At Alexandria Friends Meeting, we look back on the past year with a feeling of gratitude. For many of us, it has been an especially hard year. There are quite a few among us who have lost their jobs in the economic downturn. There have been serious injuries and illness in some of our families. We, as a community, cannot make these things right, but we can offer a place of peace and solace to those who are suffering. We can love each other through the bad times as well as the good. We are grateful for our strong, loving community made up of such a remarkable diversity of seekers.
Our meetings for worship continue to support and nourish our community. We appreciate the depth of shared silence we experience regularly on First Day, and the simple, heartfelt ministry that sometimes rises out of it. We continue to seek ways to ensure that worship is not interrupted by late-comers and other distractions. Toward the end of our hour together, we joyfully welcome in the children—sometimes only a few, sometimes a dozen or more. We have been pleased to note how, over time, our youngest Friends are learning to settle into the silence. Our midweek meeting for worship is attended by a small but faithful group of Friends, and we have recently begun holding extended worship on Saturday morning once a month, to provide an opportunity for deeper surrender to silence and Spirit.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Alexandria Friends Meeting is our strong sense of community. We share a common meal every First Day after worship, provided by our hardworking Hospitality Committee. From September through June, we offer Adult Religious Education programs in the hour before worship. Since most presenters are meeting members and attenders, this gives us a chance to honor each other’s gifts and concerns while deepening our own understanding of the Quaker Way. We have a Committee on Healing Ministry that meets regularly to hold in the Light those in the meeting who are ill or troubled. During the past year we have put together a list of Friends able to provide particular kinds of practical help or pastoral care, so that we can respond even more readily to needs within our meeting community.
We have also revived our Outreach Committee, with the goal of knitting newcomers into the meeting. One result has been a series of monthly gatherings hosted by different families in the meeting as an opportunity for fun and fellowship. We also held our first meeting retreat in many years. After a Spring day at the Friends Wilderness Center, filled with worship, singing, food, and fun, we came home feeling uplifted, spiritually nourished, and closer than ever to each other. In the Fall we came together to celebrate the musical talents of our members, in a joy-filled fundraiser for United Community Ministries, an inter-denominational service organization in which we have been active for many years.
Alexandria Meeting seeks to be a place of spiritual hospitality. We invite everyone who comes to worship to share in our common meal and fellowship, from visiting Friends to the homeless people in our area. We encourage new attenders to get involved in our Spiritual Formation program, where they will have a chance to share their spiritual journeys throughout the year in an intimate, small group setting. We have a wonderful group of volunteers in our Children’s Religious Education program offering childcare and First Day School classes. Erratic attendance has made it difficult to present an ongoing curriculum, but we are encouraged by the large number of young families drawn to our meeting in part because of the way their children are welcomed and nurtured.
We try to live out our witness through service to our local community. Our children make sandwiches once a month for one of the nearby homeless shelters. We participate in a Hypothermia Outreach Program during the winter, helping to cook meals and serve as overnight chaperones at an emergency shelter. Through our Peace and Social Concerns Committee, and through individual efforts, we support a variety of Quaker witness throughout the world. We are active in the work of William Penn House, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and the Friends Wilderness Center.
Economic pressure during the past year brought to the surface serious questions about the relationship between Alexandria Friends Meeting and the wider Quaker world. We were forced to cut back on our contributions to outside Quaker organizations, including Baltimore Yearly Meeting. Our relationship with the yearly meeting has been subjected to intense scrutiny, with some Friends questioning the value of this relationship, and others fervently defending it. We have begun to find unity in the idea that we might get more out of our yearly meeting membership more if we were more active in the affairs of the yearly meeting. Although the doubts and questions are likely to remain, we look forward to a gradually increased participation by our members in the coming years.
One ongoing challenge is how to care for our property, encompassed as we are by Fort Belvoir. Trustees and Property Committee joyfully accept responsibility for maintaining and enhancing our 164-year old “Woodlawn” meetinghouse and grounds, through careful management of our endowment. Our newly expanded Heritage and Community Relations Committee works hard to ensure that our property remains a quiet and peaceful setting for silent worship. This year the meetinghouse has finally been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and a preservation easement was negotiated to prevent development nearby. This work may not at first seem spiritual in nature, but those who carry it have felt strongly supported by Spirit, experiencing not only a deep connection with our heritage, but a joyful unity with Friends currently involved in the entire ministry of our meeting. As a quotation on our website describes it:
“During the years of its existence, the Woodlawn Meeting House has seen the surrounding community develop from wilderness to farming area to suburbia. Now circumscribed by a modern, active military reservation, the modest, white frame building sits serene and aloof on its plot of hallowed ground—a symbol of peace, a reminder that ‘God’s in his Heaven,’ a renewal of hope for the future.”