Williamsburg 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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What are your greatest joys as a Meeting? What leadings does your Meeting feel most strongly? What challenges and troubles are you facing? In what ways is the Meeting less than you might wish it to be?
Our greatest joys as a Meeting include the sense of community, the love, and support, and intimacy of our group. Our closely-knit Meeting acts as a guiding lifeline in a storm - the eye of the hurricane providing a safe, secure, and quiet stillness in the midst of the modern American experience. Although built around our Meeting for Worship, gatherings such as potlucks and social events also affirm our Meeting’s life. Many feel that Meeting is one of the most important things in their lives.
The Williamsburg Friends are large in spirit, which is expressed in both our group and individual leadings. As a group, we have supported food drives, prepared meals for a local women's shelter and Habitat for Humanity, and have written occasional letters to the editor. However, the true and overwhelming presence of the Spirit is manifested in our individual lives as love, clarity of thought, and a desire to be of service. Friends carry the strength from Meeting into their weeks. It guides them in their meaningful work, nourishes them as they serve others, and leads them to peace in situations of conflict and difficulty. The majority of individuals within our group have selected career paths, and frequently engage in volunteer opportunities, that exemplify Quaker values. The desire to be of service to others is a core leading for most of us, and is reflected in our daily lives.
Our main challenges stem from the smallness of our Meeting and fluctuating attendance. The small size promotes intimacy, but it means that a few people shoulder many jobs and can dampen our enthusiasm for gathering. Our ability to perform outreach, systematically attend to newcomers, and provide spiritual support is limited by our physical and material limitations. At times we do not meet our budget, and this is a concern.
Countering the pluses of our small, close community, some feel that currently the Meeting is a small and fraying piece of fabric; each thread is loved, but the sense of unity seems thin. The fatigue of Meeting is, at times, palpable. The Meeting has lost several key members in the last couple of years, and some remaining members attend out of loyalty while sensing Meeting as a whole is somewhat lacking.
How does your Meeting nurture the spiritual life of members and attenders? How deep are your Meetings for Worship? Are Meetings for Business held in a spirit of worship?
Our Meeting nurtures the spiritual life of members and attenders by aspiring to listen deeply to each other, to actively welcome all, and to attend in joy and faith to the Inward Teacher. Our Meeting ensures that ministry is nurtured by maintaining a core community of Friends, reaching out to those in need, and providing opportunities for fellowship and meaningful vocal ministry.
Meeting for Worship is deep, and the quality of silence makes clear that all are contributing. Our vocal ministry is heartfelt and sincere. We share an attitude of respect and honesty that allows us to speak in love, while reflecting a willingness to be vulnerable. We feel comfortable bringing our struggles into the Light.
Social time is a vital part of our life of worship. Spiritual Formation Group, second hours, potluck, and teatime are important for us as we connect as a community. These provide a chance to build community, and to listen deeply, learn from each other, and grow spiritually.
Meetings for Business are held in a spirit of worship. Although they are focused on the business of the Meeting and the activities of the committees, the Meeting for Business contains a lightness and sense of ease most of the time.
Is your Meeting as diverse as you would like it to be? How well do you attend to the needs of newcomers? Do Friends of all ages feel fully a part of the Meeting community?
Friends of all ages, races, and genders feel a part of our Meeting community. This has been seen both in the Meeting itself and during Spiritual Formation Groups. Members and attenders are predominately white with appreciably more women than men in attendance. Our attendance reflects the entire age spectrum from infants to seniors. We are welcoming to members of the LGBT community. Several members express a desire for more outreach; however, natural attraction of new attenders continues to be the mainstay. Newcomers tend to be new to Quakerism, not seasoned Friends. We are aware that we need to help them understand Quaker faith and practice.
Do you engage with other Meetings through visitation or shared projects? What message would you like to share with others in Baltimore Yearly Meeting and with Friends around the world?
We engage with other meetings through visitation and occasional attendance at Quaker events, and we enjoy monthly visits from members of the Norfolk Preparative Meeting. We have enjoyed our occasional social events with the newly established Mattaponi Meeting. Members of our group cross-pollinate with the broader Quaker community while participating at other Quaker events such as annual session, the women's retreat, and Quaker camps.
