Midlothian Friends Meeting Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports
The text of recently received Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports are below, with the most recently received at the top and older reports below. To jump to a particular report, simply click the year listed below.
|2011 Report||2012 Report||2013 Report||2014 Report||2015 Report|
|2016 Report||2017 Report||2018 Report||2019 Report||2020 Report|
This past year, the Covid pandemic presented us with many challenges, but by answering the Spirit’s call and following its agenda, we turned it into an opportunity to connect with others in new ways. Early in the pandemic, Friends contributed money to fund everything we needed to purchase equipment and services to renovate the meetinghouse for safety and to establish Zoom access. We were all in agreement on this expensive effort and made it happen quickly, which is unusual with Quaker decisions.
The saying, “never waste a good crisis,” might describe how we approached the pandemic. Our ability to reach out to others has improved. Some Friends who might not have walked into the meetinghouse did visit through Zoom. Because of COVID-19 we learned that if we “play the hand we are dealt”, Grace is always there to help. The use of Zoom during this time has been so successful that we plan to continue it in conjunction with in-person worship after the pandemic, which will result in permanent, positive changes to the way we worship and make decisions. Some Friends have already found a unique way to worship by using Zoom on their phones while they stroll the beautiful meetinghouse grounds.
One new Friend (a self-described “newbie”) said he liked what he had read about Quakers but was hesitant to attend in person. When he finally connected via Zoom to our discussion group, Circle of Friends, he immediately felt accepted. Everyone he encountered was transparent, real, and welcoming. He has since been attending this discussion group regularly.
Spirit prospers and is palpable at Midlothian Friends Meeting (MFM), especially when we slow down, intentionally focus on the Light, and cease trying to be in control. Though this is an ongoing process, and we are still learning to pause, we find it to be a powerful aid in making decisions affecting our meeting. The Spirit does not need our protection, but it does need our willingness to listen. At MFM, we endeavor always to listen. To us, “protecting” the Spirit might better be called “extending” the Spirit.
One Friend contracted COVID-19. She lives alone and at times has not felt much connection to a community. During her illness, though, Midlothian Friends provided an outpouring of support, sending cards and e-mails, and making phone calls. In a sense, COVID-19 made her feel connected again. The show of caring was special.
This ability to share with and support one another is not new. A long-time Friend remembered when she, too, was a newcomer. She felt welcomed as if she had found a new home. Since then, she has been in and out of Meeting physically at times, but her spiritual connection has always remained strong. Though she goes through phases, she says the Spirit of Meeting is always there to welcome and support her. She feels protected by the help she has received from Friends and cherishes that. Friends have helped her even when they didn’t know they were helping.
Conflict is minimal at MFM. If there are differences among us, we try to see them from the other’s perspective and find ways to resolve them with love and understanding. We have found that when conflict is ignored, it can fester, and we try to deal with conflict in a straightforward and positive way. That said, few have experienced conflicts and many are unaware of any that have taken place.
We do acknowledge that conflict sometimes arises from not being able to meet in person because there is not the same personal connection. There are shortcomings arising from using Zoom, e-mails, and texting. We may tend to be more impulsive and less reflective when using these means of communication. When we are unable to meet in person, we try to use technology sparingly and mindfully, especially when making decisions affecting the Meeting.
During the pandemic, we may have unintentionally lost touch with Friends who prefer not to, or are unable to, use technology to connect. Though some of these Friends have expressed the desire to return when the pandemic eases, we have not heard from others. We are still not sure why they have dropped out. It may be fine to celebrate our successes, but we wonder why some Friends aren’t around anymore.
In 2020, we “have kept on truckin’ .” We have had to adjust to a new reality, but we have benefited as well. We approach everything with love and compassion from a secure spiritual grounding. There is always someone to bring us back to a spiritual place. We aspire to be apolitical and inclusive in our outreach to others.
Our strong spiritual core continues to evolve through frequent, regular, and planned communication with groups gathering on Zoom. This has led to conversations, for example, on racial inequality and fallout from the Presidential election. Peace and justice drive our decisions and help us to accept others and understand their views when they join in discussions.
