Abingdon 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.
|2009 Report||2010 Report|
|2011 Report||2012 Report|
|2013 Report||2014 Report|
A sustaining force in our Meeting continues to be our time for sharing after the close of Meeting for Worship. This time allows a space for members and attenders to vocalize inner stirrings and thoughts that did not fully surface during the silence. It also provides an opportunity for friends to share concerns and joys they may not wish to share during the worship. The space for sharing is a continuation of the spiritual journey of Meeting for Worship. This extension of Meeting for Worship has given the Meeting a chance to build community and the experience has been nurturing.
Abingdon Friends Meeting is still small in size but not in spirit. Due to our small size we do struggle with attendance and outreach. However, this has been a year of growth and transition for the Meeting. The Meeting has been enduring changes in leadership roles throughout the year and friends have stepped up and stepped down. Currently the Meeting has named a new treasurer and is still in the process of naming a new recording clerk and clerk. Until the community is able to name a full time clerk, friends are taking on the role on a monthly basis. New leadership and rotating leadership has been a valuable opportunity for learning and growth. Another change of note is the reinstating of the Ministry and Oversight committee.
The Meeting has also taken steps to heal the conflicts of the past and build a stronger community. A committee was formed to develop a process for addressing and resolving conflict within the Meeting. The development and implementation of this conflict resolution process has given strength to the life of the Meeting. By listening and pondering each person’s truth as a part of the reconciliation process friends have been able to create a safe space for worship. In addition to conflict resolution, the meeting as a whole decided to begin having brown bag lunches once a month. The lunches serve as a community building activity and have been very helpful in welcoming new members.
Learning Quaker process is still a central focus for the Meeting. Members and attenders get together after the rise of Meeting for Worship once a month to study Quaker process and have discussion. These classes encourage friends to look at the concerns of the world and self through the lens of Quaker values. Through classes and fellowship friends are able to share and learn from one another. Additionally, the meeting was blessed to be able to worship with Betsy Tobin of Baltimore Yearly Meeting and Gabriel Ehri, the Executive Director of Friends Journal. All these experiences work together to foster a rich spiritual life.
Friends seek to be good stewards of the Meeting finances. As a whole the Meeting continues to support the Back Pack food distribution program through a local elementary school, along with other churches in the area. Friends have also donated money to support our local ecumenical food distribution center. Members and attenders volunteer in several community service organizations. Friends discontinued an ad about our service in one paper, yet another one runs it for free, and the Meeting is considering alternative ways to reach out to those seeking an inclusive spiritual experience.
Because of past disagreements, our meeting’s members and attenders have been involved in an ongoing and energetic process to heal and promote “a vision of community that allows not just for loving acceptance, but also for loving challenge, growth, and transformation.”1 Through monthly Quaker Process Discussions, we are fostering the idea of an inclusive Meeting Community that concentrates on listening to each person’s truth and helping one another respond to God’s Will. We are coming to realize that we are on a never-ending journey in which our personal spiritual experiences build a foundation for our faith and practice.
Our monthly discussions are leading us to the development of procedures to deal with conflicts quickly and openly. We are using advices from BYM Faith and Practice and Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches by Matilda Navias. Studying ways of peaceful resolution, our goal is for our meeting to be a place where Friends feel safe to express themselves and know “that they will be listened to because they are valued.”2 We are going forward to deal with past conflicts and hurt feelings in an open and honest way. The process has not been easy, but our discussions have benefitted by the participation of Friends who had stopped attending meeting because of past disagreements. We are emphasizing looking ahead and working for peaceful reconciliation and healing that builds a strong community.
Meeting for worship has been a sustaining source for our Meeting. There is a Sense of deep Spiritual connection that continues to express itself in the vocal ministry. Friends have said that another Friend’s message had spoken to their spiritual state of mind and helped them to deal with their own issues. These feelings reinforce our sense of community on the eternal and personal levels and give us hope for mutual accountability and discernment.
Although we remain a small meeting, our members and attenders volunteer in several community service organizations. Along with other churches in our area we continue to financially support a Back Pack distribution program. Friends, energized by new attenders, are researching the most effective ways to help with other food distribution services. We have placed a weekly information notice in the church section of our local newspaper to reach out to those seeking an inclusive spiritual experience.
