The Spiritual State of the Yearly Meeting
The text of recently received Spiritual State of the Yearly 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|
It is difficult to find the words to truly capture the experiences of our meetings this year. While many meetings spoke of finding hidden strengths and new ways to care for each other during the pandemic, they also mentioned loss, worries, and struggles. A sense of woundedness co-existed with expressions of “making do” and pluckiness.
Maury River’s trepidation spoke for many. “Everything has changed for Maury River. Once the pandemic is less of a threat, we don’t know if we will be able to return to our pre-pandemic ways, or if our lives and Meeting will be very different.”
We find no Meeting was alone in its struggles and worries. Every Meeting seemed to have uncovered a deeper understanding of themselves.
Friends were often pleasantly surprised in unexpected ways. Gettysburg Friends told of how their outdoor, socially-distanced summer gatherings lasted much longer because no one had other activities to go to.
We all learned, as a Friend at Gunpowder said that encountering God or Spirit “is not about the steeple house, but it is about the community.”
As a Friend at Sandy Spring said: “We are experiencing the Light differently, but it is the same Light.”
Almost all of our Meetings’ reports took advantage of Zoom to create this “meetings without meeting houses” that was a practical necessity during the year. Many Friends welcomed the virtual meetings, enjoying seeing each other’s faces, pets, and homes.
Charlottesville: “What is the Meeting when we can't meet? The sentiment that emerged from our examination of this question was this: The community is present. It needs us and we need it, and we’re maintaining and finding new ways to connect.”
At the same time, Meetings also reported many members did not find Zoom conducive to their worship.
Some Friends at the Annapolis Meeting created an early morning Meeting from home without using any technology.
.All Meetings suffered from the lack of shared activity. First Day schools were hit hard.
There were no shortage of difficult days and conflict.
Langley Hill: “The cumulative trauma of the events of 2020 impacted each of us differently, but the meeting as a whole is still recovering and likely changed because of it. Healing is a slow process and can be incomplete leaving scars that will linger. We need to remain attentive to this trauma and lift it up together even though it may be uncomfortable so we can apply some spiritual treatments and medicines. This is the work of our committees as well as all of us.”
Charlottesville: “In the words of one present at Connections that day, ‘If I were the Spirit of this Meeting, I would be looking for a doctor. I'm alive but not well’."
In the year of the pandemic, health and a wonderful sense of caring for each other pervaded the reports.
Annapolis: “We have seen each other through illness, personal loss, the movement to new locations even across the country, and Spirit has been evident in the unseen as well as the seen and very practical ways we have remained connected with one another. Meals, transportation, financial support, phone calls, shared at-distance walks.”
Hopewell Center: “Spirit is bigger, better, and more present than ever. How has Spirit filtered through our Meeting in 2020? “When everything else is falling apart, we have our faith, and each other.” Spirit gives us an affirmation to “send out as much Light as we can create.”
Work to understand and eliminate systemic racism gained new urgency following the May 25th murder of George Floyd and served to strengthen the foundations of many meetings.
Sandy Spring Friends meeting reports: “The work is often uncomfortable; however the unguarded open discussions around race have allowed authentic relationships to develop.”
Meetings also found good ways to build community:
Adephi: A Thanksgiving weekend online “coffee house” talent show, which demonstrated that humor can lift hearts even in turbulent times.
Herdon: Fortnight Friends, which are random one-to-one pairings for two weeks of connections.
Gunpowder started weekly friendship nights, while Richmond started Wednesday night worship sharing.
Friends Meeting of Washington organized Zinners - dinners on Zoom.
Patapsco’s Ministry and Care Committee sent out “care packages” to people as a symbol of caring.
Milestones were reached this year.
Buckhannon celebrated its first year as a full Meeting while Augusta Working Group marked the 25th year of its formation.
Despite the pandemic, Friends continued their essential work in the wider community, from Midlothian’s thrift store to Frederick’s support for Palestinian farmers through the purchase of olive oil and soap
We have a deep respect and appreciation for everyone who participated in preparing reports this year. We know the reports will be of historical value one day as Friends look back on our turbulent year.
The reports show ways we can build solid foundations in our monthly meetings for our work, in the words of Epistle of the World Gathering of Young Friends in 1985 “to heed the voice of God and let it send us out in truth and power to rise to the immense challenge of our world today”
In the end, perhaps an old favorite hymn paraphrased by York Friends provides the best words for this year: “Twas Grace that brought us safe thus far, and Grace will lead us home.”
This year’s Spiritual State of the Meeting process was well underway when the COVID-19 pandemic struck our communities, forcing us to learn new ways to hold Meetings for Worship in a period of social distancing. Local Meetings initiated their own drafting of their reports at different times; some sent their approved reports to Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM), before the pandemic led to widespread shutdowns, but nonetheless other political and social turmoil dominated the nation; other reports included responses to the situation. Altogether, the reports we received show a resilient and often vibrant Quaker community, in awe of the strength and comfort we receive from each other.
Our communities, large and small, spoke of their meetings for worship as an oasis from a difficult period, serving as a resting spot where strength could be gathered for the road ahead and shelter found from the storms. When searching for ways to describe the experience of [our] Meetings, Friends often use images illustrating nourishment like a watering hole, oasis or garden that provides nourishment:
We feel ourselves recharged and able to develop a center of calm that sustains us in our everyday life and helps us face our fears with the courage gained by our commitment to one another.
[Our] Meeting is a place to be bathed in voices of love, peace, and kindness, providing comfort and encouragement to us. It is not easy to find a climate where people feel free to share our dark sides. Here we can share openly and honestly in a loving environment.
We are glad for the oasis of quiet and spiritual reassurance that Meeting provides us, from which we gain the strength and confidence to move outward into the wider world.
Future reports will be able to reflect deeply on how the pandemic has changed us and our Meeting. The report this year serves to highlight we were a strong, thriving, and striving group of Meetings as we headed into the storm.
BYM Ministry and Pastoral Care provided a set of queries to help guide Friends communities, at their discretion, to assemble their reports. Not all Meetings found the queries useful for their purposes; others engaged with them. The committee uses the queries here to help organize this report. The first set of queries were
“How do we nurture healthy vocal ministry? How do we nurture ministries of other kinds and affirm one another’s gifts? How can we improve the way in which we recognize and speak to one another’s gifts?”
Many Meetings spoke of how the silence has become an ever-important part of their worship.
Deep silence experienced in Meeting for Worship stimulates Friends’ spiritual growth and feels “vibrant and alive.”
One Friend was quoted describing the silence in worship as “the spiritual ground” they stand on.
Friends at two of our larger Meetings have created an early morning First-Day worship as an often more silent substitute for the larger First-Day meeting. In some smaller Meetings, spoken ministry is not heard often.
Spoken ministry is rare as the silence seems to prevail. In our discussion of this it was clear that messages would be readily received and held in the spirit in which they were given. We can nurture this more by acknowledging messages that speak to us. We also recognize the possible breaking of grace by words and are aware when we should stop speaking.
Some wonder if they are missing something important.
We realized that it is more difficult to convey the meaningfulness of the presence of the Spirit in our Meeting and in our lives, particularly since we don’t have a lot of vocal ministry.
Some Meetings spoke of experiencing discord stemming from spoken messages in this turbulent political time. Friends were especially appreciative when a Friend sharing vocal ministry showed that they were vulnerable
Messages of anxiety and disquiet punctuate the wisdom, hope, joy, and stillness the Spirit brings us in worship and conversation.
Good messages can come from vulnerability—when we are authentically vulnerable in ministry—that builds community.
Friends struggled over what to do with discordant messages:
Politically we have some diversity in our Meeting. Some friends ask to leave our politics at the door. Others ask if this is a way of avoiding tension by not discussing differing points of view?
One Friend was quoted as saying Meeting for Worship can never be like a piano tuned for one note. Such a piano would never capture the essence of a Beethoven sonata where diverse notes create a harmony. Many meetings suggested creative listening as a skill that needed to be nurtured and encouraged a kind and patient approach to hearing messages a given Friend might at first prickle at.
Sometimes vocal ministry remained challenging during the year, but Friends and Attenders expressed appreciation for the ways in which the Meeting created space for compassionate listening—even in cases of long or repetitive messages.
When a spoken message doesn’t affect you, it may speak to others. Avoid judging.
Another Friend felt that a real challenge for vocal ministry is the fear of not being politically correct and finding the courage to go ahead and speak our truth as it is revealed to us: “The truth that comes out in vocal ministry is what guides us forward.”
This makes it all the more important to ensure vocal ministry, led by the spirit and delivered with integrity, is encouraged, regardless of how it might challenge us. Positive feedback was seen as a way to nurture vocal ministry.
I feel motivated to respond and others have done that with me,” said one Friend. “It nurtures our willingness. It’s important to acknowledge it if we are touched.
As Friends we are all ministers . . . we need to call one another forth and support one another in living into the gifts that we have.
