Little Falls Friends Meeting
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As we write the 2019 Spiritual State of the Meeting Report we find Little Falls and its members discovering a renewed sense of energy.
The Meeting was given the Spiritual State of the Meeting queries offered by Baltimore Yearly Meeting during the week prior to our full discussion to give everyone time for individual contemplation. In an effort to have a vibrant, constructive conversation with multiple points of view, we formed five groups to discuss the Meeting’s strengths, its room for improvement and our goals for the upcoming year. Following these small group discussions, we shared our thoughts as a full Meeting.
The Meeting has many strengths. We draw strength from our beautiful historic buildings and grounds. These wonderful surroundings provide energy and enhance our sense of spirituality and inner peace. The Meeting has a great appreciation for its Adult First Day Programs. We recently ended a series of wonderful talks about famous Quakers. There is a desire to renew the Spiritual Journey presentations that many members and attenders have shared over the years. There is a great sense of community that manifests itself most visibly in projects such as the Edgewood Elementary School book project we undertake each holiday season, the Valentine’s Day cards we make and send each year, the upkeep of our property and our annual summer concert on the lawn. We also embrace the visitation of newcomers to our Meeting. We are looking ahead optimistically with a younger group of leaders. We were also inspired by the Spiritual Formal Program and plan to grow the program within our Meeting.
In addition to our strengths, there are areas of concern and opportunities for improvement. Our conversation about these issues was a testament to the health of the Meeting, as we collectively juxtaposed our concerns with our goals.
There is a financial concern, as two of our major donors passed away in the last year. The Meeting agreed that further outreach, a donation letter, and an updated website with online giving are necessary. We would like to increase our sense of community by having more occasions for fellowship and discussion, such as the monthly potlucks we are holding this year. We also want to reach out more to our local community in general, about Quakerism and about the history of Little Falls. There were concerns voiced about sparse attendance; an older population of consistent attenders and members; a desire for more social activism within the Meeting; how political discussions within the Meeting can become divisive; and the challenges posed by splitting the Meeting into two smaller groups on the Sundays that we have Intergenerational Meeting for Worship (with some people in the schoolhouse and some people in the Meeting House).
Although our attendance is not large in numbers, it is abundant in spirit. We will continue to nourish and tend to this wonderful place.
Over the years Little Falls has faithfully responded to the Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) annual request for a Spiritual State of the Meeting Report. In many of the reports we talk about the comfort, joy and spiritual nourishment we bring away from Meeting for Worship and our good fortune to have such a long history, in such a peaceful and beautiful setting. We speak of finding value in our unprogrammed worship. Bobbi Sue Bowers, our clerk for Meeting for Business and Elizabeth Harlan, our co clerk have faithfully conducted Meetings for Business in a spirit of worship with well- prepared agendas.
Over the last several years, but especially over the last year, Little Falls has seen a decline in consistent attendance, active membership and financial contributions. The participation number on Sundays is low. Committees have been laid down as participation declined. We are fortunate to have a children’s first day teacher but attendance there fluctuates depending on family commitments elsewhere.
In an effort to better capture, reflect and describe the opinion of the Little Falls Community regarding the Spiritual State of the Meeting we emailed or texted the BYM queries to sixteen members and attenders who regularly or at least occasionally attended Meeting for Worship in the last year. We received eight heartfelt responses including that of the report writer. Highlights from these responses were read at a well-attended Monthly Meeting for Business on May 6, 2018. With Meeting for Business approval, the writer agreed to prepare the formal report.
Each Christmas season Little Falls purchases a gift book for each student in the third grade at Edgewood Elementary as well a book which is read to each of the three classes. We value this activity to which many of us donate. The Fallston community knows us for the annual free summer concert with ice cream we host each July.
