Our worship has been a work in progress. The Worship and Ministry Committee strived to adapt to changing COVID conditions. Our Meeting hoped to enable as many of our members and attenders as possible to participate in worship during the pandemic. We have experienced many positive results and note some areas where work is still needed to unite our Meeting community.
We began 2022 with several worship venues, including an outside meeting and a hybrid Zoom meeting in the schoolhouse. Several Friends described deep spiritual experiences during outdoor worship. In warmer months, we experimented with a Zoom-less Meeting for Worship where everyone joined outside once a month. We concluded these Meetings with a bring-your-own-lunch for a bit of social time. Toward year’s end, with the addition of an air purifier in the Meeting house along with improving COVID conditions, inside attendance increased. As a result, our spiritual connection and our feeling of a more unified Meeting has been enhanced.
We continued a Zoom option in the Meeting house with audio but no video screen. Some people remained strongly opposed to the presence of Zoom in the Meeting house, while others appreciated being able to be with us in this manner. In light of this, we had an Opening Exercise about our changing venue options and planned a worship sharing for January of 2023 to gather input and explore this topic.
Our regular Meeting programs, which help feed our spiritual connection, have also evolved. The following became in-person over the course of the year: Meeting for Business, reading of the queries once a month, and sewing group. Opening Exercises before Meeting for Worship began in hybrid form along with some committee meetings. Several Opening Exercises explored our spiritual life, including worship sharing and QuakerSpeak videos on various topics such as Creativity and Spirituality, and What do Quakers do in Silent Worship.
Functions via Zoom were: Friendly Bible study, which includes Friends from other Meetings; book group; and Power of 8, where a small group brings intentional healing to participants or situations with a universal intention, yielding positive results.
The spiritual state of the Meeting shows through our involvement with our neighbors and community. Some of these events include peace, social justice, and Black Lives Matter vigils in front of the Meeting house after Meeting for Worship, and participation in the Interfaith Action Community (IAC), which meets regularly to learn about each other’s religions and occasionally to worship together. Once a month, Meeting provided dinners for the Salvation Army. Also, we are part of the Downingtown Ministerium. Local churches gather for Wednesday noon services during Lent. Our meeting hosted an outdoor program on Good Friday for local congregations, during which a variety of faith leaders spoke. This was well received. We are also members of POWER Interfaith, a group that works for social justice, focused on ending inequality in state education funding and ending racism. We have also been involved with Good Works, an organization that restores homes in the community. During the pandemic, participation dropped off but we hope to reverse that trend. In addition, many individual Friends are involved in various volunteer activities.
Our decades-long annual tradition of our Friends Fall Festival brings us together. It enhances our spirit and is a beautiful outreach to the community around us. It is a joy to see our young adults return to help make this day special. A few new additions this year were a voter registration and civic table and an informative talk about the history of Downingtown Friends Meeting. In addition, we donate 60% of the proceeds of the festival to charities in need.
Children are a blessing among us. Due to COVID, a few of our usual child-centered activities did not happen, but we are thankful for the care of dedicated Friends who continued to nurture our children. As soon as possible after shutdown, First Day School began outside and later moved into the schoolhouse. We had many graduating seniors in 2022, which has greatly decreased the number of our children. It is our tradition for the younger children to make and send Valentines to people of our Meeting who are unable to be with us regularly. Another tradition is to present our high school seniors with beautiful books of handwritten personal messages and encouragement from members and attenders for them to carry through the years.
With respect to climate change, we have a young adult liaison to PYM who will work with an adult who has been active for years in environmental work. We also have a connection with a local group, Restore Our Roots. They strive to bring our community together through ecological co-existence and environmental awareness. This is accomplished through use and care of native plants and sustainable gardening practices. We have more work to do to care for our climate. Perhaps this is an area where PYM can lend assistance.
Our Pastoral Care Committee is looking at ways to handle conflict resolution. Last year’s report mentioned planning a retreat suggesting ways to change our culture into a more loving covenant community with guidelines emphasizing Quaker process. Due to COVID, we were unable to gather. Now, with concerns about hybrid Zoom Meetings, this would be beneficial for us to pursue.
In many ways, the spiritual state of our Meeting is healthy. Our experience of Meeting for Worship is varied, with some meetings rich in silence and others rich in vocal ministry. We feel personal and spiritual support from our worship, our programs and our interactions with each other and our community. While we have areas that need further work and exploration, we feel blessed to be part of a beloved community.