This year, we chose to take a step back and take a deeper look at our present spiritual condition. Thirty-eight Friends participated in a forum and threshing session on 1/29/2023, guided by the following queries:
- What is it about our meeting community that I (and we) most value and treasure? What keeps us coming back?
- Are there ways that we as individuals and a community long to go deeper? Going forward, what is our deepest desire, our yearning for this Meeting? What are we most missing or longing for?
- For you individually, and for our Meeting: where is the Life?
Three years into the Covid pandemic, we are still recovering, still re-creating our beloved community. From March 2020 to June 2021 we met only on Zoom, but 10:00 a.m. worship has now been hybrid since June of 2021. Attendance at 10:00 a.m. worship is still lower than pre-Covid, with an average of 40-50 in person, and an additional 10-20 via Zoom. Much has been lost over these last three years. Our First Day School program was very much affected, but the FDS Committee has been faithful in continuing to offer programs through this entire time, and recently the number of children has been increasing. After-meeting forums have gradually resumed, though community meals have not. Since October 2022, Adult First Day School has been meeting at 9:00 twice per month (alternating with singing), and has been experimenting with hearing spiritual journeys at that hour. We struggled for several months with the issue of whether to continue requiring masks. With helpful input from an ad hoc committee and a survey of members, we finally decided in December 2022 that as long as Lancaster remains at “low community risk” (as it has been since March 2022) masks could be optional. That decision brought some members back—but a few Friends no longer feel comfortable attending in person.
There is much that we truly value and treasure in our meeting—but at the same time, we long to somehow go deeper. We treasure our practice of silent waiting worship and the rich vocal ministry that arises, but also recognize that at times our worship can feel more “scattered” than “gathered.” Some noted the value of “the discipline of showing up,” the important habit of regular attendance at worship–even (and especially) when our lives are hectic or we don’t feel particularly spiritual. Some long for more opportunities for extended worship and silent retreats. We also recognize the recent challenges of “hybrid” worship, with many expressing a desire to see as well as hear those who attend virtually. Others remind us that something is inevitably missing when we are not physically gathered together for worship. For now, we are committed to continue offering opportunities for virtual participation to those who cannot be with us physically. We are grateful to the small group of Friends whose dedication allows us to continue our on-line presence.
We greatly value the intimacy of our Meeting as a spiritual community, the opportunity to be with others in a place of mutual acceptance, respect, and support. At the same time, we recognize that deeper intimacy and spiritual growth require opportunities to spend time together in deep listening and sharing, above and beyond weekly attendance at Meeting for Worship. We have a rich tradition in this meeting of “small groups,” but recognize that this may have waned somewhat in recent years, partly due to Covid. We note the immense value of our recent “Journey Toward Racial Justice,” which was undertaken during Covid, organized by a core group of dedicated Friends, conducted entirely on Zoom, and with a high participation of Friends. We wonder if a similar meeting-wide undertaking in the upcoming months might be of value to us, perhaps as a means of reconnecting with our deep Quaker tradition.
We value the diversity of our Meeting, and especially note with joy the presence of children and the recent influx of younger adult seekers. However, we also recognize that in many aspects we are woefully lacking in diversity, in terms of age, economic class, educational background, and especially racial identity. If we say we value diversity, what might we need to change in order to achieve it? Is it possible that the very things we most cherish about our Quaker tradition may be experienced as barriers by those seekers who come among us?
Several newcomers noted the warm welcome they have experienced, but we also recognize a need to find better ways to engage and connect with those new to the Meeting, beyond simply being friendly. We note that the most successful outreach tool is the quality of our worship; if newcomers consistently feel the presence of the Spirit in our gathered worship, they will come back.
We are grateful for the many among us who are actively witnessing to our Quaker testimonies in so many ways, through peace and social justice efforts locally, nationally, and internationally. Still, we often feel that our efforts are diffuse and inadequate to the many challenges the world faces. We always value opportunities to hear from Friends about their particular concerns and leadings; in this way we inspire one another.
“Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds . . . encouraging one another” — Heb 10:24-5
In response to the third query, “Where do we feel the Life,” several aspects of our community were lifted up: worship, including deep vocal ministry; meeting for business; committee work; social time; ongoing small groups; the sharing of spiritual journeys; and affirmation of leadings. But perhaps the most notable response is that the Life in our meeting is in the love that is manifested between and among us. Although we often fall short, we long to be the kind of community described by Isaac Penington (1667):
Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another with a tender hand. . . So mind Truth . . . and be a good savor in the places where ye live, the meek, innocent, tender and righteous life reigning in you, and shining through you, in the eyes of all with whom ye converse.