Spark, May 2011
15 Rutherford Place
New York, NY 10003
|New York Yearly Meeting News|
|The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)||May 2011|
|Editor, Paul Busby|
Envisioning the Future of Quakerism
Jens Braun, Old Chatham Meeting & Christopher Sammond, Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting
We cannot achieve what we cannot imagine.
Envisioning the future is hard to do. It’s hard to imagine a future that is not a logical extension of the trajectory we are on in the present. It takes energy, creativity, and vision to see what might be, rather than assuming that we will have more of what we have now. In this issue of Spark, Friends with those qualities—energy, creativity, and vision—share their thoughts about the future of our spiritual home, the Religious Society of Friends.
It is our hope that these visions for our future will get Friends engaged in imagining a vital Religious Society. Perhaps then we may, with God’s help, achieve what we imagine.
Releasing the Core Gift of Quakerism
Michael Bischoff, Twin Cities Meeting, Northern YM
If the Society of Friends has anything to say, it lies in this region primarily: Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center.
As the uncertainty and the pace of change keeps increasing in our societies, the world is getting increasingly hungry for the ability to rely more on a divine center, as our sources of external securities fall away. We hunger for the ability to be centered in the midst of rapid environmental and economic changes, for the ability to keep our eyes on the beloved community even in crisis. Institutions we have relied upon are crumbling, from Egypt to Japan to Wisconsin. Every organization in the world, from your neighborhood association to IBM, is grappling with how to function in this increased uncertainty, seeking ways to listen for and be open to the best possible future that is emerging. We’re in the midst of a multigenerational cultural shift from domination systems to partnership systems. The ways we approach this shift will have tremendous impacts on humans and all living things on the planet. I believe that Friends have a pivotal role to play in this shift.
As Thomas Kelly says, our central message is about the call and discipline of living from the divine center. This is a practice for both individuals and together as communities. Friends have 350 years of practicing in collectively listening for and seeking to following God’s guidance. This practice is based on the belief that our business can be guided by the Spirit, and that each voice in a community can help us hear another part of the Spirit’s message for us. We have reached a period of history where collective guidance by the Spirit is not just a religious luxury, but a necessity for our survival. For humans to release our grip on unsustainable ways of living, divine guidance will be needed.
Secular and religious leaders are discovering processes similar to Spirit-led discernment from many angles. Business researchers at MIT talk about “letting go and letting come” by opening our minds, hearts, and wills. The former CEO of Hanover Insurance, Bill O'Brien, said, “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” Phyllis Tickle, the author of The Great Emergence, talks about the unique gift that Friends have to offer the broader church in this time of major cultural shifts. Tickle describes this gift as “the paradoxical interplay of revelation, discernment, and Scripture in the life and governance of the body of Christ on Earth.”
Friends have things to offer and learn about noticing our inner conditions as we let go of personal preferences and let a collective, intuitive way forward arise. Early Friends sent forth the Valiant 60 to share the message and experience of Friends throughout the world. I believe we are in need of Valiant thousands to act from the deepest forms of discernment we know, and share the essence of this practice with every kind of group and organization around the world. All institutions—governments, businesses, congregations, families—operate in relationship with the Spirit and the Spirit’s call toward wholeness and shalom. Each group has its own language and cultures for heeding or ignoring the call of the Spirit. I hear a call to discover, together, how the practice of Friends can inform and grow in every kind of setting, not just the relative homogeneity that is within most of our meetinghouses.
We can apply an attention to the divine center in every group we are connected with, and we can invite other to join us—in our neighborhoods, schools, work, activism, and service. The language and approach to this invitation needs to be adapted to each setting—but in its essence, we can find opportunities to be still together, listen deeply to each other and to what life is calling us to do, test our sense of what is arising, and embody what arises while we continue to listen.
Quakers will sometimes be co-opted and lose our roots in giving ourselves to the sharing of Quaker discernment in all aspects of our lives. We will also be stretched and expanded into fuller integrity and faithfulness. This is not a time in history when purity of isolated communities is sufficient. We have examples among Friends to build upon. Parker Palmer has adapted Quaker practices to revitalize many in the education and other fields. Richard Foster has drawn on his Quaker foundations as a part of spreading a listening spirituality and experiential spiritual formation in the broader church. Each of us has our own communities, gifts, and opportunities to engage with as we go deeper into this relationship with the divine center.
To share Friends’ practices for living from a divine center, we have to know that process experimentally and rigorously in our lives and meetings. If we have anything to offer, it lies in this region. Are we willing, with divine guidance, to bring this gift fully into the struggles of our communities, locally and globally? Are we ready to be taught and changed in the process, so that we may be the clearest vessel for the healing God wishes for the world? I pray that we are.
Michael Bischoff is a part of Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group in Minneapolis and also a member of Twin Cities Friends Meeting, Northern YM. He facilitates discernment with a range of organizations through his consulting business, Clarity Facilitation (www.clarityfacilitation.com).
Where Are We Now?
Callid Keefe-Perry, Rochester Meeting
I have been sitting for weeks with the question posed to me in the request to write for this issue: How do I envision the future of the faith of the Religious Society of Friends? Over and over, in trying to sit with the future I have been driven back toward the present. How are we to get there—wherever “there” might be—if we don’t know where here is? What is our tradition about? What is at its core? Why do we worship? I found myself scarcely able to imagine the future given that I had a hard time even grasping the present.
