Warrington Quarterly 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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It has been said that even a successful person’s life is not a smooth ascent to mastery, but rather a series of peaks and valleys, each following on the other. So it is with Meetings, as well.
The Meetings that make up Warrington Quarter continue to engage in much activity—some far out of proportion with their size—from political and social justice advocacy, providing space for preschools and other local groups in their areas, to maintaining Friends burial grounds and historic meetinghouses on behalf of Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
At the same time, many, if not all, have been wrestling with the challenges that come in the lives of all Friends Meetings at one time or another—issues with members and attenders, differences in interpretation of right practice with regard to meeting for worship and/or the management of the Meeting, drops in attendance. The business meetings of the Quarter continue always to include reports from all of its member Meetings through which these challenges can be shared and discussed.
We have also addressed particular shared concerns, for instance, holding a series of four discussions over the course of the year all centered around “Nurturing Our Meetings” (with regard to visitors and newcomers, members and the “spiritual core” of the Meeting). We also held a workshop with Dyresha Harris in follow-up to her presentation on Racism at Interim Meeting.
Although our membership nominally includes that of all the Meetings that make up the Quarter, our actual attendance continues to be small; nor is the representation from each Meeting necessarily commensurate with its size. Though few in number, our group remains solid in our commitment to each other. Our care for and friendship with each other is palpable. I don’t believe anyone who does so regrets coming.
Our challenges mirror those of our member Meetings—a small and aging population that hasn’t (yet) succeeded in attracting new people, much less in convincing them of the value of the experience we provide. We know the worthiness of our time together, but the answer to how we’ll continue to sustain ourselves, beyond those who currently attend, remains before us.
No report received.
It has been said the most enduring legacy of George Fox in the contemporary Religious Society of Friends is its organization into Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings.
The Monthly Meetings within the geographical affiliation of Warrington Quarterly Meeting are of average-size and small, urban and rural, old and new, growing and not currently growing. Aside from the absence of a truly large Meeting (a Sandy Spring or a Friends Meeting of Washington), we might be considered a microcosm of Baltimore Yearly Meeting; or perhaps, with an adjustment of the size-parameters, in fact we are.
Most of our Meetings report that meetings for worship have been held in good order (one will go only so far as saying they have been held “as planned”). Some report regular reading of Queries—some monthly, though one reports worship each week begins with the reading of a query. One meeting has made use of the Queries from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting rather than Baltimore Yearly Meeting. The Clerk of another Meeting has written monthly queries adapted from those of Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
The activities and issues the Meetings and the individuals within them engage in range from hosting ESL (English as a Second Language) programs, preschool programs and making their meetinghouses available as homeless shelters, to meetings of outside community groups and as venues for discussions of local and not-so-local issues (one meeting lists amongst its resources its “Little Free Library”); to involvement in soup kitchens and Food Pantries, United Way programs, neighborhood groups, local community workdays and other events. Oh, yes, and in Baltimore Yearly Meeting. One Meeting reports that all its members are active, either through their work, or with the Yearly Meeting, or within the community.
One Meeting reports meetings for worship are held in a deep silence with very few messages; another reports that their meetings for worship almost always have spoken ministry (they go on to identify that silence is one of their “anchors”, and, even though they don’t always have much of it, they “lean in that direction”). One reports they are continually learning how to deepen their corporate worship: how folks might better “come with hearts and minds prepared”, how to improve the practice of vocal ministry, how to deal with latecomers, even how better to conclude worship. One meeting states it “has a depth which is hard to measure yet Friends express gratitude for the silence, and first time attenders find that our worship draws them back to worship with us again and again.”
Some meetings have organized book discussion groups, before- and after-worship programs; some hold mid-week worship services; at least one reports involvement in the Spiritual Formation program.
A more general concern expressed by many of the Meetings revolves around the long-term future: Many report their attendance is stagnant or shrinking, their population aging, their seasoned leadership disappearing. As one Meeting said, “As the participation of those members drop off, will there be somebody else to take their place?” How people can balance multiple and competing commitments, within and outside of the Meeting; how to invite more “people with energy” (as one Meeting put it) to serve on committees; and/or, as another Meeting put it, how to continue to do all they do with many of the same people performing multiple roles, these are concerns expressed pretty much by all. (One Meeting reports they have established a “Committee on Committees” to look at their current structure and workload). The above notwithstanding, one of our Meetings nevertheless witnesses it is possible to “re-ignite” even after being down—literally--to one member.
