NYYM Epistle 2022

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NYYM Letterhead

July 2022 


Dear Friends Everywhere, 

After a pandemic-induced two-year hiatus, F(f)riends of New York Yearly Meeting gathered at Silver Bay on Lake George, eager to reconnect in person and online for our first ever hybrid  Summer Sessions. The in-person experience, made possible by donning KN95 masks, testing, and quarantining as necessary, was not what we have been used to, and sitting apart among  empty seats made many nostalgic for an auditorium full of children, families, and elders. Our  hard-working tech team helped mitigate the absences by enabling online F(f)riends to be part  of our hybrid community as they listened deeply to each day’s vocal ministry and offered  messages in turn. 


At our opening worship, we were called to remember the Indigenous Peoples that have lived  here, and the Abolitionist and free enslaved people who found safety here; we gathered in this  place remembering their structured commitment to share the resources and healing of the  world peacefully, as we are called to do today. 


In a three-part, two-day process that began in our opening worship, we saw a slide show set  to music that encouraged us to feel the grief, fear and loss of the pandemic, a guided  meditation to help us use that experience for healing, and an extended period of intergenerational play to help us “re-member” and heal as a community. 


In our first full Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, we heard both sobering  excerpts from the State of the Society report, detailing struggles and joys in our meetings, and  then an up-lifting report from the Powell House Capital Campaign, accompanied by a video  that highlighted the opportunities for growth and the needs of our retreat center. 


F(f)riends were deeply moved during our plenary gathering by the personal testimonies of the  Racial Justice Subcommittee of Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Ministry Committee and we  appreciated having their draft guidelines as a reference. Their “Stepping Stones to Sacred  Space,” begun as a process to address racial harms, expanded to include diverse harms done  in the spaces Friends gather. Their guidelines for healing encouraged F(f)riends to use the  words Ouch when someone’s words or actions have hurt you, Oops when you realize that  your own words or actions have wounded others, and Whoa when you’ve noticed a harm that  needs to be named. Not all F(f)riends were comfortable with this process, but we appreciated  the intention and care in their experiment with this healing work. 


Our two Meetings for Discernment followed by a Meeting for Reflection provided deep  extended worship in which F(f)riends shared painful truths we could neither unsee nor unknow. The recurring themes of racism and racial wounding, war, climate change, political  polarization, grief, and suffering were interspersed with calls for compassion, solidarity,  generosity, and gratitude for a loving God and a beloved community. We experienced the  power of personal witness to bring Light to the harms we may cause, the importance of deep listening in the healing process, the overlaps and gaps in service, witness, and ministry, and  the restorative understanding that the divine source of all three is one and the same, Spirit. 


In our Meetings for Worship with Attention to Business, as well as less-formally during the  week, we heard directly from those doing some of the work about the peace-making done by  Friends at the Quaker United Nations Office, how the Ramallah Friends School stands as a  Light for education in Palestine for all girls and boys, about the vibrance and resilience of the  FUM projects for education and peace-building in Kenya and elsewhere, and about FCNL’s  work supporting tribal sovereignty. 


At an extended Meeting for Worship with Attention to the Peace Testimony, we heard from  folks now or formerly in our yearly meeting about peace work they did following the 9/11  attacks, including personal testimonies on pacifism and peace work, as well as travel to Georgia during the Russian invasion to provide Alternatives to Violence Program training  and in-person support. We were joined live through Zoom by Georgian Friends living in Georgia and Germany who are continuing to support AVP and who are working to help Ukrainian refugees from the current Russian invasion. And we heard about how our daily  practices can contain the seeds of war and how to be alert to change those behaviors. 


We were saddened but could not be surprised that there were experiences of hurt and  disappointment. Our human condition was fully evident all week. Some who had to observe  the strictest of the Covid protocols were angry or frustrated. Some did not feel heard. Some  young people felt that they were not always fully included or welcome. May we hear this pain  and discontent and be open to guidance to do better as we know better.


Collective planting, plowing and tillage is necessary to cultivate our shared experience, this  Quaker garden (to employ the metaphor used in our general secretary’s message) of newly  expanded dimensions. It is not yet pristine or fully inclusive, and it needs tending, watering, and weeding to nourish growth and remove the harms that can lead to malformation and  disease rather than to health and abundance. Our new children, youth, and young adult  community director told us of some of the ways she - and all of us - can help our garden grow.


We are very grateful for our first hybrid experience of Summer Sessions and recognize the  work of our support staff and everyone who helped us to be together. This experience will  doubtless inform both online and in-person improvements for next year, but this week of regathering in Spirit has filled us from the “fountain of living water.” By embracing humility and continuing revelation, we can engage in the ongoing labor of cultivating a beloved  community, one that absorbs and reflects the Light of Spirit that is within us all.


In loving Friendship,
Elaine Learnard, Clerk
New York Yearly Meeting