NYYM Epistle 2022
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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