It is not that I haven’t considered these questions. Far from it. It is that I am unclear that my responses to them would be anywhere near to normative. And that is when it Opened: the way forward is not in there being some “normative” response to those questions, but in having some response. In our meetings and homes we ought to be really asking these questions and expecting responses. Why do we come to worship? Do we really believe in Discernment? Do we even believe in God? What do we even mean by “God”?Can we unite with our Faith and Practice? If not, then what? We are all doing each other a great disservice by not having these conversations out in the open.
Contemporarily, we liberal Friends tend to resist articulating our beliefs. “All are welcome,” we say, and “none are turned away.” With this I unite. But what happens when someone comes through our door because she wants to know what we believe? What happens when someone believes something and isn’t sure they are welcome to believe it for lack of conversation? My hope for the future of our tradition is not one in which all agree, but one in which we are impelled into the transformation of inner and outer lives, conceived, nurtured, and pruned in discerning worship, the result of which ripens into Justice and the fruits of the Spirit. My hope for the future of our tradition is that we might then be empowered and encouraged to speak—regularly and profoundly—of our experiences of the Divine. Toward that broader vision I offer my perspective in hopes that you will offer yours. This is how Truth prospers with me.
I am agree with Friend Patrick Nugent as he writes that “whenever goodness radiates and transforms the heart, whenever the conscience rises up and stands in the revealing and liberating light of goodness, there, whether named or not, is the Bread of Life which never fades away, the redeeming presence of the risen and living Christ.” I stand with him and our forebears in the belief that practice of a full and authentic Christianity is grounded in experiences of Real Presence, mediated via the gift of the Holy Spirit and actually discernible in worship. My faith’s power is not in a mere ethic of compassion, an eternity of heavenly compensation at some later time, or the warm glow of community life in the present. My work is to practice coming into that Light, Life, and Power which takes away the occasion of all war, that Presence of God in which we are perfected—if only for a moment—and in which we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The path is to live lives that more and more readily resemble those moments revealed in prophetic ministry: to realize that we need not “build up” the Kingdom because it is already here among us, if only we would enter it.
I believe that much of contemporary progressive Christianity—including our own Religious Society—has become too close a bedfellow to generic liberal social concern and has turned too often to rationalism and modernity for its identity, becoming habituated to a pattern of accepting a series of “second bests” instead of waiting on the liberating power of God which insists upon justice in the present. I know that much of the history and narrative of the Christian tradition is dubious and—to be frank—hard to swallow. I know this and yet I know that there is no nourishment in the desert of doubt. I believe Paul Ricoeur was correct when he wrote that we are called beyond the desert of criticism to a Second Naïveté. Yes, there are times when it is best we not eat, for there is sickness to be purged, but we must acknowledge that hunger cannot be fed with starvation: eventually there comes a time when we are to take up the knowledge and precision gained through the wielding of our hermeneutic of suspicion and step with it out beyond doubt’s edge back into a place of surrendering belief. Not as naïve children, but as people of faith working on the basis of the substance of things hoped for but as yet unseen, trusting that in our faithfulness we will be led toward justice, granted compassion, and met with community. By virtue of our baptism in the Spirit we are called to this: belief.
And so…I believe in the resurrection of the body: as people of God we are called into a new life, into a new way of living on earth, while still in the flesh and with our feet yet made of clay. I believe that the story and hope of this new birth were with Jesus in his life and death and I believe that in his refusal to submit to the powers and principalities he offered even them the opportunity for redemption. We are called to do no less. I believe these things because they are what seem most right in the moments when I have been held under the holy power of God’s Spirit poured out. And yet, even as I am held in this power I feel called to resist the temptation to allow my sense of certainty to reign above my hospitality; to resist placing my sense of the truth over and above others’. I feel called to proclaim my testimony as exactly that: a concrete witness to the experience of God’s transforming capacity in my life and flesh and not some idealized and absolute external theology or creed.
I believe that the Living Water is yet live and that we are each invited to drink at that place of nourishment there beyond the desert, wherein we might also partake of the Bread and enter the Kingdom, for it is already here among us. If only we would enter. Enter and share the story of the land beyond.
We gain so much from hearing one another speak from hallowed places. Let your life speak.
Come Back to the Body.
Walter Hjelt Sullivan, Providence (PA) Monthly Meeting, PYM
I sense a revived yearning in the Religious Society of Friends to deepen and unite both our inner and our outer practice. I am inspired by early Friends who birthed a quality of religious freedom and personal spiritual authority not frequently experienced in the western world. And just as we long to live lives of power and truth, the world still groans for justice, wisdom, and ecological restoration.
The Psalmist advises, “Be still, and know that I am God,” but what does that mean for my day-to-day life?
George Fox says,
Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit from thy own thoughts, and then thou wilt feel the principle of God to turn thy mind to the Lord God, whereby thou wilt receive his strength and power from whence life comes, to allay all tempests against blusterings and storms.
Margaret Fell says,
Now, reader, in soberness and singleness of your heart, …. Let the truth of God have place in the heart . . . . for truly the Lord, whom we seek, will suddenly come to His temple, and who may abide the day of His coming.…
Isaac Penington says,
Give over thine own willing; give over thine own running; give over thine own desiring to know or to be any thing, and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee, and be in thee, and breathe in thee, and act in thee, and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that, and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of life, which is his portion.
