The Ministry and Pastoral Care Committee of Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) provided us with six queries which have proven helpful in considering the state of our monthly meeting. They address : 1.) Meeting for worship; 2.) Gatherings and First Day School; 3.) Committees and Meetings for Business; 4.) Relationships within the community; 5.) Outreach; and 6.) Looking ahead. It may be said that by understanding the first five of these, we will be better able to understand and acknowledge right response to the sixth. On January 17, 2010 we devoted our adult forum time to discussion of these queries. The following paragraphs reflect input gathered from this and other sources.
Meeting for worship is and should be a complex, mystical experience. Because we all come into it from different places, directions and experiences, and we each have our own “lens” through which we view the world, spoken ministry may or may not seem to be directed at us. It is a challenge unique to our method of worshipping. It is easy to condemn messages that don’t speak to us or reflect our view of the world as inappropriate. Providing education about historical use of spoken ministry and helping to broaden attenders’ understanding of what is acceptable and what is not can help. At times there is a tension between Christ-centered and universalist messages, with either side feeling that the other holds its views in some degree of contempt. These issues deserve to be acknowledged. Other Friends have said that they feel we now get fewer political and prepared messages and that the spiritual nature of spoken ministry has deepened in the last year.
Gatherings in addition to Meeting for Worship provide us with time to get to know each other on a deeper level. This past summer Advancement and Outreach Committee sponsored a version of Quakerism 101 for new families and attenders. It took place in the evening for a full week. About 40 people attended on any given night. A light dinner was served so that families didn’t have to worry about getting supper before coming. Time shared at meals plus the informational part of the program resulted in a deep connectedness and the growth of new friendships. An outgrowth of the week’s activities was the inception of a Quaker Parenting Group, which continues to meet. We also have an intergenerational breakfast in November and a secret friends breakfast in February. These activities provide elder and younger friends to get to know each other in ways they would not otherwise. All of these activities are attractive to young families. They recognize Meeting as a good place to teach their kids values to live by.
Meetings for Business have been ”interesting.” The economy, combined with the aging/passing of friends in the Foxdale Retirement Community have left our Meeting with a budget shortfall. Meeting has been required to grapple with what to cut and what to pay. Finance Committee has faced these issues with resolve, bringing recommendations for an amended budget to Meeting for Business. After worship and consideration, Meeting for Business accepted the committee’s recommendations.
People’s lives are very full today. Sometimes it has been hard to find people to serve on committees. The requirements of the Foxdale and Friends School boards for a Quaker component have occupied the energies of Friends who would otherwise be available for service to the Meeting. Also, there is a gap in “leadership:” Elder Friends have “retired” from their active roles in Meeting, while new and younger families are still trying to understand their places in the meeting’s structure.
Many of the qualities which make for a caring community work by feedback. As the spiritual life of the meeting is strengthened and members and attenders get to know one another on a deeper level, they are more attuned to and better able to respond to each other’s needs. The past year has been difficult in many ways: the passing of Friends, health issues and both personal and corporate finances, to mention a few. A feeling of being carried, supported and loved has been experienced by many friends. In knowing each other more deeply, we feel safer letting our needs and vulnerabilities be known. Assistance can range from making a newcomer feel welcome and comfortable to actual assistance and visitation.
It seems that Friends are finally realizing that they can tell the world about themselves without being overbearing. In some recent Census information, nearly 40% of respondents listed their religious affiliation as “none.” Yet their cosmology/theology is strikingly Quaker. We often hear from new members that they’ve been Quakers all their lives, they just didn’t know it until they found us. Our main outreaches have been the Friends School and Foxdale. We continue our peace vigil at the Penn State gate. Our witness as individuals in the communities where we live is varied and far reaching. In the coming year we are likely to embark on Quaker Quest. This seems like a good way to let the community know that there are still real, live Quakers among us.
One of the wonderful things about Quakerism is that it is a Faith to be lived rather than a set of rules somebody made up and told us to follow. Ultimately the question of how to deepen the spiritual life of the Meeting can be phrased as how can we (individually and corporately) be more wholly children of the Divine. Where, when, and how do you encounter the Spirit in your life? We find the Answers through fellowship and learning about Friends history and values. Through fellowship we know each other more deeply and gain both freedom to be who God would have us be. It becomes safe to be who we are. This gives us strength to practice integrity in a world that doesn’t seem to value that attribute. We are able to face challenges without fear, with love. The result is what we call opening to the spirit. When that occurs, How can I keep from singing?