Baltimore Yearly Meeting is a regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends that has existed for more than 300 years. Geographically, it includes most of Virginia, the portion of Maryland west of the Chesapeake Bay, central Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and parts of West Virginia. It has about 4,740 members--Friends of all ages--organized into 40 established Monthly Meetings plus 13 Preparative Meetings and Worship Groups. Like any Friends Meeting, the Baltimore Yearly Meeting comes together for gathered worship and corporate discernment, seeking to know God’s will.
In many ways a Yearly Meeting is the central organizing unit of the Religious Society of Friends. No larger Quaker body has authority over the Yearly Meeting. Books of discipline, defining the faith and practice of Friends, are developed and approved at the Yearly Meeting level. It is the Yearly Meeting that knits local Meetings into the Religious Society of Friends; recognition by a Yearly Meeting distinguishes a Quaker Monthly Meeting from a non-denominational worship group. Friends ask for membership at the local level, and may not realize that they are also joining a Yearly Meeting, but their Yearly Meeting membership is what makes them part of the Quaker movement.
Like a Monthly Meeting, the Yearly Meeting exists to build community, to support the life of the spirit, to discern right action, and to bear witness in the world. Like a Monthly Meeting, it carries out these responsibilities through shared worship, regular Meetings with a Concern for Business, ongoing committee work, and sponsored projects. A Yearly Meeting, in other words, can best be understood as an ordinary Friends Meeting, on a much larger scale.
The central responsibility of Baltimore Yearly Meeting is corporate discernment. Much of this takes place during the week-long Annual Session held each summer, to which all members of the Yearly Meeting are invited. Annual Session offers programs for children, worship and Bible study, workshops, interest groups, plenary speakers, and daily business sessions. Between Annual Sessions, the work of our Yearly Meeting is carried forward by Interim Meeting, which meets in October, March and June. Again, all Friends are welcome to attend. Yearly Meeting committees are encouraged to meet on Interim Meeting days, and may meet at other times during the year as needed. Local Meetings or individual Friends can bring their ideas, concerns and proposals to a Yearly Meeting committee, which may bring these forward to Interim Meeting or to the Annual Session for further discernment, thus enabling BYM to speak with a corporate voice in the world. Friends are encouraged to let Yearly Meeting Nominating Committee know if they would like to serve on a particular committee. Many hands are needed to do the work of the Yearly Meeting.
Baltimore Yearly Meeting, through its committees and staff, offers a wide range of programs designed to build community and support spiritual growth. The largest is the summer camping program, operating three separate camps in Maryland and Virginia (Catoctin, Opequon, and Shiloh) and a Teen Adventure program for older campers. An active youth program sponsors weekend gatherings throughout the year for middle schoolers (Junior Young Friends), high schoolers (Young Friends). Young Adult Friends take charge of their own program that enables them to network and nurture one another. The BYM Spiritual Formation Program draws together groups of Friends throughout the Yearly Meeting to nurture individual spiritual growth in community. The January Women’s Retreat, the annual Peace Networking Day, and other programs and events support spiritual life and community among Baltimore Yearly Meeting Friends.
As part of a network of Quaker Yearly Meetings around the world, Baltimore Yearly Meeting is a gateway to the larger Quaker universe. It connects individual Friends to a range of Quaker “umbrella” organizations, from Friends World Committee for Consultation, to Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting, to Friends Committee on National Legislation and the American Friends Service Committee. Many Friends from around the country have attended Baltimore Yearly Meeting Annual Session in recent years, and there have been an increasing number of visitors from overseas, thanks to the work of the ad hoc Intervisitation Committee. The Annual Session provides opportunities to learn about other Quaker organizations, and to meet with a wide variety of Friends face-to-face.
The search for unity among Friends, grounded in worship, is at the heart of Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s mission. In strong local Meetings Friends learn to listen deeply to each other, to care for one another, to engage with each other, and not to walk away when things get hard. At the Yearly Meeting level, Friends have a chance to practice the same Quaker ways. What binds us together as Friends is the belief that we can find unity, if we dig deeply enough. All it takes is an attitude of patience, openness, humility and love, with creativity and a sense of humor thrown in for good measure. Baltimore Yearly Meeting challenges us to expand our understanding of what it means to be a Quaker and part of a Quaker community. In fellowship, in deep listening, in waiting worship, in commitment to each other, it richly rewards those who embrace the challenge of being a “Yearly Meeting” Friend.
The office of Baltimore Yearly Meeting is located in Sandy Spring, Maryland.