DRAFT State of the Meeting Annual Report - 2017
Note to members of the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting community: This draft document has been reviewed by the clerk and assistant clerk of the Meeting, and by the clerks of the standing committees. We will be discussing it at an upcoming meeting for worship with attention to business. Once we have approved the final language we will pass it along the Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting for eventual transmission to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
If you want to record your own suggestions, click to send an email to the meeting secretary; suggestions will be collected and can be considered at the March meeting for worship with attention to business. The DRAFT is also attached as a downloadable PDF for those who prefer to read the 5-page document on paper; see the Files section at the bottom of this page.
Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting
State of the Meeting Report, 2017 - DRAFT
Since our last State of the Meeting Report in 2011, Chestnut Hill Meeting has undergone tremendous change and growth. In 2013 we held our first meeting for worship in our new meetinghouse. The new meetinghouse has ushered in a new era for us, bringing both joys and challenges.
With a larger, more accessible space, our attendance has grown to about 80 regular attenders per week. We have been blessed to have had several families and individuals requesting membership each year, so that our membership has remained steady at around 200, even as we have lost about 60 members in the past decade due to death, transfer, resignation and release. We feel especially grateful that our new members and attenders include people of color and families with children, making us a younger and more diverse community than we were in prior decades.
Our discernment about the membership process is ongoing, with specific considerations about how long someone should have attended before requesting membership and how to handle membership requests from individuals with mental health challenges. In a joint committee meeting of Care & Counsel and Worship & Ministry, we discerned that preparing our attenders for membership is a long-term process that begins with their first visit. Our challenge is to find ways to encourage their active involvement in our community, instruct them in our Quaker practices, and nurture their spiritual growth.
In recent years our after-meeting hospitality offerings have increased, with refreshments now offered almost every week. Having more opportunities to make connections among ourselves and with newcomers makes us a stronger, closer community. It also places a greater burden on our Hospitality Committee, and over time we have found ways to make this more efficient, for example in rotating responsibility among committees and serving simpler refreshments when we can.
With more visitors and rentals, we have worked to address safety issues at the meetinghouse under the direction of two new Safety Coordinators. They are guiding committees in examining all aspects of our Meeting life from the perspective of safety, including physical safety (e.g., fire evacuation procedures), child safety, the safety of renters in our building, and the safety of Meeting employees and volunteers. This safety effort was in part prompted by some instances of worrisome behavior by individuals with evident mental health issues. The counsel of meeting members who are mental health professionals has been important in guiding our search for appropriate responses. One outcome was the scheduling of a Mental Health First Aid training offered as a Saturday workshop; some 25 people from our Meeting and at least one other monthly meeting attended. Our work on safety guidelines is ongoing, as is our discernment in how to balance our commitment to inclusivity with our responsibility to keep our community safe.
With a diverse and constantly shifting population, our Meeting’s spiritual condition is difficult to describe; we are not homogeneous. While we have many long-time, well seasoned members and attenders, we also have a constant stream of people new to Quakerism. Many in both categories would probably accept the label of “seeker,” indicating that their beliefs and spiritual practices are open to new sources of inspiration and that they are actively working to deepen their spiritual lives. There is a vibrancy of seeking here among newcomers who are drawn to the Meeting because it offers an experience of quiet and an opportunity for centering amid all of the outside bombardment of noise.
An influx of new people has affected our worship experience. Our meetings for worship tend to be quite vocal, often with 6 to 8 messages, and we sometimes have less grounded ministry, drawing too heavily on personal stories or current events. This problem is compounded when new attenders hear ungrounded ministry and take this as a model for what vocal ministry should be. We attempt to address this by offering many opportunities for members and attenders to learn more about Quaker history and practices, including: offering new members a Special Friend for their first year of membership; organizing spiritual friendship groups; and hosting Seekers’ meetings several times a year. We sometimes use eldering to address concerns about vocal ministry, but we believe this practice should be Spirit led and deeply grounded, consisting in large part of listening, compassion, and building trust.
In our meetings for worship with attention to business we try to balance the need for effective decision-making with opportunities for grounded discernment. We are always considering ways to increase attendance at these meetings, as only a small group (20% to 30% of those coming to worship) currently participate in our decision-making. In past few years we have benefitted from the practice of assigning at least one elder to hold our proceedings in the Light.
We believe that one of our key responsibilities is to nurture and support the spiritual journeys of the children in our Meeting, instilling in them the principles of our Quaker faith as well as the capability and responsibility to act on principles in their lives. Our hardworking Religious Education Committee runs First Day School for 50+ enrolled children, with anywhere from 20 to 40 attending each week. Several families have been attracted to Chestnut Hill Meeting because of our vibrant FDS program, and some even travel a significant distance to get here. Family Meetings for Worship, held several times a year, are a valuable opportunity for intergenerational connection. One challenge is that a dedicated group of RE committee members has been worn out by the demands on their time and energy without the support they need from the Meeting at large in terms of volunteers and new committee members. We are also concerned about the spiritual wellbeing of our RE Committee because they consistently miss most or all of worship due to their teaching responsibilities. A recently-hired FDS coordinator should give some relief to the committee and make our FDS more sustainable.