We recognize that successful social concerns outreach should come from a shared spiritual conviction. Using the Friends General Council Grow our Meetings Tool Kit provided by BYM we made an attempt to have the Little Falls community choose one social concern on which the Meeting would focus and devote energy. We could not reach consensus. We discussed the possibility of a sign on the front lawn to serve as visible commitment to our support for concerns about racial, religious and gender discrimination. We stepped away from this opportunity. We brought forth the idea of sponsoring meetings using the resources of the well- organized Coming to the Table movement and we talked about holding candlelight vigils. We made an effort to increase our number of shared meals but few attended. Also using the Tool Kit resources, we set aside the second Sunday of the Meeting as Intergenerational Meeting for Worship with the children. While those who do not want to participate are welcome to have regular Meeting for Worship in the Meeting House, most just do not come.
We are challenged by the need to replenish our community with active members, the energy and financial resources required to repair our historic buildings and grounds, our inability to agree as to how to take social action as a Meeting whole. This inability and our reluctance to be open and listen to opposing viewpoints contributes to the current condition which many see as not healthy.
With apologies to Rogers and Hammerstein:
Little Falls is its own special island where
Your own special hopes
Your own special dreams
Bloom on the hillside
And shine in the streams
That may not be completely true but we try!
There is a consensus among members and attenders that Meeting for worship at Little Falls provides great joy and solace. The opportunity to sit in silence and worship in a caring, supportive community is much appreciated and is considered a valuable resource. The Meeting is content with the amount of speaking that is done during Meeting for worship. Many members and attenders see Meeting for worship as a time to reflect and recharge.
The physical setting of the grounds is also a great source of joy for many here. Our hundred and seventy-four-year-old Meeting House and beautiful cemetery provide a sense of peace and serve as a reminder of Quaker history in Harford County.
The Meeting enjoys conducting a relatively simple set of outreach projects each year, including a gift of books to students at Edgewood Elementary School, providing food and other support to the Friend of a Friend project, sending Valentine’s cards and get well cards to current and former members and attenders, organizing our annual summer concert for the community, and holding a Christmas Eve Meeting for worship. Recently, we have started dedicating one Meeting for worship a month to a more family-oriented worship format, with fun community building activities included. From time to time members also share their spiritual journeys with the Meeting.
Some members of the Meeting would like Little Falls to become more involved in political causes and to have more of a voice in Harford County. Other members are content with the outreach the Meeting currently conducts. This is a point of ongoing consideration. Many of our members have individual leadings in which they are very active, including Quaker education, environmental issues, support of the Heifer project, support of community building projects in Baltimore City, and maintaining our place of worship.
While the population in our county has grown from 52,000 in 1940 to 245,000 in 2010, our membership has held steady at the 1940 level. This is a source of frustration for the Meeting. We question why the Quaker message does not resonate with more of the new residents, and whether we are doing enough to get the Quaker message out to the local community. When visitors come and do not stay, we wonder whether it was because we are not taking enough action on political issues, or whether we are not meeting their spiritual needs. What is the message of Quakerism today that is heard by new attenders? Do we need to modify that message to make Quakerism more popular? These are questions the Meeting is considering.
Little Falls recognizes that it needs to do more outreach with other Friends Meetings. As a Meeting, we have not been working with the wider Baltimore Yearly Meeting community. Most members have crowded lives that leave little time for travel and weekends are dedicated to home and family. While the internet can provide immediate communications, it may not be the best way to deliver beliefs and spiritual messages.
In an effort to make connections with other Meetings, we have discussed closing our Meeting House on one First Day a year and asking members and attenders to visit other Meetings. This was a practice that Little Falls engaged in years ago. We also think it would be interesting for Quakers to travel between Meetings to discuss their beliefs and get to know each other. In the nineteenth century traveling minsters were common place within the Society of Friends. While they probably did not all have the same interpretation of Quakerism, they did stir the spiritual pot and provided topics that were useful for individuals looking for an interpretation of core Quaker beliefs.
The Meeting believes its Meetings for Business are held in a spirit of worship and is very happy with the efforts of its Clerk, Bobbi Sue Bowers.
We begin this report by acknowledging that a review of the Spiritual State of the Meeting is much more difficult than reviewing the budget or facility needs. For this report we really tried to focus on spiritual state not project accomplishment. We found two things helpful: The queries sent out by BYM Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee and the Friends Journal article, Jan 2016 “Why have a peace and social concerns committee” by Eileen Flanagan.
