In March of 2023 Birmingham Friends Meeting responded to a request from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM) to develop a Spiritual State of the Meeting report. To collect perspectives and insights from Meeting members, three open-ended questions were developed by the Worship and Ministry Committee and submitted to Friends by e-mail.
The three questions were 1) I would like my Quaker Meeting to be a place that:, 2) How is your spiritual life enhanced by attending BFM, and 3) Is there something more that you yearn for? The response was excellent with twenty-five Friends replying to the questions. The comments were rich and varied. Our attempt in this document is to reflect the essence of the messages and not report verbatim.
1) I would like my Quaker Meeting to be a place that:
Friends responded eloquently to how they would like a Quaker Meeting to support them spiritually and personally. Some stated that it would be a place of respect and care where all are welcome to come as they are. It would be a community of individuals who are grounded in Quaker faith and practice and are open to trying new things that stretch us and help us grow in the Spirit individually and as a group. One Friend said it would help them to be a better person, deepen their spiritual life, live more mindfully, and spread a bit of God’s love around. It would also be a place where Friends are known personally and cared for; where others model God’s love; where we can be honest about our doubts, beliefs and failings; where we can grow in understanding; and where faith can evolve. It would be a place safe for questioning and for searching and a place to find encouragement and strength to live in a meaningful, purposeful way. It is a place where one can learn from a community of people who are different, spanning different generations and backgrounds. One Friend talked about “layers of belonging” stating that we do a good job of welcoming new people, but they do not feel connected to the community when those of us who have been in the Meeting for a long time continually talk about our history or much-beloved Friends who are no longer with us or the “way things used to be.” What can we do to be less exclusive and more welcoming in the broadest sense? One Friend wrote that the Meeting is “spiritually nurturing across generations where community members/attenders/children/youth feel safe and secure in sharing their spiritual experiences.” Another said that the Quaker Meeting would be in a building where Friends feel history and can sense the people who sat in the pews before them.
2) How is your spiritual life enhanced by attending BFM?
One Friend responded that BFM has helped to channel energy into action and activism. Another said the Meeting has provided time to reflect and question rather than simply accepting ideas on faith. Our spiritual life is enhanced by the depths of our meetings for worship both in the quality of silence and the theological diversity of ministry, a Friend stated. A wide variety of religious expression is welcomed, said another. A Friend noted feeling inspired by the experiences and insights which other Friends express in vocal ministry and in the example of their lives. The quality of the worship is deep and often Spirit-led, and the gathering with Friends for worship is a great source of strength and encouragement. One Friend always leaves meeting for worship uplifted and strengthened by the Spirit, and supported by their fellow Quakers. We learn from others’ practices and the way they heed God’s call in their lives. As a result, we are inspired to do more and do better. Another Friend feels accepted, loved, and part of a community of Friends trying to live according to God’s will as it is revealed to us. One Friend wrote that spiritual life is enhanced in committee service particularly when there is time for committee members to share personally. Especially appreciated is when committees take time at the beginning of each administrative year to share what they will try to do and, very importantly, why they will undertake this work. Furthermore, several Friends stated that their spiritual life is enhanced by talking with others in small groups, working in committees and ad-hoc groups where they take time to be grounded in the Spirit and see God in each other. Attending worship kindles the light in me, said another. Spoken messages are often deeply moving. Finally, a Friend stated that “Our community is loving and supportive. It is a safe and spiritual haven in an often-chaotic world.”
3) Is there something more that you yearn for?
We very much appreciate that Friends took this opportunity to share discontent or concerns. One Friend stated that the Opening Exercises work for them whereas another Friend expressed dislike for the Opening Exercises. While recognizing that Opening Exercises are embedded in the fabric of our Meeting, this Friend explained that Opening Exercises make Birmingham feel like a semi-programmed Meeting and wondered if we could increase the frequency of “No Opening Exercise” Sundays or have only one short query or advice from Faith and Practice, for example. Several Friends stated that they would appreciate more opportunities for sharing thoughts that do not rise to the level of messages in meeting or that require more time and/or conversation. Basically, they would like more Worship and Ministry Committee spiritual enrichment forums that allow time for discussion. Along the same lines, another Friend said we should have occasional opportunities for discussion of specific social concerns as well as religious topics. This aspect of our community life has diminished in the last few years and was effectively (and necessarily) eliminated by the pandemic. One Friend would appreciate knowing more about members and attenders – their stories, hopes, dreams, and struggles so that we all can better support and appreciate each other. One Friend expressed interest in having evening Meeting for Worship and another hoped for no more Zoom. Several were looking for a greater sense of community between in-person and Zoom communities. One Friend brought up the concern about the time, energy, and money spent on property matters, and another commented about the time and energy that go into discussing record-keeping and legal documents. These Friends felt that those financial and legal discernments take attention away from our spiritual life. One wished we could worship in a rented space with few responsibilities, yet recognized that “space” and “history” are important elements that can nurture the Spirit for some.
In conclusion, these insights, perspectives, and suggestions will inform the work of the Worship and Ministry Committee in the coming months and be submitted to PYM in response to its request for a Spiritual State of the Meeting report.
Worship and Ministry Committee
Greetings to Friends near and far,
The year 2022 has come to an end and what a year it has been! The Meeting is carefully navigating from a pandemic shutdown to emerging and adjusting to living in a world with varying levels of Covid.
