Frederick 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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In many respects, this past year has been an exercise in letting go. We have had to be more realistic about our limitations. At the same time, it has seemed to many of us that the more important things have come to the surface.
Since March of 2020, we have begun to meet on Sunday mornings via Zoom. This form of sharing has brought both challenges and opportunities. As one Friend put it, we have been more apart and yet more together. Some of us chose not to participate virtually. Due to connectivity issues, some have been unable to join in worship. In the words of one Friend, at times it has felt like one is speaking into the void when one is not in a physically gathered meeting for worship while others continue to participate virtually.
A positive development more recently has been the opportunity for some Friends to appropriately gather (masking and social distancing) for worship in the meeting house while others continue to participate virtually. Further afield, Friends living as far away as New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina have been able to join in worship electronically. We have been pleasantly surprised that the number of Friends attending Zoom meetings has essentially equaled pre-COVID attendance.
The meeting has welcomed a handful of new attenders, including members of other meetings who have recently moved to Frederick, and at least one seeker new to Quakerism. How good to be growing!
Through our Zoom meetings, and our sharing afterwards, we learned more about our congregation, and the pandemic has helped focus on what we want for the future – to share vision, to consider how to go about it, and to realize more fully how we are compatible. All of this has been a powerful way to share the light in our hearts. We have become clearer on the distinction between surface connection and deep connection: we ask not just “how are you?”, but “how are we?”.
We have continued to reach out to the wider community, despite the challenging circumstances of the past year. The meeting has been the site of food distribution to neighbors in need. We approved hosting trans community needle exchange in our parking area, though this did not take place as that group found a more suitable location. Participants in the MLK Jr potluck and Picnic for Peace found those events to be powerful and well received. Our FCNL outreach team persevered in its advocacy efforts. The meeting participated in the national Ribbon Project in observance of the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We have been able to support Palestinian farmers through the purchase of olive oil and soap. Still, we might well consider additional forms of social justice outreach. Frederick’s Unitarian Universalists did nonpolitical phone banking for people whose voices are not heard and who need assistance with voter registration. There is nothing parallel at FFM/BYM.
Though the pandemic has interrupted face to face First Day School gatherings, several meeting young people have found ways to see one another. Some FAPs (Friendly Adult Presences) have sent out packages to kids who have been involved when we used to meet in person. Still, it saddens us that there is not a sustained First Day School right now. We continue to wrestle with the challenge of attracting more families with children to our community.
The book discussion group has grown, helping to connect meeting members in new ways. Several books dealing with racial justice have enabled us to reflect on that still pressing issue in American society. Speaking of books, we now have set aside a space in the library’s bookshelves for works by FFM authors.
While some committees have met less frequently, we have remained in contact with one another in less formal ways. Several Friends are concerned that we may have not always been as mindful as we might be reaching out to meeting members wrestling with special challenges. We have not been able to memorialize the passing of several meeting members as we used to. There is a sense that individuals need to step up and take fuller responsibility; Ministry and Counsel doesn't have to be fully responsible for such pastoral care.
Throughout the year, the still point of light on First Day mornings has been profoundly valued amidst the rollercoaster engulfing our nation. We remain deeply grateful for the promptings of the Spirit as–in the many ways indicated here–we continue to support each other in our spiritual journeys.
In the time since our meeting began to draft this document, the whole world has been turned upside down. The novel coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone to invent or discover new ways of maintaining the bonds of community amid unprecedented threats to life and livelihood, and we are no exception. We do not yet know what we will become when the pandemic is over; but one thing we can do is examine what we have done, thought about, and held in the Light over the previous year. Such self-knowledge can only help prepare us for whatever changes may come our way.
We are grateful that what has been termed a “culture of appreciation” has been foundational to how we encounter one another. Several years ago, the meeting set time aside to invite members and attenders to identify both gifts they believed they brought to the meeting and gifts they saw in others. Participants in this activity found it quite inspirational. Similarly, at our annual retreat last spring at Catoctin Quaker Camp, we affirmed the intrinsic value of all of the tasks and initiatives which we undertake as deepening a sense of fellowship. The richer that sense of fellowship becomes, the more it brings to light our individual gifts.
Despite such affirmation, the gift of vocal ministry remains the subject of disagreement. When do calls to “speak truth to power” end up distressing Friends eager for spiritual respite from the ills of the world? In one Friend’s words, the challenge is to speak “worshipfully.” The practice of worship brings us to see that the answers we seek are not rooted in human nature, but in something better than that. At the same time, the more personal a Friend’s ministry is, the more it may resonate with others’ experiences and thus be a more universal message. However we approach vocal ministry, our goal is to bring the meeting closer into harmony with the divine, whether that be by speech, song, or silence.
We continue to deliberate over the ways in which “structure” has played, currently plays, and should play a role in the spiritual life of the meeting. The apparent open-endedness and simplicity of Quakerism belies the fact that meetings rely on many protocols for making decisions and handling disagreement. When these protocols are not observed, as when certain institutions or traditions are laid down, we may be weakened more than we may be aware. At times, structural commitments, whether that be from committees, meeting property, or the meeting budget, can feel burdensome. Yet structure also harnesses individual and collective energies, in turn making fellowship and service in our community more feasible. We recognize that structures change, and we should not necessarily lament when they do; only if they drive Friends apart, or prevent Friends from coming together, should we be disheartened.
We close by asking, how do we celebrate joyfully without fully knowing where we are going? To be sure, living in the shadow of uncertainty is nothing new for anyone; the Society of Friends, in fact, arose in the context of war and revolution. Throughout the generations, Quakers have never ceased to look to the Inward Teacher for guidance through all manner of turmoil. For this reason, our trust in the Inward Teacher in this time will also not cease.
In the path of the Spirit, way opens.
