State of Society Report, 2020

It was the year of staying home; the year of staying apart from one another.  It was the year without hugs or refreshments.  It was the year we worshipped in digital boxes.  Zoom was the name of our manner of worship, but we all stayed put. 

It was a year of global disease — a new virus that took the lives of millions of people.  Members of Durham Friends Meeting were spared from this epidemic and only a few of our friends and relatives were directly affected.  Nevertheless, it changed our lives and filled our minds and hearts with news of the devastation it brought. 

Worship.  In March 2020, the rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic pressed us to suspend worship in the meetinghouse and to enter a new realm of virtual worship.  Without any way of knowing how long this would last, we truly needed to be led as way opened.  The abrupt slowdown in daily life brought new awareness of the beauty of creation in the unfolding of spring. It also brought difficulty and uncertainty to our families, friends, and neighbors and a new meaning to the pastoral care that we give to one another. 

Our worship rituals were tested and stretched.  We adjusted to seeing one another face on, in little boxes, or, in some cases, to only being able to hear another’s voice.  We learned to mute and unmute and to use the chat function.  While the skills of more technologically attuned Friends and examples from other Meetings eased this unwelcome transition, glitches in technology made for moments of frustration and occasional humor. Eventually worship in song reappeared even if we could only sing together without hearing one another. 

A contemplative prayer group meeting on Monday mornings has meant that more of us throughout New England could gather in prayer and fellowship. 

Our new form of worship brought opportunities for physically distant Friends to join us, increasing our numbers gathered at Meeting.  Others we count on seeing have found electronic worship to be difficult or unsatisfying and we have missed them.  We continued to care for our members when we learned of difficulties in their lives, but, separated from one another, we worried whether we were learning about all the circumstances that should have drawn our attention.  

Christian Education.  In this COVID year, we saw much less of our children.  Still, the deep and abiding concern for providing spiritual guidance for the Meeting children continued to be a strong point in the Meeting.  The resilient leadership and skilled guidance of Wendy Schlotterbeck kept momentum with our youth by creating opportunities for gathering in safe ways.  We experimented with online connections, holding weekly story time and a Virtual Game Night, but later settled on in-person, masked gatherings outside – hikes and games and celebrations — to maintain personal connections.  We look forward to the time when we can meet together safely, without restrictions.

Peace and Social Concerns.  Our Peace and Social Concerns Committee sustained a consistent educational effort to bring greater awareness to concerns about racial injustice, mistreatment of indigenous peoples and what we might do to challenge these social ills.  We are grateful for initiatives and materials from Friends Committee for National Legislation and from New England Yearly Meeting. 

Money and Property.  In financialterms, we came through the year in good condition.  Our Trustees made a number of important improvements and repairs to the meetinghouse.  They also established a new plot in Lunt Cemetery for green burials with 30 individual plots designated for such use.

Outreach.  Still feeling our way in being a programmed Meeting without a paid pastor, in August, we added a paid Meeting Care Coordinator to help strengthen the meeting’s outreach and in-reach. Mey Hasbrook has brought energy and initiative to this work.  Her arrival accelerated our work identifying message givers for worship.  She brought new program ideas and strengthened our pastoral care activities. 

Losses and Gains.  Clarabel Marstallar passed away just before the year began.  Midway through the year we lost Sukie Rice.  A generation apart in age, these two had been stalwarts of the Meeting for decades.  We also grieved the losses of longtime members and attenders Phyllis Wetherell, Edie Whitehead, Mildred Alexander and Jane Walters. 

Several newcomers found their way to join us in worship together.  We are grateful for their fresh energies. 

Still in COVID closure, Durham Friends Meeting is steadfast and hopeful.  We are discovering new ways we can be a community of worship, care and witness. 

We end with a poem from one of our members that speaks to our condition. 

I Have Longed to Be Back in the Meeting Room

By Katherine Hildebrandt

I long to be back in the Meeting room with each of you.  I do.

The quality of that space helps me center down, experience God’s spirit.

When I am in that room, I sense, as a Friend said recently, the spirit of those who are no longer with us.

I feel the spiritual presence of others who have sat in waiting worship before me.

When I go out each week to get the mail, I always take a few minutes to go

Into the Meeting room, and it settles me to do that.

In the meantime, we gather in this way.

Each of us in our own space, mostly alone.

