What is an epistle? At their yearly gatherings, Quaker groups often write a letter describing their work and how Spirit has been moving within the group. This letter is an epistle. The epistle is designed to be shared with other Quakers and groups around the world. Please share it with your local meeting. You can read other epistles from yearly meetings and Quaker groups at fwcc.world/epistles-from-quaker-groups-from-around-the-world
Dear Friends everywhere,
New York Yearly Meeting met for Summer Sessions July 24–July 31, 2021 (again on Zoom in this second year of the Covid-19 pandemic) and acknowledged the lands of the many First Nations we inhabit across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Two hundred and fifty Friends were registered. Of these, 54 were first time attenders and 36, including 9 of the first timers, identified themselves as young adults.
For three weeks before we met in sessions, 47 interest groups attracted 230+ Friends and explored climate change, racism and anti-racism, spiritual accompaniment, and many other ways to live into our testimonies.
The Sessions Committee made the decision not to offer programming for children and youth during our summer sessions based on Zoom fatigue among our young Friends in 2020. We missed our children, and we will be sending out a mailing of activities for youth and families in the yearly meeting over the next few weeks.
Our Bible study, every morning of the week, helped us explore sanctuary as the place where God dwells, in the First Testament as a physical place—where Jacob wrestled with his angel, the burning bush that Moses saw, and the movable Tabernacle—and in the Second Testament as living water within us.
We examined our theme, “Becoming a Sanctuary Where Spirit Dwells,” especially as it relates to our work toward becoming an anti-racist faith community. Our plenary speaker, Emily Provance, told us that “To embody sanctuary is to rest in the overwhelming presence of God.” But she warned that true sanctuary is not always calm, well-behaved, and safe; being searched by the Light is a wrenching experience. Are we ready to learn and to be changed? To reach beyond what’s comfortable? We need to keep reminding one another that “We all live by grace.”
White Friends felt that discomfort as we all were challenged to search for a way to confront patterns of oppression and micro-aggression, which White Friends may not even recognize. How can we “call each other in” to faithfulness to our ideals with justice, mercy, and love? Our Clerk warned us that “we” can be a dangerous word, and she encouraged us, when we hear something that hurts us, to tell the body Ouch, to let the assembled Friends know that there was an injury. In the same way, we could say Oops to acknowledge our own hurtful words or deeds. Some Friends later shared their pained concern that this practice might damage our community.
Steve Mohlke, our General Secretary, told us that he sees some progress toward inclusivity: our “Pay as Led” program makes it easier for everyone to attend Summer Sessions; this year all the clerks of our Meeting for Discernment were young adults; we say “white Friends” when that’s what we mean, instead of “we.” He gave us a new goal: 100 Friends from around the yearly meeting to attend a weekend of deep anti-racism training.
Our State of Society report this year told us that our vulnerability can bind us together and ended with a question: “How will we grow into the future?” This is difficult work, and where we are right now doesn’t feel comfortable. We were encouraged to practice “shame resilience”—acknowledge the micro-aggression we have committed, feel the shame, and get over it.
Our Meeting for Discernment, a full day of worship with queries about our experience of sanctuary, included written responses from our worship groups among incarcerated men, who told us their experiences in this year of pandemic.
We approved a minute to urge the Government of Japan not to release highly radioactive water into the Pacific from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
We approved a minute in support of the Truth and Healing Commission for Native Peoples, which confronts our complicity (as a nation and as Friends) in the atrocity we called “Indian Boarding Schools.”
After we heard the epistle from the General Meeting of Friends in Mexico in English, one of our members read the epistle to us in Spanish con mucho gusto and told us how vividly it rekindled her memories of her time among Quakers in Mexico. The epistle spoke of their loss during the pandemic and reminded us of the plight of Latinx migrants.
Diane Randall of Friends Committee on National Legislation talked about the difficult but exciting work of connecting over time with people she disagrees with and her appreciation for the nurture and support she has received by traveling and worshiping among Friends during her decade of service with FCNL.
Two afternoons were spent looking at racism among us and how to become an anti-racist community. These sessions searched us and our practice and challenged many of our assumptions about ourselves as Friends. They helped prepare us to consider in our monthly meetings a proposed statement of this intention: “As a yearly meeting we commit to work toward becoming an actively anti-racist faith community. May we be faithful.”
With the loving assistance of God and one another we seek to be faithful, remembering that we all live by grace.
In loving Friendship,
Elaine Learnard, Clerk
New York Yearly Meeting