Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
17100 Quaker Lane
Sandy Spring, MD 20860
Phone: (301) 774-7663
Fax: (301) 774-7087
Riley Robinson, General Secretary
The first Quaker known to visit the colonies of Maryland and Virginia was Elizabeth Harris, who came in 1655 or 1656 and found an immediate response. She was followed by a stream of others traveling in the ministry of the new faith. Many people of Maryland and Virginia joined the new movement. Although few early records of Virginia Yearly Meeting exist, it appears that George Fox initiated the first movement toward organization in that colony during his visits in 1672 and 1673.
In Fourth Month 1672, John Burnyeat, who was about to return to England after a lengthy ministry, called a General Meeting (to last several days) on West River, south of present-day Annapolis, for all Friends in the Province of Maryland. It happened that George Fox and several other English Friends had been visiting in Barbados and Jamaica, and arrived in Maryland in time for that historic meeting, which marks the beginning of Baltimore Yearly Meeting of Friends.
In his Journal George Fox recorded this event:
Then there was a meeting appointed by John Burnyeat about three score miles off, which held four days, which we went to though we were weary. And there came to it … many considerable people of the world, and a glorious meeting we had. After the public meeting there were men’s and women’s meetings [for business] and I opened to Friends the service thereof and all were satisfied.
(George Fox, 1672)
Although little opposition was met in Maryland, which tolerated any Christian sect, the situation was different in Virginia, where only the established Church of England was allowed. There was much persecution, particularly on the Eastern Shore, forcing the Quakers to migrate northward into Maryland. Elsewhere in Virginia, the Quaker movement prospered in spite of opposition.
By 1700 there were about 3000 Quakers in Maryland, possibly the largest religious body in the colony at that time. The Yearly Meeting for Maryland held two sessions annually, one at West River and the other at Third Haven (now Easton) on the Eastern Shore. After 1774 sessions were held but once a year, alternating between the eastern and western shores of the Chesapeake Bay. In 1785 the western shore meeting place was transferred from West River to Baltimore.
With the building and improvement of roads on the Eastern Shore, Friends there were drawn toward Philadelphia as a center of commerce. At the same time the Friends from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting who were migrating to Northern Virginia, Western Maryland and adjacent parts of Pennsylvania and establishing meetings there, found Baltimore to be their urban magnet. In 1790, by mutual agreement of the two yearly meetings, all Maryland’s Eastern Shore meetings were assigned to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and all meetings in Northern Virginia, Western Maryland, Nottingham Quarter and meetings farther west in Pennsylvania were assigned to Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
Our Faith Community is comprised of local Meeting communities in Maryland, Central Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Virginia, and West Virginia. We practice “unprogrammed” Quaker worship. That is we gather together in silent worship to wait on the word of God. We do not make use of a paid clergy or sacramental rituals. Rather we meet each other in a friendly atmosphere where anyone who feels strongly led to speak can do so. Many Friends give their time and resources to promote peace, understanding, justice and integrity. Through out these pages you will read of the faith work of each of the groups mentioned below.
Local Meetings – Regular worship at local congregations. Many are are referred to as “Monthly Meetings” because they usually meet at least once a month to make decisions about issues and concerns that affect the local group. There are usually committees in these groups that bring forward recommendations and take care of work that the Meeting is undertaking.
Quarterly Meetings – Gatherings several times a year (most four times thus the name “Quarter”) of members and attenders of local Meetings in a designated region. Some Quarters are more organized than others, having committees like local Meetings. Others gather simply for fellowship.
Yearly Meeting – Annual gathering of people from all the Quarters with in its region as well as visitors from other Yearly Meetings. This is includes a year round organization of volunteers and paid staff. Standing Committees and working groups of volunteers work with the staff to implement programs through out the year.
We joyfully invite and welcome all seekers to join us in worship.
Who We Are
Baltimore Yearly Meeting is a regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends that has existed for more than 300 years. Geographically, it includes most of Virginia, the portion of Maryland west of the Chesapeake Bay, central Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and parts of West Virginia. It has about 4,740 members–Friends of all ages–organized into 40 established Monthly Meetings plus 13 Preparative Meetings and Worship Groups. Like any Friends Meeting, the Baltimore Yearly Meeting comes together for gathered worship and corporate discernment, seeking to know God’s will.