But I do not feel alone.

I sense our connectedness, our mutuality.

I experience God’s presence, deeply and profoundly.

It’s curious, isn’t it?

That we, as Quakers, don’t call our place of worship a “Church”.

We don’t adorn our Meetinghouse; we don’t generally center our worship around rituals.

The “Church”, for Quakers, is the gathered people.

After the Meetinghouse burned in 1986, I remember Ralph Green, our minister at the time, say,

“We could meet in a barn!”

Ralph always looked on the bright side.

But it’s true for us, we can worship without the building, and we are.

I have sensed that, since March, our worship has settled into a deep place. I have felt nourished and held.

Our worship seems uncluttered, focused.

On God’s abiding love for us.

And our love and patience for each other.

Sometimes I stop and look at each one of you on the screen, and I send a silent prayer to each one.

Sometimes, I feel Prayed Through.

My hope for our Meeting is that when we can gather again at our beloved Meetinghouse,

That we can strive to maintain this simple, clear, direct connection to the spirit.

Leaving our outward differences at the door,

We can gather, find nourishment, to commune in that deep, eternal place.

In that place where we are one in the spirit.

Approved by Durham Friends Meeting, April 18, 2021

State of Society, 2019

In 2019, Durham Friends Meeting was a spiritually vital, supportive worship community in Maine’s lower midcoast.  Our numbers were a little diminished this year.  Nevertheless, there was strong ministry from a wide array of members. We looked after one another — sometimes in difficult situations–, and we leaned into our commitments to peace, justice and sustainability throughout the year.  

On a typical First Day, we gathered a few dozen people in worship.  Now in our third year as a programmed and yet unpastored Friends Meeting, messages are generally brought in turn by members of the meeting.  Occasionally we invite someone from a neighboring Meeting or a Friends organization to bring a prepared message.  Eighteen different members or regular attenders gave these messages this year.  The honesty of these efforts at seeking and speaking the truth are the soul of our Meeting. 

As we gather in worship, one or another Friend calls out a hymn for us to sing together.  A few much-appreciated members of the Meeting rotate the responsibility to play the piano to accompany this hymn singing.  We also close Meeting with a hymn chosen at the moment.  Often there is a wonderful resonance between the hymns we sing and the messages we share. 

We are a Meeting that takes delight in children, and we celebrate the births and significant moments in the lives of the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of our members and regular attenders.  One of our members, with assistance from others, takes care that a quilt is sewn and gifted when a child or grandchild is born, even at a distance.  We provide childcare and adult Sunday school every Sunday all year and offer Sunday school during the school year for children and youth on the first and third Sundays of the month.  Our Christian Education Committee sponsored several intergenerational game nights, a yard and plant sale, a Children’s Day, and wreath-making and egg painting occasions.  We are especially grateful for the work of our Youth Minister. 

Julie Fogg passed away in the spring, and Clarabel Marstaller passed away in the fall.    A mentor to many of us, for decades Clarabel was a stalwart member, a wise and cheerful steward of both this Meeting and of New England Yearly Meeting as well.   We mourn the passing of both.  We welcomed a few newcomers who have joined the Meeting this year, and we miss a few who have drifted away. 

We have been challenged this year to provide care for an unusual number of our members who are aging, ill, poorly housed or facing other significant life difficulties.  Providing the right approach and finding the right people with sufficient time to devote has been regularly before us.   We are grateful for the generosity of spirit and energy that has allowed us to meet these challenges, many of which continue. 

Our Peace and Social Concerns Committee has made climate crisis issues a particular focus of attention.  They hosted a film series, a youth panel and house parties to raise awareness, and sponsored climate crisis events with other churches in midcoast Maine.  They also supported lobbying efforts encouraged by the Friends Committee on National Legislation. 

Several of our members (and this has been true, too, in the past) are significantly involved in in wider engagements among Friends and the concerns that animate Friends.  These include New England Yearly Meeting, Friends United Meeting, AFSC, Pendle Hill, the Center for Courage and Renewal, the Lisbon Area Christian Outreach foodbank, promoting civility in public discourse, supporting refugees, sponsoring peace vigils around Bath Iron Works (a builder of war weapons), prison reform, the Kakamega Orphan Care Center in Kenya, and opposition to gun violence.  A hardworking affiliate of USFWI, our Woman’s Society continues to provide spiritual sustenance and practical support for nearly everything we do. 

