Herndon 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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On the first First Day of February 2021, Friends and attenders gathered to consider the spiritual state of Herndon Friends Meeting, responding to the following queries:
How did the spirit prosper among us in 2020? How has the meaning of spirituality become evident in the past year? What have friends done to support and comfort one another?
We are adapting. Herndon Friends Meeting transcended the difficulties of 2020 in many ways, yet, we must remember that many of us struggled and have continued to do so as 2021 unfolded. Despite the sudden disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic early in the year, the richness of Meeting for Worship continued to permeate life’s routines for many of us, as HFM held Meeting for Worship for 42 consecutive weeks of 2020 via the Zoom internet platform. For those with an adequate electronic set-up and ability to center down from home, our remote meetings have been a time of spiritual nourishment. Some even phoned into the virtual Meetings. Throughout the year, we remained there for each other, though most would be hard-pressed to define where “there” actually was.
First Day School students note that, somehow, community is bigger than the sum of its parts – an excellent realization to have so early in life. Our youngest heard beautifully delivered Godly Play stories throughout the year, though it’s easy to feel sad when realizing that the pillows have not been laid out on our classroom floor for so long. A bonus was that adults and older children were able to listen into the Zoom sessions.
The gallery view aspect of Zoom meetings is allowing attenders and members to be seen by and to see all the rest of us. What used to be the back of many heads in the Meetinghouse has been replaced by contemplation of faces and matching of those faces with names in the Zoom squares – virtual name tags that one never forgets to wear! Weekly Zoom worship averaged 40+ participants, more than we would sometimes see at the Meetinghouse under normal circumstances, particularly during non-potluck Sundays. Even those who tend to speak quietly when at the Meetinghouse can be usually heard via computer speakers, a plus for some with auditory challenges.
As is the HFM practice, we continued to share music as a prelude to silent meeting – gradually refining that possibility thanks to the talent, creativity, and diligence of several Members. Participants had a virtual window to otherwise unseen (or only seen long ago) home environs, with domestic trappings, pets, and outdoor views visible. During a precious weekend away (remember “away”?), one member paused during a hiking and camping trip to participate in Meeting for Worship via the Zoom phone-in number while sitting in his car. When one attender had to drive home from work on Sunday mornings, she stopped the car during the time for our Meeting for Worship, just to feel the presence, knowing that so many of us were bringing our whole selves during that time period each week. Individuals mentioned our new remote routine as powerful, ethereal, accepting, with, “the Spirit prospering simply by surviving.” Without being angry or overtly political, spoken messages offered throughout the year helped us navigate tricky seas, as we sought truth and wisdom amid the waves.
Herndon Friends, along with the wider Quaker and other caring communities, maintained vibrant activity. The Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County stayed on track, local shelter support continued via clothing and food donations to Cornerstones, effective lobbying for causes perhaps more important than ever – with the guidance of Friends Committee on National Legislation and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy continued, silent vigils were held, new and challenging discussions of anti-racism began via our Change Team, all in accordance with the best of Quaker tradition. Going with the pandemic flow, several men of HFM have been meeting twice per month via Zoom, resulting in lively discussion among the participants plus a chance to hear from thought-provoking guest speakers. At the same time, we continued to care for each other, with thoughtful gifts of food and written word, visits at a distance, phone calls, and other connections made safely to get to know each other, catch up with each other, grieve together, and even to congratulate our high school graduates.
We are struggling. Many of us are exhausted, frightened, bound by unyielding physical walls and screen schedules, missing hugs, handshakes, shared salads, and the pounding rhythm of feet running out of and back into the Meeting room. Parents miss the centering of “alone with others” time, the delineation of work, school, and worship; singles miss being in the presence of others in and outside of Meeting; seniors and those most at risk from the virus wish the computer were not their only doorway into the neighborhood. Grief is abundant and profoundly affected by the pandemic. The distancing of the HFM community is a layer on top of our other unwanted separations. Remote worship and distanced activity are not the same nor equal to what we did in pre-pandemic times, but allow us to be as together as we can. In a time of fraught national election, threatened livelihoods and health, new ways of doing so many things we once took for granted, and a myriad of joys paused indefinitely, the miracle of the internet brings much comfort to many but is not a panacea. One member described the Spirit as elusive during distanced worship, while the sense of community remains intact.
Whether we are mostly or partly suffering some of us ask ourselves, “Do I believe in the power of the Light?” Family matters, colleagues with personal and career challenges, artistic endeavors, Friends’ committee work – during these unprecedented times, all seem to lead to multiple opportunities to hold each other in the Light. Maybe the point is: whether we each believe in it or not, we do it, because sometimes that’s all you can do as you contemplate your love for others. And so, we can each be confident that we are each held in the hearts of others.
While we welcomed new members just before and during the pandemic and maintained our links with those who are living far away, we wonder who we might have lost to these times and our current method of worship. We yearn to bridge those gaps. Responsible, safe gatherings at the Meetinghouse garden for worship and the sidewalk vigils for peace and justice have brought people together in real life, adding a welcome personal touch to our pandemic discomfort.
Loss is magnified in the time of COVID-19. We were able to provide a dignified and artistic memorial service for one attender. Their family member was able to participate and share a very special story – one that perhaps only the HFM community could have appreciated. We are mourning family members lost to the virus, as well as one of our founding members, whose rich life will be celebrated in the coming year. That we must stay physically apart for such important community happenings is strange and awkward, but we are doing our best to compensate with other demonstrations of love. Who among us would have ever imagined not being able to hug a long-loved community member who has just lost a parent? Not one.
