Dearest Friends in Baltimore Yearly Meeting and beyond:
We write to you, grateful of the blessings that we have in our lives, and yet grieving the loss of our longtime member and friend, Miriam Green. Miriam was a devoted Friend who was active at both Homewood and in Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
Homewood Friends continue to be faithful in our walk in the Light. We meet regularly for worship on Sundays at 10:30 a.m., dutifully hold our meetings for business and educate ourselves and our children in the manner of Friends.
Without program, we base our worship in the Spirit and in Love. We seek to let the Light search us, showing us the Way, opening our awareness of self and our world. We rely upon the living silence to help us center. While attendance has decreased to an average of 30 attenders, worship at Homewood seems increasingly grounded and vocal ministry seems to lead to a deepening of the silence that binds us together. Our large meeting room remains a blessing and a challenge. This year, we decided to angle our benches to facilitate our sense of communal worship. After years of struggle, unity around moving the benches was easily reached. We continue to be open to leadings that will help us improve the quality and accessibility of our meetings for worship. We were reminded of the importance of permitting adequate time at the close of meeting for Friends to shake hands, signifying our acknowledgement of each other.
As worship is the center of our spiritual life together, our committees and Meeting for Business help us to test and season our leadings in order to practice our faith publicly. Our meetings for business are held in worshipful silence. We seek to include increasing amounts of silence between business items. At the beginning of each business meeting we allow time for worship-sharing on the month’s queries.
Our committees help knit the meeting community and help newcomers know who is doing the work of the Meeting. Committees provide a way of giving back to the community, even though they are frequently perceived as merely “work.” We are reminded of the importance of being led to do community work, and that different people enjoy and are fit for different kids of committee work. Without guidance and support from the Spirit, fatigue can set in and result in an experience of Homewood as drudgery rather than fulfillment, with unwanted obligations rather than service. Our committee structure is based from a time when our attendance and active participation by members was larger. It is difficult to find Friends willing to serve on the committees that we have. At our worship-sharing session we were encouraged to re-think the structures of our Meeting—to acknowledge the smaller Meeting we have become. Is there another, simpler way to proceed and get the work of the Meeting accomplished? We recall that there are other ways than committees to give to the Meeting. We as a community need to make sure that all leadings are nurtured and seasoned, even if they don’t fit into our committee structure.
One way of giving to the Meeting is through monetary contributions. Financially, our giving is down. Robinne Gray came to visit us and speak to us after worship one Sunday regarding financial contributions to our Quaker communities. Friends spoke about various ways they share in the life of the Meeting financially (scheduled direct bill pay, budgeting for the Meeting) as well as their sense of obligation to financially support Homewood not as a “left over” item after all their bills are paid, but rather as one of their bills that must be paid as a way of thanking the Meeting for all that it gives to their families.
Our adult religious education has been revitalized by one Friend with a clear leading. Adult education sessions have been held all but one Sunday morning per month. We now have an active program that has deepened the quality of our meetings for worship. In April, the Religious Education Committee sponsored a Catoctin weekend—a time of fun and bonding—one that probably will be repeated next year. While we currently do not have a program for middle and high school age Friends, some have migrated to Stony Run, where there is strength in numbers. We are glad to know that our older children are growing as Young Friends with our friends up the street. We are cognizant of a wonderful opportunity to rebuild our First Day school program, with a large group of 3 to 5 year olds in our nursery. Also from a leading of a Friend, Ministry & Worship sponsored a lovingly received dinner for parents of young children including adult discussion and child care. We hope that this will spark a new conversation about what we want as parents, and as a Meeting, for our children.
Homewood provides a welcoming and supportive community to most. We must continue to be mindful about how we are perceived by newcomers and to be open. To some, the Homewood community is “home.” To others, it is an “oasis,” not quite where they feel can root themselves, but where they feel called to be for a time.
As we learn more about ourselves and what it means to be a community, we continue to realize the truth of the Quaker theological stance that “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:14-26). Spirit-led works, to us, come in many forms, typically as activism and social causes, but also Friends are called to certain professions or other ministries. Homewood represents itself in the world primarily through the work of individuals trying to live their lives according to Quaker principles and following their leadings. These leadings often produce work that lasts for years and involves us individually, though not often corporately. While there are Friends who have expressed a desire for our meeting to take up a cause behind which we could rally, we understand that such a cause must come from a leading. We actively support leadings of others such as our support of collecting food for VIVA House. Our Peace & Social Witness committee has dwindled to a handful of members which concerns several in our meeting and doesn’t have the clarity of focus that some Friends would prefer. We, as a Meeting, need to discern further the role of the committee. We also need to consider how we recognize our own gifts and leadings and how we approach the Meeting with them. The Meeting would do well to actively call out and nurture Friends who seem to have a leading or calling. We continue to support social concerns (such as Stan Becker’s concern on rapid population growth), but we have Friends who are living out their calls to ministry and service without support committees, and whose work is sometimes unknown to the larger community, or is known in other Quaker communities but not ours. This can leave Friends feeling isolated and unsupported in their work, even if the Meeting is in all actuality in solidarity with them. Additionally, some would like to see even more on a social and activist level, but also in a spiritual context such as Bible study, spiritual friendships or a larger group joining the Yearly Meeting’s Spiritual Formation program.
In conclusion, our numbers are little changed and our worship seems deeper. The Meeting gained two members through convincement, two through transfer, and two associate members by parental request. One member was reclassified and two died during 2008, thus membership stands at 143 adults and associates.
A revitalized adult education program has invited us into a serious exploration of the experiential religion of early Friends. Concern about lack of a vital corporate witness in the world has been revealed. There opens a possibility for nurturing families of young children and growing our meeting with them. There are new opportunities for fellowship, community and spiritual growth. Could it be that we are rebuilding and strengthening our foundation on a solid rock, and that which our hearts desire will come not through our will but through the movement of the Spirit? There is work to do, and if we are faithful, we will see the fruits of our faith in time.