With so many things going on in the world, it is easy to get distracted from personal growth. But our weekly discussion group, Circle of Friends, helps Friends get in touch with their spiritual and emotional lives. Many have found new insights and connections by engaging in these discussions. Others count on Circle of Friends for spiritually driven discussions that help us reframe social and political events to better understand the deep divisions in our country and the world.
At MFM, there is Spirit within and Spirit without. Our spiritual introspection serves as a springboard to action because we believe that action is the antidote to despair. Action at MFM manifests in our thrift store, The Thrifty Quaker, which helps the community by providing low cost, quality goods and by supporting local charities. We have also reached out to those affected by the pandemic, started a study group on racial equity in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, sponsored a committee for sanctuary and immigration reform, and maintained past connections through a book club and Zoom calls. In December, we approved A Minute on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, which we shared with other groups, including the Coalition of Powhatan (County) Churches. Gratifyingly, Virginia has just abolished the death penalty.
Our connections through Meeting allow us to spend time thinking about other peoples’ interior and spiritual lives. The value of private contemplation is aided by experiencing a little slice of the interior life of other Friends. Having “a slice of you and you having a slice of me” provides us with a better awareness of others and brings us together in a way that would not be possible if we viewed others as a bunch of separate black boxes.
Thankfulness for our Quaker Meeting abounds. It remains a place for Spiritual growth not found anywhere else. MFM is a centering community. It allows us to try things that are scary, to not give up, to embrace others despite any idiosyncrasies, to practice sharing a higher ideal of Being, and to help us on our Spiritual journey.
Breaking the rules when necessary to bring people together is part of our meeting.
Midlothian Friends Meeting has a culture of listening with open hearts and open minds, even if we’re missing the point of someone’s vocal ministry because their language or topic doesn’t resonate with us. We haven’t always been as open to differing perspectives and have worked hard to become less judgmental in everything we do. Now, if we are unable to see the value of another’s vocal ministry or if we feel the need to judge it, we back up and ask ourselves why. Reflecting on the ‘why’ helps us to see more deeply and nonjudgmentally, experiencing spiritual insights we would not otherwise have had.
Vocal ministry at MFM is always about something that matters. Sharing out of the silence is sacred to us and we try not to use it as an opportunity merely to “chat”.
We also seek to affirm each other’s gifts, allowing individual Friends to take the initiative using their own gifts and vision to guide themselves and others. One Friend shared that she had always been looking for answers to why she is here, but with the encouragement and love she experiences at MFM, she came to the realization that she is here for God to use with her unique skills and gifts.
Spirit is palpable at MFM, even when traversing difficult situations. We practice deep listening, patience and nonjudgmental acceptance. We have been gentle and loving all our years together and have really grown in letting Spirit guide and then moving forward.
There have been many instances in our Meeting where the Spirit working within individual Friends and groups has led them to take action. For example, during the past year, MFM has engaged in a long process to discern whether and how to build a Memorial Garden on Meetinghouse grounds. This was a huge commitment for our Meeting. The process was ‘rocky’ and messy at times. But way opened and, through the beauty and simplicity of the discernment process, we saw how essential love and forgiveness (to ourselves and others) is to a project of this magnitude. MFM initially approved an amount of money for the Memorial Garden based on a limited knowledge of the resources that would be required. Surprisingly, though, the authorized expenditure turned out to be almost exactly the amount that was ultimately spent. This, despite the fact that the Memorial Garden Committee focused not so much on the budget as on what the Meeting discerned to be the way forward. Midlothian Friends persevered through the initial messiness to arrive at this “sweet coming-together” in the Spirit (and budget!).
One Friend who is relatively new to our Meeting expressed an interest in using innovative fun activities to convey Quaker testimonies (values) to children in the larger community. He was quickly supported in this effort, and a study group and non-profit corporation were created to make this vision a reality.
MFM provides the space and opportunity to practice spiritual work. We are mere humans in relationship who can grow spiritually in this place and extend it to the rest of our lives. As one Friend expressed it, “Somehow the light of the Meeting is greater than each of our individual selves put together.” We measure our overall experience by how we feel in Meeting and what leadings and insights we discover there. We experience oneness and the ability to see beyond mere personalities. Each of us gets to meet herself or himself in others. What we experience is reflected back to us as a gift that helps us to grow in understanding, love, and self-forgiveness.
