Reflecting upon the spiritual state of Stony Run Friends Meeting this past year we find ourselves filled with thankfulness and hope: thankfulness for being a part of a community dedicated to building a Spirit-led Meeting and hope that our entire community may both strengthen and deepen its commitment to this end, thus inspiring us all to walk in the Light.
It has been more than a year since our executive secretary and our office administrator—each of whom had dedicated years of service to our Meeting—resigned from Stony Run. In wake of the spiritual, personal, and professional losses surrounding these resignations, the Meeting has been struggling with the state of its own spiritual health, of which the above resignations have been seen by some as symptomatic.
While the Meeting is at one in wishing a stronger spiritual community, it has been challenged to find the ways and means of creating that community. This has been most readily seen in our consideration of whether to hire some kind of senior staff to facilitate in the leadership and management of a Meeting as large as ours. In all our deliberations, we are reminded that as a religious body of Friends, we work by sense of the Meeting, not consensus, and that while it is our goal to seek unity, we must guard against defining consensus as unity.
For the many at Stony Run who see potential benefit in hiring senior staff, our process has perhaps felt frustratingly slow, even stymied at times. For other Friends, the benefits of hiring are not so clear.
In an effort to hear all Friends’ concerns on this matter, the Meeting appointed two ad hoc committees and held a threshing session. Through these meetings, we have found open, welcome opportunities for all voices to be heard as well as the need for us to practice the art of kindness with unwavering vigor. None of us is perfect, but kindness perfects both the giver and the receiver. We must remember that we all are volunteers; we all are active participants in a spiritual community. Over the past year, many of us have dedicated countless hours of loving service towards the above endeavors. For this, we are truly grateful and give our deepest thanks. We extend a special thanks to our interim office administrator, Heather Landheim, whose outstanding service has been vital to the smooth functioning of the Meeting office over the past year.
In the spirit of strengthening our spiritual community, particular focus has been placed upon Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business. What is discernment? This query, central to our work as Friends, particularly in Business Meeting, is one that requires deep consideration. Many of our struggles in Business Meeting may stem from discernment not being fully understood or even holding different meanings for different Friends. Our future labors will require us to become more adept at understanding and employing discernment, a skill that must be actively practiced. Continuing support for our Clerk and Recording Clerk, both of whom are new in their roles, by the Committees on Ministry and Counsel as well as Community, Care, and Clearness, is vital. We are reminded that deep listening, coupled with love and tenderness, is of paramount importance. We are also reminded that Business Meeting is open to all attenders and members, and greater attendance is encouraged. The more hearts and minds involved in worship, the better we are able to discern Divine will. Business Meeting is a Meeting for Worship. As such, Friends are urged to wait to be moved by the Spirit, resisting the temptation to discuss or air personal opinions on deeply held concerns.
Nowhere else is the fullness of our spirituality made more apparent than in committee work. Committee work is the life of our Meeting. With 18 committees covering the duties of our many concerns, these committees, many of which are open to both attenders and members, also provide an opportunity to get to know one another in a smaller, more intimate group setting. This in turn helps strengthen the larger Meeting community. With so much work to be done, all members and attenders are encouraged to use their gifts in ways they feel led, whether already engaged in committee work or contemplating it for the first time. Given the time constraints most of us face in our already busy lives, the Meeting might want to explore how best to engage people in the experience of committee work. The Meeting is grateful to all its committees and thanks all those who serve it in various capacities. Those who participate most fully in the Meeting’s committee work are encouraged to reach out to newer members and attenders, inspiring them to offer their services to the Meeting by letting their leadings be known to the Nominating Committee.
We are keenly aware that diversity enriches the life of Stony Run. Our large Meeting comprises a wide span of ages, racial and gender diversity, family makeup, social and economic backgrounds, religious experiences, and ranges of belief. We are further enriched by those new to the Religious Society of Friends and those with long experience in it. Integrating newcomers into the life of our Meeting and helping them on their spiritual journeys is an ongoing concern for us. A working group under the care of the Committee on Community, Care, and Clearness has endeavored to bring attention to these concerns, encouraging all members and attenders to share actively in the responsibility of welcoming and integrating newcomers. We also see the need to reaffirm our responsibility to our aging members and attenders. We have noted a decreased presence of some previously very involved elders. Maintaining loving, regular contact and offering support to these Friends will continue to be a focus for our Meeting.
Specific activities during 2008 that added to the spiritual dimension of our Meeting community include the following:
1. Responding to a charge from the Monthly Meeting to lead a healing process following the resignations of our executive secretary and office administrator, the Committees on Ministry and Counsel and Community, Care, and Clearness held a Meeting-wide retreat in January. The feedback from this retreat aided the Ad Hoc Moving Forward Committee appointed by the Monthly Meeting to research Stony Run’s staffing needs.
2. Through the Peace and Social Order Committee, the Meeting participated in the National Religious Campaign Against Torture’s (NRCAT) “Torture is a Moral Issue” campaign and endorsed the Campaign’s “Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Executive Order on Prisoner Treatment, Torture, and Cruelty”.
3. Through the combined coordination efforts of the Spiritual and Intellectual Nurture Committee and the Committee on Ministry and Counsel, the Meeting participated in Friends General Conference’s day-long workshop on the Quaker Quest program. For Stony Run, the purpose of this workshop was twofold: to explore how the program works and to provide a basis for considering whether or not to adopt the program at some point in the future. While this consideration has not yet formally been proposed, initial anecdotal feedback from several workshop participants indicates that there would be some interest in incorporating Quaker Quest’s activities into our already existing programs. It is hoped that such activities would deepen the spiritual life of our Meeting by helping us better understand and be able to express the value and specific nature of our personal testimony both within our community and to those outside our community.
4. This year, several in our Meeting are participating in Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s Spiritual Formation program. This program, open to all members and attenders, invites its participants into a deeper experience of the Spirit through retreats, devotional readings, spiritual community, and individual spiritual practices. In our busy culture, Spiritual Formation provides a practical way for people to engage with the Spirit through daily, individual spiritual practices as well as in communion with others through local friendship groups.
5. Stony Run has re-introduced the Extended Family program which is open to all within the Meeting. Getting together on more or less a monthly basis, participants have been enjoying each other’s company in fellowship and fun. As Stony Run Meeting looks forward to a new year, we find ourselves both thankful for what we are and moved by a strong sense of what we need to do more of. To this end, we encourage all in our Meeting to reflect upon the following queries: What are the spiritual needs in our Meeting? How can I as an attender or as a member best contribute to and improve the life of our spiritual community? Knowing that we labor in the Spirit and in the embrace of the larger Quaker community gives us courage and hope.