A few Meetings are using “Four Doors to Meeting for Worship” by William Taber which describes how to enter the Meeting for Worship as a series of four steps, or doors, as a guide of when to be led to speak. One Meeting experimented with a separate worship sharing on Wednesdays in an effort to better know the spiritual concerns of fellow members and attenders.
Another experimented with a separate Meeting that can be called quickly on any Sunday when Friends feel the need to share at length about a recent geopolitical event.
Meetings concluded that efforts were needed to make other seekers feel at home in the oasis of our meetings for worship:
We are committed to learning ways to speak our truths that are more effective and further openness among us.
Meetings spoke about numerous ways their ministry went beyond vocal ministry. Engaging with the wider communities where Meetings are located helped build outreach, support local witness, and germinate stewardship both within Friends and with the community at large. Activities included strawberry or blueberry festivals, providing meals for the homeless and cold in the winter months, supporting local education efforts and families with young children in need, setting up an Earth Cares committee, and vigils at the local post office. Another Meeting began to intentionally build relationships with their African American neighbors, another Meeting tended the community Peace Tree, and others participated in ecumenical activities and fundraisers.
The second set of queries for guiding reporting read
“What paralyzes us or prevents us from answering our call? What fears do we experience? Which fears drive us and which fears create obstacles?”
In answering this query some Meetings despaired that their communities are getting smaller over time:
Our membership is dwindling. Friends are moving away and few others are joining us to take their place. Our membership is also aging and we are concerned about the sustainability of our Monthly Meeting.
Fortunately, Friends at many Meetings, small and large, are increasing commitments to outreach and finding creative ways to expand the oasis.
We have hung a new sign, placed announcements in the local paper, and updated our website.
The trying nature of the world we live in caused one Meeting to say that their biggest fear was a loss of faith in humanity. But this fear eases in meeting for worship.
Just as “we are afraid of the flame because it burns, fear is not always negative.” It can illuminate our challenges.
Several Friends found the concept of “concerns” more appropriate than the concept of “fears”:
[A Friend] suggested that, if we change the query to “Which loves and passions drive us?” it will look very different and inspire us to come from a much better place than fear. Deep leadings often come from love and passion.
The third set of queries
“Do we have the courage to create space for our human fallibility and vulnerability? In what do we find that kind of courage?”
One Meeting spoke of the need for courage to allow our Meetings to change. Once we have found the oasis, are we willing to let it grow naturally?
I hope we can overcome fears and be bold to let the community know we are here. As I think about attracting young people, and people different from us, I fear we exclude people without knowing it like people of color, young people, people with different political beliefs. Part of that excluding, for me, is a fear of change.
One Meeting spoke directly about the need to create space for Friends who are more conservative politically.
One Friend, from a conservative Quaker background, said that although he is comfortable worshiping here, he has trouble fitting into this activist community and doesn't feel needed. Another Friend spoke for many when he responded, “We need you, Friend.” How can we, as a community, grow into more harmony?
A powerful opportunity to share our Light was presented to us by [our state] House of Delegates representative, who is a member of [our]Meeting. She invited a small group from the meeting to give the invocation at the start of a House session.
In summary, Friends find a deeper call more than ever to seek unity in a world where disunity seems to grow ever prevalent. Our constituent Meetings encounter different challenges in some ways; many smaller Meetings are drawn to dive deeper into outreach while larger, more active Meetings struggle to discern how to deepen worship and make room for a diversity of views and for needs in spiritual development. Some celebrate living in a community driven by the power of welcoming and listening while others call out a need to further grow active listening skills and be open and honest with one another in addressing issues of contention. Throughout, all Friends are striving to be reflective of Courage, Faith and Hope to Love Across Our Differences—whether they are cognizant of Annual Session’s theme or not.
BYM expresses deep gratitude for the Meetings who sent in their reports, understanding the process can be time-consuming and requires much effort spent reflecting upon the prior year. Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports are not just critical in helping the Yearly Meeting identify local Meetings’ needs, strengths, and desires for improvement, they also help local Meetings both identify new ideas to try and recognize the joys and struggles we have in common. The quotes above are taken from the reports. The reports are included in full in Annual Session materials and in the Yearbook, so we encourage all Friends to seek them out and gain insight from them.
No gift arose in our sessions more apparently than the gift of silence. That which unfolds in silence is the very substance of what turns our hearts toward the Spirit. Corporate silence is what strengthens our attention to Spirit in Meeting for Worship. It gives respite, brings renewal, and reveals direction in divided times. We are blessed by this silence. (York)
From every quarter we hear that worship is “deep, shared and peaceful.” Across the Yearly Meeting there is a sense of the importance of deeply centered worship, the expectant waiting in silence which creates a safe place, a sense of refuge. Many report that worship gives more than a sense of peace, it rejuvenates and prepares us for facing challenges with grace. Meetings which previously questioned the quality their of worship, report that there is a “deepening” of the silence in worship and an intent to take on the “care needed to protect these green shoots.” Several Meetings noted the attention paid to maintain “good order” in Meeting for Worship. “We strengthen the Spirit in Meeting by protecting the worship environment. The Worship and Ministry Committee provides guidance on vocal ministry individually and collectively.” “Our quality of worship is like music -- that the sound [vocal ministry] is beautiful, but also crucial are the silent rests between the notes.”
Arising from the silence, grace is found so that Friends can be responsive rather than reactive to challenge. This seems to be a common theme, that while worship is a refuge, it also sources the capacity to face challenges with an open heart, “to be present, minister with a generous spirit, and keep listening with sensitivity,” to “be encouraging of the good and to trust in the Lord.” “Worship helps us respond to friends and family who differ dramatically in their political and social views,” by providing the still point to be with those things which challenge us.
Having said all that, living in a climate of values which deeply challenge our own and facing conflict and discord on a daily basis are still hard for us. Numerous Meetings reported the tendency to “hold back so as to not engender tension,” or to end conversations too quickly due to discomfort. There is a realism in recognizing that “while we strive for integrity and truth in our world of turmoil,” not everything will be settled tomorrow. And several Meetings alluded to the reality that many of our Meetings are small, and “fragile communities may be risk-averse.” Still Friends persist: “we strive not to avoid the most contentious issues to ‘keep peace’” and “while grateful for refuge, [we] seek more than shelter from the storm. “A lot of what we do here is about holding. We hold in the light, in our listening, we are held by the Spirit...The ability to hold allows us to hold the tensions in life and living together. I see a capacity to hold a great deal of tension. We are all called to be holders of tension whether we like it or not!”
Another theme threading through the tapestry of the Yearly Meeting is the strong and widespread desire to address the issue of diversity. Meetings identified both their existing diversities of demographics and beliefs while simultaneously calling out their lack of diversity along cultural and racial lines. While we embrace our roots, we also recognize that much of our history is complicit in perpetuating injustice. Meetings are working at these issues in many ways: seeking to understand the difference between pluralism and diversity; reading and studying the story of African Americans and indigenous peoples; unpacking the impact of racism, white privilege, and unconscious bias; trying to learn what we don’t know. Delving into these issues is often a fraught process of miss-steps and even backsliding. As to how well we welcome this discord, one Meeting stated, “Discord sometimes gets messy. If we pay attention to the Light, we establish a bridge of trust strong enough to bear the weight of discord.”
One such “bridge” grew out of engagement with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow among Friends in the Annapolis area. They were instrumental some years ago in founding Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (MAJR) which had another year of strong presence in the state legislative process advocating for criminal justice reform. While MAJR still has broad support among Maryland Friends, it has grown well beyond its beginnings among Quakers to become a truly state-wide and multi-cultural justice organization. Yet another effort, supported by Baltimore Friends, is “Cease Fire” which seeks to raise consciousness to the toll of violence in all its forms, but particularly gun violence, and minister in tender compassion to all affected.
Our Young Adult Friends model for all of us the “intention to discern how our Meetings at all levels can be more inclusive and welcoming to all.” And they challenge us: “If we [in BYM] want to engage with young people, we must work with them on dismantling the implicit bias in our communities.” These young adults, busy in their early working years, make tremendous commitment of time and energy to implement these values through the Strengthening Transformative Relationship in Diverse Environments (STRIDE) program. Though this work they are “building relationships in four urban communities and raising money for camp scholarships… The powerful, transformative nature of the STRIDE program both sparks anticipation for the future of Friends and encourages us to undertake the significant efforts required of us.”
There are numerous other ways Friends are working for and with those in need and in efforts to pursue justice. Individuals visit prisons, help resettle refugees, write letters, organize, march, volunteer and train in efforts to provide relief and create social change. Meetings take on issues as a group, many are working on actions related to climate/environmental concerns, such as efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of their Meeting Houses, replacing old furnaces, installing solar panels, and even providing for green burials.
Several Meetings note the rich blessing of meeting in historic Meeting Houses, celebrating a sense of immersion in a journey with Friends throughout history as they care for old buildings and burial grounds they have inherited. They speak of both the joy and the burden of this care. Some also celebrated a sense of new life, even community outreach, found through the commitment of taking on the renovation of their historic buildings. Still other Meetings witness to an appreciation of the freedom they find to serve one another and their wider communities in being free of bricks and mortar, meeting in rented space or member’s homes. On a broader level, the Intervisitation Working Group, a committed community of energetic Friends, continue to work beyond the bounds of BYM to share the vision of reconnecting and strengthening bonds within the worldwide Quaker fellowship. This past year they shared their encouraging "Ministry of Presence" with 30 communities in 6 countries, and facilitated the continuing presence of Friendly visitors from other Yearly Meetings to our Annual Sessions.