Another Friend described MFM as a star, her center, a foundation to help her self-judgment. In everything, Spirit works through and within us to increase our desire for oneness.
We are a community of kindred spirits in the desire for social action. We have answered the call for social action in several ways. One Friend put it succinctly: “It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t know what you can’t do.”
MFM has supported the “Thrifty Quaker” for more than 20 years. The ‘TQ’ is a thrift store that donates most of its sales receipts to a different charity each month.
MFM is part of the Central Virginia Sanctuary Network. Our Sanctuary Committee works in concert with this network to support immigrants’ rights. Our Peace and Social Action Committee works alone and in combination with other groups, notably FCNL (Friends Committee for National Legislation) and VICPP (Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy), to lobby for state and legislative efforts that support Quaker values.
Our Environmental Group educates us on the effects of climate change and other environmental threats, and supports appropriate legislative efforts on behalf of the environment. MFM also supports a Book Group and a Men’s Support Group (which is open to everyone, not just men). Both the Book and Men’s Groups include participants from the outside community.
Our weekly discussion group, ‘Circle of Friends’, continues to thrive. 5 to 10 Friends meet regularly prior to Worship to discuss widely varying topics. Participants feel comfortable sharing insights and personal concerns in a relaxed, spiritual setting.
Our Religious Education teachers are especially close to our hearts. Our current teachers, Laura Clark and Olivia Duncan, both grew up within Midlothian Friends Meeting and continue to bless us with their contributions and commitment to our children. We are also very thankful for Katie DeWeerd Brown’s years of dedicated teaching during which she drove many miles each Sunday to be with us.
Because we want all who wish to worship with us to be able to do so, we established transportation schedules for two Friends who are no longer able to drive. Volunteers drive them to and from Meeting each week according to an established schedule.
We give special thanks to a beautiful spirit among us, who reminded us of the importance of inclusivity in groups associated with MFM. Equality of all is an important Quaker value and no one should be excluded, intentionally or otherwise, from any group or activity associated with our Meeting. As fallible humans, we know that we don’t always understand or notice the subtle ways Friends may feel excluded. Exclusivity can be subtle, and we must keep asking ourselves whether there is even one person who may feel left out. We acknowledge that this is an unresolved and ongoing leading among us. And we owe a debt of gratitude to the Friend who opened our eyes to this important issue.
MFM has evolved to become a space for compassion and open hearts, not relegating people to committees or similar constructs. There’s minimal structure now, allowing spaces for each of us to be involved in her/his own way. We have found that forms are not necessary and are usually just used to institute control. Simplicity is our guide. Our culture of forgiveness, acceptance and love is to be contrasted with, for example, the corporate world’s Total Quality Management (TQM), which is hierarchal in structure.
Knowing when Spirit moves you, the body will allow you to express yourself and attempt to communicate. As a faith community, we welcome the spontaneity and Spirit-led urgency of that communication. As we strive to be open to the Light, we try to avoid judging what is being said or conveying a feeling that the speaker has crossed some invisible, forbidden line. Keeping that space of acceptance open gives strength to the Meeting and makes ordinary moments become extraordinary.
During these times of political discord, Midlothian Friends Meeting (MFM) provides a quiet place for spiritual nurture and respite from the challenges and distractions of the world at large.
Midlothian Friends strive to respond to discordant political views and hate speech in a spirit of love and light. The meeting has embraced the FCNL campaign, “Love Thy Neighbor (No Exceptions),” as a way of life for the meeting and as individuals. We have used our thrift store, The Thrifty Quaker, to spread this message to the public by distributing two hundred yard signs and the same number of bumper stickers to customers.
Our Peace and Social Action Committee (PSAC) and Sanctuary Study Group approach social justice action from a place of love, compassion, and forgiveness rather than from a place of political confrontation. Their examples have moved MFM Friends to do the same in their individual lives.
