Valley 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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Using a process which allowed for wide participation and gave opportunity for Friends to hear each other and to reflect on what was offered in different settings, Valley Friends began this report by holding a worship sharing session, followed a week later by table discussions of individual questions at a Friendly meal. Notes were taken at both sessions and compiled for this report.
Joys expressed were varied, and often reflected both on worship and on leadings of the Spirit. We are in unity in our commitment to environmental stewardship. Friends spoke of seeing new faces drop in to share worship, being with others in developing a spiritual practice, engaging in a community of shared values and being part of a group bound together by shared testimonies. We celebrated our children’s participation in meeting life. In our meeting we feel cared for, and care for one another.
Leadings were many, particularly concerning the environment and teaching peace. We continued actively working toward reducing our carbon footprint by replacing the oil heat system in preparation for installation of solar panels. Our gardens have been redesigned to encompass sustainability. Many Friends enjoyed making peace cranes together and later distributing them as a public witness.
Reflection on the nurture and depth of worship included appreciation for the Spiritual Deepening sessions offered. A Friend stated, “After six months, I am more connected than I thought. Words heard in Meeting for Worship resonated with me a lot; there is light among us.” Guidance provided by queries was recognized as a unique way of opening to the light. Some found that the number of people participating in worship had an important effect on their worship experience. Meetings with Concern for Business were held in a spirit of worship.
As a Meeting, we reached out to the wider community with a commitment to making our events inclusive to more people including children, young adults and neighbors. Some events were a Dance of Peace, peace witness at a local fall festival, volunteering at a food pantry, sing-along, game night, hosting a climate change concert and evening candlelight holiday worship. Sponsorship of a scholarship to Eastern Mennonite University’s Summer Peace Building Institute (SPI) gave us the opportunity to be in direct relationship with SPI members.
Friends responded to the climate of division in the country bringing their pain, fear and doubts to Meeting. Many of us found ourselves joining in public witness.
We continued to explore our ongoing concern about the words Meeting might use to refer to the sacred, divine, light, or the mystery, especially when used in public documents.
Friends remember Virginia Harris and Samuel Johnson and the gifts they brought to our community. Samuel Johnson’s memorial was held at the Eastern Mennonite High School in August. We are working with Virginia’s daughter, Leslie Harris, to plan a celebration Virginia’s life at our meetinghouse in August, 2018.
We are grateful for those among us who have given generously of their time and talents to our community; serving as teachers and friends to young Friends, committee members and clerks, gardeners, caretakers, greeters and generally dependable Friends. We also recognize the many contributions of those who serve as representatives to Quaker and other organizations that further our reach.
The spirit in Valley Friends Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends is strong, the community small and growing.
A final quote, “Just because we look small doesn’t mean we can’t do valuable things.”
Friends experienced joy and spiritual nourishment during fellowship and through worship, with time to think, to pray and to receive vocal ministry. Some Friends particularly noted ongoing events held at the Meeting house and special sessions that followed worship as having been beneficial, but felt that we needed to have delved deeper into issues of spirit as well as to have had opportunity to learn more about Quaker practices and history.
The community became more aware of our Meeting’s presence through our open house held during a local festival attended by thousands. From our festival booth we distributed peace cranes bearing our name and a message of peace. Across the year visitors frequently attended for a day or several weeks and even asked to receive the newsletter. We rejoice with those who have continued with their presence although most have not. We acknowledge that we still have much to learn and we seek to become more intentional regarding our welcoming and receiving of visitors and newcomers.
Clearly the participation of our children contributed to the richness of our Meeting. We have long realized that in order for those who regularly attend to have a peer group, we must become more faithful in offering programs that better serve and attract additional youth and their families.
During the past year we have shared the role of Meeting Clerk among several individuals as no single person had accepted the position. While there is value in sharing the role, the lack of continuity has sometimes distracted us from worship while conducting business. Other details requiring leadership were occasionally unattended. We acknowledge that the restructuring and the limitations of some committees in carrying out the work of the Meeting resulted in part from our collective busy-ness and indicate a need for refinement or possibly radical alteration of our structure in order to better attend to our mission.