Undergirding all of this is an impressive array of efforts to develop avenues for nurture and spiritual deepening at the heart of the local Meeting community. BYM’s Spiritual Formation (SF) and Women’s retreats continue to grow and bear rich fruit. Friendly Eights were oft mentioned either as on-going or resurging ways of building stronger, more resilient communities, an impact also seen in the function of the small groups within the SF program. As Friends in these ways come to know one another more deeply “in that which is eternal,” they expand their capacity for deep listening, the Spirit is quickened among them and unity may be found with greater clarity. There is a sense that, as the times have challenged us, we have found refuge in one another and finding refuge we have been strengthened to meet these challenges in greater love.
“We are mindful of the need to be both patient and steadfast. Trying to be patient, we find help in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice’” (Goose Creek)
Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee is very grateful to the many voices of Friends across our Yearly Meeting community whose prayerful discernment and faithful work is represented herein. We carefully read each of the Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports (SSoM). Minutes from Interim and Yearly Meeting and Epistles arising from Annual Session 2018 were also considered. After a small group created a first draft, the committee seasoned it at our June Interim Meeting. The quotes in the body of the report, mostly from local Meeting SSoMs, are not attributed here for ease of reading. A copy with attribution is available in the Yearly Meeting office.
“We yearn to make a difference in a country that is divided, contentious, and damaging to people we care about. We yearn to go deeper in our spiritual lives -- as individuals and as a community. These yearnings go hand in hand. The Light is dancing at [our Meeting], delighting many with the presence of God in their lives. However, we need to begin to rise off our chair, move to the center of the floor, and join the dance.
In considering the spiritual state of Baltimore Yearly Meeting at this time, Ministry and Pastoral Care was drawn to consider it through this metaphor of dance. As Quakers we are called to the dance of life led by the Light of Love and, as partners of that Light, to “bring light into the world wherever we may go.” These aspirations are deeply challenged in these times and yet it is for these times that we are called. Local Meetings within Baltimore Yearly Meeting are painfully aware of the issues that divide our country and are hurt by the discourse and actions they witness when reflected against our Quaker Testimonies. As they listen across the divide in this contentious environment, some Meetings are called to action, some to the inward reflection that deepens our relationship with Spirit, and many report a tension between these fundamental elements of our Quaker faith. “In a year of deep national conflict over political developments, we sought individually and collectively to find balance.” This search challenges us: “We notice a tension within what we bring to Meeting for Worship… Perhaps the most tangible aspect of this tension is between Friends whose priority is social action and Friends whose main focus is the worship experience.” Yet we all hear the music even if we experience the dance differently; we all feel the Spirit both “nudging and nurturing our activism.”
As we move to the dance floor, we seek to stay spiritually grounded. “The events of 2017 affected [our Meetings] in many ways, leading us to struggle with our desire to advocate for action and change in the larger society, but at the same time, needing to stay grounded in our belief that action is most effective when it comes from a spiritual leading.” “Things will only change when we seek changes in ourselves. Friends strive to not focus on the negative so much that we lose the place where our spirit should be.”
Across the Yearly Meeting spiritual life remains centered on Meeting for Worship.
The balance between silence and spoken ministry remains an area of reflection for many Meetings, but the rewards of gathering in worship and listening expectantly are great. “In the desire to engage in our spiritual nurture, we consciously leave our work on issues at the door when we meet together. This lets us regain peace and strength to address these things outside with greater love, understanding and patience.” One Meeting succinctly stated: “Meeting for Worship is both a refuge and a preparation.”
Meetings speak of conducting our business in the same worshipful way. “Our [Clerk of the Meeting] has spent a significant amount of time on instruction in the ways in which Quakers through the centuries have practiced this very spiritual process of doing business, ways which are rare in society at large.” It's not always easy "...we have been challenged to deepen our understanding of what achieving a sense of the meeting means."
Meetings within BYM acknowledge that both spiritual and financial energy are needed to be good stewards of the dance floor. One of our larger Meetings has willingly taken on a considerable mortgage, noting that “...the construction project leads to the vibrancy of the meeting because Friends see a future here.” Yet some of our smallest Meetings face daunting challenges: "We are a meeting on the edge, balanced precariously on the effort of a few people, seeking stability both materially and spiritually.” One Meeting is discerning its future and planning in a tender way, acknowledging that good stewardship may require laying down the Meeting so the burden doesn’t fall on “the last man standing.” Other small Meetings find that participation in Quarterly Meeting weaves them into the larger whole, appreciating “the value of Quarterly Meeting to make connections, sustain a small group.” Even the work of the Meeting can be sustaining as one Meeting noted: “Committee work is an important way we are in community with one another.” At times, we also need to acknowledge that the community can be stressed. “Like families, we enjoy connection and too often ignore discord.” Our Meetings are our homes, our families, and our refuges for those families or individuals that pass through briefly, come and go, stay for years, or through the end of their lives. “When one opens the door of the Meeting House, they feel ‘the hug’; a sense of coming home, safety and acceptance.”
To be open to the Spirit and new leadings requires that we listen deeply despite political, theological and social differences. One meeting offers this query on diversity: “Are we opening ourselves to others around us who are different from us -- not just by race, ethnicity, culture, language, and gender, but by ideology, values, political affiliation?” Another notes that “we have great spiritual diversity, spanning the belief spectrum from red letter Christians to non-theists and the Quaker spectrum from birthright Friends, to attenders still trying to find their way in Quaker process.”
The theme of our Annual Session in 2017, “Growing Towards Justice - Acting on Faith,” resonated with our sense of urgent need. Our work there cracked us open. The leadership of Young Adult Friends—their candor and vulnerability in sharing their experiences within BYM as well as the wider world—opened painful discernment among Friends. This brought us to embrace this statement in the 2017 Greater BYM Epistle: “as we strive to become an anti-racist community, we must be willing to lean into our discomfort, which is where our learning zone is.” Our work on racism continues both in the world and within our Yearly Meeting. Conversations on racism continued at two Interim Meetings helping us to heal relationships and better understand all perspectives. As we “realize that racism is a barrier to Friends’ relationship with the Divine,” we commend efforts across the Yearly Meeting, in Local Meetings, various committees, and YM structures, to assess and address the ongoing effects of racism in our Quaker communities and the wider culture. We recognize that the Light asks us to join in this dance. We are grateful for the work of BYM’s Growing Diverse Leadership program. We hold that work in the Light with determination to extend its effort to build a richer and more diverse Yearly Meeting.
In August, 2017, Charlottesville Meeting was called to put faith into action as a rally of white nationalists clashed violently with counter protestors. “Provocation and response in Charlottesville has been witnessed around the globe. The very name of the city has at times been used as a symbol of racial strife and resistance… Wearing blue Quaker T-shirts as a silent means of identification, Friends from the Meeting worshipped in Justice Park, and were joined by others from the crowd... Quakers were quietly present in crowds that surged and retrenched, marched and in some cases, fled.”
We cannot know when we will be called to step into the dance, but another Local Meeting voices our shared sense of purpose: “We continue our witness as before, understanding that we are not in charge of outcomes.” At its core, when we do it with intention and compassion, we find the Divine.
“We attempt to be faithful to those traditions which have served Quakers well in the past:
To stand in the light, waiting for the Spirit to lead us.
To listen carefully to the other and “to the place that the words come from.” (John Woolman)
To search for common ground with those with whom we disagree.
To value and follow Quaker process, waiting with patience for the leadings of the Spirit.”
This report was written after prayerful reading of the 2017 Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports submitted by Local Meetings and Worship Groups, the minutes of Interim Meetings and 2017 Annual Session, and the Epistles arising from the 2017 Annual Session. The Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee did not attempt to include quotations from all constituent groups within the Yearly Meeting, however, the voices of the Local Meetings quoted herein reflect themes that were heard across Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
Gardeners of Grace
We are all stewards of this garden of grace. In order to care for ourselves and the community, each of us at various times have shouldered a spade, a rake, a hoe, a watering can or any tool necessary to keep us thriving. The evergreens of winter, the carpet of early spring flowers, the showy blooms of summer and the wispy asters and changing leaves of autumn, reminded us of the diversity and beauty amongst us and all of God’s creation. They continue to remind us too of the cycle of life in ourselves and our meeting as we grow in love and gratitude for each other and our beloved community.
York Friends Meeting, Spiritual State of the Meeting, 2016
In the first half of this year Friends throughout Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) considered the spiritual state of their Meetings. Among their rich messages, this metaphor of gardening rose up as a framework for understanding the spiritual state of our Meetings, and of BYM as a whole.
