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||2021 Report||2022 Report|
Midlothian Friends Meeting is located in greater Richmond, VA, the former capital of the Confederacy, so we are reminded daily of the horrific history of systemic racism and the legacy of slavery in this country. As a Quaker meeting, we are constantly looking for ways to educate ourselves and others regarding the racism that still exists in ourselves and the world.
A good example is our Racial Justice Study Group, which meets monthly and consistently attracts 8 to 12 participants. This group allows us a deeper understanding of the issue of racism and how we can bring compassion and understanding to this divisive and pervasive issue. We strongly feel it is incumbent on white people to educate themselves regarding the black spirit.
In addition to studying literature on racism and its effects, the group sponsored a visit to the local “Slave Trail.” This trail is a contextualized look at the route newly arrived slaves were forced to take, while in chains, to the local slave auction house. Plaques along the way provide details of the history of slavery in Richmond and the terrible conditions slaves experienced on the way to the New World and in their new life as chattel. Group participants found this experience difficult but eye-opening.
Some Friends visited and donated to the Black History Museum of Richmond, which provides educational resources and services to promote understanding of the history and culture of African Americans in Virginia.
The Racial Justice Study Group also invited a minister of a local black church to visit with us and provide his perspective on the issue of racism and how it has affected him and his congregation. Our intention was to have this become a regular event, but Covid interfered. However, we plan to follow up soon in the hope of resuming these visits.
Racism is a complex issue, but the Racial Justice Study group helps us to be grounded by bringing love to the discussion. Friends say it has brought a new awakening and gift of awareness. It has helped to soften our level of judgment of other people and to have compassion. We are deeply grateful for the chance to learn more and do more. But this is an ongoing process.
An African American Friend who was writing a book on the history of Quakers and the Black experience began attending our meeting a few years ago. She noted the lack of African American literature in our library. We acknowledged this shortcoming and began adding books on African American Quakers and other ethnicities. We included pictures and descriptions of Black Quakers in our library’s history exhibits along with descriptions of how African Americans and women have been adversely affected by white males. One African American visitor commented favorably on a picture of Bayard Rustin (an African American Quaker and leader in the fight for civil rights) on our library wall. We have also added literature regarding Benjamin Lay, an early Quaker who was physically disabled yet spoke out loudly against slavery in both words and action.
Our quality of worship continues to be nurturing and welcoming. At our Meetings for Discernment (our name for Meeting for Business), our clerk encourages silence during the time between messages to allow the inner voice to guide us. We emphasize the importance of silence in general. That is where Spirit lurks. That is where the still, small voice is heard. It is not so much what we discuss but how we remain open and respectful of one other.
Quaker worship is a time to practice quietness and the desire of the heart to connect with loving energy. It is an opportunity to turn within and find a way to connect with others. Quaker worship allows a space in which we can listen to a higher power and then share it with the world. It is a place where we can meet and support each other where we are. We practice oneness and sameness when we come to meeting, and this practice then becomes our lives. By living in and for the Spirit, our meeting provides strength through its cyclical giving and receiving. We may be lacking in some ways, but we still move forward by being in community.
Recently our Peace and Social Action Committee has been discerning what kind of stance we should take regarding reproductive rights. Discernment has been one of thoughtful contemplation and working through the Spirit. Quaker process is important in maintaining a slow, deliberative approach to decision making. This process underlies most of our decisions, whether in committees or in our Meetings for Discernment.
However, there is always room for improvement, and we are considering whether to create a Committee for Spiritual Nurture to help us in this effort. We have found it difficult to maintain a consistent sense of spirituality in our Meetings for Discernment because we must often jump from spiritual issues to those that are mundane, such as building maintenance. One Friend said this reminded her of a sign she saw along the highway: “Beanie Babies, Phone Cards, Spiritual Guidance.”
One suggestion is that we experiment by reserving some Meetings for Discernment to discuss only spiritual matters. Spiritual issues require a different type of discernment, and silence produces a deeper realization of what is important. A spiritual nurture committee with a wide variety of people would help us do a better job of discerning subjects that truly require extensive discussion versus those that don’t. The Quaker process is important but is not needed for every discussion.
We are a small meeting, but this has its advantages. We share a sense of spiritual intimacy and are able to know each other well. We care for each other. We listen to each other closely and act on what we learn. We don’t often delegate. When there is a need, Midlothian Friends want to help. (For example, we have long provided transportation for those unable to drive). We communicate regularly through emails, meetings, and phone calls.
Our greatest strength is that we accept people exactly as they are.