We are striving to replace the encounters we love. During 2020, it became clear that the ministry of presence is separate from the ministry of place. The Meetinghouse is not the Meeting. Echoing George Fox who said, God "dwelleth in the hearts of his obedient people," one of us noted, “Spirituality does not belong in a box,” but can be nurtured and celebrated in many locations. While some are comfortable and centered in their homes, others cannot get to the depth of spirituality that they experienced in the Meetinghouse, which stands as a symbol of what we believe and holds open a beloved space. When we go back, we surely will celebrate. Putting our money where our values are, certain physical adaptations to the Meetinghouse in this and previous years brought our consumption closer to net zero, and the lack of use likely took us all the way there. As the building sits more quietly than ever, the astute observer can still see that one can go solar in Herndon’s historic district. We long to sit under those solar panels.
While we have been away from the Meetinghouse, a paradox appeared. The gargantuan and anything-but-simple power of technology is providing a way to simplify our connections at a time when there is danger in gathering. This linkage to those on the outside has meant so much to us that we equipped the Meetinghouse with Wi-Fi capability. In post-pandemic times, we will be able to continue to offer a remote option for others to join us.
Thanks to a creative, tenacious coordinator and the adoption of a simple yet powerful idea, known to us as Fortnight Friends (a play on the name of our building prior to the HFM purchase – the Herndon Fortnightly Club), random one-to-one pairings for two weeks of connection have been a treat for many of us. Whether walking, phoning, sharing photos, Facebook video chatting or simply emailing, pairs built and enriched their connections. While the concept could work at any time, launching during a pandemic was brilliant and truly a Simple Gift to all who participated. A periodic “Drop-In and Connect,” virtual potluck monthly gathering via break-out rooms, and continuation of pre-Meeting discussions were some of the varied way that community flourished.
We are sharing. Thus, unlike conventional clergy who are weighed down by the yoke of figuring out how to “deliver” to their congregations from screen to screen each week, our Quaker Meeting works together, sharing the spiritual lift. During some of the most anxiety-provoking weeks of the year, our First Days were full of immense silence and togetherness, rather than sermons and explanations. The burden is shared by our Meeting, one of us noticed, and becomes lighter as we strive for the Light. Perhaps this is how many of us managed to remain buoyed above the lies of 2020 and remained gracious in the midst of some loss of public civility. The overtly political messages were, in the words of one elder, “mercifully few.”
The shared burden does not mean that we don’t benefit from leadership. On the contrary, Herndon Friends are united in gratitude for the patient, kind, and tech-savvy leadership and guidance of our current Clerk. In turn, our Clerk is grateful for the chance to serve, noticing, she reports, that for her, service has become a spiritual practice.
In his essay, Thirteen Ways of Looking at Community, Parker Palmer wrote, “Community is not a goal to be achieved but a gift to be received.” As we continue to wrestle with the realities that surfaced and shook us in 2020, we in Herndon Friends Meeting, eagerly receive this gift from each other. We are a truly fortunate body carrying each other through unfortunate times.
No report received.
On the third of February, 2019, Friends and attenders gathered in worship to consider the spiritual state of Herndon Friends Meeting.
At the start of Meeting for Worship the clerk of the Ministry and Oversight Committee read the following queries along with worship sharing guidelines: “What is it about our Quaker faith and practice that gives us a common identity?” and, “What do we do to encourage or inhibit diversity in our Meeting Community?”
Herndon Friends Meeting has been considering issues of outreach, diversity, and how to encourage the full participation in “beloved community” in a number of ways throughout the year. We hosted a First Hour panel discussion on diversity and barriers to bringing one’s whole self to the community, which was deeply provocative and moving for many attendees. Two of us are participating in the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Change Team training. We created a Communication and Outreach Committee, both to coordinate our communication and messaging and to develop innovative strategies for reaching out to others in our community. Small groups from Herndon Friends visited and worshipped with an historic African-American congregation celebrating their 150th anniversary and with the pentacostal Latino church across the street from us.
During our worship sharing on the two queries, we considered the ways by which a faith community rooted in the unprogrammed Friends tradition reconciles the development of a common identity with the simultaneous promotion of diversity and inclusiveness. The spoken messages went straight to the heart of what it means to be a Quaker, illuminating the strength and depth of our Meeting’s spiritual character.
Several Friends spoke to the seemingly contradictory notion that the Meeting’s common identity is, in fact, its diversity. The membership of Herndon Friends encompasses a range of differences: in our original faith traditions; our political views; ethnicity; sexuality and gender identification; age and health; abilities; education and socioeconomic status; and perhaps most fundamentally, where we are on our spiritual journey.
“It’s almost paradoxical that something giving us a common identity is our sense of openness in Quaker Meeting,” expressed one friend, “a belief in individual expression, even contrary thoughts and beliefs.”
“Being true to our Quaker roots means being kind and respectful of everyone regardless of their background and perspective,” spoke another. A third person observed, “Here is a place that encourages you to embrace your own journey.” And another commented, “You are welcome to be a skeptic.”
What is it about Quaker Meeting that people from diverse backgrounds find welcoming? Some spoke to the unprogrammed way we worship: “Our common identity is the silence in our meeting,” said one Friend. Acknowledging the diversity of countries of origin among Herndon Friends, another observed, “We often speak in metaphors and symbolic terms that non-native speakers may not fully understand. Worshipping in silence may be one of the most inclusive things we can do.”