Way opens for Frederick Friends when we center in the Spirit, and out of that Spirit find our direction.
Way opens for children to feel they have found an extended family together in Meeting. Way opens for them to conduct science experiments in the guidance of loving First Day School teachers who support the harmony of science and religion and artfully weave bible parables about yeast, treasure, and seeds into Sunday lessons. Way opens for children associated with FFM to receive scholarships to attend life-transforming BYM camps.
Way opens for us to see that we are less diverse (other than theologically) than we would like to be. Many newcomers attest that we are welcoming. Some have sensed that we are not comfortable with change. Way opens for us to acknowledge our differences, yet travel along the same path. Our sense of community can be fragile, and we are reluctant to jeopardize it. As with many Quaker groups, we are conflict-averse. We have personal resources and communication tools to manage disagreements, but do not always handle them well. Although transitions can be difficult, we affirm the joy we often find in each others’ presence. Way opens for us to sit with discomfort, recognize the ways we have fallen short of the integrity we strive for, and challenge ourselves to work together to find a way forward.
Way opens for our fellow pilgrims’ leadings to work toward mutual understanding—beyond “both sides” thinking. Highlights of these involvements include membership in the Frederick Area Ministerial Association (FAMA), involvement with Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), outreach through Martin Lutheran King, Jr. “Beloved Community” dinner, July 4th picnic, work with Multifaith Climate Stewards, Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform, and soup kitchen. We feel a continuing need to avoid assumptions that we are unified in political thought. Our attention to the Spirit is strengthened largely through social expectations that we will not be consumed by the discord and expressions of hate that surround us.
Way opens for FFM to offer opportunities for us to grow as a spiritual community. Community-building events, time for joy and fellowship, prophetic witness, book study group, third Sunday singing, worship sharing during Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business, and care of the Meetinghouse. Way opens for us to continue to offer, in the words of a newcomer, “a quiet place among thoughtful, caring people.” Spirit, as we feel it when we gather for worship, binds us together and fortifies us to face what we encounter throughout our journey.
The lifecycle of the Meeting moves as the sea—a constancy of waves, shifting sands, and shorelines. As some areas erode, others are built up.
We miss long-time members who have left us and welcome new attenders who return Sunday after Sunday and are slowing becoming involved in the life of the Meeting. We have been purposeful in welcoming visitors and returning new attenders. We recognize that we can always do more in getting to know each returning new attender to help them become part of the spiritual life of the Meeting; perhaps be more deliberate in our invitations to participate. We can continue to engage new attenders in conversations about how they find Meeting for Worship and where they find joy.
We see that Friends have diverse expectations of worship and community. Our personal leadings often pull us in different directions. Because of these varying priorities, we notice a tension within what we bring to Meeting for Worship, what we experience during worship, and what needs we hope get met. Perhaps the most tangible aspect of this tension is between Friends whose priority is social action and Friends whose main focus is the worship experience. (In previous years, we have called these groups the “doers” and the “mullers.”) Some feel FFM has no central or Meeting-wide focused leading as a Meeting. Can we be more ardent about our joy and work on a Meeting structure that grows out of the spirit? Can we pull back to our core and rethink and restructure Meeting in an intentional way? Can we promote living worshipful, spiritual lives that will help us arrive prepared for Meeting for Worship?
Many express frustration at distractions in worship, especially the absence of a centered feeling or feeling of depth during worship, a perceived lack of discernment before vocal ministry, and the presence of cell phones. Many say they find Meeting to be a joyful and loving experience, with a strong and shared sense of responsibility to one another and to the community at large. Coming together in worshipful silence is a very nurturing and joyful time to many at FFM. Can we build on this dedication to challenge ourselves to deepen the sense of worship?
Frederick friends have availed themselves of many FFM community-building options: potlucks (3rd and 5th Sundays as well as Friendly 8s), monthly book discussion group, property work days, service auction, fall festival, spring retreat, Martin Luther King, Jr. beloved community dinner, FCNL advocacy, and end-of-life discussions. In recent months, our email discussion list (which is separate from our email announcements list) has been a noticeably lively venue to share ideas and foster discussions. Some have said the listserv discussions about a number of topics that affect our Meeting are also worshipful.
Youth who come to FFM have said they feel loved, valued, and respected as part of the Meeting family. First Day School at FFM is usually a very small group—and those involved say they wish more kids would attend—but they find it enriching. Several youth have been active in larger BYM community activities (camps, conferences, and yearly meeting) and have taken initiative in asking their parents to come to FFM. We want to continue to cultivate ministry to (and from) our youth, from birth through young adulthood.
We continue to encourage commitments to FFM: more consistent attendance at Meeting for Worship and Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business, offerings of gifts and talents in committee work, financial support, and membership. Many yearn for more centeredness and leadings that focus on joy in service to the spirit rather than duty. Can we ensure that committees are serving Meeting rather than Meeting serving committees? Can we better discern priorities and leadings to help us bring action out of the Center rather than as a reaction to external demands?
May we bathe ourselves in the loving waters of the Spirit, channel energy from waves of Worship, and joyfully be moved by the currents of the Divine.
In the past year, our Frederick Friends Meeting community has enjoyed many new attenders as the need for spiritual community has grown. We grieve the loss of longstanding members of our community through death, illness, and relocation. We cherish our community as it ebbs and flows through challenging times.
We strive to manage Meeting for Worship as a shared experience of the divine amid tension about current events. We struggle to encourage vocal ministry that keeps to the spirit and is meant for all, to value the silence and the gift of all of us as ministers. We hope worshippers understand there is neither an expectation to speak nor an expectation to remain silent in our gatherings. Ministry and Counsel committee may consider announcing at the start of Meeting for Worship: “We are invited to sit in silent, waiting worship. If you receive a message and determine that it is meant for more than yourself, please stand and share it so that others may hear it.”