BYM Friends recognize the responsibility and privilege each holds to care for their plot in the garden of grace. Our Meetings report that it is in tending to the spiritual community through worship that they come together nurturing our Quaker faith and practice. Regardless of the size of the gathering, Friends report a powerful sense of community and the intimacy of a gathered Meeting. One Meeting expressed that the “greatest joy is the deepness of the worship, so deep at times that it would need to be cut with a knife to disturb it.” Another adds: “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.” Our worship together is transformative. Another offered the words of Rufus Jones: “Friends come back from their worship with a new sense of ordination, but not the ordination of human hands. Something has happened in the stillness that makes the heart more tender, more sensitive, more shocked by evil, more dedicated to ideals of life, and more eager to push back the skirts of darkness and to widen the area of light and love.”
Across Baltimore Yearly Meeting we tend our plots and our shared Yearly Meeting garden of grace, shouldering a variety of tools for both in-reach and outreach. A Worship Group reflected on a number of tools members have used to tend their plot: “shared rides to Meeting, shared meals, shared joys, shared concerns, shared support at times when needed, patience and an openness to the Spirit and each other.” Meetings rejoice in welcoming new attenders, yet, as we are reminded by one, “those new to Quakerism are especially baffled by our practices.” One Meeting has chosen to reach out to newcomers with these words at the beginning of worship: “The Quaker experience is that each of us has a measure of that radically loving spirit which guides us to live justly and peaceably. In worship, we enter into silence in order to feel that spirit of love within and among us, to give ourselves over to it, and to discern what it would have us do. Sometimes during worship, that spirit will lead one or more of us to offer vocal ministry.”
Our physical plots in the garden of grace gently tug at us for our attention when they are at risk. One Meeting recognized that the challenge of an extended construction project risked fragmentation of its community. This historic Meeting house “is an outward symbol of the inward core of our Meeting... Though we restlessly await the return to our home campus, this restlessness may only be a metaphor for the yearning we feel to spiritually reconnect with one another and reunite our beloved community.” The spiritual plot tended by another was put at risk through the sale of the land occupied by its Meeting house. After reflecting on “who we are and what is important to us,” the Meeting accepted an invitation to relocate to the campus of a Friends school. Another decided to lease space from a different faith group, which will allow it to “energize social action while maintaining Quaker identity.”
The planting, growing, and tending needed to broaden the beloved community is no small task. Many Meetings expressed a desire to diversify their membership and participation, yet are unsure how to do so. The diversity they seek is certainly racial and ethnic, and it includes gender identity, sexual orientation, and age as well. Meetings are reaching out across generations. Some yearn to become a spiritual home to young families; one recently expanded their Spiritual Formation program to a nearby retirement community, another has initiated a Spiritual Buddies program, pairing each Young Friend with an adult Friend. While some Meetings reported growth in attendance and participation, others have suffered losses and are facing difficult decisions about the future.
Many Meetings experience a tension as they do the hard work of establishing a beloved community. “Is it not the case,” one asks, “that we will experience diversity of thought and actions in our Meeting—sometimes those that may be even anathema to Spirit?” Becoming more open to the Spirit and each other often means learning to become better listeners, even when we might struggle to hear that which we find frightening or painful. Another Meeting observed an important difference in their 2016 report from their 2015 report, “In last year’s...we noted an image of a fraying cloth. This year it feels like the cloth is not fraying, but is being pulled in multiple directions. It is knit together, but with tension.”
The wider community of Baltimore Yearly Meeting enriches our local Meetings. Our camping program continues to be an incubator for Quaker faith and practice for our children and youth. The Camp Program Manager reminds us, “It will take all of us to fulfill the promise…” that the camping program holds for the future. Junior Young Friends and Young Friends nurture the faith and action of our younger members, who weave this commitment into their local Meetings. Young Adult Friends find time in their busy lives for gatherings that offer “support and encouragement for one another along our separate yet connected journeys.” Through the Intervisitation Working Group we offer the ministry of presence to other Quaker groups as a “spirit-led gift of being present among Friends, to listen and share in worship without judgment” even as visitors to BYM bestow that gift on us. The Spiritual Formation Program and the Women’s Retreat deepen our lives individually and we bring this richness into our local Meetings. As the Working Group on Racism has been a resource for revisioning within Baltimore Yearly Meeting, this work has cultivated the consciences and weeded the souls of many individuals and Meetings over the past year.
Any garden, even our garden of grace, must meet the changing seasons with resilience. Since the November 2016 election, many of our Meetings have been stunned by the changed political reality and have struggled to know how to respond. One Meeting seemed to speak the corporate mind of many Meetings when it reported, “On the global and national front we seem faced with potentially the greatest challenges to peace, justice and equity in our lifetimes.” The resilience of Friends is finding a way forward. Meetings have offered refuge to the community. At one local Meeting a diverse group of community members, including those from a local Islamic center, joined special called Meetings for Worship on the eve of both the election and the inauguration. Another “opened the Meeting room for silent worship on several days” following the election. More recently Friends at several Meetings have hosted public workshops on non-violent responses to harassment. “Many people who attended this workshop commented on the light and peaceful feeling of our Meeting House.” As we move forward, BYM Friends initiate and continue work on concerns for criminal justice reform, the environment, refugees and immigrants, and racial justice, among other issues.
The seasons that encircle our garden of grace, even when they are harsh, serve yet another purpose. Our Meetings sustain us. “We… feel strongly that our silent worship is a vital respite from the cacophony of voices and onslaught of images that bombard us as we live our daily lives.” But we face a gulf between our aspirations and the reality that fuels our growth as individuals and as Meetings. An observation by a Friend captured the tension, and the opportunity, with these words: “I observe at times in myself, and possibly the Meeting, the risk of becoming comfortable... So I find an ironic appreciation for the election year and election results for the dose of spiritual adrenaline.” With the support of our beloved communities, we find growth in the tension of straining to hear one another more clearly. Friends ask, “What do we do to cultivate listening? How can we practice nurturing friendship and tolerance even when we disagree? … How do we move forward and find middle ground?”
As we aspire to live our faith in challenging reality, the spiritual state of most Monthly Meetings within Baltimore Yearly Meeting is one of growth. We grow as beloved communities in the garden of grace regardless of the season. While many Meetings spoke eloquently of this growth in their reports, we choose to close with quotations from just three, which we believe are representative of the whole.
“The power of the silence grows as people speak; it lets others see another aspect of the speaker. Some messages allow us to find God in places we may not have thought of or experienced.”
“While we face both joys and challenges, we are grounded and inspired by joy: joy in our shared spiritual journey and our caring community. When our faith community feels very much like family, how can we not feel great joy?”
And, finally, from a Monthly Meeting that claims an average of eight attendees: “The group is closely knit and bonded by shared spiritual, political, and personal values (seasoned with humor).”
This report was written after prayerful reading of the 2016 Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports submitted by Monthly Meetings and Worship Groups, the minutes of Interim Meetings and 2016 Annual Session, and the Epistles arising from the 2016 Annual Session. The Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee did not attempt to include quotes from all constituent groups within the Yearly Meeting, however, the voices quoted herein reflect themes that were heard across Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
“Friends, keep your meeting in the power of God, and in his wisdom (by which all things were made) and in the love of God, that by that ye may order all to his glory. And when friends have finished their business sit and continue awhile quietly and wait upon the Lord to feel him. And go not beyond the Power, but keep in the Power by which God Almighty may be felt among you.” George Fox, 1658, quoted by York Friends
Meetings across the geographical breadth of Baltimore Yearly Meeting attest to the work of the Spirit, the presence of God, and the help of the Divine as we struggle, celebrate, explore, and grow in our life together. The challenges may differ, but returning to Center and listening for that still small voice in Meeting for Worship and Business grounds us and prepares us for what is next, whether known or unknown. One Meeting noted that “[o]ur other anchor is sometimes called silence. It might better be called pausing and listening, finding that calm place inside where we can sense the reverberations that our life together has on us and discover what emerges...” (Carlisle). And occasionally the exuberance of the Spirit during business can create desired humor (Deer Creek). These concerns, hopes, and love exist from the largest to the smallest gathering of Friends where the one-year old Fauquier (VA) Worship Group credits its spiritual state to “persistence.” Norfolk Preparative Meeting adds “Because we are a small meeting, all of us are involved in practically everything we do, and we feel this contributes to our high level of satisfaction with the Meeting and its projects.”