If we were to describe ourselves on a sign in front of our meetinghouse, it would include one or more of the following:
• Come As You Are
• Peace To All Who Enter Here
• All Are Welcome
• Come, Fixed Or Broken
• Be Still And Know God
• Light Over Darkness
• SPICES: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Stewardship
Because of our small size, though, there are few Friends available to do the tasks that keep us alive as a spiritual community. Many times, the same people seem to do most of the work, and we find ourselves “on the edge” getting things done. A lot of energy is needed to perform physical tasks such as cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms, and this can leave less time and energy for spiritual pursuits. If we aren’t conscious of this, we may be distracted from our larger mission. Maybe keeping things bare bones will allow us more time to focus on the Spirit.
We strongly believe in the importance of maintaining a sense of the gathered meeting, but this is difficult while using Zoom. Though we still use Zoom, most Friends now worship in person.
We want to attract people, but we may worry about this too much. However long a person attends, they are a part of us, and we embrace them. Many people come for short periods of time. We may not be what they are looking for, but we may have helped them in their spiritual journey (and that is ok). Our Memorial Garden and meetinghouse grounds are open to everyone, whether they are part of our meeting or not. But we still question why we are not attracting younger people, families, and different ethnic groups.
We acknowledge that Quaker worship can be difficult and is not for everyone. In particular, our Meeting for Discernment can sometimes be described as “the war of the Lamb.” Silent worship may be hard because no one is digesting spirituality for you. Also, there are now lots of opportunities for silent contemplation away from Quaker meetings. And people may just be too busy to allot time for Quaker worship every week. Though Quakers usually do not proselytize, we should think of methods of outreach that will get our message across. One Friend recommended ”Thee Quaker,” a project founded by Jon Watts to communicate Quaker stories to the online community. This might be something for us to consider as we develop ideas for outreach.
Being a Quaker is hard work, and it is important to recognize that someone coming to meeting may feel discomfort as well as warmth. The main thing is that they feel welcome, which is why they come to meeting in the first place.
As we face the challenges and joys to come, we will continue to do so with love and empathy, welcoming everyone and encouraging them to take part in making decisions. Quaker activism is vital, and our Racial Justice Study Group and Peace and Social Action Committee are engaged on many levels, as is the meeting as a whole. Though any Quaker meeting has its ups and downs, we hope the example of love Midlothian Friends exhibit and the activism we advocate will live on in the hearts, souls, and lives of those we touch.
People move in and out of our lives like a stream flowing in different directions, but at Midlothian Friends Meeting we are bound by and follow one stream, one Spirit. We accept each other wherever we are and cherish our differences as we grow in this Spirit. Being together in community seems to be the ticket to the outflowing of the heart with which we face issues. The pandemic continued to be a challenge to the way we worship and communicate. We spent part of the year worshipping solely on Zoom and the other using a hybrid form of worship that includes both Zoom and in-person participation. One of our greatest joys has been the ability to finally return to worshipping in person after a long hiatus. In addition, technology obtained during the pandemic, which includes a television screen and Meeting Owl, enables those at a distance and those still uncomfortable meeting in person to participate in many activities. We believe that gathering as one meeting is better than splitting into two (one on Zoom and one in person) because we are one spiritual community following one Spirit.
We were able to adapt quickly during the pandemic because we are flexible and not "rule-bound". It seems the Spirit may have prepared us for the changes necessitated by COVID. We knew we needed to let go of certain traditions (refreshments, in-person worship, pot-luck dinners, and other social events) as well as look for new methods (technological and other) to enable us to continue as an active spiritual community. This transition went surprisingly smoothly.
We have to face that COVID is here to stay and need to plan how we can continue to meet when infection rates spike. We are challenged to take advantage of periods of low contagion to sponsor in-person events. The creation of a special committee to help make decisions in a timely manner helped us navigate the issues of closing meeting during the pandemic and will serve us in the future.
We discovered exciting new opportunities to join groups on Zoom. This has been enriching and inclusive for some who would not otherwise have been part of a group, for example, Peace and Social Action, the Racial Justice Study Group, Book Group, and other groups that are offshoots of MFM. To quote a Zoom participant in our Peace and Social Action Committee, “because participation became more accessible through Zoom, I have found it fun, joyful, deep, and consciousness-raising. I feel the loving support of others.” MFM provides a beautiful, peaceful venue for outdoor retreats or quiet contemplation. We are grateful for our Meditation Garden and for the work done to rejuvenate and beautify it during the last year. The use of decorative rocks lining the paths and entrances conveys a sense of timelessness that is a reminder of the timelessness of Light and Love in our lives. We have also established an above-ground vegetable garden, which our children delight in maintaining. The joy of seeing the Spirit working in them as they care for the garden and witness the results of their efforts is rewarding and inspiring. In many ways, our kids act as ambassadors of our meeting, take pride in doing so, and have a lot of fun in the process.