Our Adult Class, typically offered twice a month before worship, is another tool we have to deepen the spiritual foundation of our meeting. The Adult Class has grown larger and more active over the past few years, with an average of 20 attendees at each class; on occasion attendance has exceeded the capacity of the room (about 25). A wide variety of class offerings are intended to educate our community about Quakerism as well as other faith traditions and to explore topics of current interest. We offered a series of classes on the fundamentals of Quakerism, as well as on prayer, vocal ministry, queries, and the Yearly Meeting’s new draft Faith and Practice. Members shared accounts of their own ministry in the world. Another series helped members better understand Islam and connect with a local mosque.
Our Witness to the World
We are troubled by the state of the world and challenged to find ways to bear witness to violence and injustice. As part of our commitment to peace and equality, we are called to engage in a variety of actions to work toward a better world. We lift up and support many individual ministries, prominent among them Earth Quaker Action Team and Historic Fair Hill. Our Peace and Social Concerns Committee offers $5,000 a year in grants to organizations nominated by our members. We also support several ministries of the Meeting. For the month of July we host homeless families through the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network and we support this organization in other ways throughout the year. A new Meeting ministry has been the emergence of a Refugee Support Working Group, which has raised more than $7,000 for Lifeline, a program run by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to provide cash assistance to Syrian refugees living in Jordan.
As part of our commitment to equality, we are led to work against systemic racism in our society as well as within ourselves. In 2017 we co-sponsored a class on Mindfulness and White Privilege. Our Worship and Ministry Committee chose the question of white privilege and its effect on our spiritual journeys as the topic for our annual retreat. Our Meeting spent several months in discernment around a minute on racism, approved in November 2017. In crafting this minute, we worked together to find a balance between acknowledging our past failings and pledging our commitment to future action. Following this process, committees and individuals in our community are discerning how we are called to carry out the challenging work of exposing and redressing racism within our Meeting and in the world beyond.
When we built this meetinghouse, it was our hope that it would be a community resource as part of our ministry of outreach, and in many ways that desire has been fulfilled. On a given week, in addition to our Meeting’s own events, our meetinghouse is the site of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous meetings, classes offered by Mount Airy Learning Tree, concerts, weddings, and baby showers. We are the home of member Katy Hawkins’s Shiné yoga program, with classes four days a week. Twice a year we serve as a polling place. We are pleased to be able to offer a welcoming, accessible venue to so many in our community, and we see this as part of our ministries of hospitality and outreach.
We continue to learn about our leadings as individuals and as a community and our capacity to love and act in the world, as well as our limitations.
We are still adapting our building and its grounds to our needs as a community. Our Property Committee has worked hard to learn about and maintain our new space, as well as to address unexpected issues such as roof damage and plumbing repairs. With larger outdoor space, our Landscape Committee has been challenged to plant and maintain landscaping that is both functional and attractive, including gardens of native plants in stormwater swales. We built an outdoor playspace for our children with help from a design class at a local Friends school. In 2017 we installed solar paneling on the roof to reduce our environmental impact.
Our Skyspace light installation, Greet the Light, designed by Quaker artist James Turrell, has been experienced by more than 11,000 visitors since we opened it to the public in October 2013. The contemplative nature of the experience has affinity to our Quaker worship, and some of those who first visited to see it returned later to worship with us. At the same time, the additional work of hosting and maintaining this artwork has brought us new tasks and considerations as a community. The newly formed Skyspace Committee schedules, advertises, maintains, and hosts Greet the Light.
Our budget and financial situation has changed along with the growth of our community and our move into the new meetinghouse. The Meeting undertook a coordinated capital campaign to raise the funds for the meetinghouse and the Turrell Skyspace, reaching out to the Meeting community and the wider world. As the fundraising and building stages came to a close, we had more energy to devote to other priorities; some committees were dissolved and others created to address our changing needs. One of these new committees, the Stewardship Committee, ensures long-term capital reserves to enable us to meet future needs, including preserving the Turrell Skyspace.
Chestnut Hill Meeting does not have an unrestricted endowment, so the operating expenses of the Meeting are mostly met through donations from members and attenders. Donations have increased from across our community, and we receive additional income through an active meetinghouse rental program, primarily to local religious and non-profit groups. This income covers the day-to-day expenses of running the Meeting as well as covenants and grants programs. We offer grants to various nonprofits through our Peace and Social Concerns Committee, and our Finance Committee oversees the distribution of funds to the various Quaker organizations that we have committed to support. Through growth in all of these areas, our budget has almost doubled since the last report, allowing us to support a rich and active Meeting life.
Our overall financial situation is healthy as the Meeting has run balanced budgets every year since moving into the new meetinghouse, improved its balance sheet by paying down part of our mortgage, and set aside funds for the future needs of the Skyspace.
We are grateful to have had this opportunity to assess our strengths and challenges as a community. We are blessed in the foundation of Quaker tradition and institutions as well as in the renewal we gain from the constant inflow of new energy and ideas. All of these bring us closer to each other and to the Divine.