At this time, the Williamsburg Friends are not led to share a specific message with others in BYM and Friends around the world, but we are requesting help from BYM in finding ways to increase our attendance.
Our meeting is complete. As with one definition of Shalom, it has nothing missing, nothing broken, and nothing lost. When entering the Williamsburg meeting, you can lay down every burden and focus on the spiritual life at hand. The quality of silence makes clear that all are contributing. Our vocal ministry, though spare, is heartfelt and sincere. We share an attitude of respect and honesty that allows us to speak in love, while reflecting a willingness to be vulnerable. We do not engage in chitchat or manufacture things to say. We feel comfortable bringing our struggles into the Light; a number of friends have utilized the process of clearness committees for discernment and guidance.
Our small size allows us to dispense with the inconsequential and address that which is eternal. The group is family-like and there is a real sense of nurturing wherein each individual is valued and made to feel special. Although the small size of our meeting is an ongoing concern, it allows us to grow together and to find common ground with ease. We are considering how best to conduct outreach, as we recognize we would benefit from a greater breadth of experience and ethnicities. Over time, the ratio of members to attenders, women to men, and the average age at the meeting have all shifted downward.
The belonging felt in the meeting allows us to reflect on how we fit in a larger world. We flex our spiritual muscles to help us to find our way - often being led to change and to grow. Individually, many of our career paths reflect Quaker values, and it is gratifying to know that as we each go out to do our work, we have the support of others. As a group, we participate in events which support the community, such as food drives, preparing meals for a women's shelter, and potlucks. We appreciate these opportunities to be of service, while sharing with each other and the larger community.
Our meeting is becoming more of the beacon that many of us wished it could be. Through food drives, donations to shelters, and letters to the editor, we feel our light is slightly brighter than in the past. We intentionally try to keep our public testimony and social actions spiritual rather than political. We feel our connection to the community at large must demonstrate our determination to do God’s will. There is no lack of interest in what we do and how we live our faith. While talking about Quakerism to others, we find excitement, interest, and humor. Some of us speak about our experiences on clearness committees, while others field questions about long dresses and horse drawn buggies.
We have an active Spiritual Formation Group which follows the spirit of the BYM guidelines. These gatherings lead to intimacy and intellectual stimulation among both members and attenders. Our second hour and youth programs lead to deeper sharing, sometimes hard to find in our culture. Our younger attenders are grateful for the opportunity to participate in Quaker camps, Young Friends, and second hours. We feel their shared experiences and thoughts bode well for our future.
Some individuals have taken leadership positions out of a sense of obligation, and sometimes out of concern that no one else will. We are beginning to trust that when a position opens up, someone will step forward to fill the vacuum. Questions have arisen regarding the amount of "encouragement" to give an attender to become a member. A concern for attenders is whether to become a member simply to be eligible to fill key positions. Alternately, a concern for members is whether to allow non-members to fill key positions. We are planning to set aside a time as a meeting to examine the role of membership in our lives.
We have gained insight from our limited interactions with other meetings, and found many of our issues and outlooks the same. Our Ministry and Oversight Committee has reached out to BYM, and we feel we can access their corporate wisdom and insight, when needed. We have used information at BYM’s and other meeting’s websites for research when developing letters to local newspapers. We are especially grateful for the assistance we received from the BYM office and other meetings as we developed our youth safety policy. We have good relationships with Mattaponi and the Norfolk Preparative meeting. Our website development committee has reached out to BYM and in turn has helped Norfolk Preparative to develop their website. Our meeting has enjoyed the experiences of reaching out to others, seeking and sharing what we have found.
Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s vision statement says:
“We aspire to listen deeply and inclusively to each other, to actively welcome all, and to attend in joy and faith to the Inward Teacher, whom some call Light, some call Spirit, and some call Christ.”
This quote describes the soul of Williamsburg Friends Meeting. Our Meeting is a small community with deep care for each other. We do “listen deeply and inclusively to each other,” embracing a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints. Friends pay attention to each other’s needs and seek to accompany each other through troubles, ministering actively to each other’s needs whenever we can. We bear witness to and draw out the Light within each other.