It can be easy to overlook some of the obvious ways we celebrate diversity. For example, many of our regular attenders are children. Herndon Friends Meeting takes pride in the quality of its longstanding infant care and First Day School programs. Voicing support for some of our youngest members and attenders, one Friend observed, “When people of different ages and generations get together we have diversity. We need to talk about the tiniest members of our community, as well as the oldest who need end of life care.”
The installation of a listening assistance system this year made vocal ministry accessible to several members and attenders who had been feeling cut off in worship. The organization and dedication of our Meeting’s Care Coordinating Committee offers another example of how community and identity grow from serving the diverse needs of those who suffer or who bring differing abilities and capacities to our community.
Quaker testimonies, or values, and the related queries that expose the dimensions of these values, are central to understanding Quaker faith. For several Friends, exploring the meaning of these values as a community ties our common identity with diversity. “We need to recognize that testimonies are common goals that guide people to become better persons,” spoke one Friend. “They are not terms of exclusion – they help make us a more diverse community when we recognize that people strive toward these goals in different ways.”
Another message echoed this thought, “One of the things that makes Meeting unique compared to other places of worship I have attended is I feel like this is a faith that is descriptive instead of prescriptive.”
Without a directed service and recited prayers, Quakers rely on the potential for inner growth arising from the richness of a shared Meeting for Worship. Speaking to this point, one friend observed, “Looking for that sacred space within ourselves, that’s what so important, and to me so rewarding.” Engaging in this endeavor as a community is, according to another longtime friend, precisely what binds us together: “To the extent there is a common identity,” he said, “it has to do with gathering together once a week in worship to help each of us become a better person.”
But the way forward is not always clear. Disagreements may be part of the growing process, particularly in a faith community that strives to translate its values into concrete social action. As one Friend pointed out, maintaining community and furthering diversity may require creative thinking, like showing support for Friends United Meeting by supporting one of their flagship overseas projects, the Ramallah Friends School. “The fact that we continue to struggle with diversity is a strength not a weakness,” voiced one Friend.
In 2019, Herndon Friends members and Meeting participants are united that community and diversity are compatible goals. We recognize that, when pursued together in a discerning and understanding spirit, these values deepen our faith, further our personal growth and provide us the emotional and spiritual foundation to "Walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone."
As we wait expectantly for Divine Guidance, how deep are our Meetings for Worship and Meetings for Business?
How have we put our faith into action in the World, and what leadings has our Meeting felt most strongly?
For Herndon Friends, Meeting for Worship is both a refuge and a preparation. The welcoming, peace and serenity of the gathered Meeting is a relief from the cares of the world. It seems to many Friends that those cares are increasing, provoking more discontent and more suffering. It is a relief to come to Meeting, and a joy to hear of the good work of Friends. More, it is an act of faith to continue to search for and find things to celebrate.
The idea of a deep Meeting is a complex metaphor. Like the mystery of what hides in the depths of the ocean, spiritual depth is mysterious. To watch the ocean is refreshing and invigorating, but below the surface things are different. We recognize that there is an ocean of darkness deep below the ocean of light. Some of the darkness is evil, and some of it is not understood so we may be wary of going too deep. In the same way that deep roots keep a tree stable, a deep meeting provides us a secure base from which to go out to the world. However, there is a downside to depth. Deeply rooted beliefs may be the most implacable. It’s hard to change deeply rooted beliefs, especially our own.
Maintaining a deep Meeting for Worship requires cultivation. The depth of our Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business has improved as a part of the change in process. Our Clerk reminds us to stand when speaking and to address messages to the clerk. This deliberate process promotes more consideration of messages and allows the presence of the Spirit to be evident. It avoids debate and argument and opens road to discernment. In discerning how to spend money, what to do for our landscaping, how to improve our First Day School programs, we engage not just the rational part of our being, but also our souls, our Inner Light. In this way, our actions are more than just well-meaning individuals coming together to do work; they
reflect our sense of the divine community.
One measure of the depth of our Meeting is the quality of the silence, and what disturbs it. Vocal ministry requires an active, healthy, nourishing silence. The quality of the silence is a function of how we prepare for Meeting in the hour, and day, and week before we arrive at the Meetinghouse. This is serious work. There is a lot of preparation that goes into any achievement. When people prepare to ascend a really high mountain, or undertake another physical challenge, they have to keep at it; they have to train; they have to believe the goal is worthy. We have to believe that our testimonies are worthy and that we are worthy of promoting them. Each week we have to consider our actions against the standard we discern in
Meeting for Worship. We find some mark of the depth of our Meeting for Worship in the response of our youngest children to the silence before First Day School. The Spoken Message of the irritable infant gives way to the intense and curious gaze of the toddler, peering from face to face around the room, respecting the silence. It is a gift to our children to discover the mystery deep in the silence.
Perhaps measuring the depth of our Meeting for Worship is not possible, there being no scale or instrument calibrated for such a task. Given our needs for solace and support in both our personal spiritual journeys and the actions to which we’re led, we are content to say “Deep enough,” recognizing that only we, as individuals, have the power to go deeper.
In the past year many Herndon Friends have been led to more activity in the wider world, but we recognize that we can’t act rightly unless we are well grounded. Our actions are only a manifestation of the Inner Light that pervades the Meeting. Whether we are Friends who speak out, who visit legislators, write letters, or serve meals at the homeless shelter, Friends who contribute financially, set out the coffee, or mow the grass, our actions support each other. Most important is our faithful attendance to participate in the gathered Meeting.