What am I to make of these evocative passages?
Perhaps early Friends were skilled poets sharing metaphors for the spiritual life to reflect upon and be inspired by in the still quiet of corporate worship and personal devotion. On the other hand, perhaps they were particularly observant students of the subtle ways that Spirit actually moved in their own very real bodies! Perhaps then, instead of turning my mind to reflect upon the idea of a beautiful metaphor, I might learn to open my mind to the body to feel for guidance from God. When I do remember to wait bodily upon the Lord, I am sometimes visited by the strength, the power, and the joy, not so much as a good idea in the mind but as an actual experience in the body. Then, sometimes in words, some times in a way beyond words, the experience physically invites me to be the hands and heart of God in this world.
Many early Friends came from very simple backgrounds, worked with their bodies in the trades or in the fields, walked in a world that was naturally dark at night. Their eyes, ears and hearts were mostly filled by the natural sounds of the people, animals, and the natural world around them. They experienced the Divine in ways that made their selves and others quake.
In contrast, my experience as a modern western Friend is quite different. I live where the human mind rules. I attended a competitive high school and a good Quaker college. Much of my professional life has been to work with words, sitting at a computer. I move in a world that is artificially illuminated and where my ears (and therefore my body) are filled with radio, TV, the sounds of automobiles, and the constant beeping of electronic gadgets. Sometimes I do still quake in worship, but I wonder if that is a less frequent and more mild occurrence today than in the times of early Friends.
It is as if we have laid down extra layers of interference between ourselves and the direct experience of the body and of the natural world. Today, the journey back—through the body to the full power of the Holy Spirit—may be more encumbered, more littered with distraction.
To “be still,” as the prophet and George Fox declare, may be to become more observant, more careful, more humble students of the movement of the Spirit in and through the actual body—not just our own physical bodies, but also our corporate bodies, and even the body Gaia or mother earth herself.
As I come to experience the movement of the Spirit in and through the physical body, I find that I read scripture and the early Friends with a different ear, sit in worship in a different body, love the world with a different heart, and know God in a different way.
Not only is my experience of worship different, my understanding of the monthly meeting grows. I become interested in how love actually flows through the corporate body, in those practices that nurture the spirit of truth among us. I yearn for our meetings for business to become a corporate search for the direct experience of the Living God and less a conversation about good ideas.
I understand in a whole new way the injunction from George Fox to “walk cheerfully over the world…” Actually walking on the earth, like George Fox and John Woolman and countless known and unknown Friends, takes on new meaning. It lightens my carbon footprint, but I also get to see the world at a different pace and from a different vantage point.
I see that putting my body out in the world, standing there, and waiting to be guided can itself be a spiritual practice. These past few months I have joined with the Earth Quaker Action Team (http://eqat.wordpress.com/), working to end mountaintop-removal coal mining. I see that nonviolent direct action is a practice of discernment to be learned and developed and that the earth is calling out to us to take this practice up and possibly once again to fill the jails.
By coming back to the body—the physical body, the corporate body, and the body Gaia—by waiting on the life, the power, and the joy, Friends may yet, with Divine assistance, remember how to turn the world upside down. To be sure, the world waits for us.
Walter Hjelt Sullivan is a Quaker educator, nonprofit manager, and certified Breema practitioner and instructor. “Breema (www.breema.com),” Walter says, “is an esoteric form of bodywork and a commonsense approach to physical, mental, and emotional health.” Married for 24 years, he is the father of two daughters, one in college and one just graduated. A member of Providence (PA) Monthly Meeting, but currently attending Green Street (PA) Monthly Meeting, he occasionally blogs at http://whsbodywork.blogspot.com/.
Our Hope for the Future
Lee Haring, Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting
I recently heard about a meeting in which Friends were so uncomfortable with the “hierarchy” implied in the word worship that they wanted to replace it with reverence. I wanted to say, “Look, this is God we’re talking about. If Wikipedia has more authority for you, look him up there. You will find omniscience and omnipotence, among other attributes. You just decided you could do without God. He still has unlimited power, though, and still loves you.” I miss hearing about God in Friends’ vocal ministry. The mystical Quakerism, to which I was introduced seventy years ago by Rufus Jones and Douglas Steere, is withering. The Quakerism purveyed at Haverford College, in Haverford Meeting, and particularly in the course taught by William Wistar Comfort (president emeritus of the college), took its identity from the histories written by Rufus Jones and his predecessors. These, like the Friends World Committee for Consultation, created what we now call an imagined community, a sense of belonging to a human group larger than what one knows face to face. Intellectually, W. W. C. would have been more accurate to make his course a history of disjunctures and schisms, but that would have detracted from its quiet purpose. What we have today is a scattered set of meetings, peopled by aging Friends whose deep spirituality lacks the force, ambition, and agreement to lead a major renewal. The decay of Pendle Hill, and its distance from the Earlham School of Religion, illustrates the disconnections. The Religious Society of Friends is not a “natural” community, subsisting because it possesses some preexisting essence. If something is to be preserved under this name, as we’ve often heard, massive efforts must go into continually forming and re-forming it. Since there is no earthly Central Directorate, those efforts can only be made locally and individually by worshipers. Or shall they call themselves reverers? Faced with this lack of unity, and unwilling to transform itself, the Quakerism I learned back then will have to wither.
