Sandy Spring 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.
|2011 Report||2012 Report||2013 Report||2014 Report||2015 Report|
|2016 Report||2017 Report||2018 Report||2019 Report||2020 Report|
reaching, striving, changing
growing, loving, sometimes denying,
in moments knowing….
In Truth the Meeting Abides
Our Sandy Spring Meeting community has been a lifeline to many members in this year of immense change, grief, confusion, and overwhelming challenges. For some it has been a time of introspection and study, for others a time of isolation, loneliness, and depression. Through it all the Meeting community has felt like an anchor of love that has held us safely in the storm. At times, we have felt disconnected with Spirit and one another as we have grappled to stay centered in the midst of huge worldwide crises that we see everywhere we turn, touching our daily lives in ways most have never experienced before.
Commitment to our many testimonies in areas of peace and social justice, environmental protection and renewal, spiritual nurture, political engagement, and support to our neighboring community has held steadfast. Throughout it all, our understanding of ourselves and our role in the world has deepened. In this time of polarizing political divisions that threaten the very fabric of our democracy, the Spirit called us more than ever to be Friends of Truth and Light, and to proclaim the centrality of Love.
The international rallies for racial justice heightened our resolve to grow toward becoming an anti-racist faith community. Our change group has been deeply impactful by challenging our Meeting to understand what it means to be anti-racist and to help us commit to work toward being an inclusive community. Many felt the anti-racist book group embraced them spiritually and expanded their perspective. The work is often uncomfortable; however, the unguarded open discussions around race have allowed authentic relationships to develop. One friend noted, “If you're not uncomfortable, you're not moving forward.” Another said, “I can be real where there is respect, love, and allowance to be different, which is what a faith community should be.” These efforts have also led us to build a closer relationship with our nearby communities.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we adapted the ways we worship and how we support each other. Overall, virtual Meetings for Worship have been a successful substitute, though the change has been difficult for some. We miss the human elements of being in person, not to mention direct eye contact and the hugs. Some Friends report it is hard to feel the spiritual connection they had experienced in the Meeting House. Additionally, distractions from home can make it difficult to settle. Friends without electronic connections have not been attending and sadly, we have not heard from a number of friends at all. We miss their gifts immensely. On the other hand, Zoom has had an equalizing effect: the same sized boxes with names and faces supports a feeling of egalitarianism and community. Although these changes have not been smooth for everyone, our worship evolves in the spirit of continuing revelation. The strength of our spiritual connections allowed us to use a hybrid form of in-person and virtual worship to celebrate a marriage, memorialize Friends' lives, and hold the nation in the Light during the contentious election. “We are experiencing the Light differently,” one Friend remarked, “but it is the same Light.”
Spiritual sustenance was also provided through many small groups which met in person and virtually. Among these are several committees, Bible study, spiritual reading, spiritual friendship, friendly eights, and virtual potlucks that included games, education, and worship. Our newsletter and weekly emails helped to keep us connected. Phone calls and cards offered personal touches of care and support.
Thanks to the creative dedication of our First Day school teachers, our students have learned that relationships are more important than conventional lessons. Their program evolved to include adults with outdoor programs, rain garden projects, and fire pit get-togethers. Teachers even visited students at home, delivering lessons and resources in an effort to stay connected. At the intergenerational program at Christmas, we invited F/friends and neighbors to “Hold each other in the Light, Walk in the Light, and Be in the Light.” This nurtured Friends to feel the Spirit’s presence during the darkest days of the season.
Although we live in chaotic times, our worship and small groups have strengthened the ties among us. We miss face to face human interactions and wonder about weaving our community back together when we can meet again in person. Nevertheless, we are learning that in spite of differing ways of being together with one another, everything changes except God’s love companioning us through the ups and downs of life.
Early Friends believed that they were of the Light and in the Light. We celebrate our continuing tending of the Light and the gifts provided to us by our elders worshiping in this land since 1753. As we have been re-building from our dislocation of several years, we note that our Meeting finances are on solid ground and generosity flows from many in time and talent. We also find ourselves facing questions of identity and direction—navigating the troubled waters of our current times while tending to one another in Love and Truth."
The Spiritual State of Sandy Spring Meeting reflects how we are reacting to the discouraging and difficult events that we, as a nation, have been experiencing for the last few years. Some of us feel that our Meetings for Worship are strong and supportive, while others wish for more closeness and participation. We struggle greatly with the tension between action and contemplation. While some feel uplifted, in the Presence, and inspired in Meeting for Worship, others experience a need to withdraw or a need to express their outrage over world events. We have several concerns about our Meeting. Some of these we have been addressing, while others we still hope to address.
