“It’s Time to Write a State of Society Report,” February 19, 2023

Worship at Durham Friends Meeting on February 19, 2023 focused on our annual practice of writing a ‘A State of Society’ report for this Meeting for 2022. You can find State of Society Reports from previous years at this link.

Tess Hartford gave a message about State of Society Reports that also carried a request for contributions tyo our annual report.

         What is the State of Society Report? According to our Faith and Practice we receive these words as the purpose and value of such a report. “At the end of the calendar year, Ministry and Counsel should appoint one or more of its members to prepare and present to its sessions a report on the state of the monthly meeting. The report when approved should be forwarded to the Monthly Meeting. When approved by the Monthly Meeting, it should be forwarded to the quarterly meeting and then on to the yearly meeting. The report should be a searching self examination by the meeting and its members of their spiritual strengths and weaknesses and of the efforts to foster growth in the spiritual life. Reports may cover the full range of interest and concerns and should emphasize those indicative of spiritual health of the meeting.”

        Things to consider are following:

           ` Quality of worship and spiritual ministry;

           `efforts to foster spiritual growth;

           ` stands taken on Friends’ principles;

           ` personal and family relations;

           ` relations with community and other religious groups;

           ` participation in general activities of Friends;

           ` significant activities, outreach, or concerns of the local meeting;

           ` youth of the meeting; and

           `the meeting community;

And to this list I would also add; encouragement of gifts and leadings among meeting members and attenders. So those of us who make up the M&C committee have before us the charge if you will to generate this State of Society report, but as co-clerk of Ministry and Counsel, along with Renee Cote, I am eager to hear form all of you since we are all carrying various thoughts, sentiments, hopes and fears, and concerns as individuals. We are all in this together .What do you think are some of our strengths and some of our weaknesses? How have we grown together this last year? What are some of the challenges we face and where do we need to place more of our attention? And what is important to each of us as we face this new year ahead?

           I will share with you some of my “burden” on my soul. When I use the word “burden” I don’t mean something that is distasteful or repulsive or something I am so weighed down by that I feel hopeless.IN this instance when I use the word”burden” I frame it as a hea in vy concern. Then, if I name it, I can share it and when I share it, it becomes lighter, and not so heavy. In the words of our great teacher Jesus of Nazareth, we are heartened when he said, “Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. I am gentle and humble in spirit. Accept my work and learn from me” My burden is light!!!! Let’s meditate on that for a moment- my burden is light. We are given the word light- we have been given the light in which we are covered, covered, so that might carry that yoke of light wherever we are. The opportunity to embrace this light is through our relationship with the living Christ within. The Christ light that asks us to gently surrender our small grievances, our fears of uncertainty, our sense of hopelessness and our deep woundedness. A collective woundedness that we all experience through loneliness, isolation and our sense of separateness from life and from each other.

            I believe that in this examination of our lives as individuals and as a community of seekers, the burden of light requires us to pick up some of the lost threads, and to reach across the divides among us, to show up and submit to the light of God’s power and presence in order to heal our wounds. I believe that we must ask for the humility to see one another as true brothers and sisters, friends, and lean into each other with radical trust and openness. And so Friends, I ask each one of you to examine what is on your heart and to take a little time to write down what are your concerns, your sense of our strengths and weaknesses and to consider where the light is leading us for the good of the whole. What is important to you as a vital member of this community of the Society of Friends? We of M&C ask you to share your thoughts and hearts’ desires, so that we together can build on and continue to grow stronger. To become more forbearing, more loving, more vital and more compassionate with ourselves and the world..The body of Christ who pray and worship together, who work and joy together, who shine light in a world that sorely needs.it. Shining a light, respecting and appreciating our differences, siding on correctness of attitude and communicating our kindness to and with each other. Being a candle flame that can be felt and perceived even in the darkest of times. We have so much for which to be grateful.

At the beginning of Meeting, Leslie Manning (care of worship) read a letter from Sarah Gant (Clerk of the Meeting Accompaniment Group) and Noah Baker Merrill (General Secretary) of New England Yearly Meeting:

“It is that time of year when we gather in our local meetings to reflect on our collective condition as a faith community. This process is a chance to prayerfully reflect: What is our growing edge as a spiritual community? How is the Spirit moving among us? Where have we found sustenance and nurture? How have we sought to hold up and care for our meeting communities?

“The draft chapter on Ministry & Counsel (https://neym.org/engage-texts-currently-under-discussion) from the Faith and Practice Revision Committee offers some guidance on the State of Society process:

“Corporate discernment on its spiritual condition helps the community see how it has been led, how faithfully it has responded to challenges, and where it might need to focus its attention in the future. It helps bind the community and renew its sense of commitment.

“Reports may cover the full range of interests and concerns but typically emphasize those indicative of the spiritual health of the meeting—both that which is thriving and that which is challenging, changing, or needs strengthening, such as:

  • The quality of worship and vocal ministry
  • The strength of relationships and trust within the meeting community
  • Efforts to foster spiritual growth and evidence of growth
  • Possible hardships for the meeting, and how Friends are responding to those challenges
  • Significant events or activities in the meeting’s year together
  • Social or civic concerns of the meeting and stands taken on Friends’ religious principles
  • Service and relationship with Friends beyond the local meeting
  • Relations with the community and other religious groups

“It is important for us, as a gathered community of monthly meetings and worship groups across New England, to hear how Spirit is at work in our midst.

“from Sarah Gant, Clerk, Meeting Accompaniment Group and Noah Merrill, General Secretary, New England Yearly Meeting”

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