In 2018 and the first two months of 2019, Midlothian Friends Meeting provided support for undocumented and documented immigrants with grants to 501(c)3 organizations that advocate for them. Additionally, ten of our members participated in activities supporting immigrants.
Unrelated to immigrants, Midlothian Friends Meeting during 2018 was able to provide grants to non-Quakers who had emergency financial needs and to charities that provide general social justice efforts locally, regionally, and internationally.
Our roots in Quaker tradition and worship are strengthened by remembering there is ”that of God” in everyone and by experiencing a direct relationship with the divine. Also, by using the queries offered in BYM’s Faith and Practice, we experience fellowship with other meetings within our regional community, knowing that we are all led and supported by these same queries.
Our monthly discernment time together is a worshipful experience that allows the unified Spirit to prevail rather than our individual egos. We have introduced changes that reduce the “business feel” of this time together so that more silent worship and spiritual discernment can occur. In the interest of simplicity and informality, we have moved away from using committees where practical and, instead, bring discernment to the entire meeting during our monthly time for discernment. In the past year, we changed the name of this discernment time from “Meeting for Business” to “Meeting for Discernment” to emphasize our improved focus.
MFM is very egalitarian. We listen rather than respond defensively. If we don’t listen, we know we will alienate and possibly lose people. By listening carefully and digging deeper, we can better understand others’ viewpoints and alleviate tensions. We strive to act in love rather than indulge in potentially divisive (e.g. political) issues. We understand that if we are unable to give and receive forgiveness within MFM, we will certainly be unable to do so in the larger community.
Rather than avoiding tension due to differing points of view, MFM confronts it head-on. MFM is our highest and best place to “stay in the game.” Our worship and coming together silently in a calm place help us to be open-hearted and loving. This has deepened our meeting and spiritual process and helped us to stop judging ourselves and others. Mutual shepherding is offered freely among MFM Friends and is well-received, since our loving atmosphere promotes gentleness, kindness, and open hearts.
We also recognize that there are healthy tensions that help us grow. The 2017 rally in Charlottesville reminded us of white privilege and how that might affect our perspective. The tension resulting from this realization helps us to recognize our faults and negativity. It is much healthier for us to acknowledge this tension and understand its causes.
Some of our most effective voices to the community are the Thrifty Quaker and the charities we assist through its sales. They have proven to be an effective way to embrace the community and demonstrate our Quaker values and process during interactions with customers.
Midlothian Friends Meeting (MFM) hungers for diversity and actively seeks differing opinions and approaches. We know we will learn and grow spiritually from those of differing racial, ethnic, sexual, political and social communities, as they will from us. Nevertheless, there is a feeling among some of us that we are too homogeneous in certain ways. For instance, Friends continue to be concerned by our lack of diversity in age. While we realize we have a younger population than many Quaker meetings, we desire more families with young children and wonder how we might attract them.
MFM has increasingly received visits from people of color, some choosing to visit multiple times or even become part of our meeting. These Friends have helped improve our understanding of the pain caused by white privilege. As a result, we talk about this problem frequently. We have also spent time and finances to make our extensive meeting library more representative of the contributions people of color and women have made to Quakerism and the world. Yet, we are eager to find more ways to reach out to people of color.
Over the past decade, the meeting has grown more theologically diverse. While we have certainly retained our appreciation for universal mysticism, we also experience many Friends with Christ-oriented or other influences in their approach to spirituality. This widening of the meeting’s spirituality has brought strength and joy to our worship community. Our adult discussion hour each Sunday, “Circle of Friends,” includes a smorgasbord of spiritual topics. It is an enriching spiritual experience that brings Friends back each Sunday.
Political diversity also seems to have broadened at MFM over the years. However, this is difficult to assess since we have long had a culture of not bringing politics to our meeting. Friends are careful to maintain this cultural norm by reminding each other when needed.
At MFM, we appreciate slowing down and listening to leadings. “We run with the Spirit not ahead of the Spirit.” Our deep desire is that we help each other move forward together in love.
MFM Welcomes All and embraces diversity.
MFM's greatest joy is our strong sense of community with a uniquely relaxed atmosphere combined with an environment that feels loving and sacred.