We have four Meetings for Worship each week, and each of these has a distinct tone. The 9:00 MfW is often silent, frequently deeply gathered, and often spiritually nourishing. The 11:00 MfW is full of energy and often has spoken ministry. It can be inspiring and gathered. There are messages that speak to some that others perceive as not being Spirit led. The fifth day 7:30 MfW attenders share potluck and community before MfW. Though small in numbers, this Meeting has been a source of powerful healing. The Presence is strongly felt and past Friends are known to be “working among them.” The Friends House MfW, despite logistical difficulties due to construction at Miller Center, has still found abiding peacefulness.
Some of the changes we are making reflect our concern for declining attendance, especially families and children. We continue to rebuild our community wondering how to best use our community house.
In an effort to be more inclusive and engaged with our children we have recently made a change to first day school. Our children will be joining 11:00 MfW at the end of worship in hopes that they may experience a deeper more gathered time with us. We will also have time set aside for our children to tell us about their First Day School classes. We also have opportunities for arts and crafts for children during MfW with a concern for Business. We are enjoying a simple meal after rise of Meeting. This has been described as being, “embraced in community.” We have
made efforts to be more intentional in our relationship with Sandy Spring Friends School which is under our care. Community Life committee has provided monthly Saturday evening Simple Meals with interesting programs.
Our Meeting used Quaker process to embrace the ministry of Windy Cooler around pastoral care and Quaker Family Life. By accepting this ministry under our care, it now becomes a shared responsibility. Her anchor committee reports to
Ministry and Counsel and our Meeting will receive updates in the future.
There are so many activities going on within and associated with our Meeting that some members don't feel supported and others aren't able to support the many ministries and activities. We hope to reduce this problem in the future by hiring a paid coordinator.
We do an uneven job of encouraging the ministries of our members. Part of the difficulty is that we, as a community, don't have a cohesive idea of what being a member of the Meeting entails. Our expectations are not clear and our eldering is not strong.
There are many formal and informal groups which offer support including clearness committees, meal trains, spiritual friendship groups, and committee work. How do we increase awareness and access to these? Memorial services not only serve the family, but often provide inspiration and spiritual solace for our entire community. Many people have enjoyed the Quaker reading group that meets at 10:00 on 4th First Day. The worship sharing format allows for more and deeper connection. A small dedicated group meets to study the Bible 2nd and 4th First Days at 9:00. More and different formats would allow more opportunities for us to address some of the ways that we are falling short in connecting with each other.
The addition of Adult Religious Education would enable a number of our needs to be met. Teaching and discussing Quaker process could help encourage an environment where ministries and gifts are upheld. This can foster a kind of gentle eldering which we can all do with each other. Additionally, Adult R/E could address our very real need to look at our inherent biases and would be a venue for those who feel isolated to join with others who feel disenfranchised. We recognize our lack of cultural diversity. We need to expand our welcoming, uncertain how to proceed in addressing our unrecognized biases. More opportunities to discuss fears, vulnerabilities, joys, and leadings will help us join more fully in the life of the community. It will help to give people the inspiration and support to go where Spirit leads.
The work goes on through the many hands and hearts that value Quaker life at Sandy Spring Meeting.We create space within silent worship to hear the still small voice within and guide movement in our lives to let our Light shine. Ken Zastrow would say, “It is good,” Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting is full of Light.
Addendum April 2020
Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting is responding to the current pandemic as many are by using Zoom meetings to meet virtually. We have moved to have 3 of our regular meetings on Zoom, having invited Friends House members to join one of the other virtual meetings. We conducted our first Meeting for Worship with Concern for Business using this virtual platform. Our many committees have also continued to meet. Though many have expressed that this does not replace the powerful spiritual presence of meeting in person, we are grateful to be able to keep some worshipful practice together. There are those from afar, and those with physical limitations, who express gratitude for being able to join our worship community again. We look forward to examining the gifts from this virtual time, as we hopefully move back to normal in the future, so that we can perhaps offer an even more integrated and rich worship community.
No report received.
In the quest to discern the spiritual state of our Meeting the words of George Fox, from his “exhortation to Friends in the ministry” in 1656, has become a touchstone for Ministry and Counsel:
This is the word of the Lord God to you all, a charge to you all in the presence of the living God; be patterns, be examples, in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your life and conduct may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them ye may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you: then to the Lord God you shall be a sweet savour, and a blessing.
Quakers have notoriously lifted a single phrase from this passage and waved it about as our banner: “Walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.” However, Quaker historian Tom Hamm has reminded us the whole passage is an exhortation to also look inward and “mind the light.” In doing so, we experience not just the Light of love and grace but also the conviction of its illumination of the ways in which we have fallen short. This report speaks of all of these - the conviction of seeing our shortcomings as a Meeting more clearly and the Light’s love and grace toward Sandy Spring Friends Meeting.
