Meeting for Worship
It is sometimes said that Friends today worship the silence, but many of us are aware that what we have in the silence is an expectation. There is an urge inside many of us not for the silence but for the expectation that we can experience the presence of God. Our focus on the Light, the divine seed in us all, presses in on our attention. We need to sharpen this expectation and query one another about how we quicken it. We are a Religious Society of Friends; we are not an ethical culture society. For some, sitting in corporate worship opens silence as a new experience. At their first Meeting for Worship, they feel very much as if they had come to their spiritual home. For others, it takes many visits.
Our children shared that Meeting for Worship can be relaxing, that it is getting easier to “be quiet”, and that they are more aware of its uniqueness from other experiences. Some children felt led to speak in Meeting this past year. They wish that adult Friends would more often share verbal ministry during the first fifteen minutes of Meeting for Worship (when the children are in attendance).
We simply “wait on the Lord,” as it says in the Psalms. Jeremiah speaks of “writing it in their hearts.” We suggest we engage in dialogue about this waiting in our committees, Adult Forums, Quakerism class, and Bible study. Do we “wait on the Lord” in Meeting for Worship for Business, especially at difficult agenda opportunities? Do we take seriously knowing the will of God?
First Day School
Our Meeting is grateful for the presence of our young Friends, and the joy they bring to the Meeting is mutually satisfying. First Day School (FDS) lessons have covered a variety of religious traditions. Well supported by, and deepening the Meeting, Godly Play/Faith & Play teacher training and lessons began this year. These lessons may help answer a desire from FDS children for more Bible lessons.
Pizza and game night has been a huge hit for all Friends and has been, along with annual camping and cleanup days, a great intergenerational activity. The FDS teachers and students are expanding our community service efforts by reaching out to food banks and donating old tennis shoes to make new playgrounds. As our children grow into preteens and teenagers, we continue to talk about ways to keep them involved as Friends (e.g., in the BYM camping program). Simultaneously, our very young Friends and elementary-aged Friends continue to need our guidance and education on the basics of Quaker principles. We remain challenged by the many competing demands on the time of families with children. How can we continue to ensure that Meeting times and activities fit within this complex set of commitments?
The Quaker Parenting Group met monthly until a hiatus that began in the summer. Deepening of FDS families’ (many of whom are relatively new to Quakerism) involvement in the broader activities of the meeting has occurred and is an ongoing challenge.
Activities and Gatherings
There are many opportunities available for spiritual community through our various activities and gatherings. (See appendix.) One Friend commented that is difficult to choose and set priorities when there are “so many wonderful things going on in the Meeting.” Another Friend added, “We are drawn to and by what feeds us, and there is much to support this individual growth in our Meeting.”
Attendance at these gatherings fluctuates. We need to remember that meeting the needs of even a small group is nourishing to the few who gather and therefore provides a benefit to the Meeting as a whole. Less formal gatherings for game nights and clean-up days, as well as the first First Day social hours at the rise of Meeting, add to our sense of community and encourage intergenerational interactions.
The curricula and readings of our monthly gatherings are regularly shared through the newsletter. This is appreciated by those who are not able to participate on a regular basis. Perhaps Friends would be willing to share in a more personal way, either in the newsletter or on the website, how these activities are contributing to their spiritual lives.
We have found that our gatherings and activities serve as a form of outreach. Baltimore area Quakers and non-Quakers have been drawn to participate in our Meeting community through involvement in our group activities. One Friend remarked, “The small groups are making a difference in the spiritual life of the Meeting. What happens [there] does make it to Meeting for Worship because it changes each of us.” Another member added, “Vocal ministry can arise out of the deep personal concerns that are explored in our small gatherings.”
Committees and Meetings for Business
One Friend noted that she feels the worshipful aspect of Meetings for Business more fully this year; the perceived flow of our work is smoother, perhaps because we are leaning more on our committees and allowing them to do the work with which they have been charged. Thus efficiency grows from a greater sense of trust in the structures and processes of our work. Another Friend suggested that our reconfigured Worship Room, with benches in the round, has changed the way we gather for business and may also contribute to the more worshipful feeling. Even as we affirm more worshipful Meetings for Business, we wonder whether all of our committee work is being carried out in the same spirit. We continue to work on regularity and consistency of committee meeting times; so, too, we need to encourage all committees to begin their work with a period of silent worship, thus centering and focusing on the spiritual nature of our work. We will explore the possibility of holding scheduled committee days at the Meetinghouse.