Friends expressed wishes for attenders to consider membership and to encourage what one Friend called “the ministry of showing up.” Our bond as a community is strengthened when we come together for worship and to conduct business. Another Friend gave the example of a weekly Quaker ladies’ meeting that would open with the query, “How has the Spirit dealt with thee since last we met?” This question allowed for an opening of the Spirit and caused the Friend to experience the days differently by holding that query in mind throughout the week. At our cores, we are seekers, seekers of the Light.
One Friend noted that there are disagreements within Meeting and we ignore dealing with them. We have a collective consciousness at Meeting that includes longstanding strains between and among individuals that is an inescapable part of living in community. Can we accept that we are Friends and allow each other to be who we are? Can we abide the tension within the community, knowing that we are gathered in divine love?
Other questions we ask ourselves: What do we do to cultivate listening? How can we practice nurturing friendship and tolerance even when we disagree? In the wider world, how do we respond to inflammatory language and stay centered in truth? How do we move forward and find middle ground? What is the heart of Meeting here, as a community?
New attenders have expressed curiosity about the manner in which Friends make decisions, and also frustration at the amount of time our decisions can take. We see a need to communicate the way of Friends to adult attenders/members, perhaps by offering “Quakerism 101”–type adult education opportunities and discussion forums. Our monthly book study group meets some of these needs. We can offer regular second-hour discussions on vocal ministry and silent worship and what we are doing as a Meeting.
We acknowledge the need to attend to the youngest members of our community by mindfully focusing on the needs of school-age Friends and planning gatherings with an intergenerational focus. On a casual basis, we encourage adults to interact with the kids; it is enriching to mingle with them and helps them become more a part of the Meeting.
We see lack of racial diversity as a challenge for our community. Some Friends have begun intervisitation with other communities of faith for personal understanding and outreach. The focus of these efforts is not to recruit members for our community, but rather to foster understanding with the larger community. We acknowledge that diversity includes categories beyond race. Speaking to love and inclusion is always right.
Keeping all these needs in mind, we realize our limitations as a small group with finite time and energy. Committee work and maintenance of our building, which is a ministry in and of itself, can feel like a burden. The structure of our committees could perhaps be streamlined so that we can more easily attend to things that we care about. We seek balance between getting work done and fulfilling other demands in our lives.
In the coming year, we hope to work on bringing our Meeting together, fostering a spirit of listening, and building up our spiritual resources, so that, as a community, we can navigate these times with courage and grace, bearing witness to truth and resisting evil. As always, we feel grateful to be a community journeying together in Love.
As we at Frederick Friends Meeting have meditated and prayed on the queries given by Baltimore Yearly Meeting, we have come to recognize several currents in our life as a community of the Spirit. They show us how much love and fellowship is present among us, as well as how we may be moved to increase in both.
We recognize that caring for one another – to “lift one another up with a tender hand” in the words of Isaac Penington – is one of our greatest joys as a Meeting. Both Friends of long standing and new arrivals have noted with appreciation how welcoming and accepting our Meeting has been, particularly for those going through major life changes, including births, illnesses, and deaths. Others have said how much they love seeing our young people grow up and wished there were more opportunities for Friends of different generations to interact and learn from each other. Our relationships have many layers reflecting the range of activities we are involved in, from social gatherings to the search for spiritual truth.
We recognize that we are a people with a diversity of gifts. Some of us are inclined toward action, taking up service to the community and social witness. These Friends have sought solutions to such difficult issues as homelessness and inequities in criminal justice, as well as investigated how to improve our relationship to the Earth, as in the ongoing discussion on installing solar panels on our meetinghouse grounds. Others are inclined toward reflection and contemplation, pursuing a variety of spiritual practices. Of particular note is our monthly book group, which participants have said has helped better prepare them for worship. We are blessed to have in our midst both “the doers and the mullers,” as one Friend put it. Our hope is that we can see the same Spirit working in each kind of gift, and to follow the leadings of the Spirit so that these gifts redound to the benefit of all.
We recognize that we are continually learning how to deepen our corporate worship. The question of how Friends might better come “with hearts and minds prepared for worship” has come up frequently. We have considered how to improve the practice of vocal ministry, how to handle latecomers, the reading of queries at the beginning of worship, and how to conclude worship. While this process is ongoing, we have seen the wisdom of those Friends who have said that worship is a state of being that may begin long before the regular Meetings do.
We recognize that a sense of scarcity, or busyness, is a prominent obstacle to greater spiritual formation. Many of us have felt that we lack the time or the energy or the resources to participate in the life of the Meeting as much as we would like. Often we speak of balancing multiple and competing commitments, both within and outside Meeting, and lament the stress it causes us. A path toward wholeness and abundance might be found in Penington’s advice to “be no more than God hath made thee,” to abide in God’s love, and from it do whatever is required of us in that moment, without worrying about what may be required tomorrow, next week, or next year.
We hope that, having placed these currents before our minds, we may be given Light by which to understand where they are taking us as a community, and that we may be given strength with which to follow them and grow in love and faithfulness.
Presented and approved at Meeting for Business for Fourth Month 2015
During January and February 2015, the Ministry and Counsel Committee of Frederick Friends Meeting solicited input from members and attenders through two called meetings and through email to consider the following queries from Baltimore Yearly Meeting in preparation for our report on the Spiritual State of the Meeting:
- What supports the life of the Spirit in your Meeting community? What challenges and troubles are you facing? In what ways is the Meeting less than you would wish it to be?
- How does your Meeting nurture the spiritual life of members and attenders? How does your Meeting help Friends live into right relationship, “a state of harmony and balance with ourselves and our families, our communities, our government, and the world that sustains us all”?