Last year, in 2016, our Spiritual State of the Meeting report stated, “There is a yearning among our members and attenders to return home to our historic main campus. Even more, there is a desire to reconnect as a beloved community.” Today we can report we have returned to our home campus. We have begun and continue to re-establish our beloved community. We are settling into our newly renovated Community House and new religious education wing. We are seeing the true value of these new facilities as venues for the activities, events, and gatherings that knit our Meeting together. In addition, they support our efforts to build meaningful connections with Baltimore Yearly Meeting, faith communities in and around Sandy Spring, and the wider community as a whole. We are back home and we are intentionally and steadfastly working to reconnect our beloved community.
Yet our efforts to reconnect have come at a time when our country feels deeply divided. This growing national division may be one source of an unsettledness we have felt growing within our Meeting throughout much of the past year. Even as we have connected with one another in our community, we have
struggled to know how to respond to the larger environment of vitriol.
Our discernment process has led us to observe two new yearnings within our Meeting this year. First is the yearning to engage the world in its contentious and divided state. The danger inherent in such division is clear and imminent. Yet to focus too much on the larger world may cause us to overlook our own
struggle with diversity and inclusion as a Meeting. To be inclusive means to welcome diversity. We are most inclusive when people are free to be with us without wearing masks which conceal their true selves. We seek to create a space in our world where the lamb can lie down next to the lion in peace and without
fear. We are on record as welcoming people without regard for race, ethnicity, culture, language, gender, and the many other ways that our differences are most obvious. We extend ourselves and open our doors and hearts to the Muslim, Hispanic, and African-American faith communities.
Diversity, though, is also about ideology, values, and political philosophy. Hence inclusion is also about making a peaceful and safe place where conservatives can be in worship, learning, and fellowship with progressives. Perhaps we can dare to state it this plainly: this lack of diversity and inclusion
in our own Meeting reminds us that we are more like the divided country and world around us than we care to acknowledge.
We were reminded by a friend, during our discernment process, that “If we are going to be a welcoming community, we have to actually welcome people and help them connect with others.” This is true regardless of those things that define our differences.
Not unrelated to this first yearning is the second yearning we have heard throughout our discerning process. We are also yearning for a spiritual deepening. Joyfully, we can report this seems to already be happening within our Meeting. The reports we have received about the quality of worship in our multiple weekly meetings for worship reveal a deeper experience with the Light. Similarly, we have received reports from Miller Center that Meetings are welcoming, the messages are rich and seasoned, and Meeting for Worship is often a gathered and centered experience. It has also been reported that Meeting for Worship at Sandy Spring Friends School is spirit-filled and worshipful. The Thursday evening Meeting for Worship continues to meet needs for healing and depth for a small and faithful group. Finally, even those who are no longer able to attend Meeting are still united in spirit with our beloved community. Many of these often hold the various Meetings for Worship in the Light.
During our building process some Friends stayed away. Slowly, many are returning and new people are finding us. We have been on a long journey. Though we are back home and have unpacked our bags, we are not yet completely settled. Hence we must be patient and gentle with ourselves and toward one another. We are anxious to move beyond building concerns and debt retirement to focus on those things that deepen our connections and our spirits.
As is often the case, our discernment process raised more queries than it answered. We are recording some here that we feel need to continue to guide our Meeting in the coming year:
- We take pride in those stories in our Quaker history where Friends “speak truth to power” but what is our truth today and are we speaking it
- Are we opening ourselves to others around us who are different from us - not just different by race, ethnicity, culture, language, and gender, but by ideology, values, and political affiliation?
- How do we create opportunities to hear one another despite our differences?
- Has our recent building project changed us from being a Quaker Meeting to being a Quaker institution within the community? If so, what are the unintended consequences of this change?
- Are we a place where those who come to us can find a spiritual home that nurtures and supports their spiritual path?
- We have enjoyed a wonderful, growing relationship with our brothers and sisters at Sharp Street United Methodist Church but can we go to the next level with them, to have courageous conversations about race?
As we close this report, we return again to the fundamental question that compels us to undertake this annual discernment: what is the spiritual state of our Meeting? We are becoming a beloved community again, yet we continue to yearn for something more. We yearn to make a difference in a country that is divided, contentious, and damaging to people we care about. We yearn to go deeper in our spiritual lives - as individuals and as a community. These yearnings go hand in hand. The Light is dancing at Sandy Spring, delighting many with the presence of God in their lives. However, we need to begin to rise off our chair, move to the center of the floor, and join the dance. May we join hands with others - whether they are like us or not - and dance with joy in the Light. In this way, we will move into the Spirit’s deeper teaching of what it is to know the conviction, love and grace of the Light and to become a pattern and an example in our world.
