Spiritual State of Herndon Friends Meeting Annual Report, 2019 Final Version, As Approved By Business Meeting March 10, 2019
On the third of February, 2019, Friends and attenders gathered in worship to consider the spiritual state of Herndon Friends Meeting.
At the start of Meeting for Worship the clerk of the Ministry and Oversight Committee read the following queries along with worship sharing guidelines: “What is it about our Quaker faith and practice that gives us a common identity?” and, “What do we do to encourage or inhibit diversity in our Meeting Community?”
Herndon Friends Meeting has been considering issues of outreach, diversity, and how to encourage the full participation in “beloved community” in a number of ways throughout the year. We hosted a First Hour panel discussion on diversity and barriers to bringing one’s whole self to the community, which was deeply provocative and moving for many attendees. Two of us are participating in the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Change Team training. We created a Communication and Outreach Committee, both to coordinate our communication and messaging and to develop innovative strategies for reaching out to others in our community. Small groups from Herndon Friends visited and worshiped with an historic African-American congregation celebrating their 150th anniversary and with the pentacostal Latino church across the street from us.
During our worship sharing on the two queries, we considered the ways by which a faith community rooted in the unprogrammed Friends tradition reconciles the development of a common identity with the simultaneous promotion of diversity and inclusiveness. The spoken messages went straight to the heart of what it means to be a Quaker, illuminating the strength and depth of our Meeting’s spiritual character.
Several Friends spoke to the seemingly contradictory notion that the Meeting’s common identity is, in fact, its diversity. The membership of Herndon Friends encompasses a range of differences: in our original faith traditions; our political views; ethnicity; sexuality and gender identification; age and health; abilities; education and socioeconomic status; and perhaps most fundamentally, where we are on our spiritual journey.
“It’s almost paradoxical that something giving us a common identity is our sense of openness in Quaker Meeting,” expressed one friend, “a belief in individual expression, even contrary thoughts and beliefs.”
“Being true to our Quaker roots means being kind and respectful of everyone regardless of their background and perspective,” spoke another. A third person observed, “Here is a place that encourages you to embrace your own journey.” And another commented, “You are welcome to be a skeptic.”
What is it about Quaker Meeting that people from diverse backgrounds find welcoming? Some spoke to the unprogrammed way we worship: “Our common identity is the silence in our meeting,” said one Friend. Acknowledging the diversity of countries of origin among Herndon Friends, another observed, “We often speak in metaphors and symbolic terms that non-native speakers may not fully understand. Worshiping in silence may be one of the most inclusive things we can do.”
It can be easy to overlook some of the obvious ways we celebrate diversity. For example, many of our regular attenders are children. Herndon Friends Meeting takes pride in the quality of its longstanding infant care and First Day School programs. Voicing support for some of our youngest members and attenders, one Friend observed, “When people of different ages and generations get together we have diversity. We need to talk about the tiniest members of our community, as well as the oldest who need end of life care.”
The installation of a listening assistance system this year made vocal ministry accessible to several members and attenders who had been feeling cut off in worship. The organization and dedication of our Meeting’s Care Coordinating Committee offers another example of how community and identity grow from serving the diverse needs of those who suffer or who bring differing abilities and capacities to our community.
Quaker testimonies, or values, and the related queries that expose the dimensions of these values, are central to understanding Quaker faith. For several Friends, exploring the meaning of these values as a community ties our common identity with diversity. “We need to recognize that testimonies are common goals that guide people to become better persons,” spoke one Friend. “They are not terms of exclusion – they help make us a more diverse community when we recognize that people strive toward these goals in different ways.”
Another message echoed this thought, “One of the things that makes Meeting unique compared to other places of worship I have attended is I feel like this is a faith that is descriptive instead of prescriptive.”
Without a directed service and recited prayers, Quakers rely on the potential for inner growth arising from the richness of a shared Meeting for Worship. Speaking to this point, one friend observed, “Looking for that sacred space within ourselves, that’s what so important, and to me so rewarding.” Engaging in this endeavor as a community is, according to another longtime friend, precisely what binds us together: “To the extent there is a common identity,” he said, “it has to do with gathering together once a week in worship to help each of us become a better person.”
But the way forward is not always clear. Disagreements may be part of the growing process, particularly in a faith community that strives to translate its values into concrete social action. As one Friend pointed out, maintaining community and furthering diversity may require creative thinking, like showing support for Friends United Meeting by supporting one of their flagship overseas projects, the Ramallah Friends School. “The fact that we continue to struggle with diversity is a strength not a weakness,” voiced one Friend. In 2019, Herndon Friends members and Meeting participants are united that community and diversity are compatible goals. We recognize that, when pursued together in a discerning and understanding spirit, these values deepen our faith, further our personal growth and provide us the emotional and spiritual foundation to "Walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone."
Respectfully submitted, Paul Murphy and Liz Willson