- Is your Meeting as diverse as you would like it to be? How do you prepare newcomers for full participation in the life of the Meeting? What do you do to actively encourage and support the ministry and community participation of Friends of all ages—from Young Adult Friends, to families and young children, to elder Friends?
- How do you reach beyond the boundaries of your Meeting to strengthen Meeting practices and share the wisdom your Meeting has to offer? Do you have relationships with other Monthly Meetings? A Quarterly Meeting? Do you reach out to BYM or other Monthly Meetings when facing a challenging situation?
This report reflects the input of members and attenders who took up these queries, plus discernment at the committee level (as well as in Meeting for Business).
A Worshipping Community
Frederick Meeting began in the 1970s as a group of 10–15 families who gathered in each other’s homes for fellowship and worship. In the 1980s we became a Preparative Meeting under the care of Bethesda Meeting, then a Monthly Meeting. Since 1994 we have worshipped at 723 North Market Street in the City of Frederick. We have three commercial tenants and one residential tenant in the upper floors of our Meetinghouse.
Presently, 20–40 active members and attenders are enriched by worship each Sunday. A small and dedicated group of adult participants attend Meeting for Worship on Wednesday evenings and have achieved regularly a deep and nourishing silence.
One to eight children participate in First Day School. During a session to gather input for this report, a grateful parent expressed her appreciation for the dedicated and loving First Day School teachers and for their program, which allows her to be free to attend worship and to support other aspects of Meeting. Recently, new and enthusiastic leadership has stepped forward to lead the teenagers’ activities during worship.
Some have expressed appreciation for a maturing and deepening of vocal ministry. One member describes the experience of worshipping with Friends as follows: “These are my people and it feels like a blanket covering us when we attend Meeting for Worship, especially as others join and settle as the First Day Schoolers depart.”
Some suggest that we need to offer more guidance on what to expect and how to prepare for Meeting for Worship. Ministry and Counsel has considered how best to work with individuals who offer messages it feels are disruptive to the spirit of worship, while keeping hearts open and welcoming participation. There has been some effort to reflect more regularly on queries and perhaps even more emphasis would be fruitful. We consider this query: What can Meeting do to demystify our Quaker beliefs and practices?
Reaching Out to Friends and Neighbors
Our building serves as a meeting place for groups from Baltimore Yearly Meeting, including Warrington Quarterly Meeting, BYM committees, youth conferences, and overnight visits from BYM campers. Last year we held our annual retreat at Catoctin Quaker Camp and enjoyed fellowship with Shepherdstown Meeting and other members of the Warrington Quarter. BYM’s Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee led a well-attended, enriching, and much appreciated workshop for members of the Warrington Quarter, held at our Meetinghouse, on the topic of “Debate vs Dialogue, Bringing Our Differences into the Light.”
When we chose our present location, members wanted to be located in town hoping to serve the Frederick community as a visible Quaker presence. This year we successfully advocated for locating a homeless shelter for women and children two doors from the Meetinghouse. At a Meeting for Business a minute of support was approved and our Clerk shared Meeting’s support as public testimony at a hearing of the Frederick Board of Aldermen. As there was some community opposition to the location of this shelter, members used the Meetinghouse as an oasis for neighbors to air their concerns.
There were several meetings with representatives of the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs to discern how our meeting could contribute to the program for sheltering of homeless families in churches that is ongoing in Frederick county churches. At this time an ad hoc committee is in place of our members and attenders who are volunteering at other churches and in the temporary Day Shelter, and providing meals to host churches to support this project.
A number of members and attenders of Frederick Meeting have expressed themselves faithfully making public witness, speaking out about current issues related to Quaker values; writing letters to the editor of the Frederick News-Post; or making regular contributions to its Words of Faith column.
Our representative to the Frederick Area Ministerial Association (FAMA) has hosted that group at our Meetinghouse. In our monthly book group discussion of The New Jim Crow, this Friend was led to propose a public showing of a film of the author speaking about the book. Our Peace and Social Concerns Committee and others in our Meeting helped to organize this event and were joined by several congregations that are part of FAMA. Members of Peace and Social Concerns who belong to local community groups, such as the Frederick Peace and Justice Network and Health Care Is a Human Right, have also hosted meetings in the Meetinghouse.
Meeting collaborated with other churches and groups in organizing a successful event in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. The Beloved Community potluck dinner had the largest and most diverse attendance in recent years and included local officials, homeless individuals, and members from several churches.
Ministry and Counsel has encouraged the discernment of a Friend who is feeling called to speak out against polarizing talk. This Friend recently participated on a local panel on police violence as well as participating with other Friends in the Peace Awards ceremony co-sponsored by the Meeting and held at Friends Meeting School.
Another way Meeting members reach into the community is serving once a month at the Frederick Soup Kitchen.
Strengthening the Life of the Spirit
This year we reconstituted our Communications Committee, which has under its care our website, meeting directory, newsletter, and listserv. The work of this committee has both strengthened outreach efforts to the wider community and the sense of community within the Meeting. There is also a new and enlarged Welcome sign in front of the Meetinghouse.
Ministry and Counsel focused attention on strengthening connections with members, especially those not presently active, and encouraging membership for active committed attenders. Members and attenders have been invited to share their spiritual journeys via the newsletter. We want to encourage more members and attenders to write on their spiritual journey, as this has proven to be a meaningful way to get to know each other.
Friends are finding spiritual nourishment in monthly book study groups on The Quaker Reader and The New Jim Crow. A participant in the Quaker Reader book discussion, which happens before Meeting for Worship, commented that it has sparked reflection and insight and has centered their mind and spirit in preparation for worship. A Search for God study group, based on the writings of Edgar Cayce, meets weekly on Wednesday afternoons and offers time for group meditation, healing prayer, and the opportunity to practice a spiritual discipline each week.