One of the most amazing stories of the past year pertains to the Thrifty Quaker, a thrift store associated with MFM whose proceeds provide grants to deserving charities each month. We thought the store would need to close during the pandemic, but, instead, it has received nearly 3 times its average pre-pandemic income. It was also able to increase the number of charities receiving grants each month. As an example, the Thrifty Quaker was recently able to grant more than $4000 to each of two charities providing assistance to Ukrainian refugees. Grants have also been provided by Friend$hare, a program of MFM that provides emergency financial assistance to individuals recommended by trusted sources. Recently, Friend$hare provided grants to undocumented immigrants going through the immigration process. Another example of the Meeting’s commitment to immigrants is Peter Farago, a member of our Peace and Social Action Committee. Peter works as a volunteer with the Immigration Legal Services Program at the Sacred Heart Center in Richmond. He is authorized by the US Department of Justice to provide legal advice on immigration matters to clients and represent them before the Department of Homeland Security and its agencies. He is applying for additional authorization to represent clients in Immigration Court. Peter also developed and maintains the transportation scheduling system used by the Central Virginia Sanctuary Network, a project of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. We routinely allow nonprofit organizations to use our meetinghouse free of charge. For instance, the Sacred Heart Center, a charity that provides adult education and support to the local Latino Community, has used our meetinghouse for its retreats.
We are thankful for our Racial Justice Study Group, which helps us to increase our understanding and inclusivity of other races and ethnicities. In addition to conducting regular book discussions, the group sponsored a visit to the Richmond Slave Trail, which provides stark evidence of the consequences of racism. We are also participating in the Powhatan Coalition of Churches and have a designated representative keeping in touch with them. The coalition includes a diverse array of church congregations and has been very helpful in taking us out of our "Quaker bubble”. We hope to continue and expand these relationships. We want to visit people of color where they are, rather than wait for them to come to us. Our challenge is to find ways to put our learnings into action.
We care for our older, physically challenged Friends by providing transportation to and from meeting for those unable to drive. Each Friend is important to us, and we gladly do whatever is needed to make sure all who wish to attend are able to do so.
Special credit is due Laura Clark, who faithfully leads our Young Friends as part of our Religious Education program. She approaches teaching with a steady and giving heart. Her love for the children is apparent in all she does, and she inspires the kids with fun, creative projects. Liz Wall is our newly designated RE Coordinator and works closely with Laura in planning curricula and new activities that will instruct, inspire, and appeal to the children.
A formidable challenge last year was the absence of children at meeting because of restrictions imposed by COVID. Children do not like using Zoom and their interests are different from adults, so we had difficulty finding ways for them to participate and still be safe. We appreciate Zoom but admit it is not the same as meeting in person, especially for children. We were also challenged to "Love Our Neighbors - No Exceptions" during the pandemic when many people, locally and nationally, failed to heed public health recommendations. However, the experience has helped all of us to gain wisdom and reflect on our assumptions and prejudices. One Friend opened our eyes to Paul Cuffe, an African American Quaker abolitionist and activist who did amazing things. This led us to reevaluate our approach to Quaker history and to include more articles and books in our library pertaining to African American Quakers and their contributions. Whereas a few years ago, our library contained few such books, we now have books on Paul Cuffe, Bayard Rustin, and other African American Quakers. A telling incident occurred when an African American visitor to MFM became immediately attracted to a picture and article on Bayard Rustin in our library. This helped us realize that we need to continue to widen our representation of minorities in the life of our meeting. We have also added books on Benjamin Lay, who was only 4 feet tall and had other physical difficulties yet was a powerful humanitarian and abolitionist.
MFM sent a representative to a recent BYM Financial Planning meeting in which the guiding question was "How does our use of finances reflect our racial inclusion?" We were appalled to hear of serious racial incidents that allegedly occurred at some of the Quaker camps. An African American participant at the financial meeting asked what individual meetings are doing to alleviate racial tension and to promote inclusion and love. We wonder if we are doing enough and are not sure how to address this completely, though we know there are tangible things we can do and have done. But talk is not enough.
The idea of a slogan for our meeting is intriguing, and we came up with several possibilities that represent who we are:
• Love Thy Neighbors – No Exceptions
• Way Opens (with a picture of an open door and light coming in)
• Open heartedness
• Slowing Down
• A picture of rocks with no slogan
• No slogan or picture, in keeping with Quaker simplicity and silence
Much has happened and is happening at Midlothian Friends Meeting. But the Spirit that is streaming in the hearts of individual Friends and in the gathered meeting that is Midlothian Friends keeps us centered in love and commitment to one another and to the communities we live in.
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