ad hoc Visiting Ministers Committee Annual Reports
In Sixth Month 2010, BYM Interim Meeting appointed twelve experienced Friends to visit all of the Monthly and Preparative Meetings and worship groups in BYM and to discern a common vision of who we are as a community of Friends and what we are called to be. The Visiting Ministers appointed were: John Smallwood, Clerk, (Langley Hill), Charlotte Boynton (Langley Hill), Ramona Buck (Patapsco), Deborah Haines (Alexandria), Peg Hansen (State College), Elizabeth Hofmeister (Bethesda), Jean James (Richmond), Lamar Matthew (York), Elizabeth Meyer (Sandy Spring), Meg Meyer (Stony Run), Riley Robinson (Washington), and Ken Stockbridge (Patapsco). As the visiting ministers worshiped and reflected with Friends from across the region, a clear vision grew of BYM as a worshiping and witnessing community of Friends, rather than as an institutional collection of local Meetings. This revelation is central to the vision statement we propose.
When we first undertook this assignment, it seemed like a daunting task. Knowing the challenges facing the Yearly Meeting, many of us were braced to encounter disaffection and discouragement in our local meetings. Instead, we found deeply grounded worship, spiritual refreshment, warm hospitality, a chance to reconnect with old Friends and make new ones, and an inspiring vision of the Yearly Meeting not as an organization, but as a community of faith. We are awed by the vitality and sense of possibility evident in our local meetings. As we prepare to carry out a few remaining visits, we see Baltimore Yearly Meeting standing on the verge of a new opening that will inspire and empower us, an opportunity to recommit ourselves to each other as a people gathered by God.
Proposed BYM Vision Statement
Baltimore Yearly Meeting is a worshiping community, gathered in the presence of the Divine, affirming that of God in every person. The Yearly Meeting knits Friends from the Chesapeake to the Appalachians into the larger Religious Society of Friends. As Quakers, we seek to know God’s will for us as a gathered people, to speak the truth that is revealed to us, and to listen to the truth that is revealed to others.
· We aspire to listen deeply and inclusively to each other, and to attend in joy and faith to the Inward Teacher, whom some call Light, some call Spirit, and some call Christ.
· We aspire to teach and nourish Quaker ways of worship and service for this and future generations, to uphold Quaker values, to support Friends Meetings in our region, and to pass on Quaker ideals to the next generation.
· We seek to expand opportunities for Friends to meet together and know each other in that which is eternal, to serve each other in love, to share our gifts and resources, to reach out to those in need, and to witness in the world to our shared experience of the infinite love of God.
Through our discernment process, we, the visiting ministers, came to see the proposed vision statement as our present understanding of our Yearly Meeting. We also see the need for continuing communication among Friends in the various Meetings of BYM.
From this vision, more thought and discernment is needed to determine in what appropriate activities our Yearly Meeting should engage. We also see the need for more organizational understanding.
Thus, we recommend:
1.) After appropriate discernment, the Yearly Meeting adopts the vision statement.
2.) The Yearly Meeting then appoints an ad hoc committee to study the implications of the vision statement upon Yearly Meeting activities, structures, staffing (both paid and volunteer) and finances. This ad hoc committee would then make recommendations to the Yearly Meeting through Interim Meeting or in Annual Session for implementation of its findings. The BYM Committee Vision reports noted below would be a resource for this ad hoc Committee.
3.) The Yearly Meeting continues the process of official visitation to the local Meetings begun by this visioning process under the direction of the Clerk of the Yearly Meeting.
Background Information: The Visioning Process
In 2009 the entire staff of Baltimore Yearly Meeting signed a letter to the BYM Presiding Clerk, Interim Meeting Clerk and the Clerk of Trustees requesting that BYM engage in a visioning process to help guide the staff in its work. In response, 65 BYM Friends participated in a day of visioning in Tenth Month 2009 at Sandy Spring Friends Meeting. After this visioning day, many Friends felt that a more in-depth visioning process was needed. Thus, in Tenth Month 2009, Interim Meeting approved a two-pronged approach to discerning a visioning process, including both BYM Committees and Monthly Meetings (I2009-43). Soon thereafter, a small ad hoc committee led by members of BYM Nominating Committee met to discern queries for BYM Committees to consider. It requested that each BYM Committee respond with a vision report. The responses are available at www.bym-rsf.org/quakers/committees/visioning.pdf.