The experience of Meeting for Worship understandably varies, with deep silence, frequent messages, hoping for more (or less) of one or the other, and an intention to listening to the Divine. Whether through vocal ministry or gathered peace, this listening is at times hard work. Meeting for Worship is the heart of spiritual life and it “nurtures our individual leadings and our committee life as we strive to weave our varied talents and callings into a fabric that supports us all.” (Alexandria). And when our weaving works well, it deepens the quality of worship: “We recognize that when we feel that the work of the Meeting is going smoothly, we have the luxury of the peace that brings us more deeply into silent worship.” (Goose Creek)
Many Meetings speak of nurturing their spiritual community, which creates an image of tending a garden. The seeds are planted through the welcoming of newcomers, caring for those in need, celebrating our children and young Friends, and marking milestones in our lives. The nourishing rain and sunshine are brought by numerous shared activities, such as Spiritual Formation, Friendly Eight Circles, Interfaith activities, and involvement in local community concerns or the wider world of Quakers. The gardening is sometimes hard but these gatherings promote a depth of sharing that allows us to “feel comfortable bringing our struggles into the Light.” (Williamsburg) One Meeting affirmed the fruits of this work: “A spiritual community involves a joint responsibility to create a safe space to be authentically present and to support each of us in searching, questioning, and sharing.” (Augusta) The cycle will repeat but before it does, we honor what we have grown in God’s garden today. In so doing, we learn that “a path toward wholeness and abundance might be found in Penington’s advice to ‘be no more than God hath made thee,’ to abide in God’s love, and from it do whatever is required of us in that moment, without worrying about what may be required tomorrow, next week, or next year. (Fredrick)
Meetings identify the need to be faithful to the work we are called to do and let go of other tasks without regret as leadings, needs and resources change. Richmond Friends report that “[w]e are waking to the challenge of discerning what work is rightly ours.” South Mountain Friends applied the teachings in the book “Chop Wood, Carry Water” to their daily community work by desiring to do everything “with intentionality and faithfulness.” Sandy Spring notes that “years of change have winnowed our Meeting and we…are examining our work with an eye toward simplifying our focus.” It appears helpful that Meetings (Little Falls, State College) recognize burnout on committees that affect the ability to address tasks “with love and full presence” and examine whether past practices are still necessary (Bethesda)
Our theme of Living in Right Relationships at last year’s Annual Session acknowledged the work done and work still to be done on many aspects of relationships. “Attention and labor have been abundantly given to healing relationships, distorted by racism, over consumption and exploitation of the earth and its inhabitants. We gathered in faith that we would discern together how to carry our work forward with new insight.” (The Epistles reported to Annual Session at Frostburg, MD, 8th month 9th day 2015) As Meetings attend to their spiritual in-reach and nurture, we create a place from which outreach springs. Meetings continue to yearn for greater diversity of income, race, age, and sexual orientation from their outreach efforts. Most Meetings welcome the possibility of growth and recognize that it may bring disquiet and adaptation: “We would have a lot to learn to be welcoming to people with less education and income.” (Floyd) Giving the concern of growth to God can turn a meeting away from ‘negativity” to “focus on goodness and joy.” (Dunnings Creek) FGC’s and BYM’s Grow Your Meeting program offered at Valley Meeting in October provided tools to prepare for the challenges that might come from an openness to newcomers (available online). Many meetings talk of aging or graying and hope that the Grow Your Meeting program will attract young families. “Religious Education is always a challenge and we are continuously seeking new ways to respond to young Friends who come to Meeting.” (Patapsco) Some meetings are undertaking various efforts, such as revamped websites or use of social media to bring more families through the doors.
Our call to service and following the Quaker Testimonies is abundantly present in the Yearly Meeting showing a capacity to act beyond the Meeting. Our witness to Integrity is strong as exemplified by Stony Run’s presence in Baltimore court rooms after the civil unrest around Freddy Grey’s death and Homewood’s weekly vigil under the sign “When Black Lives Matter/Then All Lives Matter.” Annapolis and Patapsco Meetings work with the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform weaving together various advocates to reduce bail and end mass incarceration as exemplified in Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.” The BYM Working Group on Racism inspires many similar groups in our Monthly Meetings to understand white privilege. Concerns over climate change were brought forward by the Unity with Nature Committee at Annual Session in 2015 with 23 Meetings finding unity with the minute. Our sense of Stewardship extends to our care of physical space whether it’s the care for a new meetinghouse (Roanoke) or making our properties greener by adding composting toilets at Camp Catoctin. The care for the less fortunate creates callings by individuals and Meetings to provide food for the needy (Hopewell). And when religious intolerance became part of the American political discourse and threatened the safety of other faiths, Interim Meeting in March found unity in a minute supporting Equality and the right to choose and practice your own Faith.
Tension and challenges provide opportunities for growth. Hostile actions by a neighbor initially created fear but in the end opened the hearts of Richmond Friends to ask “What are we called to do?” The need for Bethesda Meeting to move from its current meetinghouse in 2019 has spawned this query for all Meetings: “What can I bring to this community, through my service on a committee and as an individual…?” A lack of unity on a proposed minute to speak to the violence in Palestine and Israel in witness to our Peace testimony created conflicts within Langley Hill leading to the development of a “Quakerism Revealed” program to refresh the whole Meeting’s sense of Quaker Process and listening. The “Debate into Dialogue” BYM program created to practice spirit-led listening in 2014 was welcomed by Adelphi and Charlottesville meetings as they dealt with communication challenges. And Friends Meeting of Washington created a “Futures Task Force to identify ways to better bridge the generation gap and make recommendation to carry the Meeting into a future that is more diverse, digital, and dynamic.”
The programs of the Yearly Meeting and its staff create another richness that sustains our community and spiritual growth even as we witness many transitions. BYM was awarded a Shoemaker Grant for Growing Diverse Leadership that has led to the hiring of Dyresha Harris who is reaching out to Meeting’s and our Camps to attract a broader cross-section of our society into our Society. With the resignation of Riley Robinson, our faithful General Secretary of twelve years, we were blessed to have Bob Rhudy take on the role of interim General Secretary with energy and compassion as we sought a replacement – big shoes to fill! In June, the Supervisory Committee was pleased to present Ned Stowe (Sandy Spring) to Interim Meeting where he was approved with joy as our new General Secretary. The Women’s Retreat is always cherished and the shared responsibilities of planning a joy. Young Friends said goodbye to their Youth Programs Manager of the past six years, Alison Duncan with deep gratitude and love (Epistle of Young Friends at 2015 Annual Session)
Our theme for the 2016 Annual Session has been how discernment provides a spiritual basis for our worship, action, and the community we form. Nourishing the inward and outward lives of our Meetings is forever a work in progress as we listen for leadings from individuals and the Meeting. As we walk in God’s garden we mustn’t let it become fallow, it must absorb our concerns and energy like a rich compost to be transformed with our care and love. Our Meetings are laboring on these tasks in step with the Divine and the end of the journey remains shrouded in mist but we advance with eagerness and anticipation to see the Light.
“True silence...is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.”
(William Penn) quoted by Gettysburg Meeting.
This report was written after prayerful reading of the 2015 Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports submitted by Monthly Meetings and Worship Groups, the minutes of Interim Meetings and 2015 Annual Session, and the Epistles arising from the 2015 Annual Session. The Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee did not attempt to include quotes from all constituent groups within the Yearly Meeting, however, the voices quoted herein reflect themes that were heard across Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
An image that arose in the year’s reflections about the Women’s Retreat seems nicely to reflect the spiritual state of the overall Yearly Meeting: “the community we build together is like a beautiful crazy quilt, made up of many bits and patches that keep us warm” (Epistle of the 2014 Women’s Retreat). Our work together under the Spirit’s guidance is helping us to heal, to discover unity, to transform our Meeting communities, and to make our witness in the world.
As we gathered for Annual Session in Eighth Month 2014, our opening retreat on “Bringing Differences into the Light” allowed us to feel “the healing power of sharing our stories” and to learn experientially that “conflicts in communities can be opportunities for discernment and even transcendence” (Minutes of Annual Session 8/5/2014). Monthly meetings acknowledge “a number of polarities or areas of tension. . . [that] pose challenges. . . for which [we] must strive to find balance” (Friends Meeting of Washington). However painful such challenges can be, we know that “there is a lot to be learned for a meeting when difficult times come its ways” and we therefore seek ways of being together that help us to “grow in the Light” (Dunnings Creek). Workshops offered to local meetings by the BYM Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee sustained opportunities for us to engage and learn from one source of tension: our theological diversity. Through such work, we come to understand that “God, the Light, the Seed, the Christ, the Inner Teacher, the Spirit” are among the many ways we name “that Power that is in and around us all” (York).
Many Meetings describe worship as deeply gathered and central to their life in community, whether experienced in the nurturing hospitality of one another’s homes, in an historic or new Meeting House, or through “virtual (Internet) Meeting for Worship for those who are sick or needing prayer support” (Annapolis). A “small, brotherly group of men” celebrated their 10th year as a worship group at the Maryland Correctional Institution of Hagerstown, affirming that “Love, wherever it appears, is a living, growing thing” (South Mountain Friends Fellowship). Relationships are also nurtured through the Spiritual Formation Program, retreats for younger Friends (YAF, YF, JYF), gatherings for music and singing, and many others. “With such a river of Light,” one Meeting reported, “how can we keep from singing?” (Fauquier Worship Group). Sharing the culture and music of the Piscataway Nation during Annual Session, Mark Tayac “spoke of how the drum is the heartbeat of life, and that all people everywhere have the same heartbeat” (Epistle from 2014 Annual Session). We feel this to be true across and beyond our Yearly Meeting.