The FJ article resonated with those who read it. The article reaffirms that monthly meetings are set up to be faith communities not social action groups. So now the questions are how does Little Falls stack up as a faith community? Since we do not have a Peace and Social Concern Committee what social action activities can we undertake as a meeting of the whole? And how can we support individuals who want to take on social action projects?
In response to queries sent out by BYM Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee, we answered as follows:
What are our greatest joys as a Meeting?
Christmas Eve Meeting for Worship
Work Tracey and George Waite did with the basketball court at Gilmor Homes.
New members and sharing our thoughts
Quiet and peace of the Meeting House and grounds
Books given to third graders and reading to them at Edgewood Elementary at Christmas.
Do we meet the needs of new attenders?
The fact that there is Meeting for Worship every Sunday available to all is a benefit.
People should feel free to attend as they can without pressure.
More social interaction over coffee or over small projects would help us know each other better. We recognize that in order to build community you have to create opportunities for people to get to know each other.
Spiritual journeys or having people share their leadings that have led to outward action as Adult First Day topics would be good
Several new attenders really enjoyed the Wednesday evening book discussion group that met two years ago. It died partially because there was no one to lead it.
We need to let go of people who have moved on to other faith practices. They were here for a while because they had a need. But it would be good to invite everyone back for a special get
together to share memories and current status.
Do we want more reaching out to the community and if so what particular community?
Certainly Friends School of Harford to which many at Little Falls are dedicated is outreach.
Message on the sign on the Meeting House front lawn is a visual connection with the local community. The summer concert on the lawn is outreach to the local community and to other Friends Meetings. In 2016 we hope to reach out again to the local Muslim faith community.
Quality of Meeting for Worship:
There is a silence that is deep
Even though we are small there is something satisfying to people
Atmosphere here is worshipful
People are involved and we sustain the meeting despite our worries.
Several times Lewis Dietz from North Carolina, here to tend family matters, has participated in our meeting for worship. Messages in February regarding love and loss led him to send us the gift of multiple book marks, each with a unique phrase from sayings and poetry that he has collected.
We plan an Adult First Day each Sunday except the first Sunday of the month when we have Meeting for Business. We are reading and discussing Doug Gwyn’s A Sustainable Life several Sundays each month. The book offers a good review of Friends history as well as reminds us of the importance of living a personally sustainable life. Since many of us live at some distance from the Meeting House and have multiple commitments, it is difficult to plan sustained activities for days other than Sundays.
How can we develop more attendance from people who have shown interest?
How can we develop a larger regular attendance as reflected in the names in our meeting directory?
How can we reduce the burnout that inevitably happens when people are asked or feel obligated to stay in a specific role far longer than we should expect or maybe healthy for them?
Little Falls is an active, self-sufficient Quaker Community which is somewhat isolated from fellow congregations in Baltimore Yearly Meeting physically, if not in spirit. Attendance at Meeting for Worship is consistent and we are fortunate to have well planned and executed first day programs for both adults and children. We are privileged to occupy buildings and grounds which are both venerable and beautiful, which in and of themselves offer balm to tired or troubled spirits. We are happy to see both new and old faces at our Meeting and are grateful for the many energetic members and attenders whose efforts sustain us all.
Community outreach is a concern of many of our members, though our capacity to offer assistance is limited by the modest size of our Meeting. One activity in which we have faithfully participated for several years has been traveling to Edgewood Elementary School at Christmas time to read to some of the children and deliver gift wrapped books as presents. Furthermore, we make steady contributions to the Harford Food Bank. Also, a number of our members participate on boards and committees of other Quaker organizations such Baltimore Yearly Meeting, Friends School of Harford, Friends School of Baltimore, Sheppard Pratt and the Miles-White Society.
Members are interested in developing other forms of outreach, such as engaging in dialogue with teachers at the Friends School of Harford with the goal of increasing their awareness of Quaker Faith and Practice. We would also like to strengthen our relationship with the Muslim community in Harford County.
