Spiritual State of the Meeting – 2008

Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting plays a vital role in the spiritual life of many members and seekers. There is a sense of continuity from the generations who have worshiped here before us.

We come together as Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting (SSMM) with different understandings of Quakerism and varied expectations of what it means to be a Quaker, how a Quaker Meeting should work, how we should make decisions, what a Quaker community should provide for members and attenders, how much time and financial support we should give to the Meeting.

Our reasons for coming to SSMM and participating are also varied. Some come as seekers, others come to find refuge from a noisy world, and others may be hopeful of finding relationship in community. Some participate on committees but do not attend Meeting for Worship or Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business. Those new to our meeting often have a limited background in Quaker practices. Some feel that we should be providing additional opportunities for mentoring newcomers and be more explicit in sharing the responsibilities of membership in the life of our meeting.

Ministry is provided to the Meeting in multiple ways. Many serve on committees, teach in First Day School, provide hospitality and welcoming in various forms, facilitate worship sharing and study groups, coordinate intergenerational community activities, prepare the Meeting House for Meetings for Worship, visit the ill and elderly, or care for our grounds and property. Many feel that the Welcome Circle has done much to help newcomers feel comfortable. Events connected with Sharp Street Methodist Church, Women’s Peace Exchange, Just Peace Circles, and Silver Spring Interfaith Housing Coalition have offered opportunities for developing new relationships and fellowship. And yet, in our large meeting, there are many who do not share their time and gifts through service on committees or help with the financial obligations of the Meeting.

Our four Meetings for Worship each bring a sense of the Divine presence in worship. Miller Center Meeting for Worship, at Friends House Retirement community, has those who bring depth and wisdom and includes some who are not Friends but provides an opportunity for Quaker worship. The meeting affirmed the importance of our Midweek Meeting for Worship, which is very important to a small group of members and seekers and provides a place for those seeking spiritual nurturing during the week. The early Meeting experiences deep silence and sometimes ends in vocal prayer. The later meeting hums with the energy of our First Day School for the first 15 minutes and there are more messages. Many of these messages seem focused on personal sharing with insufficient spiritual grounding. There is a sense that spoken ministry needs nurturing in our meeting.

Seneca Valley Preparative Meeting has a vibrant spiritual life, but remains small. They have expressed a desire for greater support from SSMM. A review of the oversight that SSMM provides to Seneca Valley has been initiated.

The early Meeting for Worship (MfW) time was changed to 9:00. This resulted in extending the time between the two MfW to an hour. Committees had expressed an interest in having this time to allow those attending either MfW an opportunity to meet for assemblies, worship sharing, study groups, discussions, and intergenerational activities. There are hopes that these activities will provide opportunities for sharing, listening and deepening our spiritual ties to one another.

As a meeting we struggled to find balance between responding to the ongoing demands of an individual and the welfare of the meeting when a member was unable to change abusive and disruptive behaviors. For some, these behaviors raised fears for safety. Attendance decreased at First Day School. We responded to angry words with tenderness and appeals to reason, with a worship group focused on this Friend’s concerns, and with the traditional practice of eldering. In all this, we felt a measure of futility, but found some peace and grace in the discovery that we cannot respond to a message shared in anger. After five years of work by individuals, committees, and our Meeting community, a sense of the meeting emerged out of deep discernment in our Fourth Month Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business. The Meeting decided to terminate the membership of this Friend.

There is a sense that SSMM has a better understanding of the disciplines involved in being a Quaker, that we were able to find a balance between the needs of individuals and the Meeting as a whole, and that we are able to proceed with good order as we work on other issues to strengthen our community and spiritual life. Healing has begun. We acknowledge that we need to continue to work on listening to one another, especially those who are critical or whose truth is hard to discern, and to develop deeper trust within our community.

After years of planning and evaluating the needs of our growing meeting, a study was conducted to determine whether it was feasible for SSMM to raise the funds needed to expand our facilities. Following the completion of the study, the Design Committee and trustees recommended proceeding with construction of a building to include classroom space for First Day School classes. During a called Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business, the meeting found unity around this decision and a campaign to begin raising funds has been initiated. During the meeting, discussion included the need to proceed only as the Spirit leads us.

The past year has been described as challenging, difficult, historic, remarkable, a crossroads, and a time to deepen our spiritual roots. While we have a desire to strengthen spirit-grounded ministry, deepen our listening and spiritual ties to each other, and to extend our ministry and support beyond our Meeting, we continue to find peace, healing, and comfort in the divine presence in our work and worship together.

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