Blacksburg Friends Meeting Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports
The text of recently received Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports are below, with the most recently received at the top and older reports below. To jump to a particular report, simply click the year listed below.
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The Committee on Ministry and Oversight (M&O) of Blacksburg Friends Meeting hereby submits our annual report on the Spiritual State of the Meeting for 2021 to Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) guided by several queries provided.
- How does Spirit prosper in your Meeting? How have you protected the Spirit this year?
Meeting for worship outdoors is a way of keeping Spirit active in our Meeting. In the late summer and fall there had been a core group of about 10 people that was meeting each Sunday in person outdoors. In winter, as the weather got colder, we began to have zoom gatherings, and a few outdoors, for Meeting for Worship, and about 5 or 6 people who met inside the Meetinghouse, socially distanced. Even the outdoor gathering and indoor gatherings kept zoom on to keep the groups connected. We have regularly been having a zoom meeting following the rise of Meeting to share joys and concerns. There are often only a couple of people who join zoom live for sharing joys and concerns, but there is also some sharing over email. One member has formalized this by creating an email ‘thread’ for this exchange. We hope and anticipate that with more vaccinations, more people will be able to start coming in person.
- What are Friends doing to support one another? How have you addressed the conflicts that have arisen this year?
With regard to support, we have had several members in need of support over the past year. Two long-time members died this year, two have been hospitalized for Covid, and another is having notable medical issues. We have had to keep in person visits to a minimum, if at all, but have been able to offer support through email, cards, phone calls and drop off meals. Some older members who are part of the local retirement community here, have met sporadically over the past year.
- What does spirituality mean to you and your Meeting? How does your Meeting reflect that? Has it been different or the same during 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic and discussions of racial equality, climate change, and the presidential election?
We do not have a shared or common sense of spirituality. Our meeting is quite diverse in its approach to spirituality and that diversity does not seem to create tension or problems for the Meeting. Our Peace and Social Concerns Committee is active, and individual members who wish to, tend to get involved in social concerns and activities. For example, throughout the pandemic, we have continued to collect food for the local Food Bank, and to share in the distribution work for the Food Bank. We have started a book group based on the book “How to be an Anti-racist”. Some of our members are participating in an in-person (socially distanced) gathering on Friday late afternoons, in front of the downtown post office, to express support for different social issues, minority groups and for peace. This is a multi-church initiative, begun before COVID, and recently resumed, that meets once a month for an hour in front of the local post office.
The queries that guide our report are as follows:
a. How do we nurture healthy vocal ministry? How do we nurture ministries of other kinds and affirm one another’s gifts? How can we improve the way in which we recognize and speak to one another’s gifts?
b. What paralyzes us or prevents us from answering our call? What fears do we experience? Which fears drive us and which fears create obstacles?
c. Do we have the courage to create space for our human fallibility and vulnerability? In what do we find that kind of courage?
We focus in this report on the first query. We find that the vocal ministry of our Meeting is lively and well-represented by multiple activities and events. These include:
- Earth Care Committee
- Peace and Social Concerns Committee
- Bible Study group
- Estill Putney’s role as inter-ministerial group liaison,
- Monthly peace vigils at the downtown post office (until the ‘shelter in place’ directive in March).
The Meeting members and attendees have not been gathering together physically since the ‘shelter in place’ guidelines and directives related to the coronavirus. As a result, however, individuals have been sending messages of ‘joys and concerns’ and other missives and information via our listserv. This type of exchange has typically occurred on Sunday mornings, when we would have been rising from meeting for worship, although sometimes messages have been shared at other times, too. On Earth Day, for example, various people shared information about online content related to the Day’s celebration, as well as thoughts and reflections. It seems this variation on vocal ministry has been most welcome and helpful in sustaining a sense of community and ministry among members and attendees.
To improve in the coming year, we need to focus more attention on the unresolved audio problem in the Meeting House. Some of our older members have difficulty hearing the vocal ministry of speakers during meeting for worship, can be more fully included. One of our members, Steve Shaffer, in consultation with the Building and Grounds Committee, has worked on this and has a solution, as well as the necessary equipment. We will plan for the Meeting either to hire a qualified student or to recruit a qualified student volunteer to install the equipment with Steve’s supervision.