- Approved Fourth Month, Eighth Day, 2018 by Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting
The Lord showed me, so that I did see clearly, that he did not dwell in these temples which men had commanded and set up, but in people's hearts … his people were his temple, and he dwelt in them. – George Fox (Journal, 1694)
As this report is being prepared, Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting is on the verge of a homecoming. During the period in which our new community house has been under construction, our meeting life and activities have been segmented to several locations. Beginning in August 2014, the 11:00 AM First Day Meeting for Worship and Monthly Meeting for Business have met in the Ashton Meeting House on the campus of the Sandy Spring Friends School. Our First Day School has met in Yarnall Hall as have many of the Meeting’s committees. Sandy Spring Friends School has our appreciation and gratitude for providing a loving and caring temporary home for these during this time. Meanwhile, the First Day Meeting for Worship at the Miller Center in Friends House has continued to gather at 10:00 AM. The 9:00 AM First Day Meeting for Worship and Fifth Day evening Meeting for Worship has also continued at our main Sandy Spring Meeting House.
In this past year it has become increasingly apparent that our segmentation has led to greater fragmentation of the meeting community as the building process has stretched on longer than anyone anticipated. Some evidence of our fragmentation may be seen in a drop off in attendance at First Day School as well as at the 11:00 AM Meeting for Worship at Ashton Meeting House. It can also be intuited in the remaining tension between those who were and are enthusiastic supporters of the community building project and those who remain concerned about the enormity of the undertaking and the process which led to it. Even as our community house process winds down, a building process is just beginning at Friends House. Friends House will need all our Light and support as they move through this period of transition and turmoil.
Yet, amidst the segmentation and fragmentation, there is a yearning among our members and attenders to return home to our main, historic campus. Even more, there is a desire to reconnect as a beloved community. One Friend, in attendance at Ministry and Counsel’s retreat to reflect on the spiritual state of our meeting, observed that the Sandy Spring Meeting House is an outward symbol of the inward core of our Meeting. This echoes Fox’s truth that God dwells in the hearts of people, not in buildings. Though we restlessly await the return to our home campus, this restlessness may only be a metaphor for the yearning we feel to spiritually reconnect with one another and reunite our beloved community.
In that same reflective retreat, participants were asked to imagine that we were re-constructing our community and then to share what materials we would use to construct our “building.” Among the materials Friends identified were: trust, hospitality, active silence, listening, truth, intentionality, logistics and communication, faith, love, prosperity of spirit, education, celebration, forgiveness, worship, continuity, simplicity, spirit, sharing, inclusiveness, and grace. This list is representative but not exhaustive of the many ideas Friends shared. The sense of the meeting, though, was that Friends were yearning to move forward with excitement, hope, optimism, and an increased desire to restore the beloved community.
The desire and need for a revitalized beloved community may have also been accentuated in the past year by the U.S. presidential campaign and the subsequent change of administrations. In response to the growing angst, fear, and worry among members, attenders, and the larger Sandy Spring community, Ministry and Counsel asked for two called meetings. One was held on the eve of the election in November 2016 and the other on the eve of the presidential inauguration this past January. Both called meetings were well attended by Friends and by members of the community as well. They were racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse meetings as Friends were joined by members of the Muslim community, members of Sharp Street United Methodist Church and Olive Branch Community Church, and others from the larger community. The socio-political events that prompted these called meetings have continued to move our meeting as a whole, as well as individual members and attenders, to actively bear public witness to our Quaker testimonies of peace, community, and equality. The world in which we live, and live out our faith, has been significantly shifted, and continues to shift, in our current socio-political reality. We expect that the coming year will be one that continuously and regularly calls us to live out our witness in new and profound ways.
Despite our segmentation and fragmentation during construction and the shifting ground of our larger world, evidence of our beloved community is readily found. Many have found it in the solace and refuge of other aspects of meeting life that have remained steadfast during these times of transition and tumult. We still celebrate with couples at the union of their lives. We reflect and joyfully remember those who have passed from our midst in memorial meetings for worship. We gather with “standing room only” for the retelling of the Christmas story. The School House on our property has stood in for the community house under reconstruction and has been well used for gatherings of many types. We restarted our spiritual formation program that has been very meaningful to many in the past. The 9:00 AM First Day Meeting at the Sandy Spring Meeting House, the Miller Center Meeting for Worship at Friends House, and the Fifth Day evening Meeting for Worship have continued to grow deeper and richer, and thrive, as spiritual communities. Our Bible study and reading groups continue to speak to the needs of many Friends to study, reflect, and worship together.
When we settle into worship with one another – even if it is only six Friends at a picnic table on Christmas morning – we feel the Spirit’s gentle binding of our hearts together. It is easy to become distracted and absorbed with the challenges facing our beloved community, yet these examples remain as reminders that it still dwells within us, yearning and ready to expand again, to bear a clear Quaker witness in a world that needs it today more than ever.