We are also a welcoming Meeting. We have both temporary visitors (who are visiting Colonial Williamsburg) and newcomers who become regular attenders. As a small Meeting, we are always eager to see new faces, but more than that, we strive to have a welcoming spirit. Newcomers feel welcomed and accepted, sometimes in ways that they haven’t experienced anywhere else.
We rejoice to seek the Light together, and this attending to the Light has become an anchor in the lives of our members and attenders. Friends feel that they carry the strength they receive from Meeting into their weeks. It guides them in their meaningful work, nourishes them as they serve others, and strengthens them and leads them to peace in situations of conflict and difficulty.
Our spiritual formation groups are a significant factor in nurturing the life of the Spirit among us. We have an unusually high participation rate in our spiritual formation program. We meet as a large group once a month to prayerfully discuss spiritual reading, and we meet as smaller groups to provide encouragement to each other in our spiritual journeys and disciplines. These meetings draw us closer as a community and spur us on in our spiritual lives. Our larger group, in which we discuss spiritual reading, also helps nurture us as a fellowship of people with different concepts of God, as we choose books that come from a variety of traditions.
We also consider social time to be a vital part of our life of worship. Tea time after Meeting for Worship is important for us as we connect as a community. Our Second Hour discussions provide a chance to listen deeply to each other, to learn from each other, and to grow spiritually. We also nourish our connection with each other through frequent pot lucks. We are seeking to find ways to volunteer together as a community, both as a way of being of service and as a way of deepening our relationships with each other.
Our Meeting is pursuing two main areas of growth. The first is increasing participation in the leadership tasks of Meeting. As a small Meeting, we have historically had a few people shouldering most of the responsibility. In the last year, we have expanded the base of people taking on responsibilities. This has been successful, but it will be an ongoing need.
The second area of growth our Meeting is seeking is in our social witness. Friends have a strong social consciousness lived out in their individual lives, but we have not had much social activity as a community. Our Peace and Social Concerns committee has been addressing our heartfelt desire to do more as a Meeting, though with an extremely limited budget. The committee has taken on a letter writing campaign, sending letters to the editors of local newspapers on issues that Meeting cares about. The committee has also been letting Friends know about volunteer opportunities in the community, and has been seeking to find projects we can work on together. We also fed our desire to grow in our social witness by having a retreat on privilege led by Pat Schenck. We hope to continue to increase our group involvement in social justice as time goes on.
Williamsburg Friends Meeting looks forward to a coming year in which we continue to be a place where we seek the Light together, where both new and seasoned Friends can share openly, confidently, and safely, where we grow in sharing responsibility and in social witness, and where we serve as a spiritual anchor for Friends’ daily lives.
How does the Spirit prosper among us? How is the presence of Spirit manifested in our lives individually and as a Meeting community?
The Spirit prospers and ministry is nurtured in our Meeting through grace and intimacy rather than program. Deep, caring relationship is the bedrock of our community. We respect, admire, and love each other. Meeting is a place that gives permission for authenticity, to share both joys and sorrows with honesty. Our spiritual formation groups, which many of our members and attenders participate in, are an integral part of this. In Meeting, members and attenders feel cared for as each person’s voice is heard and taken into account. Through the richness and presence of each person, from children to adults, we are aware that the intangible, invisible Spirit dwells among us.
What challenges or troubles are you facing? In what ways is the Meeting less than you would wish it to be?
Our main challenges stem from the smallness of our Meeting. The small size promotes intimacy, but it means that a few people shoulder many jobs. It also means that our social justice witness has been smaller than some Friends would wish it to be. Our community has recently felt led to put more focus on this aspect of our witness through a retreat and second-hour discussion.
How can you bring that of God or peace into political or other difficult conversations?
One Friend shared a beautiful analogy of compassion being like candles on a birthday cake. One candle is compassion for self. Others are compassion for friends and family. Others are the flame of compassion for those who are different from us, and even for the violent and for those who cause pain. As we nurture compassion in our Meeting, we hold a match to more and more of those candles, challenging one another and ourselves to extend our compassion and love to difficult arenas.
Friends have found that the peace that we nurture in Meeting has followed them into many difficult situations. The presidential election this year and the violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, with the ensuing debate about firearms, have given rise to many opportunities to practice peace in tense conversations. Friends have found that Meeting guides them in being able to see the real person underneath inflammatory opinions and to answer questions more fully and lovingly.