CHILDREN’S FIRST DAY
We really appreciate our teacher who has been with us for several years. She is a steady, creative force in the lives of our children. Her consistent attendance makes it possible for our parents to attend meeting for worship regularly if they so choose. The children of our Meeting attend first day with enthusiasm, and have demonstrated substantial knowledge of the history and tenets of Quaker religion.
Members look forward to learning more about what the children are doing each week, perhaps by participating in a “gallery walk” of display of their work. Also we intend to explore the possibility of establishing a first day class/social group for the teen aged participants in our community.
ADULT FIRST DAY
Friends appreciate the variety of adult first day programs organized by the first day committee. This variety reflects the range of interests of members and attenders. We appreciate the occasional ministry of a weighty Friend from Baltimore who is deeply engaged with the writings of the first generation of Friends: these presentations are thought provoking, and challenge many points of excepted Quaker wisdom. Also, we always appreciate the opportunity to hear the spiritual journeys of our members and attenders: these provide perhaps our best opportunity to come to know each other and to come to appreciate what ideas and concerns are most important to our fellow travelers.
MEETING FOR WORSHIP
We recognize Meeting for Worship as the core Quaker experience, and are gratified when attendance at Meeting is consistent. Friends appreciate the depth of silence at our Meeting and believe that there is enough vocal ministry, but not too much. On occasion there is no speaking in our Meeting for Worship. In this past year we have sometimes enjoyed the serendipitous byproduct of the furnace failing in our Meeting House, which consists of sitting in chairs in a circle in our school house. We really enjoy facing each other in worship, but can somehow never translate this practice into worship in our Meeting House.
We always feel gratitude for the members and attenders who sustain our Meeting, and we would like to make a more sustained effort to reach out to those whom we see less frequently. We encourage attenders who have experienced the life of our Meeting for some time to commit to membership, and hope some will do so in the coming year. Also, we look forward to some changes in leadership this year, thanking those who are being released and anticipating the opportunity to take advantage of the energy and expertise of those who are filling these roles. Finally, we are grateful to those among us who have finally updated our Meeting handbook, which includes our membership directory, and have put it into a software format which will allow for easily executed modifications going forward.
ISSUES OF CONCERN
Members and attenders of our Meeting all seem to agree that climate change is occurring, and that it is substantially affected by the increase in greenhouse gases which has resulted from humanity’s consumption of fossil fuels. However, there is a range of opinions in regards to what responses are appropriate for us as individuals, as a Meeting, and also for societies across the globe. We also find that we have a range of opinions about the nature of fracking for natural gas, and in regards to investments in corporations which develop or transmit oil or natural gas resources. We will continue to learn about and discuss these issues and look to guidance from the still, small voice within us all as we work to achieve unity.
Little Falls is an active, self-sufficient Quaker Community which is somewhat isolated from fellow congregations in Baltimore Yearly Meeting physically, if not in spirit. Attendance at meeting for worship is consistent and we are fortunate to have well planned and executed first day programs for both adults and children. We are privileged to occupy buildings and grounds which are both venerable and beautiful, which in and of themselves offer balm to tired or troubled spirits. We are happy to see both new and old faces at our meeting and are grateful for the many energetic members and attenders whose efforts sustain us all.
We make note of several substantial accomplishments in the past year: The meeting celebrated the 275th anniversary of its founding last summer with a well conceived weekend of activities including historical exhibits, a tour of sites significant for local Quaker history, and lectures and discussions on the past, present and potential future of Quakerism and Little Falls Meeting. Of course there was also time for food and fellowship!
Maintaining our buildings and grounds is always a challenge, but notable this past year was the repair of the historic, wrought iron fence enclosing our cemetery, substantial portions of which had been destroyed by trees felled in violent storms. New fence sections had to be hand fabricated and installed, and then the entire fence was painted.
We always strive to employ a Children’s First Day School teacher who is not one of our parents, so that all the parents of our children can attend Meeting for Worship if they desire to do so. We are very happy to have retained our excellent teacher, who is also beginning a career as a full time teacher in the public schools, for another year.