After nearly a decade of striving with complex issues, we have settled into a more unified time at Meeting. The years of change have winnowed our Meeting and we, like so many other meetings, are examining our work with an eye toward simplifying our focus. At the same time, we are expanding into the community of BYM and into the world community and returning with a fullness of Spirit.
In anticipation of the renovation of our community house, we moved the 11:00 Meeting for Worship to the Ashton Meeting House at Sandy Spring Friends School, in the fall of 2014. The numbers of Friends attending Meeting on First Day have become fewer since the move. This Meeting still benefits from the exuberant presence of families with children. Young Friends are a particularly engaged group, with several members serving on committees. We are heartened by their presence. First Day School is integral to the life of the Spirit at this Meeting. Listening to our youngest Friends prompts us to access God with their simplicity and confidence.
Meetings for Worship at the Friends House Worship Group at 10:00 on First Days continues to be deep and rich in the Divine Presence. This meeting welcomes everyone into worship Friends who have moved to Friends House and residents from other faiths.
The 9:00 AM First Day Meeting at the Sandy Spring Meeting House has grown in size. Friends are drawn to this Meeting by their sense of connection to the Meeting House and to each other through years of communion in the deep stillness of this Meeting for Worship.
The Fifth Day pot luck dinner and Meeting for Worship draws a faithful group who delight in fellowship and in worship.
Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business is well attended, worshipful and productive. It is a regular reassurance of the wisdom of the Inward Teacher when we are still and listening. It is a testimony to the tenacity of our deep roots and our commitment to one another.
Memorial Meetings for Worship welcome many to our Meetings who are not Friends, but are often sparsely attended by members of the Meeting. These meetings for worships are gathered around the way members of the passing generation let their lives speak. Our presence or absence at the memorials also speaks to our strength as a community during this sacred time of transition.
We are grateful for the blessing of many Friends – from youth to the aged - in our many Meetings for Worship. Whereever we choose to worship, we take comfort in the familiar rhythms of the restive beginning, the quiet settling and the deep gathering into the Divine Presence.
Friends who are new to Meeting come to us with fresh eyes. They often remind us of the power that lies in the stillness of our waiting worship. They remind us that heightened expectation leaves us more open to the still small voice. They remind us that Quaker process is profound and a model for working in the world.
Some Friends from our Meeting went to visit a group of Nicaraguan peace workers. At this visit, Friends invited peace workers to a retreat, conducted workshops and did hands-on healing work. Our new Nicaraguan friends commented that this was the first time that a group of outsiders came to them and did not try to change them or take something away from them.
This ministry of presence is strong in our Meeting. Friends participate in inter-visitation within FUM, FGC and BYM. We sit in kitchens and dining rooms, boardrooms and hospital bedsides. We go into the world and create room for the Infinite, and return to our Meeting enriched. When we go into the silent world of nature and allow ourselves to experience its beauty and wonder, we know God.
As we experience the Light in the everyday world, it brings us into the joyous present and we prime the pump of the Living Waters and return to our Meetings refreshed. At times when we may feel the world is an ocean of darkness, we carry the Light always. Friends relay the spiritual practice of deep listening into the world - we stay with the Light - without expectation for cure, but trusting in its transformative healing power.
“Wherever two or more are gathered to worship, the Spirit is there. The Spirit is with us always.” So a Friend reminded us as we gathered to consider how the spirit prospers in our Monthly Meeting. We come together delighting in the opportunity to be with people quietly gathered, seeking God.
Because of our Community House’s construction project, we have been temporarily holding some Meetings for Worship, including Meeting at eleven o’clock on first day, in Ashton Meeting House on the campus of Sandy Spring Friends School. This has been strange and difficult for us at times. We are grateful to Sandy Spring Friends School for opening their campus to us. We love our Sandy Spring Meeting House, and many Friends feel a deep spiritual connection to this building. As one Friend said, our Meeting House feels like home. There is spiritual power in this, and while we strive for deep listening and spiritual seeking wherever we gather, we cannot deny that our Meeting House is special to us. One Friend said simply. “I miss the clock”. The old clock on the north wall of the Meeting House, ticking softly and steadily, wound and attended to by generations of Friends, symbolizes perhaps a meeting of the physical and the spiritual that may take place in Meeting for Worship.
In the hustle and bustle of our large Meeting, Friends worship regularly in the Sandy Spring Meeting House, in the adjacent school house building, at Friends House’s Miller Center and at Ashton Meeting House on the Sandy Spring Friends School Campus. One may find Friends worshiping together quietly on the porches of any of these buildings, or on benches beside the graveyard, or as they walk down a path. Our Meeting covers a large expanse of ground and interacts with the surrounding community. When we say our Meeting is large, we usually mean that it has many members for a Friends Meeting. But it is also physically large, because of its association with the Sandy Spring Friends School and the Friends House Retirement Community. We have had the opportunity to rejoice in this largeness this year, as circumstances have caused us to meet for worship in different locations on our campuses.