How can you learn to accept seekers in your Meeting with different concepts of God and find ways to help them on their spiritual journey?
As Quakers, we are connected through our value for living an honest life and connecting with the Light in ourselves and others. This honesty of testimony takes precedence over any dogma or beliefs, creating an atmosphere that is welcoming to those with different concepts of God.
While members and attenders from various religious backgrounds have found a comfortable and nurturing place in our Meeting, those who have had non-religious upbringings have in particular found that this Meeting is a space that has nurtured growing into faith. Friends are patient and welcoming of questioning and process, not demanding a certain outcome. Faith and Practice has also been a help to newcomers in understanding the Meeting.
We are all seekers, and we are all developing in our beliefs. Because of this, our Meeting is a place where travelers anywhere on the journey can join in the seeking.
How does the Spirit prosper among us? What supports the growth of the Spirit in our lives? How is the presence of the Spirit manifested in our lives individually and as a Meeting community?
We see the work of the Spirit as we observe the ways Spirit has woven together the vibrant spirituality of our individual attenders into meaningful corporate worship and into the larger community of Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
Our community is full of individuals living out their faith in many ways. Individuals have various spiritual disciplines and practices that enable them to bring spiritual depth into both silence and vocal ministry during worship. Attenders also live out the testimonies of peace, love, and social justice in many ways through their individual work, volunteer opportunities, and relationships. This brings a living testimony to our community even when we don’t have many corporate ministry events.
As a community, we experience Spirit through strong connection with each other, ready pastoral care, and a willingness to adapt to and serve those with needs. We have accompanied each other through illness, death, emotional needs, spiritual storms, and physical difficulties.
In Meeting, we have seen the Spirit prosper through several of our programs as well. Our Spiritual Formation Group and its small accountability groups constitute a strong core to our community, both spiritually and socially. First Day School has seen more children join and more adults get involved in teaching them. One of the highlights of the year was when the children presented a lesson to the adults called “Dare to Be Different.” They gave encouraging affirmations to each of the adult members. Adult second-hour has been a source of encouragement as well, focusing on Quaker faith and practice. We were enriched by two workshops this year—a joint workshop with Mattaponi Preparative on chanting, led by Elizabeth Krome, and another on Centering Prayer (a big thank you to Betsy Meyer!).
The Spirit has woven us into the larger BYM community as well. As individuals participate in various events, they bring much encouragement back to our meeting. Some of the most meaningful experiences have been through the Women’s Retreat, Shiloh Quaker Camp, and the Junior Young Friends Conferences.
How do we as a meeting appear to ourselves and others and how do we wish to be?
We see ourselves like a monastery along a pilgrimage path. The monastery is home for those who live there, and for pilgrims it is a place of welcome, hospitality, refuge, and insight. Our members and regular attenders agree: our meeting is indeed “home”—a safe place, a place of refuge and refreshment from our work and outside ministry. New attenders and visitors seem to experience our meeting as a watering hole along their pilgrimage path.
As is the case with many monasteries, people find us only if they know where to look. As a meeting, we are somewhat hidden from outsiders. Some attenders noted hurdles to overcome in visiting Meeting for the first time. We want to have an open door to visitors and outsiders, so we are discussing how we can make our virtual doorway more accessible. Attenders were quick to point out that though coming the first time was difficult, they have found warmth, open-hearted welcome, and beauty in Meeting.
As a small Meeting, we function more as an organism than an organization. This has many positives, including strong pastoral care and a personal, relational feel to all that we do. However, a few people carry much of the workload, and those people sometimes feel weary and burnt-out. We would better express the community heart of Quakerism by spreading the load more widely. We would like to have more attenders involved in tasks like leading second hour, representing our meeting to the Virginia Interfaith Council, and attending more BYM events.
How have we recognized and addressed [or failed to address] issues that have caused difficulties among us?
As a group, we feel grateful for the peace and unity that tends to pervade our Meeting. Our biggest challenge this year was the receipt of hate mail directed to us as a gay-friendly place of worship. Friends thoughtfully considered our response, affirming our position as opening arms and hearts to all, regardless of sexual orientation. In accordance with advice from others, we reported the hate mail to the FBI and have closed the matter.