. We enjoyed having some of the participants join us for worship. Two of our members work with JMU’s Land Mine Action program and we enjoyed meeting and visiting with several of the attendees from various countries dealing with disarming land mines during a social gathering for the group. The heat of the past two months has encouraged holding Meeting for Worship out of doors under a large oak tree in our neighbor‘s yard on first days. This chance to worship closer to nature has been a pleasure.