We have been led in different ways in the last year: participation in marches, supporting the Peace Awards program, promoting a healthier environment, feeding the less fortunate through the food bank and our sandwich making program, legislative advocacy with FCNL, and accompaniment of undocumented immigrants at ICE check ins. Because we are impressed that the problems we face in the wider world are bigger than we alone can remedy, we seek the cooperation of Friends and others as we act together. In those larger groups we must listen intently, seeking the common ground to find not just compromise but a better way. As we work together, we do not just strive to give those with different views the benefit of the doubt but to recognize their insights as that share of the truth provided by their share of the Inner Light. The problems we address are complex, and there are some with whom we cannot immediately find consensus. Conflicts become heated and we are challenged to love those who are difficult to love.
We embrace a goal of diversity, to welcome all, but we must also work to welcome all parts of each person. None of us is one thing, just a black person or a white one, just a man or a woman, just a conservative or a liberal, just an able person or a disabled person, just a mother tongue English speaker or an ESL speaker, just cisgender or transgender, just a Quaker or a Muslim. No matter how many characteristics we share, we also differ. Many of us have some secret part we harbor, hesitating to reveal something of our whole selves for fear of disapproval, shame, shunning, or ridicule. We want to make the Meeting a welcoming place for all, believing that this Quaker community we are engaged in is a path for all to gradually uncover our own inner truths, and to reveal the Inner Light that illuminates us all together. We want our Meeting to be a place where the whole person can be revealed, so we must ask ourselves: do we welcome a Friend who believes in the divinity of Jesus as well as the agnostic; the Friend who opposes abortion as well as the one who thinks the state should not interfere; the Friend who carries a gun or works for the CIA, as much as the pacifist who chains themselves to the White House fence; those who believe climate change is not related to human action, as much as those who are certain about what actions should be taken to prevent global warming.
The truth we discern in Meeting for Worship is what compels us to take action in the world. We advocate for peace, we take responsibility for the stewardship of the land, we stand up with our neighbors threatened by a hostile government, but the actions are not the focus of the worship. The complexity of problems contrasts with the simplistic polarization of issues. Righteous anger begets the risk of self-righteousness. When we find that some messages are difficult to hear, heard as admonition or provocation, rather than revelation or inspiration, it requires us to be faithful to our practice and go deeper.
Drawn Not Driven
There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself.
--James Naylor 1660
As Herndon Friends gathered on 12th day Second Month 2017 to consider the Spiritual State of our Meeting we are affected most by the turmoil in our larger community. We find refuge in the comfort of our gathered meeting and at the same time we are drawn outward into struggles of the wider world.
We are grateful for our spiritual heritage and our spiritual practices. Central to this is our Meeting for Worship with its intense interior listening and the willingness to hold up our fears and joys and certitude, and aging and kids, and a kind of Eucharist not of bread and wine but of our shared lives. We recognize the value of persistence—Friends who bind the Meeting together by their faithful presence, their participation in committee work, their dedication to welcoming visitors and providing hospitality and shared meals, caring for the sick and caring for the Meetinghouse. Our Adult Discussion sessions on vocal ministry, our sharing of spiritual journeys, our new Second Saturday program, and our increasing participation in the BYM Women’s Retreat all contribute to making the Meeting a place of spiritual growth and restoration that prepares us to be our best selves in the rest of the world. Our Meetings for Business have evolved, with more time for silence and consideration of the Queries, a practice that takes time but leaves us ready for deeper consideration of the decisions we must make.
Our First Day School program recognizes and respects our children and our duty to them. More than a year of patient work by our Religious Education and House and Grounds committees led to the installation of a small cabin on our grounds for use as an auxiliary classroom for our Young Friends class, and the students have claimed the space as their own. We cherish the maturation of Friends as the children of a few years ago become the teachers and caregivers and spiritual leaders of our meeting. And while we are grateful to the teachers who dedicate the time and study to lead our children, the teachers also express gratitude for the blessing that it is to teach.
We are proud of our Quaker history in the struggle for justice—in ending slavery, in opposing war, in promoting suffrage. We are affected by the suffering of the persecuted and are not immune to the righteous rage that such injustice can engender. It makes us struggle to be more intentionally Quaker, to live up to the high ideals and patient practice of our spiritual forebears. We want to stand with our Muslim colleagues, and our immigrant friends, our LGBT families and our poor neighbors. In our response, we endeavor not to be pushed by the flood but drawn by the light, led by hope and love and kindness not propelled by angry slogans, fear and hate. We desire to allow the calmness and centeredness of our Meeting for Worship to spread into the world, not have the anger and outrage of the world blight our bright Light Within.
In part, it is our duty to our children that makes imperative the struggle for social justice. The drive to social action arises directly from our recognition of the spiritual nature of our being.
We hear today many calls to resist, to protest, or to fight, but this is not the Quaker way. In the same way that we created a space for our children that they can grow into and claim as their own, we want our work in the world to create a space for our fellow seekers to grow into and claim as their own. Since we recognize in all the Inner Light, so also we see all as our fellow seekers. We need to speak up for those oppressed and less able to speak, and also for those whose experience of the Inner Light is shadowed by fear or greed or past hurt.
Putting our faith into action is both ambitious and difficult. While we find inspiration and joy from the company of those for whom we have great admiration, we find great challenge in dealing with those for whom we don’t have as much admiration. We crave the solidarity of our community, but recognize that we must also work with government and politics and our social institutions. The pressure of time threatens the balance of our lives as it challenges us to live a simple life, to marry our soul and our roles, to live, in the words of Parker Palmer, an undivided life.