But we have also learned and grown through our use of the Ashton Meeting House. Because it is on the campus of the school, many Friends have developed a closer relationship with the school community. As part of this deepening relationship, we have taken under our care Upper School Meeting for Worship at Sandy Spring Friends School. Friends from our Meeting have been worshipping with the students during their twice-weekly Meetings for Worship, and all have reported this as an excellent and spiritually deepening development. This year has been an opportunity to reflect on the beauty of the generational diversity in our Meeting, which brings together people associated with the school and the retirement community. This provides a unique opportunity to learn from each other, and trust we can sustain this relationship with the school community when our construction project is complete.
This year has not been all change and transition. Many Friends continue to delight in Mid-week Meeting for Worship and nine o’clock Meeting for Worship, which still take place at the Sandy Spring Meeting House. Whether we worship at Miller Center at 10 o’clock on First Day or at Sandy Spring Meeting House at seven thirty on Fifth Day, or whether we find ourselves in an eleven o’clock Meeting with fifty visitors and giggling children, or in a small impromptu worship group on the porch of the Community House, we strive to know each other as partners in seeking, as Friends in community, and as parts of a spiritual whole.
This year Friends gathered in a retreat to reflect on how the spirit prospers among us. Going into this retreat, Ministry and Counsel discussed with humility the fact that we are tasked as individuals and as a committee to determine the spiritual state of the Meeting as a community. We wondered whether any of us were up to the task of understanding the Meeting as a whole, when we all see it through our individual perspectives and experiences. We reflected that mere words often fall short in describing the experience of the gathered Meeting, whether it is a large group of Friends or only two Friends sitting together. One Friend offered a profound and humorous rejoinder to this problem, saying that, because we know the spiritual state of the Meeting cannot be communicated perfectly through words, we are free to accept our humble attempt to describe it as the best we can do. In that spirit, here are the thoughts, reflections, and ideas we gathered from listening to Friends speak about how the spirit prospers in our Meeting.
To begin with, we are conscious with this year’s report that we are trying to discern how the spirit prospers with the Meeting as a corporate body. The Meeting is made up of individuals, with whom we may speak about their personal experiences, but the Meeting itself speaks to us as well. The problem, of course, is that it does not always speak in words. Thus the process of listening to the Meeting as a corporate body is the same as the process of listening to God. We can listen carefully for that still, small voice that might reveal to us a message that might be spoken aloud, or might be held in our hearts to be shared at another time, or might be for us alone. But God also exists in the mysterious journey that we sometimes undertake without understanding it, and without being able to put it in words. And the Meeting is there, and speaking, whether we can write down what it says or not.
And yet, often the strongest spiritual understanding and love comes through our deep connection to each other as individuals, through our committees, through our Friendly Eight groups, through our first day school classes, through the conversations we have with each other on the porch. Sometimes the Meeting speaks quite clearly and explicitly, and though we speak friend to friend without anyone else there, we know that we are also hearing the Meeting speak. This is the mystery and the wonder of being part of a corporate body that comes together as one, and can sometimes move with a singular purpose that is astonishing to behold.
This is not to say, of course, that we always agree with each other, understand each other’s truths, or even always like each other. There are disagreements in our meeting, and because we are charged to be honest with each other, and because we know each other as equals in ministry, there are times when we listen to each other, and discuss with each other, and even argue with each other for a long time without coming to a common understanding. There are wounds between us that are in various stages of healing. As individuals, we sometimes bring our wounds to Meeting with us when we worship. We do our best to answer that of God even in those with whom we disagree, but this is not easy. Our community begins with the idea that love is the first motion, and that we come together with the knowledge that God loves us all. We go forward with that knowledge, and we do our best to remember it.
There are also concerns about the continued sustenance of our meeting’s spiritual and physical resources. We have been working for many years now on a construction project that will improve our facilities, with many Friends contributing time, money, and expertise to an undertaking that will provide us with a better space to meet in our committees, educate our children in first day school, socialize with each other, and welcome in the wider community. The inherent difficulty of such a massive undertaking has been daunting at times, and the realization of our goals has seemed very far in the future. Thanks to the hard work of Friends, we continue to move forward, but can this energy be sustained? We have had trouble filling slots on many of our committees; does this reflect exhaustion of our membership? Financial contributions continue to flow in, but this is a result of more money coming from a smaller group of donors; is this sustainable? We are building for the future, but will this future be as vibrant for the Meeting as its present? Friends have reminded us many times that we proceed on faith, just as our forebears in the Meeting did, but the path of faithfulness about our collective future can be just as difficult as the path of seeing that of God in those with whom we disagree. Friends have also reminded us of the power of invitation. By inviting Friends and visitors to engage in the work of the Meeting, we offer them, not a burden, but a sense of purpose and the gift of belonging.
