from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel
This month’s reading is our Meeting’s response to the 2011 Lake Erie Yearly Meeting query, recorded during and after a group worship sharing on the query. The query for 2011 grew out of graphs presented at a Lake Erie Yearly Meeting Executive Committee meeting showing a decline in both membership and average attendance at LEYM monthly meetings from 2003 to 2011. It reads:
· Given the physical and spiritual state of our Meeting, what are our reflections on this information?
· What does a Spirit-led Meeting look and feel like?
· What hinders us from following the Spirit?
· What is the Spirit leading us to do?
Annual Sharing on LEYM Query
Ann Arbor Friends Meeting
Nineteen Friends gathered on a snowy Friday evening, 20 January 2012, to share a simple supper and to consider together in worship a set of four queries from Lake Erie Yearly Meeting. The following is a summary of the thoughts that were shared. It was noted that some Friends were speaking of the “meeting” as a time of gathering for worship and others as the community of Friends.
What does a Spirit-led meeting look and feel like? The meeting for worship is a place of open waiting, of trusting that the Spirit is with us now, a chance to recharge our spiritual batteries so as to be active in the world. It doesn’t take many people to attain a Spirit-led experience. There is a taste, a sensation of listening to the Spirit in our midst. When the words come that pick up that flavor, it speaks to us at a core level. Participants feel permission to speak as they are led – there is no holding back. It is nourishing, fulfilling, peaceful, but energizing. A Spirit-led meeting can be totally silent, or spoken messages may build on a common theme such as love or anger.
Our 75th anniversary celebration – particularly the play – illustrated how the Spirit has moved in our Meeting community through the years. There are many connections with Friends through the week, so we come to appreciate each other at many levels. To follow the Spirit requires discernment; a Spirit-led Meeting involves a group of people who discern together.
What hinders us from following the Spirit? There are many distractions today, so it is hard to hear the still small voice in worship or in the heavily scheduled busyness of our lives. We are challenged to better discern those things we are truly led to engage in and to let other matters go. Our ego is often what gets in the way; the movement of the Spirit comes from deep within or beyond us, so ego must be quieted. Fear also gets in the way – that I might make a mistake or that I am giving up something that I like. This can be uncomfortable.
What is the Spirit leading us to do? We are led to love in all of its manifestations: to listen, wait, pray, read, discern, act, welcome, serve, write, and much more. We are led to connect with each other in new ways. We are led to be faithful. Early Friends felt they had rediscovered the way of Jesus’ disciples; that meant living in the present time and speaking to its needs as a small yeasty group. More recently, people have been drawn to Friends as a nucleus of energy to bring about social change – against the Vietnam War or the cruise missile, to join the Sanctuary movement. Perhaps we will be led to lose our fear and feelings of impotence to do something significant about the environmental degradation that is all around us. It can be frustrating that more are not called to be part of our band, but we are called to be faithful. Being willing to change and adapt to new situations is part of following the Spirit. The Spirit speaks in many ways – in song, in the wind, in nature. We need to be aware of its multifaceted nature to hear it in the silence and the storm.
What are our reflections on a declining membership? This is a time when cynicism and pessimism pervade the wider culture. People are disillusioned regarding religious affiliation. Does the decline in numbers in our meetings really mean we are less attentive to the Spirit? The two don’t necessarily equate. However, our meeting does feel the absence of those in their 30’s and 40’s. Their diminished involvement in worship and on committees is worrisome. Perhaps they are there, but are more involved in study and childcare.
People today expect to be entertained. Quakerism takes effort; there is no MC, no band or choir. You prepare, you come, and you wait. In prayerful worship, a simple “help, help” or “thank you, thank you” is enough. We need only say it in our hearts. When people find that Friends meeting is for them, they know it and the distractions are stripped away.
Bill Riccobono, Clerk
Thomas Taylor, Recorder