Learning by Example, Leading by Example
“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” Robert Fulghum
Herndon Friends gathered for Meeting for Worship on 2/7/16 to discern the Spiritual State of the Meeting by a consideration of queries posed by the Committee on Ministry and Oversight:
- What are your greatest joys in participating in the life of the Meeting and finding connection with the Inward Light?
- What makes it hard for you to participate in the life of the Meeting?
- How do you reach out to others in our community when you are at the meetinghouse, and outside of scheduled Meeting activities?
- How does your life in the Meeting find expression in your work, family, and activities in the world?
How do children learn to speak? Not by memorizing lists of words or rules of grammar, but by immersion in a rich and loving environment, free to explore and driven by an intense need for connection and attachment. Not by directive, but by invitation. In those circumstances, in a scant few years, children master complexities which academics spend decades to discern. The ability to speak, and its complement the ability to listen, is a virtue. Other virtues are acquired the same way. Providing that rich and loving environment is a principle concern and joy for Herndon Friends.
Children are the conduit of the life and spirit of the Meeting. They are the cause and source of much of the joy and spiritual enrichment in the Meeting especially for our core of teachers and religious education committee leaders. From the Godly Play curriculum for the youngest children to the breakfast club for high school youth, the Meeting aims to recognize our children where they are, and lead them forward by example. Teachers express gratitude for the spiritual deepening provided by interaction with the emerging spirits of our children; parents are grateful for the relationships that their children develop with their teachers and other adults in Meeting, relationships which are marked by kindness and acceptance.
Friends are thankful for the Meeting as a spiritual home, as a source of comfort, assistance and insight, as a place where we find our best friends and a place that we can be ourselves without having to don a special skin. We share the special joy that comes from seeing those we met as children in the Meeting assume adult responsibilities and leadership. We appreciate that our weekly meetings are the opportunity to share our joys and sorrows, to recharge our batteries, to prepare to go out into the world and be our best selves. Perhaps that gratitude above all is the source of the joy that permeates the Meeting.
Herndon Friends also recognize the implicit challenge of raising children. As we encourage our children to improve and develop, how do we do the same? How do adults learn to speak?
It is one thing to speak in Meeting—sometimes a terrifying thing; it is perhaps another to be present in Meeting. Speaking or not speaking are part of the same experience because our presence is powerful in a mysterious way. We hear the quaking of the voices. We hear the pain and the joy and the tears.
In our clearness committees and care committees we experience the Inner Light of our fellow Quakers. Our connections to each other and the Spirit are deepened in Adult Education Discussions, in planning and participating in the BYM Women’s Retreat, in welcoming ceremonies and the Christmas sing, and in the work of the Greening Committee. The more we are able to participate, the more Light we are given.
We must also learn to speak outside of Meeting, because it is our actions that make our beliefs visible to the outside world. This coming year, we are observing the 20th anniversary of our meetinghouse. For 20 years, the building has sheltered the Meeting and provided a physical center to match the spiritual center of our community. But we know that our obligation is to reach beyond the walls of this meetinghouse to serve our fellows. The sacred presence must go out.
That presence leads us to sandwich programs, and food baskets, the Peace Awards, a Friend released to travel with a concern about vegetarianism and animal agriculture, Christmas ornament sales to support children’s health insurance, working with community groups on climate change, involvement in legislative and public policy issues and joining with fellow Quakers in BYM activities. Yet as important as these activities are, the Meeting is perhaps even more valuable as a spiritual center for Friends as they pursue their work. It is by living the testimonies of peace, equality, simplicity and integrity in our daily lives as parents, teachers, students, nurses, doctors, scientists, community volunteers, consultants, therapists, counselors, activists, IT professionals, civil servants, and economists that we speak most loudly.
Challenges remain. The logistics of traffic, families and conflicting demands intrude on our participation. The constraints of space and money limit how much the Meeting can grow. While there is much joy, there is much sorrow as well, which influences the energy and messages of the Meeting. In a troubled world, we want to share the insights we receive and to expand the impact of the Gathered Meeting, but we struggle to reach out to the diverse community in which we meet. Some wonder if our example could be more inspiring to others.
The strength of our community is the example we find in each other as we witness the varied ways Friends connect with the Inner Light. Whether through the witness of the Bible, the example of Christ and other spiritual sources, or the inspiration of the Gathered Meeting, Herndon Friends continue to learn by example and lead by example.
“Let your lives preach.” George Fox, Epistle 200
Herndon Friends gathered for meeting for worship on 2/1/15 to discern the Spiritual State of the Meeting by a consideration of queries posed by the Committee on Ministry and Oversight.
What supports the life of the Spirit in our Meeting community?
What will you do in this coming year to help the Spirit prosper among us?
What do you do to actively encourage and support the ministry and community participation of all Friends and seekers?
How do you reach beyond the boundaries of our Meeting?
In 2014, Herndon Friends continued grateful participation in a vibrant, joyful and conscientious community of service, experiencing again and again the energy and reward that comes from “the paradox of generosity”: that we receive more than we give when we do service.
Friends recognize that participation is essential to the life of the Meeting. No one comes to Meeting every week; no one can. Yet what provides the foundation for the strength of the Meeting is faithful attendance. Friends who open and close the Meeting House, teach First Day School, lead Adult Discussions, put out the coffee, play the piano, organize the Christmas Sing, mow the grass, pay the bills, attend Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, or stand to share a message provide the leadership that sustains the Meeting. That leadership is essential to the Meeting, and is in turn sustained by the ministry of presence of the body of the Meeting. That presence is more than physical, although attendance is crucial. It includes and list serves and conference calls, and even more it includes active, engaged mindfulness. When we speak of “holding in The Light,” we are speaking of attending, of being present in a profound, spiritual context.