What sustains us, and what gathers us even in our difficulties, is the delicious discovery of the God within, the living Christ. Our attempts to come together may not always be totally successful. Everyone is somewhere on the road between wilderness and home, between chaos and Love. The Meeting likewise is somewhere between empty silence and the warm deep gatheredness that we long for. But when we do listen for that still small voice, and when we make sure that we listen for it often enough, and for long enough a time; when we listen even in the painful places, and then have the courage to answer lovingly and faithfully; when we remember to do our tasks, the big and the small, diligently and faithfully; these are the times when we as individuals come together as a corporate body, and this is where we can speak of Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting.
“I come to Meeting to drink of the silence and connect with others whose spirits are shining and an example for me. When I don't come I feel I am dying of thirst. When I come to Meeting I feel embraced and loved, and it reminds me to look for these when I am not here.” – A Friend at Sandy Spring Friends Meeting Mid‐Week Meeting for Worship
As Friends gathered in worship this year to contemplate the question of how the Spirit prospers among us, and how that Spirit is manifested in our lives both individually and as a community, we heard messages of hope, gratitude, concern, love, and seeking. It is our sense that the Meeting is coming out of a period of difficulty, into the Light of a quickening of Spirit. Friends shared their hope for the future of our children, gratitude for the support the meeting community provides, concern for the overextended and busy character of the lives of many friends these days, love for each other, and messages of seeking that sought to understand how friends should live in the modern world. The theme that threaded itself through these messages was the sense of the Spirit’s Divine guidance, encountered
in our worshipful silence.
A beauty of our Meeting is the diversity of opportunities for Worship and choices for answering Friends’ spiritual and personal needs. Each of our Meetings offer communion with God and one another. We gather in two Meetings for Worship on First Day at the Meeting House, at 9:00 and 11:00 am, a Meeting for Worship at Miller Center at Friends House retirement community. An evening mid‐week Meeting on Fifth Day provides another opportunity for worshipping together, with Young Adult Friends offering a potluck dinner. This year the preparative Meeting at Seneca Valley under the care of Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting was laid down. As a friend said in worship, “there are times when the Spirit may seem to ebb or flow”, and this has been true for our Meeting as we allow Way to Open.
The scope of our Meeting activities for Friends of many ages, interests, and backgrounds is indicative of how the Spirit prospers with us. There are many opportunities for fellowship which contribute to the life of the Meeting, such as teaching first day school or serving on a committee or assisting or attending an event. A friend described this experience this way: “I find these settings allow me to get to know others and to form bonds with them. There seem to be mixed experiences and how they come together, or how I fit into all of it is a question to me.” This friend expresses the complementary impulses we all feel of wanting to be a part of one whole Meeting experiencing the one whole Spirit, while being a part of a smaller group in the Meeting, so that we can know each other as individuals.
One of the things Meeting provides is a way to learn from each other, or as one Friend described as seeing “Remarkable lives worth emulating – lives of commitment.” Our spiritual vitality as a Meeting is exhibited in the commitments we keep to the Meeting and to the community at large. Our Meeting has supported local organizations like Aunt Hattie’s place, the American Friends Service Committee, and our friends in Africa’s Great Lakes Region, to name a few. These represent ways we let our lives speak through collective action. We also heard a concern for our living our testimony of community by tending to individuals in the Meeting, the Meeting as a whole and the wider community outside of Friends. When barriers exist to our living in the Light they dampen our experience of Spirit and sense of connection.
We have learned from each other how to live as Friends, and it is through each other that we have found the Spirit that we take with us out of Meeting and into the world. Our Spirit does not thrive in a vacuum. One of the challenges presented to our Meeting is to continually communicate with each other. One factor in this challenge that is repeated every year is the size of our Meeting. There is a responsibility to seek out what is going on for an individual or the Meeting – and a responsibility to communicate what is going on. When this communication exchange is open and full, we feel the Spirit rise in our personal exchanges as well as during Meeting for Worship and Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business.
We will close with the words of another friend, offered in meeting for worship: “The Meeting has created a place for us to be – a place to be more spiritual beings...A sense of timelessness – losing the sense of time and place – a sense of letting go of our ego to embrace the Spirit. You have a better chance of finding the Spirit in silence, in collective silence – you are in the presence of other speakers. When that energy ignites, you have the gathered meeting. People are led to say how much this means
to them – that is the testimony of the gathered meeting.”
And so we need each other, our collective self, and our ministry, to experience Meeting for Worship and the Spirit that flows through it. In a Gathered Meeting, we are revealed to God, and God is revealed to us. In this way Spirit flows whether we gather in large or small numbers.