1. With fierce winds of political discord and violent expressions of hate swirling in the world around us, what does your community do to strengthen our attention to the Spirit in Meeting for Worship?
Within our Meeting we do have a range of political perspectives, although a liberal political perspective probably predominates. Political issues are generally absent from Meeting for Worship. Our Meeting’s messages are largely about loving our neighbors and learning about those who are different from us. Regarding political discord in the wider world, members of our Meeting have been reaching out to other groups in our geographic community (churches and community organizations that seek peace and justice in the world, such as Re-entry, which helps people emerging from prison, and the NAACP). As a Meeting we participated in a community-wide event called “Love Thy Neighbor,” to show support for social groups (Jewish, Muslim, African-American) that suffered shootings in 2018. This particular event involved about 125 individuals representing local organizations, as well as the town mayor and police chief.
2. What do you do to strengthen the Quaker “roots” of your community?
We don’t have deep Quaker roots in our community. But we are strengthening our roots by leasing to The Mayapple School and working with other community groups to foster love and awareness in our community. The Blacksburg Friends Meeting has existed only since the early 1970s. This group started as the Roanoke-Blacksburg Friends, which was largely based in Roanoke until Blacksburg Friends started meeting in the early 1980s in the basement of the Presbyterian campus ministry (“Cooper House”) in Blacksburg. Blacksburg Friends continued to meet in that basement with flux in attendance until 2009, when we built our own Meeting House.
The Christiansburg Institute (CI), in the neighboring town of Christiansburg, was founded after the Civil War with the assistance of Quakers to educate freed slaves. Until the 1960s it provided the best high school education for Black students over a very large area. We sponsored a presentation by Daniel Thorp of the material in his book, Facing Freedom: An African American Community in Virginia from Reconstruction to Jim Crow.
3. There seem to be dueling forces among Friends. We recognize we can be a shining light and healing presence in troubled times, while on the other hand, we value our individual Meeting Community so much we can be unwelcoming to change or discordant voices. What is your meeting’s experience of this? Do you sense a tendency to avoid tension by not discussing differing points of view?
We would agree that we tend to avoid provoking tension. We generally do not experience discordant voices in the Meeting. We tend not to discuss differing points of view. That said, we have experienced differences with regard to the political situation. We do need to be careful not to make assumptions about this.
In some of our committees we have had discussions about differing points of view on issues (e.g., outcomes of the Gas Pipeline that is crossing our community/county/state).
4. Is your Meeting a diverse community: racially, philosophically/politically, theologically? How is that expressed? In what ways?
Racially and philosophically/politically, our Meeting is not particularly diverse. We are more diverse in terms of theology than political perspective. However, we have not conducted formal occasions to learn about the diverse perspectives among our members and attendees. We have in the past, and will propose to expand, a program for Adult Education that would, in a given session, invite three or four members or attendees to talk with us about how they came to Quakerism. This would allow others to learn more about the theological points of view of other members/attendees.
We have become more diverse in recent years by age group. That is, we have younger adults attending Meeting since we moved into the new Meeting House in 2009, but especially in the last 3-4 years.
When we built our Meeting House in 2009, we had it blessed by a Buddhist monk. He also comes and visits us on occasion.
In First Day School we teach diversity and respect for diverse types of people and groups. We have peace poles, expressing wishes for peace in different languages, in the lower floor room (which is being used by the Mayapple School—a nature-based preschool—as of January 2019).
We have members who are birthright Quakers, of course, but others who come from diverse religious traditions, including Judaism and Islam. Some of us are non-theists.
The Blacksburg Friends Meeting is an intergenerational and financially diverse Meeting, both of which contribute to the health of our community of faith. The oldest member of the Meeting is 92, and we have regular attendance at Worship by a few Virginia Tech students. There is a strong youth group with dedicated mentors involved with them. Last year the teen-age youth, with their mentors, studied and discussed current issues such as intergenerational relationships, conscientious objection along with the complex side of war, and racial injustice.
The Blacksburg Meeting is intent on maintaining good stewardship practices with finances and care of the property. We maintain a budget that is balanced and are currently paying off the mortgage for the Meetinghouse, which was constructed in 2010. A monthly Saturday work day helps keep our building and grounds in good order, and we have a strong Building and Grounds Committee. Another strong committee is our EarthCare Committee, which focuses on issues of environmentally wise practices for ourselves and for our role as a concerned organization in the larger community. The Adult Education Committee has provided programs of substance that are thought provoking and of current interest. We’ve discovered the value of the Quaker Speak videos and intend to use them again as a basis for some of our studies.