Challenges and Final Thoughts
Challenges that have surfaced during our discernment sessions can be grouped into three major areas: pastoral care, administrative duties, and sharing our knowledge of Quaker beliefs and practices among ourselves and in our outreach efforts.
Reflecting on the deep impact of the loss this year of two founding members, one to the progression of dementia and one to an untimely death, leads us to this query: How can Meeting best be alert to and respond to members and attenders affected by serious life events?
The day-to-day management of Meeting business, from administrative tasks to Meetinghouse upkeep, at times feels overwhelming. Best practices for such things as communication and record keeping are in flux due to changes in technology. Some Friends feel a need for respite from the busy-ness of their lives, while others have a strong desire to be about our Quaker work in the world. We struggle sometimes to find agreement about priorities. In considering how to address the concern about burnout, we were reminded that the ebb and flow of energy for participation in Meeting activity varies over time and with one’s place in the spiritual journey. Meeting offers an array of opportunities that we hope is welcoming and helps all Friends to feel “OK” to participate as they feel led and as other commitments allow. We were reminded that where the Spirit is lively and moving within a group, it naturally attracts others.
Approved at Meeting for Business
We have used the queries from BYM to organize the 2013 Spiritual State of the Meeting Report.
*How does the Spirit prosper among you? How does your Meeting ensure that ministry is nurtured, and that members and attenders feel valued and cared for?
Frederick Monthly Meeting continues to see Spirit prosper among members and attenders, both during and beyond our weekly Meetings for Worship on Sunday morning and Wednesday night. Silent worship takes us into a deep sense of gathered community and we feel ourselves faithfully witnessing the cycles of birth, life and death.
Meeting continues to organize and enjoy the fruits of multiple community events or gatherings, such as our own Annual Retreat (now also a Quarterly Retreat), book discussion groups (most recently, Faith and Practice), Friendly 8s (small gatherings for dinner in the homes of members or attenders), and work days for property maintenance. A small group continues to participate in offsite worship and support for a Friend with a history of sex offense conviction. We are now better prepared to welcome visitors, as we now have a schedule of regular greeters to ensure visitors feel welcomed and valued.
Food and loving attention have been provided for families grappling with sudden transitions, such as the loss of a family member or a sudden illness. As well, transportation to and from the Meeting is provided for those unable to drive. Pastoral care could be strengthened, as despite these many efforts, it has sometimes been inconsistent, with some receiving more attention than others in similar situations. We are concerned that this may be hurtful to those who feel neglected.
*What supports the life of the Spirit in your Meeting community? What challenges and troubles are you facing? In what ways is the Meeting less than you would wish it to be?
New emphasis on communication is strengthening the spirit of the Meeting. For example, members, attenders, visitors, and seekers can find information about our Meeting, and the Quaker Way in general, on our new website. We are encouraging individuals and committees to send news for the webmaster to post and to make active use of the calendar and other features on the site as resources. We continue to use our listserv as a means for members and attenders to send information to each other, and we are refining guidelines for its use in order to clarify its role in sending announcements rather than serving as a forum for discussion. We hope these and other communication tools will add to our sense of community.
Some Friends express concern with particular challenges that we face and how we can best meet them. The nature of vocal ministry has been an ongoing topic of discussion. We want people to listen rather than be overly eager to deliver their own message. Thus, sufficient time should be allowed for a message to be considered before another is offered. While we are encouraged that several who did not speak in the past are now offering profound messages, others have shared messages that several of us found troubling. We wonder how we can best express that a message may be inappropriate, not in keeping with the Worship setting or Quaker testimonies.
Some members have expressed concern that some messages are not drawn from the depths of Spirit. We struggle with the commandment not to judge, and how we might best develop and share guidance on vocal ministry.
Those new to unprogrammed worship may not be aware that messages should be Spirit-led rather than prepared in advance and read from a script. Ministry and Counsel Committee is currently considering the reading of a guidance statement or query on this topic at the beginning of Meeting for Worship. Or the greeter could hand out to new, or relatively new visitors a short guide to our unprogrammed worship.
We should encourage regular attendance and try to be grounded in the Spirit when we attend Meeting in order to be ready to grow spiritually in Meeting and when we leave. We can ask ourselves: is this message coming from the self or from the Spirit? Spirit-led messages are centered, but not self-centered.
A sacred space
We can also better cultivate the sense of sacred space in our Meeting room by keeping the sacredness of our time together in mind. Worship is what we do together, and therefore we should avoid activities or behavior that others might consider a distraction from their worship in the manner of Friends.
Attendance and the range of age groups at our Meeting are other areas of concern. There has been a general societal trend away from church attendance as well as an unwillingness to identify with a particular faith community, what some have referred to as “a growth of ‘the nones’.” Our Meeting is no different, and it is incumbent upon us to provide a spiritual roadmap, to move out of our “spiritual comfort zone” to meet this challenge.
The history of Quakerism might illuminate the continuity of our practice and provide a roadmap, but religious education in our Meeting is limited. Our committee meetings are often caught up in minutiae, and we are inclined to seek resolution rather than wait in the Spirit for guidance. Attendance and contributions may be down due to the aging of our Meeting, or listlessness and ennui in our members. We need to encourage more newer, younger people to attend and participate in our Meeting, and to provide new attenders more reasons to continue attending. Our history should be a source and an inspiration to better prepare us to worship silently, reach decisions, witness our faith to the world, and provide a clearer picture of Friends to newcomers. Youth of middle-school age and older need more enrichment opportunities and more adults to help them coalesce around activities that keep them engaged.
*How is the presence of Spirit manifested in your lives individually and as a Meeting community?
We each have a personal spiritual journey and we are tolerant and supportive of each other’s paths. We value a balance between more liberal and more conservative perspectives, between firm standards and flexibility, and we find our viewpoints vary with circumstances.