Healing and unity also occur as we attend to our organizational and committee structures. We minuted our unity on inclusion, affirming the “right of all individuals, including transgender, genderqueer, and questioning young people and adults, to understand and express themselves with authenticity and integrity, both inwardly and outwardly” in all BYM programs (Minutes of Annual Session 8/5/2014). As Friends serving as clerks or on committees conclude their service, others are taking on leadership roles that provide opportunities for “learning and growth” (Abingdon). While it is sometimes a struggle to balance the competing demands of our busy modern lives, we are striving to remain aware of the tender and important work of responding to the call to service within our Meetings. Shared meals provide the “camaraderie of working together, and relationships are strengthened at the lunchroom table and kitchen sink” (Alexandria). Intervisitation within and beyond our Yearly Meeting helps us to practice the “blessed ‘Ministry of Presence’” with one another (Minutes of Annual Session 8/8/2014). Meetings expressed gratitude for the support and care offered by the Yearly Meeting, which “provides corporate wisdom and insight when needed” (Williamsburg) and “helps them to feel part of a larger Quaker community” (Monongalia). Many groups affirm how spirit-led committee work nurtures their community. Young Friends renamed their too “corporate sounding Executive Committee” the “Nuts and Bolts Committee” to better reflect “openness and acceptance” (Young Friends 2014 Epistle). Other Meetings reinvigorated the work of pastoral care committees, discovered better ways of communicating across committees, and explored how technology can help us to do the work of our Meetings with less environmental impact from excessive car travel. We experienced the blessings of “Spirit-led Quaker process” as we discern way forward on matters both small and large (Richmond).
Even as we attend to the inward needs of our Meetings, we look for ways to make our Quaker beliefs and practices accessible and available to other seekers. Friends speak of a yearning for the presence of younger people and people of color in our meetings. Some struggle to bridge long-time members and newer attenders. These yearnings and tensions often generate creative energy. Our Meeting Houses are being opened in service to our neighbors; we are hosting events that are now community favorites, such as a Thanksgiving Service (Deer Creek). Overcoming the “traditional reticence to go public” one Meeting noted that “sharing the programs we have through newspaper announcements has been appreciated by kindred souls” (Floyd); others have updated information on Quakerfinder.org and are maintaining a stronger web presence (Little Britain). Meetings located near colleges and schools are “[taking] Meeting to the students” by hosting worship sessions on school campuses (Carlisle); and our proximity to Friends schools and Friends retirement communities often “provides a diversity of ages and generations” (Sandy Spring). Recognizing that many young people are affiliated with our YEarly Meeting through our camping program, a newly-created Camp Diversity Working Group is focused on increasing racial and cultural diversity and inclusion (Minutes of Tenth Month Interim Meeting). Listening for the Spirit’s leading and responding faithfully, we hope that “where the Spirit is lively and moving within a group, it naturally attracts others” (Frederick).
One such group is the Yearly Meeting’s Working Group on Racism, whose invitation in 2013 to read and discuss Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness has inspired deep learning and action. The Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform, which grew out of one study group, “has become a statewide coalition of groups working to bring greater justice to the criminal justice system” (Annapolis). One Meeting affirmed that “white privilege … is not only a political issue, a justice issue, or a public policy issue. This is a spiritual issue” (Gunpowder). In Baltimore, “an annual silent vigil across the street from the Sons of Confederate Veterans who have chosen to hold a celebration on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day” has drawn more participants each year (Baltimore, Stony Run). Many other concerns have been laid upon us and are inspiring Spirit-led action: supporting child asylees from Central America; attending to the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and ongoing prisoner visitation and support. Our Unity with Nature committee has invited each Monthly Meeting to discern its response to the “crisis of global climate change, resource depletion, and environmental degradation” (Minutes of Annual Session 8/8/2014). A Meeting for Worship and rally at the U.S. Capitol carried our concerns about plans for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in Maryland; a similar public witness was made against mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia. One worship group articulated a “mandate of creation care” as it faces the possible building of a gas pipeline through its area (Augusta). We are aware that “we are not compelled to an action because we are Friends; [rather] we are Friends because we are driven to action by the urging of the Inner Light” (Herndon). Through faithful action and service to their community, one Meeting stated that “our Meeting is becoming more of the beacon that many of us wished it could be” (Williamsburg).
During the Carey Lecture at Annual Session, Marjory Post Abbott shared a vision of “the wild power of love let loose in the world.” She called us to “witness to a new way of being faithful to the new creation.” Held in this Power—this Light—we are broken open, healed and transformed. Let loose in the world, we sang at Annual Session “I’m gonna let life move me/I’m gonna let life stir me deep/I’m gonna let life wake me.” Faithful to the new creation, we seek the Spirit’s guidance to attend to the work that is ours.
This report was written after prayerful reading of the 2014 Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports submitted by Monthly Meetings and Worship Groups, the 2014 minutes of Interim Meeting and Annual Session, the 2014 minutes of Committees and Working Groups, and the Epistles arising from the 2014 Annual Session and 2014 Women’s Retreat. We did not attempt to include quotes from all constituent groups within the Yearly Meeting, however the voices quoted herein reflect themes that were heard across the Yearly Meeting.
Our 2011 Vision Statement affirms that we “aspire to listen deeply and inclusively to each other, to actively welcome all, and to attend in joy and faith to the Inward Teacher, whom some call Light, some call Spirit, and some call Christ.” At the heart of this vision is the Gospel love that calls us to “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), “be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:2), and to be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Listening is transformational; inclusivity builds community; and faithful attention to the Light reveals an ever-present guide as we move forward together. This movement, however, is accompanied by challenges and blessings, both of which reveal the current spiritual state of our beloved Yearly Meeting.
Monthly Meetings describe a healthy tension between our embrace of Universalism and our desire to remain true to the foundations and traditions of our faith and its practice. Our Meetings for Worship, especially those that are deeply gathered, provide a space to encounter this tension in love and openness. One Monthly Meeting noted that “our worship provides a pathway for our growth.” Another Meeting acknowledged that “[our] Meeting is like a big house with lots of different people living in it. The residents love and respect one another even though they may be very different from each other.” Some Meetings express a concern that vocal ministry sometimes needs more seasoning so that differences of voice and perspective can be heard more deeply. In support of Monthly Meetings, and the entire BYM community, the Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee is offering workshops that provide a space for speaking and learning about the theological differences among us.
Growth happens as we value honesty, listen for the spirit beneath the words we choose, and embrace difference as a spiritual discipline. All of these opportunities for growth were present as we worked, sometimes with pain, through revisions of our Faith and Practice. The committee that had labored on this task for ten years asked to be released, and we did so with gratitude for its valued and careful work. We trust that a newly formed committee will move the draft forward and help us to articulate in words what we know to be true through our experience and in our hearts. As the Presiding Clerk’s report to Third Month Interim Meeting acknowledged, “we do not know the outcome of our discernment [about the Faith and Practice revisions], but it will be deep, requiring a lot of spiritual work, and we will grow in the process.”
At times, differences led to hurts within our communities. One Meeting noted that “there are wounds among us in various stages of healing.“ Friends who gathered for the annual Women’s Retreat in First Month wrote that “we are wounded souls, comforters, mentors, creators, healers, weavers, seekers. We realize that the ability to gather with each other is a blessing.” Creativity and renewal accompanies the process of healing, an experience affirmed as we reflected on the work of the Ad-hoc Committee on Inter-visitation, which “arose in 2004 from pain and frustration but has brought us to a very different place. Through the power of the Divine Spirit and God’s Grace, it has taken us from anger and agony to hope and healing. . . and even joy, for many of us.” Monthly Meetings describe newly established mid-week Meetings for Worship and called Meetings for Healing as helpful and nurturing practices.
Sharing our spiritual journeys, in the tradition of Friends, supports us in this healing and helps to knit our Monthly and Yearly Meeting communities together. Knowing one another in “that which is eternal,” as George Fox encouraged, helps us to take comfort and strength from one another. One Monthly Meeting noted that “Meeting provides the sense of community where the everyday world and a sense of eternity meet.” Some meetings affirmed that participation in the BYM Spiritual Formation Program, which marked its 30th anniversary in 2013, has been growing in recent years and is strengthening ties within the Meeting.
As is often the case, our young people teach us much about community. Young Friends meet in a configuration they describe as “croissants not doughnuts,” which leave spaces for others to join the gathered group. Our Young Adult Friends describe the many commitments that compete for their attention during Annual Sessions, but they nonetheless “power through adversity” to sustain their focus on one another. Junior Young Friends celebrate those who teach them so much “about how to treat each other and how to participate in our community.” Our camping program is vibrant, with a record enrollment of 600 campers. Many Monthly Meetings reflected on the importance of regular attendance of children, teenagers, and young adults on First Days. Some celebrate a thriving First Day School program; others hope to develop the physical spaces, teachers, and curricula that will attract and nurture families with children. Other Meetings wonder if we are doing enough to support our teenagers and young adults. This loving attention and intention affirms our understanding that it is our youngest Friends who will contribute to the vitality and vibrancy of the Religious Society of Friends for many years to come.