We care for each other. We share meals both at potluck and in times of sickness. Our care committees attend to our community members in times of need. We find sustenance in sharing concerns, recognizing the profound spiritual implications of health and family, job and avocation. As awareness of the spirit grows, it becomes clear that every moment, every occasion is an opportunity to act out the implications of the spirit filled life. As we learn to discern the inner light of a troubled employee or a discourteous driver, we recognize the possibility for growth in every encounter.
Friends find that conscientious attendance results in a filling of the spirit. As we know each other, experience each other and our children, learn each other’s names and something of each other’s lives, our world expands, sharing burdens and joy. As we seek a gathered Meeting, the Meeting experience overflows and infiltrates our lives outside the Meeting. This can be manifest in the songs we hum at home, or in a commitment to honest engagement at work.
We recognize that our way of worship is not the only way. Not everyone is Quaker, but there are more than it seems from a glance, and even more kindred spirits. Many Herndon Friends are convinced rather than birthright; they have been actively welcomed into the community. The welcoming of diversity is a core part of our understanding, because we recognize that each of us has, in varying measure, a part of the Truth, but none of us has all of the Truth. The absence of doctrine is not an oversight. It is a recognition that one has to speak for oneself. We are not compelled to an action because we are Friends. We are Friends because we are driven to action by the urging of the inner light.
Those actions are varied. The First Day School Class produced 1500 sandwiches for the homeless shelter. Friends provided leadership at the Friends Wilderness Center, and at Advocacy Day with the legislature. Food is delivered to the homeless shelter. The Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County continue to grow.
The rewards of these actions point us toward the future.
Knowing the power and importance of attending, we seek opportunities for attendance, to make Meeting more meaningful, the vocal ministry more vibrant; for opportunities for children and adults to share experiences, to attend funerals and visit in the hospital, and attend retirement parties and art gallery openings. We want the weekly Meeting to be the beginning and not the end of our community experience.
Knowing the importance of diversity we must seek to be a more welcoming community where superficial barriers of race and language and gender identity and politics fall to a radical acceptance of the universal presence of the Inner Light. We will seek to expand our outreach—not as evangelists seeking to convert, but as a community of seekers willing to accept fellow sojourners on their path.
Knowing the value of service, Friends resolve to expand their efforts: we will be faithful in our committee assignments and responsibilities; we will respond when needed for a Care Committee; we will support the Student Peace Awards and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, and the BYM Women’s Retreat, and our released friend’s ministry on vegetarianism, and increase our Thanksgiving food baskets goal. We will endeavor to live as the epistle of James (2:18) advises: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
Community, Commitment, and Committees
In 2013, Herndon Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends saw continued progress in the spiritual journeys of its members and attenders.
Foremost among the sentiments of Herndon Friends is gratitude for the vitality of our community. Friends are comforted by the warmth and welcoming of the Meeting, its inclusiveness and its stability.
The attitude of acceptance is exemplified by our pattern of singing as a gathering activity before Meeting. Friends call out a hymn number for the next song, and every request is greeted with enthusiasm, no matter its seasonality. Children are encouraged to participate, choosing their favorite songs and being encouraged to sing loudly. The strength of our more talented and trained musicians carries us along.
That sense of being carried along applies to the solace we find at meeting in times of grief. In times of loss, Meeting is where we want to be. In times of despair, when it’s difficult to see a way ahead or take the next step in our journey, we are carried along. When we are able to look up, we find we are in a new place, not left behind, but surrounded by friends who carried us forward even as we grieved. The Meeting is a healing place.
There is balance in the Meeting. We share our joys and our sorrows. We have a mixture of profound messages and spirit filled silence. There is a trust and acceptance, but there is also expectation. The Meeting is small enough to be intimate but large enough that it has achieved a spiritual persistence. It persists in our hearts when we are distracted by other concerns, and it persists so that for our sometimes itinerant attenders, it is available after Friends have been away for months or years. The Meeting is still here.
Friends sense vitality in the Meeting, grounded in love, that draws them to attend, that creates a place of support, trust, and healing, that takes hold of the spirit. It fosters resilience. Friends find strength every week in worshipping with fellow travelers who are living a life of commitment and joy, who can live out the testimonies of peace, simplicity and integrity.
As we consider with gratitude this strength we are drawn to consider its source in our commitment to Quaker practice.
One of the queries asked Friends to consider how they respond to people who have a different concept of God; our understanding of access to the divine leads us to the conclusion that no two of us have the same concept of God. Our individual limitations and experience provide us with only incomplete realization of the infinite and this necessarily inspires a profound humility.
We recognize our method of discernment as key to Quaker process. Distinct from democracy, compromise, and consensus, we have faith that there is a right way forward, and that we can find it in the patient application of the gathered Meeting. The process begins with the realization that we need not be sure what will happen or what the answer is, and the expectation that there is something new to find out.
The practice of spiritual discipline, like all exercise, provides important strength but requires a commitment to participation. An essential part of progress along our spiritual path is attendance. At some point, attending Meeting becomes like a stone rolling down hill, accumulating more, becoming easier with more attendance, but it requires initiation. Beginning involvement in the Meeting is a little like joining a rope jumping game. The rope is turning and it takes courage to just jump in, matching the rhythm of activity. Friends are familiar with the rewards of participation, that volunteers often receive more than they give from an experience, that there is strength and energy to be gained from service, but we can be daunted by the prospect of “another meeting.”