Silence is deeply valued among Friends. One Friend shared a dream in which Friends stood in our Meetinghouse in a circle of silent witness to a death, and she could feel the sense of gathered community in a powerful and palpable way. Another spoke of 30 years of attendance at Quaker Meetings in various communities in the US and abroad and of how the nature of God, faith, and spirituality is shaped over time, as one moves from the ‘ocean of darkness’ to the ‘ocean of Light’. Others spoke of great kindness and love they see expressed among our Meeting’s most committed members. Individuals find they are able to turn away from the busyness and coarseness of the everyday world, and discover refreshment and purpose in listening to leadings from God. This depth of experience is reinforced with regular attendance and other practices of Spirit during the week.
* How can you bring that of God or peace into political or other difficult conversations?
Political discussion in the broader culture is dominated by a contest of egos, self-assertion, and desire for dominance. Some are attracted to Quakerism due to social action, but may not know the underlying spiritual roots of that activism. Listening to the Divine can lead to a politics that has little to do with current media. George Fox taught us to reign in ego, learn to be “still and cool” in our own minds, and put weight where needed. Such practice helps us avoid getting caught in airy and ungrounded speech.
We had a Meeting event this year in which a Member who is called to identify, describe and counter polarizing political talk at the national level related some of the history of that calling. We discussed possible ways we might personally counter the downward spiral in our political discourse.
With some attenders, we struggle with political messages that clash with Friends’ testimonies. Some of us feel it is wise to recognize that we cannot change others, only how we feel about them. While this may be true in general, we struggle with how vulnerable we are that anyone may come to Meeting and say anything they wish to a captive audience. All are welcome to our Meeting, but perhaps they should be welcome only to listen in silence and learn about Friends’ testimonies. It is undeniable that these political messages have caused anger, the response to which so far has been to pray, either not to feel that way, or for the well-being of those who think or feel differently than we do. It is important to see that of God in people whose opinions differ from our own, to stay away from the judgment of “good” or “bad,” and instead to listen deeply without interrupting. This listening in the Light can improve communication. On the other hand, if messages of this kind happen too frequently, they may drive some people away from attending Meeting.
* 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?
Some questioned this query and wondered if it somehow implies we have an obligation to guide others to a particular concept of God. We ask ourselves: “What holds our Meeting together?” We are so diverse, we have those who are Bible and Jesus-centered and some who are non-believers. The glue that holds us together is our behavior toward one another. Despite many different personalities/beliefs, we choose to be together.
In what ways then are we more than a social club? Individual concepts of God within Quakerism, and within our Meeting, stretch across the spectrum from the particularist to the universalist. Each strengthens the other. True faith is in conforming to the leadings of the Light within, not to a particular creed. We are like-hearted, but not like-minded. We must be true to the leadings we have, while also accepting that the Christian perspective may have negative connotations for those who associate it with intolerance. Wrestling with our spiritual identity may be unsettling, but it is also invigorating. Discussions about the nature of our Inner Light and listening to vocal ministries help us delineate the boundaries of our corporate worship.
We express that of God in ourselves and embrace that of God in others in a range of ways. We commit to care for one another. We accept and love each other “as we are,” but this openness resides within parameters, much of it evolved over 350 years of Friends’ practice. We choose to temper messages that seem incompatible with our long-held community-based testimonies.
We cherish our community. Here we are at home with diversity that includes childhood spiritual perspectives, other faiths we may have had personal experience with, and even atheist Quakers.
Our 2nd hour discussions on membership have been useful, as those who have attended have shared their spiritual journeys, including the absence of a belief in or a concept of God. These discussions help us grow in mutual acceptance.
* To what extent has your worship strengthened you in the healing process? How has such healing transformed you as a person and/or meeting? To what extent do you recognize worship as a pathway to transformation?
Healing is returning to and dwelling in the Divine, shedding habits and attitudes that keep us from living well with God and with others. Worship heals, and leads to a sense of wholeness. In worship, led by the eternal, we find inner peace, hope and a sense of renewal and purpose. Spirit-led healing can go inward, into self, and also outward, into the outside world.
During Meeting for Worship, some reflect on the concept of loving kindness, sincerely wishing others to be well, happy and free from suffering. This changes our feelings about others and can lead to healing. The practice of holding in the Light those personalities within our Meeting that some of us might find at times difficult can transform us, and the Meeting in turn. We also hold external strains, conflicts and tragedies in the external world in the Light as a way of bringing healing to the wider world.
While some find our engagement in the outside world has declined from decades past, others see great effort in Friends’ current activities in the broader community. Spirit-led social activism is a natural outgrowth of God’s commandments to “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, to love God, and to love that of God in others. In letting our lives speak, we reach out to many of our fellow human beings in need. Individual Friends, committees, and our Meeting as a whole have engaged in efforts to share information and support on issues of health care, human rights, poverty, inequality, hunger, homelessness and peaceful resolution of conflict.
Many members and attenders are busy with personal, professional lives and are unable to participate in much social action. Still, they like hearing about social action taken by others and, when they find time and are so led, can participate in activities supported by the Meeting, such as serving at the Frederick’s Soup Kitchen.
Special events, such as the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dinner, are seen as Spirit-led ties between the Meeting as a whole body and the broader community. Rather than simply being events organized and hosted by Peace and Social Concerns, there is strong feeling that such events should be seen, embraced, celebrated as “Meeting events”. There is minor tension between the personal and the social: some may have a sense of guilt for not being more active in the world, while others engaged in much social action may wish that the Meeting as a whole be more outwardly-directed. Others feel no conflict between inner spiritual growth and outer spiritual activities organized in the broader community.