As regards Warrington Quarterly Meeting itself—the body of people who gather four times a year—we remain a small but close group, many if not most acquainted with each other for years (indeed, in some cases now, for decades). At the same time, Shepherdstown Monthly Meeting has just joined Warrington Quarterly Meeting and we are immediately feeling the benefit of the new energy and input they are bringing.
Our Meetings for Worship have been held in good order. Our pot-luck luncheons—no less a part of building our fellowship—remain spectacular. Our Meetings for Business have come mostly to involve the review and celebration of our member Monthly Meetings, their activities and concerns. That said, some items of Quarter-specific business and also concerns brought to the Quarter from the individual Monthly Meetings have also continued, as needed, to be addressed.
Our general concerns reflect those of the Meetings we comprise: how to increase interest and involvement in (indeed, awareness of) Quarterly Meeting, how to convey its relevance to everyone in all its Monthly Meetings (who are, in fact, as much a part of it as of them). We seem to be misperceived, at least in some cases, as an elite, self- and monthly-meeting-selected group of representatives that gather on behalf of our member Monthly Meetings, rather than the totality of the larger geographical distribution of Friends that all make up our member Monthly Meetings.
Quarterly Meeting has been characterized by at least one of our Meetings as an anachronism from an earlier, more disparate era, when the communication within the Yearly Meeting was difficult, and something that now should be laid down. We do represent, albeit no more than four times a year, yet one more draw on people’s time and energy.
Yet even with the value of and now easy access to Annual Sessions, Quarterly Meeting does remain a more immediate reminder—and one that’s more locally-relevant to its constituent Monthly Meetings—that we are not just individual Meetings (much less individual worshippers), but the body of heirs and exemplars of the beliefs and practices of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, of the Religious Society of Friends, that, as one of our Meetings put it, has been bequeathed to us by people no longer with us, and which, if the Religious Society of Friends, much less its Yearly, Quarterly and Monthly Meetings, is to flourish, it is our task to translate to the present so that it can then come to be conveyed to the future.
“We are not who we were. We are what we are.”
These words, spoken in the context of one of our member Meetings, could as well apply to Warrington Quarterly Meeting as a whole. The past year has seen several of our member Meetings impacted by intense internal disagreements that then have led to people leaving—in both cases including the Clerk of the Meeting. This in addition to a similar disruption of another of our Meetings a few years ago, which continues to operate without a Clerk.
Two of our other Meetings are presided over by Co-Clerks, though more from issues arising out of the perceived demands of the position; a third has been considering empowering a Co-Clerk. Two of our meetings, not the same ones, currently operate without committees, but rather as a committee of the whole.
The familiar assumptions about Friends’ Meetings and the way that they are organized don’t seem to relate to the demands of the present. Our Meetings seem, many of them, to be feeling their way forward.
Most of the people who left were also active in Warrington Quarterly Meeting, so we have similarly been diminished by their loss. We grieve, ourselves, along with the individual Meetings.
This notwithstanding, it is interesting to recognize these type of intense disagreements are hardly a novel phenomenon within the Religious Society of Friends. The librarian of the Quaker Archives at Swarthmore once mentioned minutes from Friends’ Meetings in the 19th century where, in one place, they called for the peaceful resolution of conflict, while, a little farther down, were minuted all the Friends who were being read out.
We have embarked on an analysis of the contributing factors to our various conflicts with the hope of discovering the deeper dynamics and assumptions out of which they have arisen.
We have also discussed during the year how to organize and coordinate a clerkless meeting. This led to a workshop in September about Meetings recognizing and nurturing the gifts of their members and attenders, with the idea of working towards developing new ways of getting a Meeting’s work done in place of falling back on the traditional configuration of officers and committees.
Even as, internally, the situations of our Meetings remain fluid, their meetings for worship continue to be reported held in good order. The gatherings Warrington Quarterly Meeting itself remain, as always, vibrant and exhilarating. And there remains vigorous involvement of the Meetings, or individuals thereof, in their local communities, from participating in vigils, to participating in local programs hosting homeless families during cold weather, agreeing to provide the use of the meetinghouse to public forums on issues in the community, to, for instance, having a table at the Frederick City LGBT Pride Festival.
That said, a pertinent question was also asked within one of our Meetings whether those involved were “doing the work of the Meeting” or rather following their own leadings.
Perhaps the best summation may be that we have been reminded—forcefully—that we are always proceeding as way opens, that stepping back reflexively into the comfortable assumptions of the past leads ultimately to disconnection and dysfunction.
How we will come to reinvent ourselves through translating the legacy that has come down to us so as to meet the needs of the present and future remains the not-yet-answered question before us.