MFM inspires each of us to appreciate being among those who desire to hold themselves accountable and to be the best version of themselves. Individual and collective growth is encouraged allowing Friends to grow at our own pace and to participate through our gifts and strengths.
MFM's Meeting for Discernment takes place every 2nd Sunday and calls us to deepen our Quaker Process through slowing down, listening more deeply to one another, giving more space between messages, and to remember to stop more often for silence.
MFM is an inclusive group of individuals maturing in oneness, being led to pause and carefully share from our hearts and experiences, and learning to share love and compassion with others who may have differing values. We desire a deepening sense of being led by Spirit in all things. We choose unity and understanding over division. We strive to practice being steady, non-confrontational, open, concerned, and informed. We hold fast to the belief in a shared inner light.
MFM sees our current divisive national environment as an opportunity to deepen our faith and promote compassion and unity. We seek to listen, learn, and understand issues being raised. The Peace and Social Action Committee (PSAC) as well as the Sanctuary and Immigration Study Group recognize “that of God in everyone.” Guided by our Quaker testimonies, we feel called to work for peace and justice issues. PSAC researches charitable institutions to support and reaches out to those in need through our thrift store. The Thrifty Quaker has helped many charities and individuals in the community for more than 20 years.
MFM's Religious Education teachers grew up in meeting and for the last several years they have taught and nurtured Young Friends every 2nd and 4th Sunday. Katie's and Laura's contributions have shown care and thoughtfulness allowing parents to stay in worship, while enriching and offering an extraordinary gift to all in Meeting.
MFM's Circle of Friends continues to meet every Sunday before Meeting for Worship for about half an hour opening their minds and hearts to other religious faiths and notable studies. This group has grown not only spiritually, but it regularly brings a loving circle of Friends each Sunday to share an inspiring vitality to meeting as a whole.
MFM's High School Graduates lend great joy every year to meeting as we acknowledge and celebrate new beginnings with them and their families.
MFM celebrated our 30th Anniversary September 24th. We enjoyed former Friends of MFM and those from the wider circle of Quakers. Young Friends of all ages enthusiastically buried a time capsule telling who we've been and who we are now, to be opened in 30 years. It was an afternoon where we came together in love and peace shining our light onward.
MFM is a good place to come and BE.
The spiritual state of Midlothian Friends Meeting (MFM) remains lively and vital for our community. We have continued to find success in sustaining a Spirit-led process while simplifying some of our Meeting structures. Our adult education sessions called Meetings for Nurture focused on simplicity and “Conversations with Friends” this past year. Finding out about the spiritual journeys that helped others make space for what matters influenced the life of our meeting and is leading us to grow in the Spirit in busy lives outside the Meeting House.
The depth of our quiet worship may be hard for some to measure, and yet, the clear message that sitting in silence is the opposite of being busy, directs us to become attentive to the Spirit. Worship is simplicity itself. Additionally, while worship brings us joy, the depth before or after worship in both our Circle of Friends discussions and our fellowship with coffee and conversation provides valuable opportunity to learn, model, and seek methods to act and speak the truth of the Quaker testimonies in our everyday lives.
MFM strives to be a place where we give and receive personal support in our search for following the Light and finding that of God in everyone. We want to be a sanctuary of peace and acceptance as we welcome everyone with differing points of view. Recognizing there are many ways to express our testimonies on the way to live, we seek to share without imposing and to support everyone’s spiritual journey in our Light filled community.
A stable model for a religious education program progresses with two adults, raised in our Meeting, sharing the duties of instruction and curriculum planning for each Second and Fourth First Day sessions for our children held during worship. Despite inconsistent numbers of children, we are thankful to have Spirit-led teachers who teach a clear foundation in Quaker testimonies and in Quaker process.
The nurturing strength of a “Circle of Friends” gathering, held every First Day before Meeting for about a half hour, continues providing an outlet for non-secular discussion and exploration for Friends’ inward paths. Examining sacred texts and writings of religious thinkers, philosophers and poets provides a thoughtful start to Meeting for Worship, as well as, spiritual guidance for the week ahead.