1. Yates, Thomas, Members One of Another: The Dynamics of Membership and Quaker Meeting, pp25-27.
2. Southeastern Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice, “Blessed Community”, pp.12-13.
The current spiritual condition of our Meeting is good. However, this past year has been a Spiritual Challenge. The term “discord and conflict” well describes the actions and behaviors of concerned members as strong disagreement developed over how to proceed on specific issues. The result was a division of our Meeting and a decrease in attendance. Some Friends have decided not to attend or participate in Meeting, but have continued service work in our local community supported by Abingdon Friends Meeting. The Friends who have continued to look to the Meeting for spiritual support, met to discern the way we could benefit and grow as we face the challenge together. Realizing that the underlying strength of our Meeting has been the individual and collective Spiritual experience during Meeting for Worship, we have been led to emphasize that experience. As we go forward searching for God’s Will, we plan to simplify all aspects of business and worship. We have established monthly discussions to study Quaker Process so that, as Arlene Kelly noted in a Friend’s Journal article, we may be prepared …“not to avoid conflict, but rather, when it comes, [know] how to engage it holistically, seeking Spirit-filled resolution.”
Our Meetings for Worship continue to have a strong Spiritual presence with occasional mystical experiences being described by Friends. Vocal Ministries, though still not frequent, have stirred Friends to voice a connection to the thoughts and truths spoken from the Silence. Descriptions
of Worship range from “refreshing”, “thought-provoking”, and “calming” to “recharging of the Spiritual battery for the week ahead.”
Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business has been a trial and a source of conflict. As our Meeting grew and matured, our business process began to drift from Spirit-led community decision making with the goal of unity, to a more secular model of promoting or defending strictly held personal positions or opinions. Using the queries and advices from Faith and Practice, we have developed suggestions for Friends to follow as we conduct “worshipful” business. Friends attending Meeting for Business are reminded of the advice “to come with open minds, seeking the Spirit, listening carefully, discerning the truth in what others have to offer… [and] proceed with forbearance and warm affection for one another.” We are undergoing the test of time to see if our efforts bear “fruits of the Spirit” and draw our community into greater harmony.
Because attendance is down, we have decreased the number of standing committees and we do most committee work as a committee of the whole. The Meeting continues to support and participate in several local community service organizations. We have recently joined with 7 churches in our region to support financially, and with volunteers, a Back Pack food distribution program at one of our elementary schools. Abingdon Friends and others in our area are involved in the development of a nonprofit mediation and conflict resolution organization.
Abingdon Friends’ Spiritual Journey continues to grow with each new experience.
29th day 2nd Month 2012
We continue to conduct programs to aid our members on their life journeys by offering events that illuminate the spiritual path.
A spiritual retreat in June 2011 was well attended. This meeting took place in Taylor Valley, Va. a scenic village located near the Virginia Creeper Trail.
Abingdon Friends Meeting sponsored two DVD programs covering discussions of who Jesus “really was“ within the historical matrix of the times, which has to be considered for a true evaluation of his teachings and their meaning. The first session was a two evening showing and the second session was a six evening course that had many theologians and distinguished clergy with an open, and what may be considered radical, thought in some Christian communities.
Our First Day worship continues to be of great value to all. Most messages are spirit driven and have caused us to consider their content as it applies to ourselves and the world.
We are blessed to have people come and visit us to participate in Friendly Worship.
Some stay with us, and others may be opened to realize the merit of going within in silence to listen to that part of us that is beyond knowing. This may be the seed that will bloom at a later time and venue. This one taste, if you will, of what is possible.
One visitor informed us that she felt as if her whole life was opened in the worship hour. She returned a few times after but was disappointed that a similar ecstatic moment did not happen. Some members explained that these happenings are gifts of Spirit and may or may not be given again, at least not in a scheduled way.
Another visitor had an “out of body” experience which upset her. She explained that she absolutely did not believe in such happenings, especially as it pertained to herself, who was of a basically scientific mind.
Now, Abingdon Friends Meeting does not claim to be a well of mystical happenings. Nevertheless we believe this being touched by the “OTHER” is a benefit for all.
The Meeting labors as a community to approach Meeting for Worship with a concern for business in the same spirit as exhibited in First Day Worship. To come with hearts and minds open without prejudgment, to discuss issues as in a search for clarity, to listen to all and come to the sense of what is best for the Meeting and to forgo our personal desires and yet not be unfaithful to the truth as we see it and do all in a reverent Friendly manner.
