Two Thousand Eleven finds Sandy Spring Friends Meeting in a period of reflection on the future of our community, as we move forward with a major construction project that will eventually result in a more eco-friendly and more usable space that also maintains continuity with our past. Friends are constantly reflecting on what it means to worship in such a large meeting, and the advantages and challenges that arise from it.
In such a large community, there is great diversity of feeling. Many friends feel as if the meeting is more vibrant than these past few years; some say that they have felt great renewed energy this year. Others have trouble connecting with the community right now. This report reflects our discussions with several groups of friends.
Friends experience a spirit of divine love which moves among us and through us. Through collective worship we experience a sense of community. Overall, friends do sense that the feeling of community in the Meeting has improved. It is a safer place. The coffee hour is more vibrant. People take joy in being together. Friends are more engaged in Meeting for Business. Friends have found the welcome circle helps to transition from a meditative state in Meeting for Worship to openness at coffee hour. Knowing each other is vital to deepening our spiritual connection with each other. Intentionality is essential to minister to each other. Our community is seeing this intention yielding more friends providing time for each other.
Our Meetings for Worship vary in character. Our 9 a.m. Meeting on First Day experiences a deep silence with few spoken ministry messages. Our 11 a.m. Meeting on First Day includes children in the first 15 minutes which invites messages from all age groups. Sandy Spring is readdressing our efforts to provide a more predictable form of support to nourish the Meeting for Worship at Seneca Valley and further the efforts of this vibrant group. Meeting for Worship at the Miller Center at Friends House is enjoying a period of rejuvenation. Mid-week Meeting continues to provide deep worship for those who need a respite during the week, or may not be able to attend First Day Meetings. The meeting needs both newcomers to the Meeting and lifelong Quakers to participate in the continued work and spirit of the Meeting. We have been enriched by new F(f)riends and visiting Friends perspectives when they join us in Meeting for Worship.
Individual leadings invigorate the meeting. Many friends in our meeting are led to engage with the wider community of friends through travel. “Traveling among Friends is a way of questing, searching.” Anchoring Committees often requested by traveling friends, give a base of spiritual and social support to them. These Friends and their committees in turn provide the Meeting with insight and nurturance from other Meetings. These friends are visiting Monthly and Yearly Meetings throughout the country, as well as participating in international peace and fellowship.
The Leadings of our Meeting can be found, not only in individual works, but also in the work of the committees. These corporate leadings, discerned through divine guidance, have been demonstrated in the threshing sessions regarding the offering of Ceremony of Marriage to all couples. We also see this in our attention to the relationship to the land and appropriate use of technologies in plans for upgrading, improving and providing for new buildings. Our Annual Budget evidences financial support to Haiti, in response to a natural disaster, and our choices for support to on-going peace, social justice and education initiatives within the wider local community. Some friends believe there is a need for wider dialogue within the Meeting community regarding peace issues and the proper form of activism which should be taken on behalf of the Meeting.
The Religious Education Committee continues to provide structure for our children in response to their spiritual needs. This work is always a great challenge; one member noted that the administrative tasks needed to keep the Religious Education program going at times overshadows the understanding of the spirit. “We create a kind of net (of connections) throughout the meeting, skeins that connect us through parents and children.”
The way that children are received and accepted by the RE Program and the First Day School can have a great impact on their families’ attendance and membership. The Committee strives to ensure that the FDS makes them feel welcome and gives each child a community. This attention to the care of families demonstrates how community is woven together to make a loving united fabric.
Our Young Friends, those friends of high school age, also have much to say. A Young Friend noted that the first 15 minutes of meeting that they attend is becoming more and more of a challenge. They are profoundly grateful for messages that are offered in the first 15 minutes – these feel like gifts of support from the Meeting to the Young Friends.
There is a sense that the Meeting is in a transition time – perhaps an echo of the generational change in our larger society. In this time which might seem unstable, we must allow for Divine Guidance and have faith in God and Quaker process that Way will Open.
We all wonder what the life of the meeting will look like going forward. We want to see more engagement of people in committees, perhaps especially younger people. The spiritual state of the meeting is always difficult to describe, but easy to discern; the experience of sitting in meeting with friends remains powerful, singular, and transcendent. It is difficult to put into words, but not all difficult to experience; it is there for us whenever we gather as friends and find that peace at the center.