Three factors helped shape the spiritual state of our Meeting in 2008: the long-range planning process, support for Young Friends’ service, and walking with a transgendering Friend and family. This report will discuss those factors, along with worship, gatherings, First Day School, business meeting, community, and witness to the wider world.
The long-range planning process, which began with the fiftieth anniversary celebration in 2006, seemed to “season” everything that we did. Threshing sessions were held for the whole meeting to discuss particular aspects of the meeting’s life. Following the threshing sessions, members and attenders were encouraged to join “dream teams” so that they might meet regularly to flesh out provocative proposals. We found these meetings to be occasions for growing spiritually and getting to know one another.
The Peace and Social Concerns Committee budgeted financial support for Young Friends’ service projects. Young Friends applied for money for a particular project and then were scheduled to share with the Meeting about the project after it was completed. Several Young Friends took advantage of this opportunity; Ian Schwenke went to Colorado, Giovanna Selvaggio-Stix went to El Salvador, Chike Croslin went to Costa Rica, and the seventh and eighth grade class from Friends Community School went to Washington, DC.
We walked with the family of one Friend who was “transgendering,” that is, changing gender identification from male to female. The Friend and her family has had a support committee, which consulted with the Meeting’s standing committees. A second hour was held with the Friend and her spouse. Young Friends participated in the Second Hour, made a statement welcoming the Friend, and wrote a letter to the Friend and her family. The Meeting held several events of celebration and support.
Perhaps because of these factors, Meeting for Worship seemed deeper, with fewer messages on a typical First Day. One Friend said, “We have raised our level of ministry to one another.” Our regular First Day schedule included two meetings for worship, a smaller one at 9:00, held outside in the Memorial Garden the third First Day of the month, and a larger one at 10:00, ending with joys and concerns, and followed by introductions and announcements, with singing in between the two meetings. In the larger meeting the children and youth remain for the first twenty minutes, after which they go to their First Day School classes, though a few remain for the entire Meeting for Worship. On the fourth First Day, however, the children have Junior Meeting, and the youth have Young Friends Meeting for Worship.
We continued to offer a wide variety of ongoing gatherings, including monthly adult Bible study, Spiritual Exploration to nurture spiritual growth through monthly gathering of all participants and small support groups, monthly Preparation for Meeting for Worship when a Friend shares one’s spiritual journey, and several women’s groups and men’s groups. All of these have enriched our worship. A Friend said, “I listen to the messages with new appreciation because I know more about the person speaking.” A book group met for several months to study Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak. One participant said that she found it helped her discern what she was going to do with the rest of her life.
First Day School was, according to Young Friends, “a safe place,” where they were “known and listened to.” The children particularly appreciated times in which they were cooking and eating. First Day School was held for preschool through senior high school students. The two classes of elementary school age children (first and second grade in one class and third through fifth grade in the other) have studied the Bible, Quaker history, and living the testimonies. Middle School Young Friends have been studying world religions and service opportunities, and High School Young Friends have been discussing contemporary issues in light of Quaker values. First Day School, however, has been struggling to find teachers, and we have been encouraging non-parents to teach. Teachers of the younger children have reported challenges because of the different expectations of the children, parents and teachers.
Due in part to our envisioning a more vibrant future of the Meeting, Meeting for Worship for the Conduct of Business has witnessed a larger attendance and a less contentious spirit. Friends have appreciated the work of the clerk. In carrying on the work of the Meeting, however, a number of committees have reported inadequate membership, and Friends felt they were stretched too thin.
Nevertheless, a Friend commented, “The spirit of the Meeting is very uplifting. I feel a real sense of community here.” Less of a “chasm” seemed to exist between Friends who identify themselves as Christians and those who do not. One second hour focused on being Christian in a liberal Quaker meeting. Some Friends expressed a need to know one another more deeply. The reinstitution of “neighborhood groups” might be helpful.
In our witness to the world, many individuals have done a “marvelous job for a meeting this size,” said one Friend. Furthermore, we have become more supportive of people following their leadings. People were showing more trust for one another on their spiritual paths. More people are coming to Meeting in order to be nurtured so that they can express their witness in the world. We still struggled as a meeting to find corporate ways of service in which more people can participate. One of the ways we have exercised corporate witness has been through Friends Community School, which is under our spiritual care. There are still unhealed wounds suffered over the life of the school. The new head is open to talking with the people involved and moving forward in a forthright and loving manner.
We continue to grow, to serve, to care, to worship, so that, in the words of George Fox, “the power of the Lord might be over all.”