Our meeting is not large and so our ability to provide outreach to the community is limited, but this year we again had members go to Edgewood Elementary School to read to some of the children and deliver gift wrapped books as presents. Wrapping the books is always a fun, intergenerational activity at Little Falls. Additionally we provide limited food contributions to the SARC and the local food bank on a monthly basis.
Throughout the year we have enjoyed excellent Adult First Day School programs and discussions, many hosted by our committee on Peace and Social Concerns. Also, Friends have deeply appreciated the spiritual nurture provided in Meeting for Worship.
Of course, each year brings issues of concern as well as accomplishments, and this past year has been no different. We recognized that while we are happy in our facilities, which are like comfortable old clothes to us, they may not always be appealing to new comers. Our school house in particular needs better space organization, better storage and perhaps additional lighting and painting so that it functions better and makes a really good first impression on those who are new to our community.
The above notwithstanding, we were blessed with a goodly number of new attenders and members in the past year. However, we also have missed an attender who left the meeting, and spent some useful time in self examination exploring why this might have occurred. We decided that while striving to be accommodating to the needs of all, we can’t be all things to all people. Still, we want to remain alert to signs of discontent and open to resolving issues.
We recognize that most of us are rather desperately busy, which seems to be contrary to the Testimony of Simplicity: this is particularly the case with families who have young children. Therefore the amount of time and energy that members and attenders can commit to the meeting is limited, which in turn constrains what we can accomplish for ourselves and for others. We see no obvious resolution to this issue, or to the frustration it occasionally engenders.
Happily, most of our goals for the current year entail being together more and doing more together. We want to have more social events like hikes, trips and shared suppers so we can get to know each other better. We want some special first day activities to which our children will want to bring their friends. We will once again stage a free concert for the Fallston community this summer, and we want to provide additional outreach events.
We want to get involved in the AFSC prison outreach program, Friend of a Friend. We want to learn to listen better, striving to maintain open minds, recognizing that no single one of us can accurately claim to know the whole truth. We want to let our lives speak, expressing our faith through action in society.
Little Falls Meeting is a small suburban congregation currently making plans for celebrating the 275th Anniversary of its founding. June 8th and 9th will be a festive weekend of lectures, tours, exhibits and reunions, a time of dedicated Quakers looking back and looking forward. We welcome interested Friends to join us.
Annual State of the Meeting reports seem to come around very quickly and it has been another active year at Little Falls. Our limited membership means that people often serve in multiple roles but somehow much is accomplished as everyone pitches in. We are blessed with a good number of regular attenders whose participation adds greatly to the spirit of the Meeting. People come from a wide geographical area so that, except for special projects and events, our major focus is Meeting for Worship each First Day. Most often committee meetings and get-together luncheons are scheduled on these days as well.
Meeting for Worship is central for all of us and is a rich time of sharing or precious silence in a comfortable, supportive group. We have sometimes wondered if we should encourage more vocal ministry but the consensus seems to be that the balance is fine. Following Worship is an Adult Education program or discussion planned well in advance and this again has been an important and wonderful learning and sharing time. Subjects vary widely, for example: speakers from our wider community, discussions around the proposed Faith and Practice, personal journeys, planning for specific projects, individual sharings around a given theme, brainstorming a political topic. We have much appreciated George Amoss’ series of presentations on the history and essence of Quakerism. This time on the first First Day of each month is regularly devoted to Meeting for Business.
We are proud of our Children’s First Day program in spite of its wildly varying attendance and age span. We are enormously fortunate to have hired an imaginative, dedicated teacher who is full of ideas and adjusts the planned program to each day. Most children spend the first fifteen minutes in Meeting and then repair to our schoolhouse. There are a good many intergenerational activities and meals which we all share and we count our children among our greatest blessings.