Meeting for worship continues to be the center of our meeting life. On-site meeting for worship numbers continue to grow in members and attenders. Meeting for worship is offered twice a week with a mid-week Wednesday afternoon virtual meeting and a Sunday morning blended meeting. Virtual Meeting for Worship allows our meeting to stay connected with those who wish to worship from home, live at a distance or who are traveling. Virtual meeting for worship along with in-person attendance at the meetinghouse is also offered for occasions such as memorials.
The long anticipated audio visual system is in use. The final installation of the professional equipment was delayed, initially by supply chain complications that slowed delivery of some components and subsequently by the discovery of a colony of bats living in the attic where the wiring for the new system was to occur. Fortunately all of the bats were peacefully exited and the attic has been cleaned and sealed to prevent further nesting.
We joyfully welcomed into membership Marina Pavluk and Alta Hoffman. We also celebrated the births of Louisa Chalfant born to Elise and R.T. Chalfant, Logan Lewis Chavez born to Wynne Lewis and Diego Chavez, and Eleanor Roberts born to Meredith (Chalfant) and Andrae Roberts. We said goodbye to dear members Margaret (Peg) Basden, Barbara DesJardins, Lark Worth and Ruth Young. We deeply miss their presence and continue to hold these dear Friends and their loved ones in the Light.
Our Religious Education Committee changed their name to Children and Youth Program Committee (CYP) in April 2022. With this approach, program leaders/guides sit on the floor in a circle with the children, presenting stories and activities, asking open-ended questions, and inviting creative responses that support reflection, exploration and wonder. CYP has been pleased to have attracted a few new families this year. Sometimes the CYP program is held outside, and families still go to the Quarry together in the summer.
Our meeting is blessed to have a caring group of adults who guide and assist these programs. A small area in the meetinghouse was set up for young children and their families where one can find a rug and a basket of things that can be played with quietly as families/children settle into opening worship.
The Youth Committee, which includes children from sixth to twelfth grade, had a very full year. This year, the Youth took a look at the inner workings of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee. Cassi Hung, a youth in the group, shared her experience as a member of that committee and the project to fund the purchase of land mine detectors. The Youth made a YouTube video explaining how land mine detectors work and how the funds collected by the Meeting are put to use. In March, cookies and good luck St. Patty’s day wishes were sent to Birmingham college students. Sarah Brodessor and Katie Senko enjoyed them! On Easter, the Youth facilitated the annual Easter Egg Hunt held in the Peace Garden. In May, they
attended a People’s Light and Theater production of Hold These Truths about the internment and subsequent Supreme Court case of Japanese American Quaker Gordan Hirabayashi. The Youth Committee members also socialized over a brunch in June. In November, the Youth Committee decorated the giving tree as a fundraiser for the Friends Association for the Care and Protection of Children; $1705.00 in gift cards to local grocery stores was collected. In December, more than 10 families enjoyed the annual Christmas cookie exchange they facilitated. Each week, they continued to mentor and help with the Children’s Program.
Two spiritual enrichment programs were held for adults this year. During the winter we considered the timely topic of “War is Not the Answer” based on the QuakerSpeaks video. In the fall, we discussed Vocal Ministry based on articles from Friends Journal.
Compared with 2021, the year 2022 brought increased opportunities for our Meeting to come together in fellowship. Once a month after worship, Fellowship provided themed snacks on a table outside. In addition, the Meeting once again enjoyed many of our cherished traditions such as the Easter Egg Hunt, Chicken Barbecue, worship around the fire circle at Westtown School followed by a picnic, Pennies for Pumpkins and a celebration of our youth with Bibles, Faith and Practice books and a recognition of high school and college graduates. The celebration of the Christmas season included a carol sing outside around a firepit after meeting.
Areas of the meetinghouse continue to be updated and renovated. After completion of the ADA-accessible bathroom, the existing bathrooms in the Ed Wing were updated with new paint, tile, and fixtures using
funds left over from the ADA restroom project.
The meetinghouse grounds were improved and cleaned, specifically the property line with our neighbor. Vines and overgrown shrubs were removed, trees elevated and dead wood was pruned out. After several years of design and planning, the new road sign noting Birmingham Meeting was installed, declaring that our Meeting is an active and vibrant community to all who pass by on Birmingham Road!
In addition to hybrid meetings and the outreach they provide, meeting members and attenders continue to support each other as well as the wider community in many different ways. The Oversight & Pastoral Committee facilitates and oversees Care Groups, which send thinking of you cards to note birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and to stay in touch. Members visit with those in care facilities and help members in times of need. New members are recognized with flowers, cards and visitation.
The annual bulb sale fundraiser again resulted in the Meeting’s purchase of a land mine detector (which was matched by the manufacturer) to be sent to a country in need as identified by the United Nations. The annual Chicken Barbecue raised money for Quaker and local charitable organizations while the Pennies for Pumpkins funds supported UNICEF. The Meeting continues to collect supplies and donations for the West Chester Food Cupboard, Act in Faith, and Friends Association for the Care and Protection of Children.
We continue to encourage Friends to visit our updated meeting website. It is a wonderful representation of our community and has a plethora of information, including the YouTube video produced by the Youth Committee. The website address is http://www.birminghamfriends.org.
In Love, Peace and Friendship, Oversight & Pastoral Care Committee
Serita Spadoni Susan Brodesser John Braceland Meredith Hung Stephanie Kirk Julie Senko
Doug Wenny Marty Boston (ex officio)