Our Meeting House and the grounds around it provide a beautiful and quiet spot for introspection. We feel fortunate to be stewards of land certified as a wildlife habitat located within a Preserve neighborhood. It is important to both use it and share it. Soon after someone begins participating in worship with us, we have started to provide this new Friend access to the Meeting House at his or her convenience. We want our Meeting to be a place for anyone to experience the Light beyond predetermined times of worship.
Our main exposure in the community remains the activities of our store, Thrifty Quaker (TQ), and Friend$hare, a program providing emergency financial assistance to non-Quaker persons in need. The thrift store consistently raises thousands of dollars for non-profit community- based organizations each month. It provides an opportunity to share our Quaker beliefs, our passion for social justice and our testimonies, with the financial and monetary gift so desperately needed by these struggling institutions.
Reaching out to the wider community to fulfill a long-standing Quaker tradition of speaking truth to power is also part of our mission. A Spirit-led process undertaken during several months of our Meeting for Worship with Concern for Business held on the Second First Day during our worship time in 2016 was the development of a Minute on the use of drones. A worship sharing process allowed for deliberations and the sense of meeting as MFM wrote a strong statement to be shared with the wider community about the need for peaceful means of resolving conflict and against the use of drones. It is available under the heading “our beliefs” on our website: http://www.midlothianfriends.org/.
Midlothian Friends offer an intimate environment inspired in part by our vision of community. We welcome all who read this to pay us a visit and honor us with their presence as we worship together.
No report received.
Midlothian Friends Meeting continues to be a small, vibrant Meeting led by the Spirit and guided by the ideals of equality and the importance of nurturing each individual.
- We work to create a feeling of inclusiveness, warmth, and love in everything we do.
- We believe that unity in the Spirit is most important. We de-emphasize control and structure. For example, membership in the Religious Society of Friends is not a prerequisite to any position or committee, nor do we have a facing bench or designated elders.
- We concentrate on the wisdom, love, and gifts each of us has to share, regardless of a person’s background or how long they have attended Meeting.
- We try to keep things “open and real”, sharing both our joys and the difficulties we all face in life.
In 2014 we continued to be led to grow spiritually. In addition to our vibrant Meeting for Worship, we have found that small, focused groups with ample opportunity for Friends to express themselves also provide for spiritual growth. For example, one of our seasoned Friends hosts a “Circle of Friends” spiritual discussion group for 30 minutes before Meeting for Worship.
Peace and Social Action
Our Peace and Social Action committee grew in membership, and was drawn to social action as an outgrowth of our spiritual leadings. For example, once a month they sponsored “Meeting for Nurture”, after Meeting for Worship, on topics such as unitive justice, values clarification, and FCNL. These have proven sustainable and rewarding.
We are fortunate to have a thrift store launched by the Meeting that provides significant funds to the greater community as directed by our Peace and Social Action committee. The Thrifty Quaker made cash gifts of close to $17,000 to twelve individual charities in 2014, and contributed about $160,000 through the donation of excess goods, clothing, and household items to individuals in need and other local thrift stores.
Our Friend$hare program is also affiliated with the thrift store, and is designed to provide emergency financial aid to individuals outside the Meeting. In 2014 it donated about $4500 to 20 individuals.
Religious Education for children
We cherish our children, and recognize our responsibility to provide for their growth within the spiritual reach of our arms.
We made some changes in 2014 which we think have strengthened the RE program and also conserved our energy.
- We offer formal RE on the second and fourth Sundays.
- We set out to hire two teachers, and we were fortunate to have two former Young Friends come forward. They both work with children professionally, and have brought renewed interest and excitement to our classes.
- We encourage Young Friends to sit in worship with the adults.
De-emphasis on formal structures
We did an informal survey of the Meeting in 2014 that turned up a discomforting trend: people would attend for a while, become involved, and then burn out, pleading “don’t put me on a committee again”. So we strove to be flexible, and de-emphasize a large, formal committee structure in favor of more ad-hoc requests and individual callings.
One simple example is the person who closes Meeting for Worship. We struggled to find a role or person to do that on a regular basis. So now we let the Spirit move whoever feels called to close, using a slip of paper with directions that we put on the mantle in the meeting room.