Our members and attenders are very much involved in the Abingdon community at large.
The Peace and Social Action committee has sponsored and participated in trying to stop further nuclear expansion in demonstrations at Oak Ridge and the processing of nuclear waste into military weapons in Jonesboro, TN.
Numerous members of our Meeting continue to participate in monthly witnessing for peace.
A number participate in the good work of of Abingdon’s Ecumenical Faith in Action organization, which provides many services to the poor and indigent, i.e. food pantry, clothing, help with utility bills, counseling, etc. We are planning to participate with members of Christ the King Catholic Church on one of the teams that participate, on a scheduled basis, in service to the clients of Faith in Action.
There is much individual participation in other endeavors, e.g. Chain Free Abingdon, a service to alleviate dogs from living a life chained to a stake. Chain Free Abingdon provides a fenced enclosure and has the owner pledge to follow some few simple promises.
Just examples of what is being done.
May we go forward led by the Spirit so that all may be held in the Light.
The Abingdon Friends Meeting continues to enjoy the newness and freshness of coming together. There is a sense of anticipation as we gather for worship. Our spiritual condition is one of well-being. We have not been tested with strife or adversity. We find joy in one another and are open to each other as companions on the Way. The foundation for a resilient community is being laid.
We know silence even as we are learning silence. There is a sense of reserve in spoken ministry and a genuine desire to be on the Quaker path. Times of study and discussion have helped us to grow in worship as we learn from one another and from Quaker legacy. Often the vocal ministry has been affirmed with a sense of being of one heart and one mind. We are beginning to have a strong sense and power of a “covered” meeting.
The meetings for business are well attended by a core of over half the attendees. There is a diligence in carrying out the decisions related to various concerns and plans. Important new committees have evolved out of out business gatherings. A Peace and Justice Committee formed recently in response to a local community meeting with the national director of Every Church a Peace Church. Earlier in the year a First Day School Committee was formed as the interest and need called for the beginning of a First Day School. This action reflects the attendance of four young families. These families add vibrancy to our life together. The Ministry and Oversight Committee is learning to serve the Meeting. A Day of Reflection was held in the Spring. Our meeting assisted in planning and programming for the Blue Ridge Gathering of Friends in the spring. We continue to support a prison release program.
The Meeting needs to continue to season in the Way, to discover its identity and place in our local community and to see itself as part of the wider Quaker movement.
There is a deep sense of awe and reverence for the Light that has been given in a relatively short time as a gathered community.
"As The Way Opens..."
An often quoted Quaker phrase describes our Meeting's spiritual journey this past year.
Most, or all of our attendees are at a stage where the awareness of the miraculous nature of life and the questions it poses deems serious thoughtful concern What is the purpose of being? What path or method might be a helpful aid to reaching some discernment of the subject? We Friends are here because our method of silent, expectant waiting seems an amenable form to open ourselves to that which is beyond our present perception, the very core of our being. Friend's procedures and practices, developed over hundreds of years, support our way.
Our Meeting is still a very young one and most of our congregants are new to Quaker tradition and ways. With the help and earnestness of some members we have held a Quaker 101 course and other educational sessions concerning the history and methods of Friends. We have also had discussions about the role and mission of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. We recently had a class that helped people to understand vocal ministry arising out of silence. Friends have said this was quite helpful and encouraging for them.
The deep, reverent silence of Meeting has been a source of great spiritual comfort to us. Slowly, but surely, spoken ministry has developed over the months.
We are becoming aware of the need for attentive listening to messages and allowing respectful time to absorb the content of this ministry to the Meeting. This listening and interval of silence also applies to "after thoughts"
Attendance at Meetings for Worship with a concern for Business has been gratifying. The average number of attendees is nine people. There has been a lot to cover in our Business Meetings because we are still setting up committees and procedures and solving problems that arise from the application of Friends' ways.
Committee work is gaining momentum.
We are involved in supporting former prisoners to adjust to civilian life. Members are supporting various peace and environmental causes.
Out of sacred silence and vocal ministry a way is opening towards simplicity, respect for all beings, the serenity of peacefulness and the holy wholeness within all our brothers and sisters of our good Earth.