Stony Run Friends Meeting is the spiritual home to Friends with a wide array of approaches to belief about the manifestation of Divinity in humankind. While we are united in being drawn to the original vision of George Fox and the seeking of God within, the scaffolding of belief that each person erects above this common ground can range from Christocentric/Abrahamic to Buddhist to Universalism to humanistic concern for social justice. Many of us experience a dynamic tension created by these differences that provides an exciting atmosphere for spiritual development, dialogue and reflection for our members and attenders. An unfortunate set of behaviors can and does sometimes arise out of this tension, however, where those expressing powerfully felt statements of faith feel pressure to not speak their truth for fear of offending those holding to an equally strong but very different faith, or sometimes of offending those who, for the moment at least, are reluctant to hold strongly to any faith system.
As a Quaker faith community we seek to provide a spiritual home where all sincere seekers in the spirit may find support. This task is not easy, nor is Stony Run always successful. However, this dynamic tension is a powerful reality for us as together we seek the continuing revelations of the Divine Spirit in our individual and collective search. We humbly recognize our shortcomings over the past year but feel encouraged by signs of way opening to improvement in our life together.
Our large and spiritually diverse community offers numerous inreach and outreach opportunities. These facilitate the many different paths we walk toward spiritual faithfulness, even as some opportunities are specifically designed to knit our diversity into a more cohesive unity. We are a community of individuals coming together and being affected by one another.
* Continuing from last year is the Newcomers Group, which combines longtime members and those relatively new to our Meeting into a mutual support group that benefits both “old” and “new”. This group has evaluated our practices with regard to getting to know newcomers much more profoundly and has come up with some practical suggestions to help make entry into our community more welcoming.
* A second integrating factor has been the operation for a second year of the “extended family”, aimed at building through play and fellowship the kind of caring close community reaching across ages and experience that our form of worship needs. This joins our continuing “simple lunch” as a real community-building necessity in our very large Meeting. Many simple lunches see deep discussions develop as Friends examine questions raised in their hearts during the preceding Meeting for Worship. Pure community-affirming joy results from our long-standing carol sings on the three Sunday evenings preceding Christmas.
* Specific sectors of our community have been nurtured by the monthly “Little Meeting” aimed at introducing youngsters to real spirit-led worship; by the participation of many of our members in the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Spiritual Formation Program; by our local spiritually-based reading and discussion groups, meeting twice each month; and by the purposeful inclusion of deep, meaningful worship into committee meetings.
All our outreach activities are supported through worship, whether it be within committees that take on specific projects, or by the sustaining force of First Day Meeting for Worship that undergirds our “solo” efforts in the wider world. Coming out of committee work is our critically important support for the interfaith coalition GEDCO, which works to provide food and shelter to neighbors in need. Committees also support work with Native Americans in prisons and give financial help to a number of small scale local initiatives to build peace and justice and provide emergency relief. Larger donations to non-Quaker organizations are made both by committees and by the Meeting as a whole. A continuing effort of the last few years involving people power as well as donations is the interfaith BRIDGE project which works to effect fundamental policy change to relieve suffering in the wider Baltimore area.
Meanwhile, participation in our worship community sustains many individual efforts to make a difference in our world. The members who traveled this year to Palestine/Israel, to Costa Rica, those who flew to Haiti to help that disaster-struck nation, those bringing their support to the small faithful Friends Meetings in Switzerland and France carry with them our prayers and bring back to us a world of loving concern. Here at home, we hope that our worship together continues to support the local Working Group on Racism that unites members of Stony Run with members of other nearby Meetings as well as continuing to sustain those among us working to help victims of torture. We recognize that we need to do more to enable our whole community to learn about and support in a meaningful way these individual and small group efforts.
Stony Run members take active roles in sustaining the wider Quaker world through participation in board work, committee work, and attendance at gatherings. Members work with Baltimore Yearly Meeting, FGC, FUM, AFSC, Friends Journal, FCNL, and FWCC. We lend our labor, our time, our caring, as well as financial support to each of these.