When, as a member of Brooklyn Meeting, I would introduce newcomers to Quakerism, noticing that many were of Jewish background, I wickedly began by emphasizing what Britain Yearly Meeting says at the beginning of its fourth Advice: “The Religious Society of Friends is rooted in Christianity and has always found inspiration in the life and teachings of Jesus.” To which some Friends today might answer, “Rooted, yes, but up here in the upper branches, the roots don’t seem as important as the breezes and fragrances from across the field.” The Advice goes on to ask, “How do you interpret your faith in the light of this heritage?” We answer, “We’ve pretty much left it behind. We don’t read the Gospels much. We prefer to take our direction, concerns, and priorities from the general liberal cast of well-to-do Americans who listen to National Public Radio.” Then comes the timeless query: “How does Jesus speak to you today?” It’s tempting to answer, “Who, me?” British Friends are then asked, “Are you following Jesus’ example of love in action?” We answer, “Some of us are, but it’s often hardest to love those who are closest by.” Yet one Friend in Brooklyn would remind us that what matters, in a Friends meeting, is how we treat one another, as if that should come first, before social concerns and good works. Then, “Are you learning from his life the reality and cost of obedience to God?” I answer for myself, “That reality and that cost, most of the time, are more than I can promise.” Finally, “How does his [Jesus’] relationship to God challenge and inspire you?” I answer, “By learning and reading about the historical Jesus. He does challenge and inspire me, but not to lead a new movement.”
George Fox’s challenge to 17th-century Englishmen and women was, “Christ is come to teach his people himself.” Christ: the ever-living source of divine wisdom and counsel (distinct from the historical Jesus, who also deserves our attention). Is come: divine leadings are always available (“24/7,” in the commercial jargon). To teach his people: if you are willing to be taught directly, and to set the atonement and the resurrection to one side, you are one of his people. Himself: the Religious Society of Friends does away with intermediaries between God and human beings; it positions the worshiper to receive divine guidance directly. Some of us are willing, indeed we are eager, to spend time in expectant waiting for divine guidance. Our hope for the future lies there.
A Testimony of Beauty
Jens Braun, Old Chatham Meeting
In our intentional community, my neighbor and good friend Paul has spent much time looking at present events and trends, and extrapolating consequences of these on the future. Paul thinks, given global climate change, peak oil, the precarious state of the US economy, corporate decisionmaking power in government, and a number of other factors, that human life on this planet will soon be very different than it is today.
I suspect that although many of us intentionally seek to live in both the present and the Presence, we hold a sense that “this age can’t go on much longer.” What is happening here is not sustainable.
This sense of unsustainability reaches beyond the beleaguered environment, the growth-based economy, and our wealth-influenced political system. A March 22, 2011, article in the BBC1 suggests that religion may be headed toward extinction in a number of national contexts. Despite the felt power of the religious right in this country, much has been written in recent years about mainstream churches and evangelical mega-churches losing members and selling off buildings.
Some Quakers in the US have long expressed concern at the steady decrease of membership in so many of our yearly meetings, including New York Yearly Meeting. What does the future hold, and what effect might Quakers have on it? What effect might the future have on Quakers? Most importantly, what is of great value to us today that we are taking forward?
I am writing this while doing a short assignment at the Ramallah Friends School in Palestine. Here there are many opinions about the future, and recent events around the region have people hoping the political and social future will look vastly different from the present. But in this part of the world, it is also easy to look to a past that has changed many times. Everywhere there is evidence of layer upon layer of human dreams, of empires come and gone, of religions followed for centuries and then disappearing.
This age may see the composting, if you will, of its empires just as empires of the past have decayed, yet it is different because technological developments and petroleum-based energy have allowed humans to increase in number and change the landscape in ways not previously imagined. I think about the archeological layer to be left by 20th and 21st century humanity. Perhaps (or not) new technology will solve our ecological crisis, and we will not dissolve quite so soon into a thick and plastic-laden archaeological stratum, but how likely is any technology to return meaning to religion or resolve social and political injustice? Those challenges will take something else.
What do Quakers have to offer this uncertain future? In the past we have been able to redesign the architectures of everyday life based on vision and experience of new mindsets. A friend of mine uses the example of the game of Monopoly in talking about architectures. If Jesus, Buddha, and Gandhi were to play Monopoly and follow the rules, it would not matter that the players are Jesus, Buddha, and Gandhi: one of the three would eventually end up with all the property deeds and hotels, the other two would lose, and the game would be over.
Monopoly, much like our current economic system and our approach to the environmental crisis, has an architecture that defines what the outcome will look like. Slavery was an architecture, as was the structure of rights women did or did not have. The US prison system, justice system, and militarized society are architectures, as are our Quaker ways of worship, discernment, and decisionmaking.
In recent decades we have focused substantial effort on changing either outcomes or their hurtful byproducts without much effort placed on changing the architecture that makes the outcomes inevitable. Quaker process can be very helpful for seeing the forest while among the trees. A first gift we can offer the future is that of recognizing architectures as just that, created structures and ways of doing things; as such they can be replaced with better options.
A second gift that Quakers have to offer is a response to the crisis of belief and faith that so many people are facing in their spiritual lives. Other denominations and religious groups ask their followers to believe. The Quaker way has been to ask, “What have you experienced?” Phrasing a question about spirituality in terms of “What do you believe?” is an example of architecture that can be changed. We need not play that game. I have been troubled by belief in part because it, like Monopoly, seems so finite. If one believes thus and such (sometimes with appropriate action included), then salvation is at hand and the pearly gates will close behind you. A group can all claim the same beliefs and share one creed in a very definitive way. But who is really to say?