In many ways a Yearly Meeting is the central organizing unit of the Religious Society of Friends. No larger Quaker body has authority over the Yearly Meeting. Books of discipline, defining the faith and practice of Friends, are developed and approved at the Yearly Meeting level. It is the Yearly Meeting that knits local Meetings into the Religious Society of Friends; recognition by a Yearly Meeting distinguishes a Quaker Monthly Meeting from a non-denominational worship group. Friends ask for membership at the local level, and may not realize that they are also joining a Yearly Meeting, but their Yearly Meeting membership is what makes them part of the Quaker movement.
Like a Monthly Meeting, the Yearly Meeting exists to build community, to support the life of the spirit, to discern right action, and to bear witness in the world. Like a Monthly Meeting, it carries out these responsibilities through shared worship, regular Meetings with a Concern for Business, ongoing committee work, and sponsored projects. A Yearly Meeting, in other words, can best be understood as an ordinary Friends Meeting, on a much larger scale.
The central responsibility of Baltimore Yearly Meeting is corporate discernment. Much of this takes place during the week-long Annual Session held each summer, to which all members of the Yearly Meeting are invited. Annual Session offers programs for children, worship and Bible study, workshops, interest groups, plenary speakers, and daily business sessions. Between Annual Sessions, the work of our Yearly Meeting is carried forward by Interim Meeting, which meets in October, March and June. Again, all Friends are welcome to attend. Yearly Meeting committees are encouraged to meet on Interim Meeting days, and may meet at other times during the year as needed. Local Meetings or individual Friends can bring their ideas, concerns and proposals to a Yearly Meeting committee, which may bring these forward to Interim Meeting or to the Annual Session for further discernment, thus enabling BYM to speak with a corporate voice in the world. Friends are encouraged to let Yearly Meeting Nominating Committee know if they would like to serve on a particular committee. Many hands are needed to do the work of the Yearly Meeting.
Baltimore Yearly Meeting, through its committees and staff, offers a wide range of programs designed to build community and support spiritual growth. The largest is the summer camping program, operating three separate camps in Maryland and Virginia (Catoctin, Opequon, and Shiloh) and a Teen Adventure program for older campers. An active youth program sponsors weekend gatherings throughout the year for middle schoolers (Junior Young Friends), high schoolers (Young Friends). Young Adult Friends take charge of their own program that enables them to network and nurture one another. The BYM Spiritual Formation Program draws together groups of Friends throughout the Yearly Meeting to nurture individual spiritual growth in community. The January Women’s Retreat, the annual Peace Networking Day, and other programs and events support spiritual life and community among Baltimore Yearly Meeting Friends.
As part of a network of Quaker Yearly Meetings around the world, Baltimore Yearly Meeting is a gateway to the larger Quaker universe. It connects individual Friends to a range of Quaker “umbrella” organizations, from Friends World Committee for Consultation, to Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting, to Friends Committee on National Legislation and the American Friends Service Committee. Many Friends from around the country have attended Baltimore Yearly Meeting Annual Session in recent years, and there have been an increasing number of visitors from overseas, thanks to the work of the ad hoc Intervisitation Committee. The Annual Session provides opportunities to learn about other Quaker organizations, and to meet with a wide variety of Friends face-to-face.
The search for unity among Friends, grounded in worship, is at the heart of Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s mission. In strong local Meetings Friends learn to listen deeply to each other, to care for one another, to engage with each other, and not to walk away when things get hard. At the Yearly Meeting level, Friends have a chance to practice the same Quaker ways. What binds us together as Friends is the belief that we can find unity, if we dig deeply enough. All it takes is an attitude of patience, openness, humility and love, with creativity and a sense of humor thrown in for good measure. Baltimore Yearly Meeting challenges us to expand our understanding of what it means to be a Quaker and part of a Quaker community. In fellowship, in deep listening, in waiting worship, in commitment to each other, it richly rewards those who embrace the challenge of being a “Yearly Meeting” Friend.
The office of Baltimore Yearly Meeting is located in Sandy Spring, Maryland. The staff consists of a General Secretary, a Youth Secretary, a Camp Program Secretary, a Camp Property Manager, a Development Director, a Comptroller, and an Administrative Assistant. The staff is overseen by BYM’s Supervisory Committee, and staff members serve at the direction of the gathered body of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. The BYM Presiding Clerk is Betsy Meyer, and the Clerk of Interim Meeting is Meg Meyer.
“History of Baltimore Yearly Meeting.” Baltimore Yearly Meeting. Web. <http://www.bym-rsf.org/who_we_are/history>.”Meetings.” Baltimore Yearly Meeting. Web. <http://www.bym-rsf.org/who_we_are/meetings>.”Who We Are.” Baltimore Yearly Meeting. Web. <http://www.bym-rsf.org/who_we_are/>.