Putting our understanding of Quaker process into action requires showing up.
It begins with attending Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business. Meeting for Business is not an optional accessory; it is central to the Herndon Friends Community, because rising out of Meeting for Business is the work of committees and committees are how we make commitment visible.
Our clearness committees for membership and marriage are central to who we are—they literally define who we are. Our care committees are the manifestation of the compassion we have for each other. The Student Peace Awards committee began out of a concern to extend the Meeting’s faith in the peace testimony to our wider community and has led to one of the most joyous days of year when the Awards are presented. The House and Grounds Committee, often occupied with the most mundane of housekeeping, also has to consider how we can support our growing community. The stewardship of the Finance Committee, the weekly dedication of the Religious Education Committee, the fellowship of the Hospitality Committee, the patient discernment of the Nominating Committee, the prodding of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee, the guidance of the Ministry and Oversight Committee, the rich discussions of Adult First Day School, all of this work, all of this love made visible starts with showing up.
It helps that extraordinary results are usually comprised of a lot of ordinary tasks magnified by diligent repetition. Writing letters, or preparing a meal, providing transportation for a shut in, making a call to a Friend or a legislator, washing the dishes, mowing the grass, just showing up: these are the essential tasks that build the community and reveal the Inner Light that propels us forward.
How does the spirit prosper among you? How does your Meeting ensure that ministry is nurtured, and that members and attenders feel valued and cared for?
What supports the life of the Spirit in your Meeting community? What challenges and troubles are you facing? In what ways is the Meeting less than you would wish it to be?
How is the presence of the Spirit manifested in your lives individually and as a Meeting community?
How can you bring that of God or peace into political or other difficult conversations? How can you learn to accept seekers in your Meeting with different concepts of God and find ways to help them on their spiritual journey?
In 2012, Herndon Friends is an intentional community where the Spirit is actively sought and where individual leadings are respected. Friends work together in the Meeting and attempt to take the fruits of the Meeting into the wider community. As we grow in the spirit, our identity as Quakers also grows, giving rise to one Friend’s query, “What does it mean to have a Quaker wedding certificate on the wall of our living room?”
To foster our spiritual growth, our M&O committee organizes gatherings to promote the development of the community. We have revived our fall “retreat” allowing us an opportunity for an extended period of worship. M&O planned an adult curriculum on Quaker history, principles and practice as an aide for Friends-- naïve and experienced --to advance their understanding of Friends. Our Young Friends class responded to the queries by citing the difficulty and importance of being able to answer the question “What is the difference between church and Meeting?” They noted that there is a real difference between the Meeting fostering spiritual growth and being religious. From an initial concern that “Spiritual is about what the individual believes, vs. religion being about someone telling us”, they developed the idea that “spirituality is about “me” and what I believe, and religion is about “we” and how we work together as a community.”
Much of the depth of understanding of our Young Friends comes from their involvement in the BYM camping program. Young Friends describe their First Day school classes and camp as an opportunity to foster spirituality by individual truth speaking in a forum that provides guidance and sharing—an apt description of Meeting for Worship. Because of the importance of the BYM camping program, the Meeting in 2012 decided to offer partial scholarships to all of our students who attend a Quaker camp.
In an almost paradoxical way, the individual leadings of the spirit draw Friends together. The refinement of our process for care committees to attend to the spiritual and worldly needs of troubled Friends, the building of a retreat cabin on the grounds of Friends Wilderness Center, the planting of a native plants garden on the grounds of the meeting house, the growth of our High School Peace Awards, the addition of a midweek Meeting for Worship, our annual bicycle collection for Bikes for the World all began initially as the concern of an individual Friend who shared a leading with the Meeting. Not all leadings are followed by community action. Some Friends were drawn to public actions promoting solutions to gun violence, some to political campaigning on other issues. Even when these issues did not gather the formal involvement of the Meeting in a minute or other organized action, Friends explore their leadings in Meeting, testing whether their concerns are truly spirit led.
Herndon Friends Meeting strives to be a welcoming community. At our fall retreat, Meeting for Worship started with chairs in a circle. As more people came, the circle was enlarged, and enlarged again. Instead of a “second row,” all were welcomed into the first row. Friends noted that the Meeting was welcoming to both new attenders, and to those who have returned to Herndon Friends after absence temporal, geographic, or spiritual.
Infants are welcomed into the community as well, with provisions to allow parents to participate in Meeting for Worship while children are cared for. Children are part of our worship. We start with babies who cry, and toddlers who squirm but by the time they are three, they’ve learned to sit with their folks quietly, one of them remarking, “I’m talking to God right now.”
The Meeting was welcoming to those who were distracted by illness, losses and concerns in their lives. Friends spoke of the comfort of being held in the Light during these times, and the tremendous value in being recognized when otherwise feeling isolated. The Meeting recognizes the important contribution to the meeting of those being served which provides the opportunity for Friends to experience the joy of service, and it also recognizes the importance of seeking out those in need of assistance. There is more than enough love, but it can be difficult to ask for help. A goal of our work therefore is to lower the barriers to asking for help.
Fortunately, there is some dissatisfaction at Herndon Friends Meeting.
We recognize that not everyone would feel welcome here. We are diverse in some things, describing ourselves as being under a big tent. But if a person were more politically conservative, or more Bible-centric, he or she might not feel the welcoming. Although we are in a community where a third of the residents are Hispanic, we have no native Spanish speakers. Perhaps we need to concentrate more on diversity.