Spiritual experience, on the other hand, seems infinite and different for each person and each time. We may, in the coming times, be very helpful to others who do not realize that the architecture of religion can be opened beyond belief.
As a third offering, I can imagine a future in which Quakers come up with new tools, new practices that can help us untie ourselves from the architectures that currently bind us. It is one thing to recognize that we are playing a game by rules we don’t like, while it is another thing to change the rules or stop playing.
For example, the Testimonies of Equality and Integrity were powerful tools to help Friends psychologically and socially work their way out of unjust social structures of the past. What if we took on a new Testimony of Beauty in our opposition to war?
The way of the universe and all creation seems to invariably be a way of beauty, and not the kind that is in the eye of the beholder since no one really argues that sunsets, or old oak trees, or schools of swimming fish are not beautiful. Our cousins the Shakers are known for their concern for beauty. What if we challenged ourselves and others to prioritize beauty and grace in all that we do? How would our lives change? Would we not be more God-centered? Are there other tools we can discern as effective ways to bring us closer to the divine while changing the game?
Here in Palestine the rules of the game are rigid, the architecture is defined by impassable walls and limited-access roads and housing settlements, and laws that apply to some and not others. Many people are pessimistic, like my friend Paul in the US, about the future being better than the past. Yet there seems to be a growing number of people who see the architecture of this Middle Eastern conflict as predetermining the outcomes in undesired ways. This is a hopeful sign to me. May we grow in wisdom and the skills that free us from participation in those systems where we do not wish to be responsible for the outcomes.
1. Palmer, Jason. “Religion May Become Extinct in Nine Nations, Study Says.” BBC, March 22, 2011. Available at www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197.
Jens Braun lives in the Quaker Intentional Village-Canaan (www.qivp.org).
The Future of Quakerism
Newton Garver, Buffalo Meeting
George Fox knew the arrogance of forecasting the future: “There is no time but this present,” he wrote in an early letter to his parents. We have nothing to look at but the past and the present. We can perhaps see trends, but experience tells us that trends do not continue smoothly and may even reverse or veer off in another direction. I love T. S. Eliot’s enigmatic way of agreeing that all time is eternally present:
Time present and time past
So let us focus on what is richly present.
Quakers today are vastly different from Quakers 75 years ago. Quakers 75 years ago lived overwhelmingly outside the Tropics (I use “Tropics” with a capital to designate the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn), were overwhelmingly white, and were generally affluent. Quakers today live overwhelmingly inside the Tropics, are overwhelmingly nonwhite, and are generally far from affluent. The trend from past to present seems to be continuing, but leadership is in flux, membership and Quaker identity lack clarity, and finances in many traditional Quaker institutions are troublesome. Is there any way for us to discern just how the seeds of Quakerism future are contained in Quakerism past and present?
I impressed that here outside the Tropics the strength of Quakerism is manifest largely apart from the religious institutions, that is, the monthly and yearly meetings and the umbrella organizations. What I see as important strengths are Quaker schools and colleges, the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), and servant leadership. There are a dozen more Quaker schools than 20 years ago, and the Quaker colleges are flourishing. Neither the schools nor the colleges provide the “sheltered” education for which many of them were originally established, and they appeal strongly to clientele who are not Quakers. How will these considerations contribute to Quakerism’s future?
AVP was established by a group of Friends within NYYM, and it is astonishingly true to basic commitments of Friends. But its dynamic evangelism—I understand as evangelism anything that works on the principle “each one teach one”—is completely nondenominational, so that most “converts” have little or no idea that it is a Quaker program. Much the same is true of servant leadership. The idea was developed and spread by Friend Robert Greenleaf. Again, it is a program that utilizes basic Quaker commitments without mentioning their Quaker roots, so that most of its numerous advocates and practitioners do not even know that Robert Greenleaf was a Friend, let alone that the program is Quakerism in practice. These two programs dovetail, since AVP facilitators are servant leaders in Greenleaf’s sense, and servant leadership reduces certain forms of violence. What seeds for the future of Quakerism does their present strength contain?
One more thing that impresses me greatly is that there are many wonderful people among Friends, in all branches of Friends today. It is one of the pleasures of moving among Quakers that one encounters so many that combine intelligence, sensitivity, commitment, and good humor. Although I hear moans from time to time that membership is declining (I do not know to what extent this may be true), I cannot imagine that a society that contains such rich fellowship is about to die out, even though I cannot say what its future will be.
What might the vast concentration of Quakers within the Tropics, our present situation, bode for the future?
I have worked more with the Quakers in the Andes, in Bolivia and Peru, than elsewhere, and I have no doubt whatever that there is a powerful and inspiring new pool of leadership developing among these Friends. The young people grow up with deep faith, with profound gratitude for what they have and have been given, and with a sense of community stronger than we know in the US. To this they have added professional training and workshop skills that their parents and their indigenous community lacked. Among the women these new skills have given new confidence and initiative, illustrated by the facilitators in the prison workshop pictured here. Having women in such prominent leadership roles is something new to Bolivian Friends, and is very exciting.
