As we have considered the queries received from the Spiritual Life Commission, a concern has risen among us regarding what spiritual life really is and how it is measured. While the number and scope of activities in which a meeting is involved may sometimes serve as a gauge of spiritual health, there is not necessarily a correlation between the two. Outward signs such as activities and ministries, or numbers attending or giving cannot and must not be substituted for that deep inward connection to the Spirit. Therefore, we have chosen to respond separately to the issues of ministries and activities and spirituality.
Ministries and Activities:
During this year, we have become involved in several new ministries. In August, we began working with a local soup kitchen. Our meeting serves a meal twice a month to around 100 people. We are not only building relationships with folks we are serving, but people who share our concern for feeding the hungry but have no connection to our meeting have become involved with this as well which gives them the opportunity to be a part of God’s work in the world. We are also partnering with another organization in our area to help feed the hungry. They provide us with boxes of food which we deliver to folks in our community who request it. This gives us the opportunity not just to provide food, but also to visit people in their homes and get to know them and find out what other needs they have. There are some who are housebound with whom we have a time of prayer and worship when we visit.
We have also started a community reading/discussion group that meets biweekly focusing on recognizing and experiencing God in our daily lives. Most of the folks in the group are members of other churches, but have found themselves confused or even doubtful of some of their religious background and training in a society that is increasingly pluralistic. For the past few months, we have been reading and discussing a book on remaining true to our own faith tradition while being welcoming and hospitable to those of other faiths. Some in the group have expressed a sense of renewal of their faith as a result of being able to explore issues in an open and welcoming atmosphere.
As the result of a concern raised by one member, our meeting has also become involved with the local humane society. Several of our members have volunteered at a food pantry for pet owners and we have given monthly financial support to this cause. We have also given to the our local food banks, the Red Cross disaster efforts, and Friends’ ministries in Kenya, Ramallah, and other places.
We are also realizing the important part fellowship plays in the life of the meeting. During the past year, we have planned picnics, meals, and other times for our members and attendees just to enjoy being with one another. Some of the most spiritual moments in our meeting have taken place over a cup of coffee in a local coffee house or around a lunch table. We continue to be blessed by our fellowship with the wider world of Friends. This year we hosted a Friend from Baltimore Yearly Meeting for a weekend of fellowship and worship. We also had the opportunity to participate in Friends in the Blue Ridge, a group of Friends meetings from various traditions and backgrounds scattered throughout the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia that gather once a year in Blacksburg, Va. for a day of worship and fellowship. We are delighted to have two members of our meeting serving on the planning committee for this year’s gathering.
Having summarized our primary ministries and activities, we turn now to an assessment of the spiritual life of the meeting. The term “Spirituality” is so fluid it seems important to define it within a context. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality defines it as follows:
“ a word that has come into much vogue to describe those attitudes, beliefs, practices which animate people’s lives and help them to reach out toward super-sensible realities.”
Although we have read many definitions for the term, “spirituality” one of our members who is a clinical chaplain reminds us this term is more about “ animation, the meaning of life, and reaching out in relationships and to offer a cool cup of water and a hand up to those who are in need.”
The aforementioned article also quotes St John of the Cross as saying, “…the deeper our love for God, the deeper our love for our neighbor. For when love is rooted in God, the reason for all love is one and the same.” In our opinion, then, and as we sense the “super-sensibilities” of the fellowship, the meeting continues to grow stronger. We aren’t enslaved to outward structures, schedules and the trappings of traditional religion. We seem to have a way of continuing our relationships as we go about the work of our callings as individuals and members of the Society of Friends. The Fellowship serves as a reliable touchstone for our individual missions as healers, educators, parents, and students. We have no life that is separate from the spirituality of the meeting, nor does the meeting function as a separate entity from our daily lives. We seem to be growing into a fellowship that gives and takes as individuals have needs. The meeting is a synchronicity of our individual lives and the joining of those lives in a collective purpose that is made manifest in the resulting activities of feeding the hungry, pursuing community studies, providing shelter for other creatures and encouraging our young Friends. Our meetings for worship and business are saturated in relational meaning and purpose. We love each other and hope to demonstrate that in quiet giving to those in need.
As for our hope for our meeting in the coming year(s) it is reflected well in Bianca Bradbury’s poem, “For the Quakers” as published in a little book called, Peace Prayers published by Harper,
Theirs is the gentle finger on the pulse
Of war’s old woe.
Persistent with clear unrancored eyes
Of faith they go
Where disillusionment lost the charted way.
They reach across the desperate long miles,
The sullen sea,
And find the thin, small fingers in the cold,
And touch and hold.
While we may not literally reach across long miles, it is our hope and our mission to do that socially: to find the cold, hungry, thin fingers that are miles from our world of comfort and across seas of differences, to just touch and hold if we can do nothing else.
Approved by Fancy Gap Friends Fellowship at meeting for worship with attention to business held April 7, 2013