We are also a community of people who are mindful of the emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing of each other, both members and attenders. Many people associated with the Meeting are involved in hospitality, outreach, and ministry in the local community and beyond. Some of the outreach efforts are the community Interfaith Food Pantry, The Blacksburg Refugee Partnership, and various ministries of visitation in the area. A member of the Meeting is currently revising the Blacksburg Friends web site with the intention of making the format more user friendly and providing information for people who might be interested in local Quaker activities.
Members and attenders, who are committed to the Spiritual Formation group, participate in a quarterly large group meeting and once a month in small worship sharing groups. After Meeting for Worship, we share our joys and concerns with each other. This can at times become a lively and spirited exchange. At other times, there is compassionate listening and affirmation for what someone expresses. A technology committee that is part of the Buildings & Grounds Committee is currently assessing possible resources for providing audio amplification in the meeting worship room for those with hearing difficulties.
We’re also trying to be attentive and active in making visitors feel welcome when coming in to the Meetinghouse.
For the second year, on 2 October 2016, we conducted a brief order of observance for World Quaker Day at the beginning of Meeting for Worship. The focus of the observance this year was the historic involvement of Quakers in the Boarding schools for Native American youth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We are concerned about the cultural and spiritual damage to the Native American children and families, even in the present generation. We see this as an injustice imposed on native people’s lives.
Blacksburg Friends have established a tradition of ending each calendar year with an informal Christmas Eve shared meal and service, and a New Year’s gathering as we look forward to the year to come.
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I. What are the greatest joys as a Meeting?
The collective silence of the group is very profound and a tremendous joy
We are a congenial group
We have a fellowship time after meeting with tea, coffee and snacks
We have gatherings during the year outside of meeting for worship
What leadings does your Meeting feel most strongly?
The Earth Care Committee has been very effective in inspiring the meeting members to work on environmental problems and concerns; we are interested in preserving the world not only for ourselves but for future generations. We are also involved in the Pipeline controversy in our area.
What challenges are you facing?
The funds we must pay to BYM is a continuing challenge, as we struggle to pay off the mortgage of the Meeting House. As a result, we are not able to pay as much as BYM requests.
The number of contributing members/households is 20; this is less than we wish it would be and we are actively working on outreach and publicity about the Meeting. Attendance at meeting is stable, but we have room in the meetinghouse for more participation.
II. How does your Meeting nurture the spiritual life of members and attenders?
We have singing Sunday on 5th Sundays of months
We are working on reviving a Spiritual Formation program that we have had in the past, in the absence of the person who spearheaded it recently. We also have a Bible Study group that meets monthly after Meeting. This group has been going through the Bible and has a regular group of attendees.
Are meetings for business held in a spirit of worship?
Our Meetings for Business are friendly and held in a spirit without significant contention.
III. How has your Meeting explored issues that divide us or attempted to listen across the divide?
Is your Meeting as diverse as you would like it to be?
We have some diversity in our Meeting.
We have a rainbow sign at the bottom of our driveway, so that the public will realize we are open and inclusive to everyone.
How welcoming are you to newcomers?
We introduce ourselves in a large circle after each Sunday’s Meeting for Worship and we make a point of talking with people whom we have not met before.
Do friends of all ages feel fully a part of the Meeting?
We have teenagers in Meeting for whom we have special gatherings outside Meeting for worship so they get to know each other (there are not many); there are young adults and some students and older adults.
Do you engage with other Meetings for shared projects?
We have the Blue Ridge Gathering planned for April 2018 which brings together other Meetings in the Blue Ridge region for worship, service and fellowship.
How do you put your faith for peace and justice in the world?
We actively support the local Food Pantry through food donations and service each month to help with the Food Pantry.
We have a member who is belongs to the Blacksburg Ministerial Association.
Peace and Social Concerns Committee is actively engaged with peace and justice causes.
Has your Meeting made any witness to your community and/or the world regarding the recent elections?
We have not done so as a Meeting, but rather as individuals. We have made witness through the work of many members and attendees on the 2017 elections (Virginia governor and General Assembly), and 2018, especially in response to the 2016 elections.