Cochabamba was not one of the original strongholds of Quakers in Bolivia, but increasing numbers of young Quakers have moved there and there are now several Quaker churches in Cochabamba. The young people, however, are not confining themselves to their churches. They have been meeting together across church lines—though still all as Quakers—and beginning to form an urban community. Their activities have included both AVP workshops and starting a pre-K school. They are a vibrant and exciting group.
Many Friends in NYYM met Rubén Hilari, who taught at Oakwood in 2008–09. The Oakwood staff and students were delighted with him. At the Spring Gathering of Farmington-Scipio Regional Meeting the leader for the Friday evening singing and dancing canceled at the last moment, and Rubén stepped in and kept spirits lively. Back in Bolivia his main job is helping with the administration of Bolivian Quaker Education Fund, but he has also attended two world conferences on climate change—the one in Cochabamba and the one in Cancún—and he founded Jaqi Aru, a project promoting the Aymara language in cyberspace. Rubén is perfectly trilingual and uses his skills at translating back and forth to revive and promote his mother tongue. In spite of having developed these important international connections, he is still tied to a circle of friends in his village.
There are other young Quaker leaders like Magaly and Rubén in Bolivia and Peru, but no space to sketch their accomplishments. They are bound to shape how Quakerism flourishes in the Andes, for they have a force that that will push up through the underbrush.
All this is in the present, that present in which the future is perhaps contained. I have no doubt that Nadine Hoover can tell analogous stories about Indonesia, Dave Zarembka about Burundi and Rwanda, Val Liveoak about Central America, Eden Grace and Getry Agizah about Kenya, and so forth. Seeds of the future are sprouting right now in healthy soil. Let us rejoice and nurture them.
Therefore Choose Life
John Edminster, Fifteenth Street Meeting
What is the future of Quakerism?
One answer to the question might be, “I love you now.”
This answer comes from a voice awake in eternity, where we know all things fully, including one another, and rest together in bliss in the bosom of God, before time was and after time shall be no more. We come awake to this awareness, some in little piecemeal jogs and nudges that gradually transform our worldview and our heart, some of us through one great unveiling of Light, often at death but sometimes before. But these transformative moments come in the present Now, as gifts of grace, not the fruit of works that we might claim as our own. (As little can we wake ourselves up from a dream by anything we do in the dream.) And they change the meaning of the past and future for us utterly.
My time-bound workaday self knows nothing of this stuff. His past haunts him, and so he looks to the future to heal him: a fantasy-future in which, avoiding the foolish errors of yesterday, he triumphs, experiences fulfillment, and is never again ashamed. And yet this future is also charged with dread, for one day he must die. Worse, one day all his descendants must die on an uninhabitable earth. And before death, how many more defeats must he suffer, how much more pain? It’s unforeseeable! Daily the newspapers parade all the horrible possibilities of what might happen before our eyes.
Being thus emotionally invested in the future as regards himself, he can likewise think of his loved ones, his community, and his cherished ideals—his extended self—only through the same colored screens of hope and fear. Imagining the Quakers of the next century as godly, tender, and incorruptible, bringing help to many, he swells with pride; fancying them few, lukewarm, and without vision, he grows angry or depressed. Poor self, the product of a lifetime of bad habits of thought! He is one of those agitated ones to whom Jesus said, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
For some of us, there is a faith that can persuade us that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28), helping us stay focused on the task or experience of the moment, so that we take no unnecessary thought for the morrow (Matthew 6:34). I have spoken of awakenings being a gift of grace, and such is the dawning of this trusting faith. Even though we’re powerless to make ourselves have it if we lack it, there are fortunately things we can do to prepare the ground for it in our own hearts and those of others: chiefly, to do the works of love and forgiveness whenever we can, and refrain from the works of selfishness.
I pray that the future of Quakerism will be glorious, until such time as the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord (Isaiah 11:9) and the world’s various isms are swallowed up in Light. But for the coming of that metamorphosis I look not into the future, but in the direction of another dimension entirely, an inwardness that has the power to transform the very moment of time I occupy now. For the kingdom of God cometh not with observation; neither shall they say, lo here, or lo there (Luke 17:20-21); neither shall it be tomorrow, or next month, nor did it pass us by last summer. The change is as simple as looking on my enemy and seeing him transformed, in a timeless instant, into my beloved friend.
Envisioning a Vital Society of Friends
Christopher Sammond, Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting
Anyone involved with Friends for any length of time has heard about “early Friends.” References to “early Friends believed” and “early Friends did such and so” crop up with remarkable frequency. Unfortunately, I often hear in our reverence for our spiritual ancestors an implicit belief that they could do these things, and know the power of the Living God in their lives, but that doing so to the same degree is somehow beyond us.
We seek to live into that power by emulating its effects expressed in early Friends, by trying to live out the testimonies that were the fruits of their faith and practice. We need instead to go to the same root, to drink from the same well that they did, which gave rise to the testimonies we value so much.
In putting early Friends on a pedestal, we forgo the obligation to seek out the same power and grace which they sought, and often found. Envisioning vital Quakerism involves stepping into that same power, which is, of course, still available to us today.
That “secret power” which Barclay wrote about, which we ascribe to early Friends, which we want so much for ourselves but don’t dare imagine enough that we can be a part of, is nothing more than faithfulness. When we open ourselves in deeply faithful worship, we allow the Light to seek us out and transform us. It is that transforming power of being met by the Light, the Inner Christ, and seeking to live lives connected to that power, that will give us the present we seek and the future God envisions for us.