While the BYM Committee visioning was taking place, another ad hoc committee met to discern a process for visioning that would invite input from local Meetings. This group proposed that the Presiding Clerk and the Clerk of Interim Meeting select twelve seasoned Friends to serve as visiting ministers. These ministers would visit Meetings to engage them in the visioning process. In March 2010, Interim Meeting approved this process (I2010-10) and the 12 visiting ministers noted above were named. These names were confirmed by the Sixth Month 2010 Interim Meeting (I2010-23).
The ministers, often traveling with companions, have visited most BYM Monthly Meetings, Preparative Meetings and worship groups, as well as other groups such as Young Friends and the BYM staff. The ministers expect to visit the remaining Meetings in the next few months. The visiting ministers led worship sharing sessions around the following five queries:
1. What calls me / us to be part of the Friends’ Community?
2. How can my Meeting support my gifts and leadings?
3. What am I led to do in the community of Friends beyond my own Meeting?
4. What do I as an individual Friend or what does my Meeting see the Yearly Meeting being called to do to act out our faith?
5. What can the Yearly Meeting do to help us realize our collective leadings and dreams?
The Queries were designed to invite Friends to share the kind of information, leadings and values from which a vision for the Yearly Meeting might be discerned. The ministers wrote reports of what they heard on each visit. These reports are available at the BYM web site www.bym-rsf.org/quakers/pubs/Visioning.html.
The Discernment Process
Beginning in First Month 2011, we, the ministers, met four times to worship, deeply reflecting on the gathered reports, the experience of visiting local Meetings, and the messages received in those meetings. We were unified in the understanding that our charge was one of worship and discernment based on the experience of visiting, rather than simply to create a summary of ideas received. Holding our experiences of visiting local Meetings and our own personal experiences of Yearly Meeting in the Light, the above draft vision statement emerged.
In addition to the vision statement we discerned, certain common themes emerged from the visits:
1. As visiting ministers, we felt greatly enriched by visiting local Meetings and by the entire visiting process. Meetings also appreciated being visited by a person representing Baltimore Yearly Meeting. This was an appreciation both for more information about BYM and for ministry from the wider community of Friends. Clearly, visitation to local Meetings should be a more common practice among us.
2. Many individuals and some local Meetings expressed a feeling of disconnection from Baltimore Yearly Meeting, despite the fact that these Meetings may have members who participated in BYM camps or youth programs or who attended Annual Sessions. However, even Friends who feel disconnected from BYM may appreciate some of its programs.
3. The BYM Youth and Camping Programs are especially valued by many Friends and local Meetings.
4. Friends who have participated in Yearly Meeting events such as the Women’s Retreat and Spiritual Formation Program appreciate deeply the fellowship and sense of community found there.
5. Friends in BYM are deeply committed to their local Meetings. For many, the Meeting or worship group they are part of is the center of Quakerism as they know it. Most feel affirmed, uplifted and challenged by their Meeting community. Most are powerfully drawn to the experience of acceptance, openness and spiritual nurture they find in open worship.
6. Many Meetings are deeply involved in their local community. They carry out a variety of service and social justice projects, often in cooperation with other groups or congregations. They feel a sense of responsibility to and for the surrounding community. Some Friends expressed a desire for Baltimore Yearly Meeting to be more active in encouraging individuals to discern and act on spiritual leadings, and equipping Friends to reach out to their local communities.
7. Many Friends expressed a desire for activities that would bring together the Meetings in their particular region, for fun as well as for serious purposes. They also expressed a strong interest in networking around issues of common concern. Teachers in BYM, for example, could hold a forum on Quaker approaches to education reform; networks could be put in place for those interested in historic preservation, or Alternatives to Violence training, or sustainable agriculture, or any of a dozen other activities or events. Friends urged BYM to look for ways to facilitate such networking.
8. A common refrain was that Baltimore Yearly Meeting needs to communicate more often and more fully with local Meetings. It needs to send visitors more often. It needs to find more ways to ask what Friends think and listen to what they have to say. It needs to find new ways to spread information about what the Yearly Meeting is, and what it is doing.