The Meeting continues to host a Twelve-Step Group and a Native American worship group. 

Our Finance Committee gave needed attention to reorganizing the Meeting’s finances (especially its various funds and bequests), and our Trustees gave diligent attention to care for our Meetinghouse, rented parsonage and burial grounds. 

We are seeking wider attention to our community’s spiritual life, fellowship and our concerns and leadings.  We widened the purview of our Newsletter Committee to become a Communications Committee.  With that change we are trying to see how best to communicate – in both old and new ways — with all who are a part of Durham Friends Meeting. 

A very old Meeting, Durham Friends is finding ways to renew itself.

Approved at Monthly Meeting for Business on April 19, 2020

State of Society, 2018

In 2018 the State of our Society at Durham Monthly Meeting of Friends was healthy and thriving. We gather at our old brick Meetinghouse from towns north, south, east and west from Durham, forming a community grounded in a vital worship life that that both gives and receives strength from a range of other activities in the Meeting. We are still feeling our way, but more confidently, in our second full year of proceeding without a paid pastor.

Ministry and Counsel has accepted new responsibilities both for the worship life of the Meeting and for pastoral care of members and attenders. We love receiving messages from one another, sometimes in linked themes across weeks, and also as each individual is led. We also have been much enriched by invited message-bringers from outside the meeting. We continue to reserve 5th First Days in a month, when there is one one, for unprogrammed worship. We have been adjusting our regular schedule to accommodate expressed needs for more gathered silence during Meetings for Worship.

All of us are still not completely comfortable proceeding without a pastor, but we are finding ways to have various committees and individuals do what a pastor once did for us. An ad hoc committee appointed in 2017 led a yearlong consideration of the issues in proceeding without a pastor. We asked ourselves, what can we do to strengthen the Meeting? We came to focus on three needs to which we need to be attentive: pastoral care, outreach and coordination. Without a pastor, each of these areas is an important function with which we may struggle if we do not fresh approaches. An adult Sunday school meets regularly and we have been experimenting with prayer circles.

Our membership numbers have stayed relatively constant with a few passings and a roughly equal number of new members. Nearly every week we have visitors. We average 30 to 40 in worship each week except in the summer when, with one and another of us scattered to other Maine pleasures, numbers are a bit lower. We meet for business regularly and appreciate an excellent monthly newsletter.

Ministry Counsel has taken on responsibility for pastoral care of members. Having this as a committee responsibility rather that mostly relying on a pastor has been an important challenge. We have developed an organized approach to seeing that we are attending to all expressed needs. Some of us are still learning to see a visit from a fellow member rather than a pastor as pastoral care.

We take delight in the presence of children among us and are grateful for the creativity and care of our Youth Minister. We provide childcare every Sunday, and children’s programs on 1st and 3d Sundays. Our Christian Education Committee continues to be a source of vitality for the whole Meeting. It has developed an inter-generational approach to reaching out to families and provides spiritual nurture to youth through Godly Play and Young Friends seeking. CE also arranged a series of Game Nights for children of all ages and these will continue. Through our budget and extra efforts we arranged support for several children to attend Friends Camp.

We aim to make a difference in this world guided by the Spirit, love and our understanding of scriptures. Our Peace and Social Concerns Committee has new members and new energies for a variety of initiatives. The Kakamega Orphan Care Center, Lisbon Area Christian Outreach’s food bank, witnessing for peace at Bath Iron Works, a quilting project to address gun violence, the American Friends Service Committee and Seeds of Peace camp all received our attention and support. Towards the end of the year, P&SC arranged a thought-provoking social justice film series.

Our Trustees have been faithfully attentive to caring for our Meetinghouse, horse shed, parsonage burial grounds, and phone/internet service. Each has needed and received attention. Our Finance Committee and our Treasurer have the Meeting’s financial house in good order. We vexed ourselves with disagreements about whether and which clock to allow in the Meeting room but we appear to have found a solution. We share the Meetinghouse regularly with a 12-step Group and a Native American fellowship group.

Outreach has been a question on our minds. How can we reach out beyond ourselves to bring our message and the delights of our community to others? We have taken this on as a challenge for all of us, as we turn to a new year.

Approved at Monthly Meeting for Business, March 17, 2019, Sukie Rice, Presiding Clerk