Back at home, in our continuing effort to nurture Quaker children, we note with concern a decrease in attendance throughout most grades in our traditionally very strong First Day School classes. While those attending continue to appreciate their experiences together, and form solid friendships that often start in the nursery and continue throughout the teen years, we are asking ourselves whether this decrease in attendance is a passing anomaly or a symptom of changes we need to make. We also are concerned that the percentage of Quaker students at the Baltimore Friends School that shares our campus is now down to about 5%. Our Meeting is initiating a new program to provide financial assistance to Quaker parents seeking to find a way to give their children a Friends School education. Stony Run has a vibrant group of high school students, who, together with teens from Homewood Meeting, have formed a thriving Young Friends group meeting weekly. With adult assistance they devise their own program, have their own Meeting for Business and fundraise so they can do independent outreach to the wider Baltimore community and beyond.
At the heart of all Meeting activity is worship, happening at two different times each First Day morning and monthly at a First Day afternoon Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business. We have noted changes in both during the past year.
There seem to be somewhat fewer people in attendance on a typical First Day morning worship than in years past. We also have an increasing number of Meetings with little vocal ministry. While some welcome the resulting quiet as an opportunity for a deeply grounded worship experience, others miss the inspiration and feeling of community worship that more vocal ministry can give. The presence of our First Day School children during the first 20 minutes helps enrich our sense of community. Some of us love to take restless babies in our arms so their parents can enjoy uninterrupted worship. To assure that the community continues to benefit from the presence of everyone we continue to provide transportation to and from Meeting for those requesting it and maintain as far as possible a chemical-free environment during our early morning worship. At the same time we realize that life circumstances prevent some in our community from regularly worshiping with us. We miss them and hope they feel connected to us by the light with which we surround them as we worship and work together and continue to love them. Our Meeting has under its care two auxiliary worship groups—at Shepherd Pratt Hospital and at the nearby Quaker retirement community of Broadmead.
At the monthly Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business, the renewed atmosphere of better listening and more gently considered messages is very welcome to all. We have initiated some changes that have seemed helpful as we continue to heal from a time of very difficult and sometimes divisive decision-making. Rather than meeting after a long work day, we are experimenting with First Day afternoon meetings, when we are rested and fortified with a good simple lunch. We are trying to remember to sit closer to the clerk and in a manner that all of us can more easily see and hear each other. Our clerk and many others have felt supported by our initiation of having two “holders” sit near the clerk, following a model we see at Annual Session of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. We are still trying and not always succeeding in having more prolonged periods of silent worship between the many pressing items of business. Despite the perceptively more friendly and mutually-supportive atmosphere as we meet together to do business, our Meetings for Business are still sustained by a committed core of only about 10% of our membership. We would welcome much broader participation and are looking for ways to encourage this.
As always, well-functioning committees undergird the life of our community. Participation in committee work often strengthens individual leadings through inspiration by like-minded people and is frequently the cement that binds people tightly to Quakerism. Meaningful committee work is many people’s road to full participation in monthly Meetings for Business.
Fortunately, despite the competing claims modern urban life makes on our time and energy, we are able to keep most of our many committees at full complement and functioning well. We do notice that some individuals carry a heavy burden of work on several different committees while too many members and attenders feel unable to take on committee work at all. We are exploring new ideas for communicating the spirit-building rewards that committee work can offer even as it does lay a significant claim on our time. Our committees report that
After a long and difficult process the Meeting decided this past year to seek out a coordinator to help us work at our best as we continue the active direction of all that makes spiritual growth possible at Stony Run. As this search continues, we have been blessed with capable office management first by an attender and now by a member of the Meeting, both of whom care deeply about our community.
Stony Run Friends rejoice in the depth of commitment that has led so many of us to work so hard over the past few years to knit a loving community that will sustain our continued growth into even stronger faith and practice.