One area of specific concern is the way in which we are attending to pastoral care. This is handled, alternatively, by ad-hoc groups within the Meeting, by our Care and Oversight Committee, and by the Ministry and Counsel Committee. We need to reflect more deliberately on how we attend to the important ministry of pastoral care.
Relationships in the Community
We are a blessed community. There is a joy in gathering together and in visiting after the rise of Meeting. We enjoy welcoming newcomers. We support each other in difficult times. At the end of each Meeting, we share our own joys and sorrows and have also heard thanks expressed for the care and concern of others. We are learning more about ministering to each other as we have experienced losses and illnesses, and made ourselves available to help in discerning leadings. How can we be aware of and prepared for what one Friend calls a “ministry of availability”? Usually, concerned individuals take the lead in gathering the support needed. How can more of us know about these needs? What should our corporate response be? Do we need a more clearly defined list of suggestions for important things to remember to do as we deal with the needs of individuals in difficult times such as illness or death? There are a number of Meetings that have pastoral care handbooks – should we consider one for our Meeting? How can the clerk of the Meeting and the clerks of Ministry and Counsel and Care and Oversight be in more regular communication about the needs of community members?
Another issue requiring our attention, reflection, and learning is how we can nurture a greater racial and cultural diversity in our Meeting. One Friend noted that we have not developed a comfort in talking about racial difference or unintended racism. We do not have much racial diversity in our Meeting community. We have scheduled a forum on one Friend’s learning about racism and an evening of inter-generational learning about African American culture. Another area of learning with one another has been our relationship with nature. A working group on environmental stewardship has produced a minute on “Spirit and Nature” which is receiving a lot of interest in the Meeting. We will have a worship sharing session in response to the minute in early 2011.
Outreach and Service
“Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come…..”
These words of George Fox underlie our attempt to live into our witness on behalf of Friends’ testimonies to the world as we go about our everyday lives. We do not shy away from identifying ourselves as Quakers and answering questions about Quakerism. Some of us have individual leadings, supported by our Meeting community. Our Spiritual Formation program and our Silent Retreat days draw people from outside the Gunpowder community. We continue to actively participate in UCAN (United Churches Assistance Network), the CROP Walk, and the Native American community in Baltimore. Letter writing sessions to the President and members of Congress, facilitated by our contact person to FCNL, are going strong. Our First Day School has several outreach projects under way. Considering yet another area for growth, one Friend said, “It would be good if we could do more service as a group”. To share what is happening in our Meeting with the wider community, we are upgrading our website and have created a “group” page on Facebook, a global social networking site.
Grateful for the many blessings acknowledged in this report, but attentive to the need for ongoing and intentional attention to the spiritual and practical life of our community, we know that we have important work ahead of us in the coming year. We will reflect on how we can strengthen our approach to providing pastoral care: might we benefit, for example, from a more formal policy and practice manual for pastoral care? In Meeting for Worship, we realize that some yearn for more consistent vocal ministry, our children included. How, therefore, can we encourage and nurture these gifts in our community? We will focus on this aspect of worship in our adult forums and Quakerism classes. As we celebrate the many individual leadings to service supported by our Meeting, might we discern a more focused corporate leading to service? We will reflect on whether we have arrived at a place of needing a dedicated Peace and Social Order committee. Finally, as our young families represent our future, we need to ensure that we are focusing not only on the strength of our First Day School program, but on opportunities for spiritual nurture and support of our parents of young and growing children.
Regular monthly gatherings include:
- Adult forum
- Social hour on first First Day
- FCNL letter writing
- Saturday silent retreat
- Quakerism discussion
- Bible study
- Spiritual Literacy which evolved to opening exercises/singing
- Spiritual Formation
- Handwork meditation evening
- Quaker parenting group
Other activities and gatherings this year have included:
- Seder celebration
- Memorial Day picnic
- First Day School camping at the Schmaljohn’s
- Godly Play/Faith and Play workshop
- First Day School worship and fellowship day at the Lane’s farm
- Intergenerational game and pizza night
- Simple lunch following FDS Christmas program
- Clean up days
- Spiritual Formation retreats