Two actions dominated our efforts toward peace and justice. First, we again provided a scholarship to the Summer Peace Building Institute at Eastern Mennonite U. Interactions with the peace maker, a Pakistani Muslim, made us more aware of the varied challenges of working for peace, Second, guided by our Minute on Climate Change, “... dedicated to peace, justice, and right relationships: with the divine presence; with fellow human beings, with fellow creatures, and with the earth,” VFM committed a tremendous amount of time, energy and money in the realization of phase one - a new energy efficient heating and air conditioning system. Plans for phase two, the installation of solar panels to offset the electricity demands, are underway.
Beyond the efforts listed above, Friends were committed individually to a wide range of initiatives involving justice and peace work locally and elsewhere. Meeting Friends also worked tirelessly on behalf of BYM camping programs and contributed in a variety of leadership roles to the work of FGC. For all of these gifts of service, we are grateful.
Valley Friends Meeting found spiritual nourishment in a variety of contexts provided by our meeting. Friends connected with each other, and to the Light, through the gathered stillness and through vocal messages in worship.
Many Friends reported on their spiritual journeys during adult RE providing us insights into how others had come to live out their lives as Friends. Meeting was an anchor for many of us even on those weeks when we were not physically present.
We were challenged to make our Meeting’s presence and message more visible in the community, and to be more fully present and welcoming to visitors and newcomers. Guided by the Growing Our Meeting workshop and accompanying materials, we have begun to take concrete steps in this direction.
We are grateful for the faithfulness of the families and young people who attend and deeply miss our friends who have moved away during the past year. We continue to seek to include more youth and young adults in our meeting. We rejoice that this year four Friends have requested and have been welcomed as members. Several VFM also participated in worship with the Augusta Worship Group and we welcome their participation in our Meeting as well.
Using our Minute on Climate Change as our challenge, we are moving forward.
While our VFM community has enjoyed a rich fellowship we seek to become more attuned to one another.
Friends describe finding a sense of comfort, quiet, and restoration in worship, and a depth and power in the corporate experience. We accept one another's diversity of spiritual understanding yet are still united as Friends. The desire for depth and communion in unbroken silence and the desire for connection through vocal ministry out of the silence continue to co-exist. Each week our doors open to whomever will enter, the room fills up with a unique silence and, as many visitors tell us, the true spiritual state of our meeting is there to be experienced.
How Friends prepare for Meeting for Worship; how we engage in corporate worship; and how we open to encounters with the Spirit are issues coming into focus. We desire to help our children better understand worship and to make their participation more meaningful.
Friends and attenders feel welcomed. Sharing food together and work projects were key factors in building closeness. We held our sixth annual weekend retreat at camp Shiloh and our annual corn roast along North River. Friends recalled the summer pool gatherings at one home as meaningful not only for connecting but valuable time to reflect on queries Some regret that we have had fewer social opportunities at the Meeting House and at Friend's homes than in the past.
We welcomed new Friends including young adults who, bring fresh energy. We have felt the loss of valued Friends and families who have moved away. We continue to seek guidance in knowing how to best reach those who no longer attend while respecting individual choice. While Friends acknowledge the value of diversity in our group, we continue to be fairly homogenous. We wish to make our existence more widely known and connect to those who represent a broader diversity. Many of our members are very active in the larger community.
We are grateful for the presence of young children in our Meeting. Children’s RE is offered regularly with a rich variety of experiences. The small size of our Meeting particularly affects families, making it hard for children to forge friendships with other youth, and parents serving as teachers of their own children may miss regular attendance in Meeting for Worship. Adult Religious Education can be hard for parents to attend as we have no regular child care available
Out of an individual leading, some Friends embarked on a study of mysticism. Using Pendle Hill pamphlets we deepened our understanding of mysticism in the Friends' tradition. We have made an effort to share the lives of historic Quakers with the children and to share our personal journeys with one another. During the year a number of people used clearness committees to explore leadings and found these to be meaningful. Friends were led to consider the issue of Climate Change more deeply. A committee wrote a Minute on Climate Change and involved the Meeting in learning more about the issue. We found unity in the Climate Change Minute and are moving forward into action.