We learn our Meeting’s spiritual state through listening to the ways Meeting members and attenders experience Meeting. We have heard about our community gathering in worship, teaching and learning in First Day School, serving on committees, preparing and sitting down to pot luck meals, gathering in small groups to study texts, listening to visiting speakers, working to tend our physical space, and many other experiences of great spiritual significance. Our large Meeting seems always to be in motion, and we all look to the centering deep silence of Meeting for Worship to anchor us. Many Friends do find the Meeting continues to be much calmer and warmer than a few years ago.
On any given First Day morning, a small group of Friends will gather at Meeting for Worship at nine o’clock, committees will meet at ten, and then at eleven o’clock a larger group of Friends gather for worship. The children of the meeting leave during eleven o’clock meeting to attend First Day School. Also during eleven o’clock Meeting, friends will be working in the kitchen to prepare for our noontime social hour. At the rise of Meeting, we greet each other in the Community House. In the midst of this, the question is always, how can we come together to form one community? How do our many parts make a whole?
A COMMITMENT TO WORSHIP
Meeting for Worship nurtures the Spirit and our relationship to God. As we gather in the various Meetings for Worship, we will get a different experience depending on which Meeting for Worship we have decided to attend. The Miller Center Worship at Friends House and the mid-week Meeting for Worship tend to have deep silence; eleven o’clock Meeting for Worship tends to have more messages. The feeling that arises during worship, which may lead to a message, is unique, powerful, and singular. It is the primary reason we come together.
Friends do feel that there is a renewed sense of seeking for more spirit-led worship in the Meeting. Some Friends feel that it is difficult for the Meeting to remain relevant to the spiritual needs of the community when we get caught up in worldly affairs and conflicts. Others feel, like James, that “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-17). Some Friends feel that communication within the Meeting needs to be more forthright and direct.
There is always a deep concern in the Meeting that messages arise directly from the Spirit. One Friend’s message may inspire another, but this is not always the case. The question has arisen among some Friends of whether the meeting has a voice. Is it a single voice, or a composite of many voices? We are always yearning for a richer sense of community that provides the environment for ourselves and our children to make lasting friends and internalize Quaker values.
Meeting for Business is a way to build community as we make decisions impacting our Meeting. We continue to be challenged by Quaker process. One may learn how to do the business of the meeting by learning about other Friends’ insights and leadings. There are times when friends feel marginalized, such as when a lengthy approval process does not easily lead to a sense of the Meeting. The discernment process for the building project has at times been frustrating, with the ever-expanding costs associated with the project currently beyond our means leaving us with uncertainty as to the way forward. Friends reflect that it has been hard to hear of conflict in our Meeting, but that part of membership is learning to listen to criticism from each other and of the Meeting itself.
There are clearly very strong and spiritual concerns that motivate our membership, at times pulling us in different directions. Our Meeting is large and geographically diverse, which creates both challenges and opportunities. There are so many activities that it can be a challenge to maintain effective communication. "Niches" such as Bible Study, Woolman class, ballroom dancing, Community Life events, First Day School and committee service provide the opportunity to stay involved. After attending for many years, some still feel like they are "getting to know" people. Friends try to remember that it is the responsibility of all to greet newcomers and to get to know others outside of our smaller circles.
The physical space of the Meeting and grounds has an effect on all of us. The graveyard and Memorial Grove are places of reflection, and the grounds overall need a lot of care. Friends come together finding spiritual meaning in the labor of the upkeep of the grounds: working in the flower beds, restoring old graves, or maintaining paths. Thanks to the hard work of Friends, there is not as much clutter in the Community House and this makes for less clutter spiritually.
FINDING ONE’S PLACE IN THE MEETING
With so many different activities within the Meeting, how do Friends choose what to work on? Is it possible to say what are the most important projects? How best do we lead, inform and inspire other Friends, who are perhaps willing to help but unsure what to do? How do we strengthen the relationship among Friends who attend different Meetings for Worship at different times? How do we better integrate the different sub-communities within the Meeting, such as children, elders, parents, new members, and others?
There is a sense that the First Day School community is thriving, with lots of families with young children who appear to be happy and learning. There is also a concern to strengthen the relationship with teenagers and young adults, encouraging them to stay connected.
Coffee hour after Meeting for Worship, pot luck meals, refreshments after Meetings for Worship and other special events such as Memorial Meetings and weddings all provide sustenance to nurture the body and spirit. Friends who serve on Hospitality and other committees feel spiritually enriched by the work they do to support these activities. We try to be conscious of the need to support and nurture Friends who serve the Meeting, and to make sure that we seek to help when and where we can. In other words, we must let our lives speak the love we have for each other.