Some are looking deeply at the nature of prayer. What is prayer, what does it mean when another says “I will pray for you?” Is it thinking of something, worrying about something, an expression of anxiety? Or is it extending love? Love is more than a feeling. It is also action and behavior. Prayer, holding others in the Light, might be a behavior grounded in true loving feeling.
In our world these days, the spirit of reverence and the understanding that the divine creative spirit flows in all life, seem lost to many. Our Meeting gathers in worship wondering how we are called to respond.
We seek deep rich silence in Meetings for worship. In worship sharing preparing for this report, Friends described experience in the silence as follows: gathered, deep, vibrant, rich, full of color, empty of thoughts, quiet, inwardly spiritual, expansive, uplifting, connected, flowing, welcoming, and deeply valued. We noted that the regular practice of 30-40 Friends coming together for collective worship builds patient expectation leading to moments of revelation and a feeling that “this is right.”
We also noted that Friends may experience worship differently with different emphasis on stillness, silence, and directed contemplation. The practice of having latecomers settle for worship in the library and wait to enter worship when the children leave for First Day School has been found helpful by some and annoying to others. A recent participant in the library room, reported feeling deep settling, as if the whole Meeting was gathered in two rooms.
Each first Sunday of the month, the Clerk reads a query for consideration during worship. Vocal ministry is welcomed and encouraged. Stirring messages have been offered and a number of people have noted synchronicity of messages (that is when the spoken message of one is on the heart of another). Some Friends feel the need to speak often while others have not yet shared their vocal ministry. Some feel there are messages that ramble and lack spiritual depth. More examination of the topic of vocal ministry might benefit Meeting.
Meeting continues to wait for leading and guidance about how it is called to witness in the greater non-Quaker community. Thus far, ripples from the Quaker Quest workshop, held last February have been primarily focused inward on improving our communication within and among those who come through our doors.
Meeting has welcomed a steady stream of visitors and seekers encouraging them to continue with us and has offered their children participation in First Day School. We notice that follow up efforts sometimes fall short after the first one or two weeks of a new person’s attendance. We want to do better with this and have discussed ideas about providing regular time for small group gathering at the rise of Meeting for Worship where seekers can ask questions and connect more directly. We noted that small groups which meet consistently over time, whether for committee work or worshipful consideration by a book study group, are helpful for promoting connection and deeper relationships within the Meeting. A book study group this year has been reading Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity, by Catherine Whitmire, which has been quite successful in this regard. Meeting offers many other opportunities where relationships have been fostered and deepened, such as its annual Catoctin retreat; youth service at the Soup Kitchen, the twice yearly yard sale, and Property Committee work days and Friendly 8’s during the winter months, as well as other social events.
Ministry and Counsel Committee has provided three ongoing support groups for families in Meeting who have been facing life change transitions. Following Clearness Committees, M&C welcomed two new members of Meeting and joyfully accepted a request for marriage under the care of Meeting for a young couple who grew up in the Meeting. The Meeting provided support for and celebrated Shepherdstown’s becoming a Monthly Meeting.
Mid-week Meeting for Worship is held each Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. A report from the regular attenders of this gathering reflects a deeply satisfying experience. The group of 3-5 regular attenders attains a rapt and satisfying silence on a regular basis. They keep to a practice of observing a definite beginning and ending for the group as a whole. Thus there are no latecomers or coming or going during the worship, nothing to break the stillness once they have settled in. They do pause before entering worship to have a brief social exchange and then again at the rise to exchange social news among the group.
Meeting continues to provide offsite worship and support on the third Thursday of the month for a Friend with a history of conviction for sex offense. This has been satisfying and meaningful for all who participate.
Meetings for Business have typically had participation of 11-14 people each month. Most of the 64 members of the Meeting seldom, if ever, attended Meeting for Business during the past year, but some attend regularly, as do several Friends who are not members of the Meeting. In general, our Meetings have fostered good balance between committee reports and thoughtful considerations of other items of substance. Friends hold the Clerk and Recording Clerk in silence as they complete minutes or pause for deeper discernment. Committees have improved their preparation for Meeting, but progress still needs to be made on ensuring that items brought to Meeting for Business have been fully seasoned within the committee and reflect a sense of unity within it. Committee reports are often followed by thoughtful and helpful consideration of issues raised by the reporting committee. Meeting committees have been active and have generally provided good follow-through on decisions and duties. For example, Property Committee continues to maintain and improve our Meeting and rental spaces. Some confusion has existed about the extent to which committees can take actions different from those approved in Meeting for Business without returning for further approval.
Many expressed their appreciation that Meeting is embracing and being embraced by the greater Quaker community, which offers additional opportunities for worship, fellowship, and work on behalf of these larger bodies.
Our greatest spiritual challenges can be summarized as follows:
- How to deal with “bad behavior “ when Friends become judgmental of each other;
- How to build a welcoming/active/relevant environment that draws people from the busyness of their daily lives to refreshing worship, relevant action and valued connections strengthened by face-to-face personal connection with others in Meeting.
We look ahead towards these expressed intentions:
- Do more storytelling and sharing of our spiritual journeys;
- Emphasize the benefit of participation in small groups as opportunities to foster ongoing meaningful relationships;
- Give more explanation about membership and Meeting participation opportunities and encouragement to long-time attenders to commit to membership in the Meeting;
- Improve communication within the Meeting and to the larger community.
- Continue to discern when and where we as individuals and as a Meeting are called to speak and act in the wider community about our Quaker Faith.
- Give consideration to the question: How do our lives speak?