Valley Friends designates contact persons and representatives to BYM and other Friends organizations. In addition several Friends serve extensively in FGC, with Camp Shiloh, and BYM. We are enriched by their gifts and contributions. Individuals are also involved in Quakers and Business forum and Augusta Worship Group. Several of us also join in the BYM Women’s retreat. Although the Augusta worship group is 'under the care' of Valley Friends, we note with regret that we have done little to engage the group as a whole. We feel the need to address how involved as a Meeting we are with the wider world of Friends, particularly in the sense of identifying as ‘part of’ that larger world.
We sponsored a Quaker from Burundi at the Summer Peace Building Institute of Eastern Mennonite University. This is one way we make a substantive contribution to the wider world. We were enriched as he was able to worship with us and present his work to Meeting. The use of our building by a variety of other groups reaches beyond the boundaries of our Meeting to the wider community. In this way we give to the community by sharing our space when we have limited time and financial resources. We actively supported an Interfaith Peace Camp. We shared our Minute on Climate Change with the wider community and it was received with enthusiasm.
We continue to have difficulty meeting our budget until the last minute, but we feel if we are firm in our intentions, a way will open.
We acknowledge our weaknesses. We rejoice in that which continues to bring us together and to reward our communion.
As we gathered to reflect on the Spiritual State of the Meeting something emerged which seemed newly alive. In general, Friends spoke of Meeting as an anchor, an important touchstone in their lives - a time to encounter depth, quiet, respite, an encounter with the Light Within, the Inward Teacher. Friends felt this experience is carried into the outer world, informing our daily life.
We spoke of our Meeting community as a place where we feel welcome to express ourselves, feel at home and valuable. Friends value the sense that each person is free to seek their Truth in community. We also continue to feel a tension as expressed in other years. Some value the universality they experience at Meeting, as a place to follow their own Light, even perhaps with little concern for Friends’ identity and practice. Some spoke to a wish to know and share more fully one’s own Truth. Other voices spoke of wanting to have expressed a deeper knowledge of Friends rich tradition and a fuller living into our practice as Friends.
We have done well in further developing a sense of community through traditional events, small groups, second hours, committee work, social activities and reaching out to one another individually.
We are grateful for dedicated First Day teachers and our small group of lively youngsters. We are concerned that we have less to offer older young Friends and young adults. What are we offering as Friends and as Valley Friends Meeting that would make Quakerism relevant to young people and also those who no longer attend?
Many in our Meeting are deeply involved in work to build a better world either through our jobs, involvement in the wider world of Friends, or volunteer and community work. Some have the feeling we should be doing more as a Meeting, but we are small and our members busy. We would like to better recognize what we’re doing already and celebrate and grow what we do.
This past year found us with a significant budget shortfall. Our financial constraints lead us to consider responses to a query: “How can we develop a more spiritually healthy meeting?” This conversation was the catalyst that has initiated an ongoing discernment process reevaluating the life of our meeting. We have confidence that answering this question will allow us to become fiscally healthy.
We are aware that our community membership is in transition. A number of friends and families who have been central in the life of our Meeting have moved or are moving away. We have also been blessed to welcome new people to the life of Meeting. They bring talents and new energy at an exciting time in the spiritual life of our Meeting.
No report received.
Valley Friends Meeting continues to change and grow. We find that we are deepening in the Spirit through worship and in fellowship. By learning more about our Quaker heritage and practice and by sharing our understanding and experience of the Divine, we create deeper space for our individual spiritual growth. We are working toward a shared sense of the Meeting for Worship, seeking to expand our ability to listen to one another, and to Spirit while maintaining respect for diversity of spiritual experience. We acknowledge that seeking is an ongoing process to which we each are committed.
We note that this year has brought changes in our business practice. Meetings for Worship with Attention to Business are deeply grounded in worship, welcoming and communal. There has been a renewed emphasis on the fact that this is a unique and important part of our life as Quakers. Committee work provides a rich and meaningful manifestation of worship. Committee meetings provide an opportunity to practice Quaker beliefs and to experience Spirit as much as does First Day worship. We see our faith in practice.
