Valley Friends Meeting has had an active year. We have had wide involvement in those things which support meeting life: Meeting for worship, social engagement and service, community and fellowship, youth activities and adult education.
We are rich in families with younger children and we are enlivened by their presence. The children now join us in worship during the last 15 or 20 minutes. An important focus of First Day School has been preparing the children to participate in the Meeting for Worship. We feel that the lessons have been substantive and spiritually meaningful to our children and to those who teach them. We have also been able to provide a separate first day school class for our older youth and feel this has been particularly important in helping to support their spiritual growth. We note, as many have before, that teaching first day school is an opportunity to be taught. We feel special gratitude for our parents of young children who get the children to meeting each week and do much of the planning and execution of program in first day school. An activity which links our younger Friends with older Friends has been the making of “comfort quilts”.
We acknowledge our hunger for connection with one another and are thankful that we have developed traditions throughout the year which help bind us together. Among these are: our beloved corn roast in the summer and a candle light celebration and children’s play at Christmastime as well as our Camp In/Camp out in the fall. We have held joyous celebrations to welcome new babies into the meeting and continue our monthly pot-lucks. We see the need be more inclusive of newcomers in our celebrations. And we rejoice that we have several new members and new attenders to welcome into our fellowship. Additionally, we seek other ways to connect more deeply in friendship and as we share our spiritual journeys.
Increasingly, our business practice has come to reflect our desire to become more grounded in the Spirit in all we do. Meetings in which we attend to business have included deep listening. Our committee work, carried out by small groups, has shown our willingness to work to support the needs of the meeting community. The physical and fiscal care of the meeting is faithfully discharged by a few dedicated Friends for whose work we are deeply thankful.
Our peace and social concerns committee has continued to be very active, helping us to participate in the important social issues of our day, and calling us to greater engagement. They have encouraged environmental awareness among ourselves and helped us become more “green”; provided vital second hours, continued to share the peace pole project in the wider community, facilitated the Summer Peace Building Institute scholarship, supported the “Coming to the Table” event, and further explored the issue of rights for people with diverse sexualities which is before Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
A great deal of energy was generated by a Fall retreat sponsored by Peace and Social Concerns with a focus on listening to where our meeting might be led in the area of peace and justice. Out of this came an emerging focus on developing deeper and broader support for the activities in which many already participate. We are aware of significant and varied contributions our members and attenders make in our larger community. We feel a need to find more ways to offer support to the activists among us and help them to ground their work in our faith journey. We also wish to further explore the potential for our Meeting House itself as a venue for activism and for connection with the broader community. Our first step has been to solicit information by distributing an inventory of activities to all members and attenders. We hope in this way that we may not only learn what Friends are doing, but also provide opportunities for others to share in their activism.
We do feel some concern that sometimes committees may not feel the support of the meeting as they work on our collective behalf. Last year we worried that meeting for business was not broadly attended. Some in the meeting felt they did not have a voice in decisions; this has not been expressed as an issue this year. We have seen more varied attendance at Meeting For Worship with a Concern for Business over the course of the year and the number of those who attend regularly has increased. We have been able to assign the work of Ministry and Care to two separate groups (Ministry and Worship and Care and Council) and feel that this is serving us well. Care and Council has faithfully ministered to the needs of individuals in meeting, while Ministry and Worship has been able to focus more directly on our worship experience. We continue to enjoy the goodies provided by our Hospitality Committee and to profit from their good stewardship of our shared meals.
As we look back at our last few years of State of the Meeting reports, it is evident that several concerns have been expressed for a number of years. Several still feel strongly the loss of elders in the Meeting. We are working to find our way into filling the important roles these elders served for so many years and to fully embrace others in these eldering roles. We have not yet found a way to deal with singing as an expression of our connection with spirit and an integral part of our worship; while some Friends find corporate singing an important part of their First Day worship experience, others find programmed singing detracts from that experience. Our attempts to address this have not been wholly satisfying and at times have been inconsistent.
Valley Friends are experiencing a desire for increasing spiritual depth in the meeting and are actively seeking ways to enhance their experience of the Spirit in their lives. Friends have addressed these needs in various ways. We have a regular book group and a Buddhist Meditation group held in our meeting house; both have served to deepen the spiritual lives and connections among those who have participated. There also continues to be yearning to give greater intention and focus to learning about Quaker practice as foundation for spiritual growth. Many of us feel encumbered by busyness. Friends seek ways to connect more fully with God, to create more grounded, faithful lives and to use our meeting and our spiritual connection to ground work in the world; we are exploring ways to accomplish this effectively. We sense a need to further develop our understanding of vocal ministry and faithfulness. Overall, we wonder how to make the meeting a place of genuine transformation so that we may live more deeply in the Spirit. From this base, we can then offer more spiritual support to the many members and attenders who are doing work in the world, acting on our testimonies. We seek to understand the difference between individual and corporate activity as we also explore the interface between individual and corporate worship.
Second Hours have been varied and rich; the increased attendance we have experienced this year attests to the need they have been filling for Friends. Topics have included our spiritual journeys, conversation about the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Free Clinic, the influence of Native American beliefs on our spiritual lives, and the confluences of Buddhism and Quakerism. Some second hours have focused on deepening our interpersonal connections as well. It is our hope that we may find way forward to have our second hours develop a theme over a period of several months or a year.
We find our practice of sharing prayer concerns, joys and sorrows allows us to carry one another throughout the week in a more purposeful way. We continue to look for ways to share our faith journeys more deeply and effectively.
This report was prepared by members of Worship and Care from comments provided by the Meeting members in a dedicated second hour and revisions offered after a first and second reading to the Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business in 3rd Month and in 4th Month. Approved by the Meeting in Called Session 19th of 4th Month 2009