Submitted as second reading to Meeting for Business 2013.3.24
for Ministry and Counsel Committee
by Frances Williams, Clerk of Ministry and Counsel
Approved on April 22, 2012
The most important contributor to the spiritual state of Frederick Monthly Meeting this year was the Quaker Quest program from Friends General Conference. The whole process was an affirming one: deciding whether to hold the Quaker Quest full-day workshop, holding it, and then reflecting on the insights gained during that day. This was a year in which many of our community felt that their faith and commitment to Meeting was strengthened. We hold the possibility that others might have a similar growth experience in the future.
We considered the spiritual state of our meeting in the Quaker Quest experience on February 11, open forums on January 8 and January 29, written responses to questionnaires, and reflections of the Ministry and Counsel Committee. This process, which is described in more detail below, elicited resounding affirmation that our belief and structure provide a path for spiritual connection and that many of the informal contacts and activities related to Meeting further widen our spiritual path. As our Meeting progresses we envision many ways forward which will further strengthen our understanding and growth as spiritual beings. We propose that our Meeting focus on the following queries found in Faith and Practice in the coming year:
How do activities of our Meeting find inspiration in worship?
In what ways does worship uphold meeting activities?
Looking to our Quaker Roots we are refreshed by the words of John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem: “The Meeting” (1868)
For deeper rest to this still room,
For here the habit of the soul
Feels less the outer world’s control;
The strength of mutual purpose pleads
More earnestly our common needs;
And from the silence multiplied
By these still forms on either side,
The world that time and sense have known
Falls off and leaves us God alone
On January 8, following the sharing of stories about spiritual experiences, participants agreed a spiritual experience can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone regardless of religious belief or frequency of practice and often we are taken by surprise when these openings occur. At the same time, we agreed a conscious practice can increase the potential to have such an experience. Practicing in community, too, further potentiates these kinds of awakenings. In addition, some places or settings were more likely to foster spiritual awakening. While we agreed that a spiritual experience cannot be forced to happen, we saw that intentional practice and worship in community promotes the likelihood of a “letting go” which is often a precursor to spiritual experience. With this letting go, or what another deemed as “a sense of being in the flow,” the spiritual eye opens.
The understanding of these elements served as a foundation to discuss our Monthly meeting’s spiritual state during a second hour on January 29. We contemplated how our Meeting sets the stage for spiritual connection and how we as a Meeting might further facilitate endeavors to deepen connections with the Divine. These questions were also posed in a written survey. Participants identified several ways Meeting supports their endeavors for Spiritual Growth and Connection. Our Quaker belief that there is that of God in everyone and our practice of stillness and quiet among Friends was named by many to be a foundation for our individual as well as collective endeavors as a Monthly Meeting. Quaker values of inclusivity and the nature of our Quaker worship which promotes open dialog versus insular worship were also mentioned. Understanding that these are not unique to our Monthly Meeting we also looked at our Meeting structure and consistency. Holding weekly Meetings at a regular place and time as well as committee meetings create an anchor for many. When recognizing our structure, part of this appreciation was expressed for our annual Special events like the spring retreat, fall festival, the Christmas Eve service, Friendly 8’s and the Picnic for Peace; opportunities for meaningful interaction such as serving on committees or workdays to care for our Meetinghouse; and our intergenerational interactions. Several said their experiences were deepened by the sharing of moving messages, opportunities for service, and our openness which offers freedom to all to speak our minds.
There were several responses that focused on less formal and more spontaneous interactions which strengthened their sense of spirituality. One person appreciated that we are a welcoming Meeting and another felt a deeper connection when they were asked if they had considered membership. Another appreciated informal opportunities for honest discussion where we are able to grapple with the issues. One person wrote that Meeting has provided “a refuge, a contrast, and a haven. To be here to think and speak freely and not to be judged helps me regain the courage of my convictions.”
When asked how Meeting could better facilitate Spiritual endeavors, participants expressed interest in the following: challenging each other to further embrace or accept different perspectives; working to have balance with structure and spontaneity; more intergenerational activities, sessions to support discernment about membership. There was also a wish for ideas about how to approach or experience the 60 minutes of silence. Many wanted more opportunities to study the beliefs, values and testimonies. Several ideas about second hours were offered and this included a suggestion that we expand Friendly 8’s so we can discuss special topics.
There was consideration of the array of attendees who are at various stages of spiritual development. Curiosity was expressed about how to foster awareness of these stages and how to offer individuals a means to look at where they are. This included but did not focus solely on how we might better meet the needs of our youth. Some were curious about how other meetings respond to or support grappling with the most challenging issues and would like to make more intentional connections with other meetings. Finally, there was consideration of how we as a Meeting entity are developing. On more than one occasion discussion focused on seeking clarity about a sense of purpose within our Monthly Meeting. There is a wish to do something that helps Meeting understand what we are doing as a collective entity, or to know who we are as a Meeting. Regarding our practices, a member who has attended other Meetings recalls getting a lot of benefit from verbal ministry of elders. Others have also expressed a yearning for eldership. A suggestion was made that once a month someone from Ministry and Counsel speak in Meeting for worship about how to be, what to do and not do, etc. in worship.
In the Quaker Quest workshop, February 11, we engaged in a number of exercises which challenged us to articulate our practices and beliefs. We considered what the Quaker way offers us, what seekers might be looking for, and what the needs of new seekers might be. In addition, we looked at some of our Meeting’s strengths and challenges with regard to connecting with new attendees. And we listed several topics we may want to explore together or in public forums. Many found these exercises affirming and uplifting and many of us left feeling energized or with a sense of renewal.
In the Quaker Quest workshop, February 11, we engaged in a number of exercises which challenged us to articulate our practices and beliefs. We considered what the Quaker way offers us, what seekers might be looking for, and what the needs of new seekers might be. In addition, we looked at some of our Meeting’s strengths and challenges with regard to connecting with new attendees. And we listed several topics we may want to explore together or in public forums. Many found these exercises affirming and uplifting and many of us left feeling energized or with a sense of renewal.