Our vital future depends on our sharing with each other our attempts and failures at living faithful lives. What works for you? What doesn’t? Where has that led you? In sharing this way, we support each other in our spiritual searching. Here are some aspects of faithfulness that I have found important for opening to the God who is always trying to open me. I find them different facets of the same thing; they are all interconnected. I don’t do any of them well. And all of them I have found hard work:
Releasing self-will: Self-will is undoubtedly the greatest barrier to living a life of faithfulness. (And, ironically, having worked at a treatment center for addicts and alcoholics, I have found that excessive self-will is the hallmark of an addictive personality.) All religious traditions seek to undermine the corrosive effects of self-will. Reducing the clamor of the small self for dominance is a daily practice. The poet and mystic Hafiz called this spiritual “donkey work.” And Fox made the disposition of our will central to whether someone was a Friend or a “will-worshipper.”
Taking off the armor of our defensive self: We have all experienced wounding in our lives. Armoring ourselves is a normal human response to this wounding. And though that armor protects our tender hearts and spirits, it also maintains a barrier between us and God, us and neighbor. John Calvi talks of the need for “laying down the weapons around the heart.” This is holy work.
Trusting God: Opening myself in childlike, innocent trust in God helps me with the first two aspects and helps me to connect with what feels to me like a primal, root connection to God. This childlike love and trust predates and underlies any rational understanding or ideas about the Divine I might have acquired since then. Returning to this root takes me to places my understanding can’t penetrate.
Daily practice: The more I do a daily spiritual practice, the more connected I am to the Divine Presence. This feeds and supports all the other aspects of faithfulness. Different practices will nourish each of us to greater or lesser degrees. I don’t think that the nature of the practice is what’s important; it’s doing whatever it is regularly.
Simplicity: When I unclutter my life of its busyness, I hear guidance much, much better. This allows me to be more faithful in my actions. That is why Woolman sold off part of his business; he found he was too busy to live faithfully in the Spirit. My life is often a mockery of this discipline, but I keep trying.
Self-care: This is perhaps the hardest lesson for me to live out. I learned a grueling work ethic as I grew up, and have often lived out a mistaken notion that overwork and self-sacrifice were somehow virtuous. I find now that when I take good care of myself, it is easier to access the tender parts of me that connect with God.
I envision a Quakerism where we don’t just talk about the achievements of our ancestors, but rather one lived in that same grace and power which they sought. I envision a Quakerism where we recognize earlier testimonies to be the fruits, and not the root, of our practice as Friends. I envision a Quakerism where our current practice opens us to new testimonies. I envision a Quakerism where the culture of our Society is characterized by our worship, not by our committee structures. And I envision a Quakerism where we dare to teach the substance of our practice to our children, youth, and newcomers, so that they can join us at that same wellspring that has nourished Friends for three and a half centuries and has the potential to do so for three and a half more. And I believe that if we faithfully follow divine guidance, we will realize that future.
Nadine Hoover, Alfred Meeting
Be the change you want to see in the world; be the future.
Conscience Studio began in 2002 when Nadine Hoover offered workshops on Writing Statements of Conscience, exploring with young adults whether they were conscientious objectors to war. Very quickly the question clearly applied to all taxpayers, of any age, as war, particularly US war, is waged with taxes as much as through conscription. Conscience Studio has grown organically, publishing the Declaration of Conscience about Paying for War (video, 2009) and Trauma Healing: Advanced Workshop Manual (book, 2010) and currently translating Friendly Classroom for a Small Planet (CCRC manual), writing Developmental Play for Peace, encouraging community testing of discernment, and organizing gatherings for people of conscience and faith.
This practice quickly makes plain that the practitioner is not the author or director of conscience, but rather the receiver of revelation with its implications for one’s life. A practitioner shows up, pays attention, is as honest as possible, and lets the Inward Voice and Guide light the way.
Historically, Friends were commonly imprisoned for blasphemy—claiming the second coming was not another Messiah, but the realization that we are all Children of God, equally loved and perfectible (able to be our perfect selves, our perfect part of a perfect whole). A Beloved Community was considered possible because we could all be Christ, meaning we could all give our lives fully to being our unique, yet universal and unifying, manifestation of God.
The practice of discernment holds an intention to gather daily and weekly alone and with family and friends to listen to inward knowledge of right and wrong and to yield to an inward compulsion to do what is right—conscience. Faith in the inward guide is manifest when daily decisions and choices are made based on the dictates and directions of conscience. Discernment of these dictates and directions requires great attention to one’s inward life, clarity in the language of the inner landscape, commitment to inward health and development, and brutal, tender honesty with others and one’s self. Conscience does not spring forth fully formed, but grows as one pays attention to practicing discernment and outwardly expressing inward knowledge.
In addition to many personal tests required for reliable discernment, historically Quakers held in high regard the test of a discerning community. They needed to gather face-to-face, to know each other in that which is eternal, to listen to each other’s discernment.
