In preparation for writing the yearly state of the meeting report for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and Baltimore Yearly Meeting, our worship and ministry committee chose two sets of queries to guide us in reflecting on the past year. To elicit responses to these from as many meeting members and attenders as possible, we held two sessions. One session was in person and one session was via zoom. Members and attenders also had the option of responding by email. The queries were: (1.) How has our meeting fostered an environment in which members and attenders of all ages know they are loved, cared for, trusted and respected? What enhancements or changes would you like to see in our meeting next year? (2.) How have we translated concern into action on racial justice and climate justice? What more are we led to do? This announcement was included in the weekly bulletin and through the listserv: Every year the State College Friends Meeting Worship and Ministry committee writes a State of the Meeting report to send to two Yearly Meetings (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and Baltimore Yearly Meeting). The report is a review of the year that includes observations about the spiritual health of the meeting, care of members and attenders, activities, outreach, and more…. Worship and Ministry would like to invite the whole meeting to reflect on the past year in order to write the report.
Many of the responses to the first query expressed optimism and gratitude for the emerging social and communal life of the meeting, after a period of disconnection and inactivity during the pandemic. It was noted that more people are attending meeting for worship in person, including a few new young adults of college age and young families with children. A new attender to SCFM reported feeling “welcome and comfortable at worship”. Gratitude was also expressed for our efforts to provide meeting for worship in hybrid form for those who can’t attend in person. “Friends continued to offer a zoom version of meeting which fostered an environment of concern for all.” Our social hour after meeting with refreshments, and our monthly after meeting potlucks are alive again with a bountiful spread of food and tables filled with people enjoying the sociability of eating together.
To begin to rebuild our community after the pandemic, the idea of “small fall gatherings” emerged. The intent was to nourish our meeting and give diversity of opportunities for our community to connect and reconnect. These included a range of events from hikes, waffle shop breakfasts, to pickleball and dinners. One person shared that the gatherings were a great way to get to know someone or connect with them more deeply in a smaller setting. The small fall gatherings were generally well attended. Connections, sharing and relationships are also created and enhanced through various SCFM sponsored groups that meet outside of meeting for worship. A weekly Friday morning group has been meeting through the past year, first by zoom and now also in person for fellowship and support. Two friendship groups, based on Parker Palmer’s Circles of Trust, have continued meeting over the last year. Our First Day School committee offers several meeting-wide activities that are inter-generational, such as “Special Friends”, and community field trips. Our adult religious education committee provides an array of inspiring and educational presentations that bring us together and help us get to know each other. The presentations of individuals sharing their spiritual journeys are especially well attended and give us the chance to get to know each other on a deeper level.
Several State College Friends are actively involved with Upper Susquehanna Quarterly Meeting of PYM and attend their gatherings. USQ creative hands group usually meets 4 weekends a year and rotates where they meet throughout the quarter. The group typically works on some kind of sewing/knitting/crocheting project that benefits some specific group of people, for example sewing Dignity Kits for young women who miss school during their menstrual cycles. A core group of State College Friends attend a yearly camping trip at Camp Crystal Lake every September and Friends from all around the quarter attend workshops, swim, hike, sing and worship together in a spirit of community based on living our Quaker faith. A sense of belonging and caring is present when State College Friends work together on committees and community service projects, like providing space in our meetinghouse and food for our neighbors who don’t have housing, or when we are gardening together on our grounds, or when we host community dinners to raise money for various local organizations.
While many Friends expressed optimism about our growing sense of community, some Friends do have concerns about pastoral care in our meeting. While SCFM has traditionally had both a worship and ministry committee and a care and concern committee, a few years ago there weren’t enough people to fill both committees and so the two committees were combined. A few responders gave feedback that they feel that we need a distinct care and concern committee to be able to offer pastoral care. One Friend stated, “What is the next step after welcoming newcomers?” What do we do to attend to people we care about who are no longer present in our community? “What can we do to take care of our members and attenders and let them know that they are loved.” There is also the question of how to create a faith community that is grounded in Quaker values and beliefs in which there is a diversity of religious and social and personal beliefs. Are we aware of what is blocking us from becoming a faith community“…in which members and attenders of all ages know they are loved, cared for, trusted and respected”? One Friend asked that we be” mindful of our connection with Foxdale retirement Village and the State College Friends School, keeping in mind our larger Quaker community”.
In the past, State College Friends Meeting has had a robust and active peace and social concerns committee. With the passing of many of our elder activists a number of years ago, the PSC committee became inactive and was laid down. Today, we have a dormant PSC committee that attempts to respond to concerns as they arise, and there are two active working groups. Over the past few years, the racial justice working group has been actively educating themselves as well as the larger meeting on issues around racial justice. They created and offered a series of educational presentations for meeting members on racial justice that focused on concerns within and outside of the Religious Society of Friends. Some of the members of the racial justice working group also decided to extend their racial justice efforts in the wider community. Two SCFM Friends were a member of a police oversight committee, two Friends became involved in the local NAACP, and some Friends were active in a local racial justice committee called “320”. The RJWG has been meeting recently to discern “way forward” for the group.
The Climate Justice Working Group also puts education as one of its primary goals. They are posting information on a bulletin board in the social room, posting information and resources on our meeting website and this winter is hosting a series of presentations from Quaker Earthcare Witness on topics relevant to climate change. The committee continues to work on our goal of a carbon neutral meetinghouse and grounds and has made improvements to the meetinghouse in that direction. Connected to the Climate Justice Working group are the medicinal plant committee and the gardening committee. These committees are working on greening our sacred grounds through decreasing the amount of grass lawn, planting pollinator and native plant beds, and growing medicinal herbs for a project that distributes herbal medicine to underserved communities in PA. One member of our meeting is involved in climate justice work with PYM and she is acting as the SCFM “steward” for PYM. In general, the feedback from the feedback sessions and emails expressed appreciation for the work of these committees and a desire for more education. There were requests for more information through bulletin boards, making books available, announcements about events and organizations in the community, and ways for meeting to be more involved in these issues.