Signs are that this is improving attendance and teaching us to rely more on the Spirit.
Buildings and Grounds
Our Buildings and Grounds committee spent much of their energy in 2014 on providing universal access and maintaining our meeting house. The Meeting house improvements were Spirit led, and drew us together as a community.
We improved access to the meetinghouse considerably in 2014 and into 2015. We now have a concrete walkway from the parking lot that rolls straight into the building. In addition, we combined the need to replace our roof with the addition of a front porch, which provides an 8’ deep portico across the whole building. The porch features rocking chairs and benches that promote lingering at Meeting.
Repairs to the meetinghouse
The small building we purchased in 2002 is now about 30 years old, and consequently we have had to devote money, time, and energy to renovating and maintaining it. Fortunately we learned the value of a home warranty program, which has saved us some money on necessary repairs.
Our repairs, universal access improvements, and the four acre wooded area around the Meetinghouse seem inviting to visitors while serving our needs. As one Friend put it, “Now it looks like a real meetinghouse”.
We have begun the process of ensuring the permanence of Meeting by transitioning critical positions to younger Friends. For example, we added four younger Friends as trustees of Meeting.
Overall attendance at regular Meeting for Worship over the last five years has increased, although the number on a particular Sunday varies. We have some Friends who financially support Meeting while attending infrequently. It seems that people want Meeting to be there even if they don’t always attend.
We remain a small Meeting with few financial reserves. In 2014 we had to slash our budget to just the absolute necessities like the mortgage, utilities, and insurance. Fortunately our Meeting digs deep for large specific projects or tasks. That and a grant from FGC helped us provide universal access.
On May 3rd, 2014, Midlothian Friends Meeting met at our meetinghouse in Powhatan, Virginia for our annual Gathering for Clearness. Through worship sharing, we responded to queries to explore our spiritual community. These queries fell into five areas of reflection.
Spiritual and Emotional Safety
Midlothian Friends Meeting offers a sense of safety which arises out of our gathered silence. The lack of labeling and proselytizing allows the community to include attenders of many different backgrounds and beliefs. The increasing diversity we have seen develop over the years can only emerge out of a safe environment. One area of opportunity, however, is in our written communication. We must remember to allow all forms of interaction to be worshipful by receiving the ideas and feelings of others with acceptance. One Friend noted that filtering communication & framing statements without judgment are areas of personal struggle. Some members feel they aren’t searching for anything, and that path is accepted by the community. They are glad that Midlothian Friends Meeting allows them to attend and just “be.”
Fulfilling the Needs of Spiritual Life
As our lives have become increasingly busier over the decades, expectant waiting has become more important. Our spiritual need for silence is as important as our physical need for food, sleep & exercise. The distractions of everyday life make it hard to experience silence outside of meeting for worship. Gathering together in worship changes the quality of the silence and the accessibility of the spirit. This gathered silence allows for direct communication with the spirit, which our members find better meets their needs than a designated minister. This communion with the spirit is available to anyone who wishes to attend meeting – it’s not necessary to identify oneself as a Quaker. The lack of a creed has increased our diversity, allowing the expression of many different ideas and beliefs, and Friends find they learn from this variety of ministry. Of course, our spiritual life isn’t just the meeting, our spiritual life IS our life. The meeting and testimonies give us strength to express the Spirit in our everyday lives. We are supported in this by the energy of our local spiritual community, as well as the Baltimore Yearly Meeting visitors, which have given us a connection with the wider Quaker community.
Promoting Testimonies through Religious Education
Midlothian Friends Meeting fosters the spirit for a lifetime. For us, religious education isn’t just something that happens in another room for 45 minutes during worship. The entire meeting, with all of its interactions, is religious education. Every member is involved. Our children speak wisdom, and we listen. In a world where children are told simply “do this,” it is our responsibility to help them recognize their individual talents and the value of those talents. Adults who grew up in this meeting are a reflection of the influence that this Meeting and the testimonies have on children. One member notes that his children have become kind, loving adults and believes this is a direct result of their time as Young Friends in MFM. Recently, an adult who grew up in the meeting, chose to pursue a masters degree in public policy, and a teenage Friend received a college scholarship for an entry on Quakerism. The children raised in this meeting carry the testimonies forward into the world.