Quaker process is slow. As we try to come to conclusion about our youth safety minute, or use of the Internet to store directory information, we are frustrated with the time it takes to find closure. In an era when communication is important and often instantaneous, Friends struggle with how to stay informed about Meeting activities and processes. Attendance at the Young Friends First Day School Class is sometimes too small; a larger group might have more opportunity for rewarding activities.
We still struggle on finding the Quaker perspective on social matters and bringing it to our wider community. We share in the concerns of our society—national and global. It seems there are too many people in prison, too many uninsured children, too many people suffering from war and poverty, and too little unity on how to address these concerns. Where is the Quaker voice on these matters? And how can we help to discern the right path amid often acrimonious discussions. In our own practice, we find the use of queries to be a useful way to bring clarity to subjects, and we are encouraged to bring this practice to our other communities.
A large part of the work of the Spirit at Herndon Friends Meeting can be seen in the vibrant First Day School Program. At the Worship Sharing to consider the Spiritual State of the Meeting, 60 Friends gathered for Meeting for Worship, and when the first quarter hour had passed and the teachers and students rose for First Day school, half of the group left, leaving 31 Friends to further consider the queries. The optimism, joy and exuberance of the children is both result and cause of the spirit of the Meeting.
Spiritual State of the Meeting 2011
What are we waiting for?
A four year old attending Meeting for Worship for just the second time sat quietly in her chair, looking attentively around the room. She saw some Friends centering with eyes closed, some gazing at the other attenders, holding each in the Light. There were children squirming, some rocking to a remembered rhythm of the hymn just finished, some expertly centered. She tugged the sleeve of the great aunt who had brought her to Meeting and whispered loudly, “What are we waiting for?
For Herndon Friends contemplating the spiritual state of the meeting, the question captures the tension between our satisfaction with a vibrant meeting and the expectation that draws us onward.
How does the Spirit prosper among us? In our worship sharing, one Friend counted 20 delightful ways the Spirit prospers—in the 20 children attending our First Day school classes. We are grateful for our faithful First Day School teachers. In this and many ways, Herndon Friends experience a profound gratitude for the support, care and spiritual leadings of the meeting. A Friend whose husband died this year after a long illness spoke of living for the last year “in the valley of the shadow of death” but being comforted and relieved by the care committee that brought meals and fellowship to her. Other Friends who have been ill or had surgery during the year noted the value of the Meeting’s care. A seeker who worships in different communities appreciated the value of being welcomed back when he attends, noting the remarkable fact that he is accepted for where he is without having to answer the questions of “are you really part of us”.
Friends experienced a sense of gratitude that the Meeting works. Someone signs up to teach the summer First Day school class or to watch the babies. The carpet gets vacuumed, the light bill gets paid, potluck happens. The grass is mowed and the grounds tended. In addition to these practical matters, spiritual growth works too. One Friend talked of how the still, small voice that used to call him to meeting has been replaced by the louder voice of his two year old, who urges the family to come on First Day “to sing with the piano and to have a chance to be quiet.” The working of the Spirit is mysteriously evident even to our youngest Friends. It is seen in the enthusiasm of Young Friends for BYM’s camps and youth conferences, and in the respect for differing views in Friendly Eights discussions about national and world affair.
Those who attend infrequently are gratified that they can rely on the Meeting to be there when their need to attend comes. They are comforted to know that steadfast regular attenders keep the Meeting running and see in the dedication of Friends the prospering of the Spirit. But in a way that is even more remarkable, we see the growth of the Spirit as responsibilities are shared. While we have weighty Friends whose influence is profound, we see a steady progression as newer Friends take on more of the work of the Meeting. From a very small meeting where everyone was on all the committees, we have grown both by welcoming new Friends and by the growth of the children of the meeting into adult responsibilities. We are grateful both for the leaders we have and for the way the Meeting draws all Friends into leadership.
So what are we waiting for? It is potluck, and committee meetings, First Day School and Peace Awards, bicycle collections and clearness committees, Friendly Eights, and care committees, sandwich making and Youth Cons. There is a lot going on.
But another way to answer the question is to focus on why we are waiting and not doing. For many Friends, we are here to love and serve others and it is in this doing that the Spirit is manifest. It is the difference between the prospering of the Spirit and the manifestation of that prospering, a manifestation that encourages and sometime demands that we do more. In the past year, Friends who “wanted more Quakers” in their lives started a mid week Meeting for Worship. The Ministry and Oversight committee organized a formal care committee structure. The Peace and Social Concerns committee expanded the Peace Awards to include more schools. Dedicated Friends assumed responsibility for making sandwiches on a regular basis for the local homeless shelter. What more should we be doing? What are we missing?
We recognize the important factors that promote the growth of the Spirit. First is the vibrant community, especially collected in a gathered meeting. The example of fellow Friends is an inspiration and guidepost along our journey. The Yearly Meeting is vital to us as well, particularly Annual Session, the leadership of the youth secretary, the annual women’s retreat, and the camping program.
We struggle to take the serenity and energy of Meeting for Worship into our wider communities. We want to be known as a people who listen, who respect the views and belief of others who are finding their own paths. One Friend was trying to decide if he was inside or outside the meeting; another wanted to know if older children should be encouraged to spend more time in Meeting for Worship rather than First Day School. It raises the question of when meeting for worship actually happens. Once a month we have Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business. Can we strive be in that centered condition all the time? In the nursery, we have Meeting for Worship with Attention to Babies; in the chemotherapy suite we have Meeting for Worship with Attention to Cancer Treatment. As we go about our lives illuminated by the Inner Light we can ask ourselves, “What kind of meeting for worship is this?”