Our in-reach to young people and to one another is kept in delicate balance with our outreach to the wider community. We listen carefully and attend faithfully to leadings that allow us to serve and to bear witness to our historical testimonies. Yearly Meeting committees and Monthly Meetings worked on issues as varied as gun violence, equity for transgender persons, the environmental degradation caused by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), and tensions between Israel and Palestine. We experimented with a “one book” focus on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which led to many discussions and study groups, thereby deepening our understanding of the institutionalized racism at the heart of the criminal justice system. As we live more fully into our understanding of what it means to “embrace” Friends in their various ministries, some Meetings are setting aside funds to support individual Friends in the work to which they are called.
Even as we attend to the wider world, we are focused on the life of our communities and the structures—organizational and physical—that sustain us. At Annual Sessions, many of us gathered in groups to listen and share about local Meetings and their care. The topics included religious education, membership, ministry and pastoral care, and advancement and outreach. We struggle as a Yearly Meeting to reach unity on an approach to fundraising that will support our financial needs. Similarly, Monthly Meetings, especially smaller Meetings, are exploring how to remain financially stable in economically uncertain times. At the same time, other Meetings have found the resources to purchase a new Meetinghouse and to steward historical places of worship. Many Meetings acknowledged that life continues to be busy, which constrains our ability to do the work of our Meetings. We recognize that the ordinary, regular tasks that sustain a community need to be done with diligence and faithfulness. Visitation among Monthly Meetings in recent years—by our Presiding Clerk, by members of the Faith and Practice Revision Committee, and by our Vision Implementation Committee, respectively—has provided loving attention, connection, and support as we move forward together.
At the heart of our Meetings is Worship—a spring from which we are all nourished. We trust in its healing and sustaining power as we seek the unity that the Spirit’s presence alone can forge and reveal.
The centrality and grounding experience of Meeting for Worship remains at the core of that which binds us as members of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. The spaciousness, community building, and healing qualities of worship sustain us through the joys and challenges that abound as we go about our lives as part of the Meeting community and our larger communities. We have “a broad theological scope including members who are traditional Christian believers, those who identify as agnostic, and many gradations between. While this diversity can bring challenges, it also makes for a rich tapestry of views grounded in our core belief that there is that of God in everyone.” We are opening ourselves to the experience of the Light in ourselves and to living a life based on the value of Truth. This honesty of testimony takes precedence over any dogma or beliefs, creating an atmosphere that is welcoming to those with different concepts of God. We are pushed in our thinking by new attenders who seek Truth in different ways.
Supporting, nurturing and welcoming children and young people are important to the health of the Yearly Meeting. Several of the smallest Meetings report there are few to no children who attend on a regular basis. Meetings have expressed concern for education of the young in small meetings where number is small and age range is large. It is often a challenge to staff either the Religious Education Committee, or First Day School teachers to step into the footprints left by devoted, long-time teachers who feel led to step aside. But many Meetings report active children’s programs, and support children by inclusion in the life of the Meeting, attendance at BYM activities for youth, and at the BYM camps. These latter are our most treasured advancement programs. Several Meetings have either adopted or adapted the Quaker Quest program, and along with the Spiritual Formation program, report that this is deeply enriching for not only the members who are actively involved, but for the Meeting as a whole. Several Meetings intentionally program the sharing of spiritual journeys during discussion or second hours or adult forums – the various names we call our more programmed times together. Most Meetings find a way to break bread together on a regular basis. Many are enriched by attendance or learning from those who have attended programs of Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting.
The challenge of staffing committees and encouraging service within the Meeting community is felt by many Meetings – there is so much in the world that needs attention and healing. We are acutely aware of our limitations, and often feel our lives to be over-extended. We often ‘solve’ this by allowing members to test leadings with the Meeting, and once committed, to act on their own leadings with our support, rather than choosing to focus on one shared by the Meeting community. We wish to maintain our integrity by not offering to do something we can’t fulfill. This may mean we need to reevaluate what is possible for ourselves and the Meeting – always allowing for Divine intervention, grace, and Way Opening.
Our aging population sometimes results in the decreased involvement of formerly active members. Often, we need to find ways of Quaker mentoring, to release these beloved elders from the more physically challenging tasks, but to transmit their experience and wisdom to the next generation. We value a balance between our spiritual needs and our stewardship responsibilities. Great appreciation is expressed for those who care for the meetinghouses and burial grounds under our care. Meeting activities such as teaching, fellowship meals, workdays, and committee work enable bonds to be formed in that which is not eternal, which in turn deepens our communal worship.
Our practice of social witness strengthens our sense of community. Letters to the Editor in local newspapers on topics of support for marriage equality, repeal of the death penalty, gun control, peace, and opposition to racism provide a way to be known in the community for our principles. Vigils, letters, and service projects feel to us like Spirit in action.
There remain tensions among us, which we recognize require our hard work to move through conflict and differences. It is not always easy to maintain the ability to accommodate different perspectives, both practical and theological. These stretching exercises can emerge in worship, in discussions, in our committee work and our work on Meeting’s behalf in our local communities.
We ask ourselves questions often in the form of Queries for our own Meetings. How can we share our Quaker faith and its practice more widely in the world? How can we overcome our reticence to use the word “God”? How can we increase the diversity in our Meetings? How can we share our spiritual lives more fully with one another? How can we deepen our worship personally and corporately, to become more faithful vessels and channels for the Holy Spirit?
Baltimore Yearly Meeting is “… a worshiping community, gathered in the presence of the Divine, affirming that of God in every person… we seek to know God’s will for us as a gathered people, to speak the truth that is revealed to us, and to listen to the truth that is revealed to others. (2012 Mission Statement of Baltimore Yearly Meeting.) Yet, we acknowledge the desire to grow and to meet challenges with increasing spiritual maturity and depth. Several monthly meetings have had significant difficulties this year, which have brought sorrow and have opened opportunities to work and worship together. We experience ourselves as more than a collective of individuals seeking to live out our faith and testimonies through spiritual disciplines. We see ourselves becoming a spirit-led community, living out our testimonies with numerous outreach activities, shared ventures and the conviction that we can be sustained by the Holy Spirit while engaging in work in the outside world. We realize that our ministry to and care of one another is all the time, not just on first days.
At the core of our faith journey is the Meeting for Worship. It supports and sustains, creating the opportunity for us to develop and grow in seeking the Divine. Enriching silences and increasingly well- grounded vocal ministry enliven us. It is in worship that we listen to what Spirit would have of us and sink down to the blessed seed of Truth. Here, our needed sustenance from the Holy Spirit to engage in work in the outside world is available to us. The practice of Meeting For Worship at mid-week continues to grow, allowing more than one opportunity each week for shared seeking and mutual support.
Our Meetings for Worship are fed in many ways. Individual preparation through reading or attending gatherings of Friends (Baltimore Yearly Meeting Sessions, Friends General Conference Gathering, workshops, etc.) enriches the entire group. Small groups like Spiritual Formation Groups or Support and Clearness committees offer time for mutual guidance, growth in the Spirit and support of ministries. Committee meetings and Meeting for Worship with Concern for Business present opportunities to put our faith into practice and to engage in seeking for the third way, reaching the path that God would have us take. Small groups (Friendly 8’s, themed pot-lucks, picnics, discussion/book groups, Bible study) are precious opportunities to share on a more personal level and to develop understanding of our Quaker roots. We frequently create time at the rise of meeting to share joys and sorrows so that we may carry these together. They help decrease our sense of aloneness and increase our chance to know one another in that which is eternal, no matter what the size of the group may be. The Meeting for Worship feeds and is fed by all these undertakings.
Sometimes it is in falling short of our desired goal that we experience the opportunity for growth and create space for Spirit to work among us. Where controversy and discord occur, Friends find that listening to and caring about one another, perhaps more than about the issue at hand may allow an unexpected resolution. Even where painful outcomes persist, as they sometimes do, growth in care and caring can still result.
Our Faith and Practice Revision Committee is coming to the end of a long process of reconsidering our Discipline. They have faithfully gathered new materials and considered the purpose of our Faith and Practice for our community. The resulting document has come to the monthly meetings in draft form several times during the revision process and we are looking forward to the first reading of the penultimate draft this year with plans for a final reading and approval in 2013.
Our meetings continue to be challenged by size. Some smaller meetings feel concern that they are too small to engage in all the activities and undertakings to which they are led. Some larger meetings continue to be distressed that they do not offer the intimacy of spiritual connection they might wish and realize that they do not know one another as deeply as they would like. In meetings both large and small, there is a desire to assure that the opportunities for service are well distributed and care for the work of the meeting shared.
Outreach is a perennial concern for Friends. We seek to be more diverse and more accessible, more welcoming to younger people, more family-friendly, better able to explain ourselves to seekers. We worry that Seekers sometimes come once and do not return. We want to be careful that our physical presence and our spiritual welcome work together to encourage return attenders. The increased use of computers and of the web have helped spread awareness of our presence and improve communication; however, we continue to be challenged by outreach to those who do not use these technologies. And we continue to regret that we are not more racially, ethnically and culturally diverse.