Promoting Social Justice and Outreach
Rather than aligning ourselves with particular political persuasions, Midlothian Friends Meeting made a conscious effort to focus on the Quaker testimonies. Sometimes, however, we are called to exercise our responsibilities as citizens. When we feel the actions of our leadership are an affront to the testimonies, we “let our life speak” by taking a stand to give a voice to the voiceless. A few in our community find that the term “social justice” itself has too many political connotations, but appreciate that Quakerism allows for thoughts that challenge the status quo. We ask ourselves, “Do I avoid partisan concerns and rhetoric?” Friends recognize that laws have moral consequences, and just as Quakers before us, we must stay active and engaged in the decisions of our government. Midlothian Friends Meeting has begun questioning what social justice means to us, and in what ways we are reaching out to those in need. We are searching for ways in which the Thrifty Quaker, a thrift store supported by the meeting, can provide even more support to our surrounding community. One Friend is pondering why they are willing to invite friends to social activities but not to attend meeting. They feel we should reach out to include people who may find our meeting meaningful.
Our children are also engaged in outreach efforts. A few teens participated in a walk-out from their Richmond school to participate in a march on city hall. Even though their own school is in good repair, they were moved to protest the poor physical conditions of many public city schools. Giving a voice to the voiceless is an important aim of Midlothian Friends Meeting.
Impact of Meeting on Personal Life
Midlothian Friends Meetings has impacted the lives of members, attenders, and the wider community. We have enjoyed new attenders recently, which has given us a renewed sense of hope and energy. Because we welcome seekers of all spiritual persuasions, the diversity of our meeting has increased. The Friendly Eights interest groups enjoy attendance by both Quakers and non-Quakers. While we don’t push, we would be pleased to see any of these people attend meeting. The responsibility of committee participation and holding positions within our meeting has helped some people live the Quaker values because they are more active with the community.
No report received.
This year, Religious Education was changed from being held every week to being held only on the second and fourth First Days of each month. This was intended to support the RE teachers.
Beginning in March 2012, Meeting initiated a pilot to hold Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business during the worship hour. So far, we have had two healthy business meetings manifest the spirit among us. Friends have had encouraging words following this new time for business meeting and participation has been increased.
Friends expressed the desire to keep the spirit alive in worship because it is the web, the interconnectedness, the synapse to each of us and what connects us. We all acknowledge the spirit in each of us. The spirit prospers with silence and our respect for silence. We are not afraid of the silence and waiting on the spirit. What supports the growth of the spirit is the desire to have it grow within us. Recognizing spirit within us and have it reflected back, is what our worship offers. Worship often doesn’t have immediate results, but we notice over time that we are more loving and gentle. There is a sense of being open and vulnerable to hearing what God has to tell us.
Friends have shared about walking up to the Meeting House and feeling a presence of spirit and of the people who have come before us and are there now. When Friends come to Quaker meeting they feel as if they can acknowledge the spirit within and feel support for their spiritual journeys.
Friends were affected by the loss of members who left Meeting recently as well as in previous years. There was concern that the Meeting did not respond effectively to the needs of these individuals who were struggling. We acknowledge that the hurt is still present among us, but that we are working through it as a community by reaching out to absent members, by being honest and personal with each other, and by staying connected to the wider Quaker community.
Friends shared that during the past year some challenges were not addressed using Quaker process. Although we regret the resulting turmoil, we hope we have a deeper sense of spirit and resolve to bring ourselves back to silence and appreciating the Quaker Way by following the leadings of the spirit.
At the same time, Friends among us feel Meeting has been a tremendous blessing in their lives and encourage us to look to the future. Some Friends expressed that being a Quaker, and being part of this community, had made them better people, and provided a template for how to treat people. We are a community moving toward spiritual development and renewal.
The “busy-ness” of life and demands on our personal time may have affected attendance. As expressed by one Friend, the silence of Worship provides an opportunity to slow down.
Submitted by MFM Spiritual Nurture Committee