One of our most active committees is Peace and Social Concerns. Under its leadership we have followed several themes: peace and militarism, social and economic justice, outreach to our Muslim community, and equality for LGBT persons. This has involved speakers and active follow-up in further contacts and with petitions and placing an ad in our local newspaper in support of marriage equality. We also regularly collect donations for a food bank and make monetary contributions to several local and national peace and social welfare organizations. For the past three years our Christmas project has been to give a selected book to each child in three third grades at a county school. A group from Little Falls schedules a reading hour in which we read another book to the children and present their gift books complete with bookmarks made by our First Day children. It has been a great tradition both for us and the school.
Another active committee is Overseers which we have recently renamed “Care and Concern”. This committee undertakes pastoral outreach to persons undergoing sickness or stress or those out of contact for a long time. It is also concerned with requests for information or help and encouraging membership. During the past year it facilitated two Adult First Day discussions which were very fruitful Sitting in a circle and speaking in turn we heard many voices on two topics: Dealing with things we cannot change and Feeding the Soul or the Spirit. Another traditional activity overseen by this committee is our annual Valentine-making Project, an intergenerational gathering which produces creative Valentines to be sent to all members and attenders locally and in our wider community. There has also been a six-week Seekers Group which met during this past year. We are grateful to this committee for keeping track of the needs in the Meeting.
Little Falls has been deeply involved in the founding and continued support of Harford Friends School currently completely its sixth year as a very respected K through Grade 8 institution. Although it is not officially under our care, many of our members have been part of its initial planning, served on its board, and continue active participation.
All in all, it has been a good year. We would very much like to increase our membership but are careful not to push attenders beyond their personal readiness. We could wish for more regular attendance by some of our busy members. We recognize many needs that our outreach fails to address but respect our limitations. Maybe someday. We continue to be grateful for the guidance and inspiration that comes out of our worship together both in our personal lives and in whatever works we can do. We are thankful for the gift of Continuing Revelation.
Like most Friends Meetings, Little Falls derives much of its Spirituality as a community in the gatherings each First Day for Meeting for Worship and Adult and Children’s First Day programs, as well as from Monthly Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Business. A number of committees also meet on a regular basis to deal with specific issues and concerns. Also there is strong leadership from Little Falls in other Quaker institutions including Harford Friends School, Friends School of Baltimore, Miles White Foundation and Broadmead.
Many Friends and Attenders feel that the spirituality of meetings for worship has become even deeper during the past year. Silent worship is seen as the ‘core of Quakerism’ and is the primary reason that most come to Little Falls. The time of quiet is especially precious, however, the vocal ministry which occurs is seen as helpful for both the speaker and the listener and often provides a means of sharing both joy and pain and of enabling Friends to understand one another more fully.
Many have expressed the importance of caring and nurturing within the Meeting and newer attenders especially say they feel the warmth of the Meeting and the comfort of worshiping with one another.
Little Falls has a robust Adult First Day program weekly following the Meeting for Worship. Children meet in the School House with a teacher and the Adults remain in the Meeting House. The Committee on Peace and Social Concerns has been particularly active in bringing controversial issues before the Meeting. Among them have been speakers for and representatives of teenage gays and lesbians, and discussion with a large group of Muslims who live and worship in Harford County.. Other programs included individual spiritual journeys, wrapping of books as gifts to children at Edgewood Elementary School, a series on in depth study of Quakerism led by George Amoss who plans to incorporate them into a book. The Overseers Committee has organized discussions which help Friends deal with difficult decision making.
Some Friends have felt that Business Meetings are less exhilarating than other aspects of life at Little Falls, but they are well organized and deal effectively with issues which come before the Meeting.
Friends have laid out a list of directions for the coming year. They include willingness to work toward even deeper understanding of Quakerism and the spirituality it inspires through the creation of a Seekers Group, preparation for the 275th anniversary of the founding of Little Falls, more community outreach, meeting the budgetary needs of the Meeting, coordinating the Children’s First Day programs, and intergenerational activities. Friends are also interested in following and being involved in changes taking place in the Faith and Practice.
Little Falls is rich in a wide range of interests, talents and accomplishments among its members and attenders. We are concerned about the quality of worship and its impact on daily practice. We are also concerned about public awareness and understanding of what Quakers believe and do.