Nevertheless, we acknowledge that we are known in our communities for our works at a level that transcends our size. Pre-school programs, work with the migrant worker community; sponsoring historic tours (historic meetinghouses; Underground Railroad); worship groups, care of historic meetinghouses and burial grounds, fundraising dinners for Heifer International, support of students at Summer Peace building Institute, and participation in interdenominational work are just some of the efforts to increase our visibility and the impact of our works. Meetings are taking steps to strengthen and increase the sense of community within the meeting and drawing in the community as well. Education programs on weeknights (some open to the community) and in second and “zero” hours attract members, attenders, and newcomers as well as those who may share our convictions if not our faith journey. We hope that we are listening and able to act in ways to help the world heal and live peacefully among all varieties of people.
There is a renewed emphasis on the nurturing of new people. Just as we tend to outreach in many ways, we also look to improve our “in-reach” to members and attenders. Here again, the rising use of technology has been useful though it is not universally available. Simple lunch, potlucks, picnics, Friendly 8’s, movie nights and discussion groups of various kinds continue to involve a wonderfully diverse population in learning, conversation and socializing. Meetings are improving their web presence and enhancing internal communication as well.
We celebrate our children and youth even as we seek ways to be more available to young families. In some meetings, Young Friends are active and engaged in the intergenerational flow of the life of the meeting. Other meetings wish they had a more consistent and larger group in and graduating from their First Day Schools.
We wish for more Adult and Young Adult Friends able to devote time to the religious education of younger friends. Yet, overall, the energy and spiritual depth of younger Friends is enriching to the spiritual vitality of our meeting.
We face challenges of different kinds. Limited financial resources create concern and stress; some choices must be made when there is not enough money to do everything. Old meeting houses need repair and refurbishment. Alterations sometimes are required in order to make our meeting houses more accessible physically. It is difficult to find financial support for individual leadings. We are not always as generous with one another as we see our testimonies suggest. We do not always find the “third way”. The busy-ness of our world prevents people from being able to devote time to the meeting and its needs. It is a particular challenge to find Friends who can commit the needed time to leadership as clerks for our meetings and committees.
The financial challenges so evident in our monthly meetings have provided the yearly meeting as a whole with challenges. We find that as a body, we are successful, indeed enthusiastic, in our support for projects directly focused on our camps and the camping program. We successfully raised funds to dig a pond at Shiloh and continue strong support for youth programs in general; we believe that our programs for youth and our camps are important for nurturing the present, providing outreach to others and building a strong foundation for the future of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. However, we have had to dramatically reduce our contributions to other organizations. We are thankful that staff members are excellent stewards of our available resources.
Several ministries have brought opportunity for drawing the monthly meetings closer together. The culmination of the visioning process and adoption of a new vision statement for the Yearly Meeting has allowed us to feel more sure of our shared identity. The Faith and Practice revision provides a shared foundation on which our individual meetings build communities of faith. Our Yearly Meeting Clerk has brought welcomed visits to all of our monthly meetings during her tenure, serving to draw the community closer together through her ministry. Concomitantly, monthly meetings have been reaching out to yearly meeting committees more than in the past for assistance and council. Meetings are also seeking new ways to connect with one another. Where proximity makes it possible, there are some successful shared programs for religious education and fellowship. Spirit is nurtured through intervisitation and mutual support, which draws us into deeper community. “We aspire to listen deeply and inclusively to each other, to actively welcome all, and to attend in joy and faith to the Inward Teacher, whom some call Light, some call Spirit, and some call Christ.” We strive to be open and to learn from one another,- young and old, new and seasoned. We seek to use our resources to preserve, honor and learn from the past in order to live our faith in the present and build the future.
We know a shared hunger in Baltimore Yearly Meeting for connection and for openness to Spirit’s guidance. People at many points on their spiritual journey in worship groups, and in meetings both young and long established, feel gathered in the Spirit and strong. We seek God’s will in our worship, and our conduct of business; we acknowledge God at work among us. Meeting for worship provides an oasis, refreshing our spirits from the week we just had and nurturing our spirits for the week ahead, allowing us to find clarity, hope and truth in which to ground our walk in the world so that our lives may speak. Friends see Meeting for Worship as a supporting, sustaining, safe harbor to seek and reflect on personal connection with the Light within. In some meetings, children participate fully, offering treasured vocal ministry. We take joy in relationships, sharing powerful stillness in worship and gratitude for the deep sustaining peace. We also yearn to be a more tolerant, more diverse community.
Blessed sometimes with a gentle flow of ministry, sometimes the refreshing dew of silence, we seek to experience vocal ministry with an open heart. We wish to discern our leadings to speak carefully so we may further the opening to Spirit, not disrupt it. Profound corporate silence in Meeting For Worship leads to rich spirit-led messages that echo in our hearts from First Day to First Day, allowing Friends to see one another as spiritual comrades, and gain strength from one another to make a difference in the world. Though drawn by the nurturing silence, many yearn not for the silence itself, but for the expectation that we can experience the presence of God and be transformed.
There is a sense of increased vibrancy and spiritual revitalization in our attention to business. Some meetings are experiencing increasing participation from younger Friends and Seekers in the conduct of business, particularly committee work, and welcome significant generational change. Diligent attention to Quaker process has become foundational. Attendance in our Meetings for Worship with a concern for Business has increased; items for consideration are carefully prepared and well seasoned. Friends note a deeper movement of the Spirit in Meetings for Worship with attention to Business and hope to see a similar movement in committees as well.
Intergenerational and interfaith activities deepen shared knowledge and understanding. We seek to be open to different beliefs, and to develop our understanding of our Quaker heritage and its fruits As we hunger for more connection, additional time for worship through mid-week opportunities, extended worship time on first days and other times for fellowship and worship are more common. More worship in business and committee meetings and increased opportunities for exploring spiritual journeys through listening circles and other structured sharing help us go deeper. We realize that openness to the views of others leads to the growth of the Spirit in individuals and the meeting as a whole. Activities like camping, clean-up days, Pizza and game night, and meeting retreats improve our connections and provide spiritual and material refreshment.
New young families with children and an active First Day School enrich and enliven our meeting. We want to improve connections among and with High School and Middle School aged people and with First Day School families. There is a desire to find ways to engage and hold teens in relationship to the meeting community even as there is also a recognition that it is important to give them their wings and support their entry into the larger fellowship of their peers provided by BYM conferences and camps.
We seek more involvement with each other outside the worship hour. Providing better adult religious education, Bible study, book groups, friendly 8’s, sharing circles, films or spiritual friendship groups all develop Spirit. Small gatherings outside meeting for worship and outreach through service lead to and underpin good outreach and strengthen the meeting. Smaller groupings may be particularly important in larger meetings where spiritual intimacy may be harder to create. Some have found that Spiritual Formation Program participation yields energy, depth, centeredness and a generosity of sharing. Memorial Meetings provide support for those who have experienced losses, and bonding through recognizing the value of beloved Friends whose legacy and presence among us remains strong.
We yearn to improve our in-reach, particularly to those who are adrift or estranged, and our outreach to Seekers. In-reach and outreach are connected and Quaker Quest can provide opportunity for both. Social activism and action in the community and genuine spiritual hospitality may also contribute to more successful broadening and deepening of our communities.
Diversity provides us both challenge and nourishment. We desire greater ethnic and economic diversity in our meetings which may be achieved only through substantial outreach to our urban neighbors and through moving outside our comfort zones toward those who may appear different from ourselves. Newcomers offer us vitality, growth, diversity and the opportunity to strike up new friendships. Responsiveness to the community within and outside of the meeting family can create openings for individuals to share their gifts.
We often need to deal with limitations of physical as well as spiritual space. While some meetings are able to renovate or rejuvenate old Meeting Houses, others seek new spaces for a permanent home or to replace one now outgrown. New space, whether purchased or only contemplated has brought renewed energy and sense of community to many meetings.
We face serious challenges: to respond to Spirit in mutually supportive ways, to listen lovingly for guidance, to speak openly and honestly to one another, to communicate clearly, to support and nurture parents, teachers and children, to increase participation, to be more intentional in pastoral care, to encourage nurturing vocal ministry, and to deal directly and creatively with conflict, seeking the third way.
We offer the refuge of quiet in these tumultuous times. But, can we bring more than the solace of silence? Can we bring truths revealed in worship into our day-to-day lives? Can we use the inevitable conflicts to find transcendent solutions? Can we enhance ethnic and economic diversity in our meetings? Can we support one another? Can we listen to God?
Many meetings are more like an entwined rope of many fibers than a single strand, with members holding various theological beliefs, at different stages in their spiritual journeys, with diverse needs from the meeting community. We strive to reach toward and be guided by the Light. We share and many celebrate a willingness to listen, to be sensitive, and to hear one another. If we can show love, patience, tolerance, openness, generosity, understanding, willingness to listen, gentleness, caring forgiveness and honesty in all we do and say then we have done what Spirit asks of us.
Can we be as open to change as we say we want to be?