In 2010, our Friends’ Meeting community in Charlottesville had many experiences of the work of the Spirit among us that were deep and very strengthening—and we also faced some challenges. Our Meeting regularly holds two worship sessions each Sunday, with a 60-minute session of adult education, discussion, or worship sharing called “Connections” between them. We have members at many different stages on their spiritual journeys, who range from the early months of life to well into their tenth decade. We have an active First-Day School, regular social activities, seven or eight active committees, and a similar number of Friendly Circles.
Our Meetings for Worship were generally well balanced and often deeply gathered. They were blessed sometimes with a gentle flow of spoken ministry, and sometimes with the refreshing dew of silence. They were not overwhelmed by political or academic speech. Very often the Spirit we had encountered in worship stayed palpably with participants long after the worship hour was over and led us more deeply into our own community and into the community at large.
Many events and activities had an especially strengthening effect on our meeting in 2010. These included some specially called Meetings for Healing early in the year; the well-attended memorial meeting we held in spring for our recently departed Friend Jay Worrall and his family; an overnight Retreat that brought over 60 Friends of many ages together at Shiloh Quaker Camp this September, around the theme “Finding Joy in Today’s World”; and our participation in December in “PACEM”, a city-wide project through which congregations provide lodging and hospitality to homeless persons. For the second year running, we hosted homeless women for two weeks in our recently built social hall.
The Retreat itself brought us much joy: Singing, dancing, and playing games together strengthened our sense of spiritual community. Our work with PACEM had the same effect. Through it, we discovered that, though our meeting’s longtime PACEM coordinator was unavailable, others stepped in to take her place. Our PACEM hosting was one of several activities through which we were able to dedicate our beautiful social hall to the service of the community. Others included a multi-session, city-wide Dialogue on Race of which several of our members were key organizers.
Inside our meeting-house, Friendly teachers helped the youngsters discern the Divine. We held potlucks, committee meetings, and Friendly Circles (one of which read the Koran together.) We mourned our state’s execution of a woman prisoner… Outside the meeting-house, we built fellowship through helping each other through tough times. Young Friends went to BYM camps. Our members engaged in many campaigns to build more peaceable, caring, and just communities. All these actions were a living out of our spiritual intent.
We struggled to bring a similar intent to one of the main challenges we faced in 2010: the wound in our community caused by the aggressive behavior of one Friend and the intense concern sparked by this behavior, both of which became more intense toward year’s end. But despite the seriousness of this wounding, the underlying strength of our community and the strength of our conviction that, with the Spirit’s help, we can find a way forward gave us hope that our Meeting will not ultimately be scarred in too deep and lasting a way by these events.
This challenge has not been resolved at the time of writing, but we are grateful that despite the degree of hurt and fear that some friends experienced, as far as we know none has left the meeting as a result. This affair led many of us to dig more deeply into our attitudes toward the concept of safety and toward people whose differences from ourselves can seem mysterious and on occasion threatening. It also led many of us to explore and ultimately discern at a deeper level how much the life of the meeting—and the combination of spiritual freedom and spiritual support that we experience in it—really mean to us, and thus how careful we must be to protect both our beloved meeting and each individual who is a part of it.