For several years we have sought to strengthen our sense of community, recognizing that if we are to know one another in that which is eternal, we must connect with one another in the day-to-day. We have been richly rewarded by giving attention to forging social connections and creating times for mutual support outside Meeting for Worship. Through in-depth interviews in the newsletter, we have gotten to know more about one other. Friends experiencing transitions in their lives have found they can depend on the Meeting community for support and assistance—spiritual and material. We are called to support one another tenderly and lovingly as we travel our individual journeys. We seek to encourage one another to be authentic and to know that we are valued for who we are as well as for what we do. We are practicing listening deeply to one another. We know the importance of follow-through to maintain connections with one another through our committee structure as well as individually; we want to assure a safety net to hold the connections in place.
We are blessed by the presence of our children. Over the past several years our First Day School has grown, with dedicated teachers (both parents and other Meeting Friends) and a more coherent curriculum. Our children feel connected to the Meeting and to those Friends who have spent time looking with them through a dedicated Quaker lens at the Bible and at how IT can be relevant to our lives today. These relationships are deep, mutually satisfying and inspiring of spiritual growth.
We see our growth over the past year. As we create a firmer foundation in our own worship and build greater connections with one another, we feel an impetus to reach out to the community beyond our Meeting. We wish to share the good news of Quaker faith and practice and to be welcoming and available to those who may seek us. We wish to be a presence in the community known for works, which are Love made manifest. We seek to understand how to support those who have been part of the Meeting and who no longer attend regularly or at all. We want to help friends learn how to listen more deeply to and be guided more regularly by the Spirit. There continues to be an unmet longing among us for group singing connected with worship. In addition, we continue to feel a deep yearning for a unifying calling which will underpin our action in the world as a group.
ADDENDUM TO State of Society Report, 1/11 – 12/11
Valley Friends has had an active year. We have been particularly focused on community building.
Both Meeting for Worship with attention to business and second hours have seen broad attendance and we particularly rejoice with the participation of our children and youth.
Food has expanded from our monthly pot-lucks to being part of the start of business meeting and many 2nd hours. A blanket with art materials spread in the middle of the circle has blessed us with the presence of coloring children during adult deliberations.
Business items have been wide ranging and focused on time to reflect on particular topics limiting the more ‘nuts and bolts’ committee reports.
2nd Hours have been varied and generally well attended. Some topics have been: Environmental concerns, immigration, Friends spiritual practice, and fun.
Young Friends Activities. We are blessed with a vibrant group of young friends. Young Friends took part in Bowl for Kids to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters. They presented a playlet at the annual Christmas Candlelight celebration. In the fall they began an exploration of the Bible starting with the Old Testament. Young friends with their families were a vibrant part in the Meeting fall retreat. Meeting sponsored a young friend to go to Friends Summer camp. Often some Friends attended performances of our youth in the broader community.
Some young friends took part in the “Inter Faith” Peace camp at EMU taught by some attending meeting.
Traditions: We continued to celebrate the year’s cycle together with cherished traditional gatherings: An end of summer corn roast down by the river, pool parties at one home, pot lucks, small group hikes, and a candle light celebration in December w/ children’s play.
Many of us were able to come together in our 4th annual fall retreat (3rd overnight at camp Shiloh.) This was Again all ages were included in all events.
We continued to offer a Wednesday evening gathering at the Meeting house preceded by a simple supper. This alternates with a Book Group reflecting on varied choices and a ‘Circle of Trust’ which is a place to share about one’s spiritual journey. These are regularly attended by small but faithful groups.
Finance and Property: Meeting installed sound panels in the large meeting room and had an unexpected expense to ameliorate a basement flooding. Friends continued to gather for work days, though at times not as well attended as might be hoped.
Peace and Social Concerns: A number of second hours were presented on pertinent topics. A frugal meal was held with money donated to go to a local Food bank and Right Sharing of World Resources. Meeting continues to offer for sale environmental cleaning items.
Newsletter: Meeting continued to be connected through our vital monthly newsletter including meaningful interviews with members and attenders.
Passages: Meeting rejoiced over the birth of Phineas Allder Stephens to a sojourning family and several other grandchildren of members and attenders.
We celebrated the marriage of two attenders held in the manner of friends at the Meeting house on the last day of the year. We noted with gladness the separate marriages of two young adult friends away from Meeting.