Today, participants in Conscience Studio events practice listening from the heart with nonanxious, full attention and confidence in the speaker’s goodness and sincerity. When we listen, we try to let our selves fall away. At this juncture of discernment, the question is not, “Do I understand, like, or agree with what is said?” Often a person does not understand or even like or agree with the truth, which typically feels inadequate or overwhelming. Through the practice of relying on discernment, practitioners come to take comfort in the plain truth as we find it, disruptive as it may be, rather than in particular truths “just-my-size” that don’t disrupt daily life. Therefore, the single question for the listener who is testing discernment of a friend is, “Does the testimony sound like the voice of conscience?” Or for some, “Does the testimony sound like it’s coming from the Living Spirit?”
Quakers today have limited experience listening and speaking to each other in this manner, so practice and generosity are needed. Trust is built through listening, speaking, and seeking together lovingly and faithfully. Neither personal nor community testing of discernment is the ultimate test, however. The ultimate test is the fruits that are born of words and deeds.
The value of any life is absolute, as the breath of life is given each one each day—not greater or less for what is said or done. Those who choose to practice discernment communally to actively direct daily life, decisions, occupations, communities, and society do so to choose the promise of peace available to us all through discerning words, deeds, and lives.
As people express our conscience and faith through our lives, “studio” is apropos—a workroom of an artist, dancer, performer, filmmaker, writer, or reporter (in Old France, the home of an alchemist or wizard), who enthusiastically and painstakingly applies her- or himself to manual labor, reading, reflection, thoughts, or meditation directed to learning, devotion to another’s welfare, accomplishment of a purpose, pursuit of a concern, composition, invention, or object of one’s affection or interest.
Participants in Conscience Studio events are invited to share and test personal, community, and societal discernment. We’re all volunteers, so we move slowly but continue to document our practice and its fruits, and eventually, hopefully, we’ll have a beautiful new Web site.
The role of family and/or friends who offer day-to-day tempering and testing of discernment has been critical to many practitioners. Conscience Studio encourages practitioners to give attention to cultivating close, discerning relationships. In addition, some felt the need for time to gather to work on seeking, discerning and expressing conscience face-to-face. So a two-week gathering is scheduled from July 31–August 14, 2011, at Powell House. People of conscience and faith are invited to join in this experiment. Details will be in June InfoShare.
Ithaca Meeting: Our Way Forward
Steve Mohlke, clerk, & Tonia Saxon, assistant clerk. Ithaca Meeting
In 1894, a magazine editor wrote to the clerk of the Philadelphia Orthodox Yearly Meeting to ask the reason for Quakerism’s decline. “Scores of meetinghouses… built a half-century ago to accommodate large congregations,” he pointed out, now housed only a handful. The clerk replied, “The principal cause is that our members are generally in more comfortable circumstances than the average of the community. The result is that their families are smaller, and the deaths, I suppose, exceed the births.”
Over a hundred years have passed since then, yet the Society of Friends is no closer to decline. Ithaca Monthly Meeting’s story is one of life and growth. For most of our history, we have longed for a space that would afford us fellowship—a place where we could break bread together. For the past ten years we made this search the focus of our energy. But our failure to trust each other as we tried to find a way forward left us broken halfway there. Now, after a lengthy search, we have a new meetinghouse. We tell our story in the hope that other meetings struggling with hard decisions may find inspiration in it.
Our meeting had been housed since the 1950s in space rented from Cornell University. The rooms were unsuitable in many ways. We were not allowed to eat in the meeting room. One First Day school class had to meet in the lounge just outside the women’s bathroom. Other religious groups were often waiting outside the door to use our rooms as we worshipped.
Over the space of ten years or so, we looked at more than a dozen separate properties in and around Ithaca. A group within the Meeting would bring a prospect forward, a contractor would be hired to give an estimate for renovation, and the Meeting would reject it. There was an atmosphere of judgment of the many against the few. There were tears. Friends more than once had recourse to the custom of standing in silence as love and forgiveness were trampled on.
Yet we knew the search for a meetinghouse was a leading. As soon as one possibility was eliminated, another would emerge. In what seemed like a wave of unified feeling in 2001, we approved the purchase of a piece of property outside the city. We hired an architect. This was, if possible, an even more difficult time. There were literally hundreds of decisions to be made, and the level of trust in the meeting was as low as ever. We couldn’t even agree where to site the building on the land.
A preliminary estimate was supplied. The high price was in excess of $1,000,000. The number stopped people cold. It didn’t matter that the architect had started at the top and was prepared to pare the project back. Discussions broke down. Several groups coalesced; each had a different idea or explanation for what had gone wrong.
Yearly and regional meetings made many offers of help. We had people come and talk to our meeting about how stuck we were. Individuals attended Powell House workshops. We had people talk with the NYYM Conflict Transformation Committee. Private talks with the NYYM general secretary offered consolation and strength.
We called a moratorium and laid the issue down—first for one year, then for a second year. For the first year, nothing seemed to change. During the second year, a couple of individuals quietly initiated projects they thought might address the Meeting’s need to heal and to trust again.
A series of discussions was held on healthy congregations; a loose group of 15 to 20 participated. We discovered that as a community, we had unhealthy ways of responding to strife—ways that involved secrets and triangulation. This was a sobering picture.
Another series of gatherings addressed the subject of making weighty decisions. Out of these came several ideas. Only one made its way into practice—we began to ask people to sit with us and hold our business meetings in the Light—but the intention to work on decisionmaking was a form of prayer, and the work we did on it was a form of prayer.
In the summer of 2009 an old meetinghouse on a country road outside of Ithaca came up for sale. The price was attractive. We held several meetings to consider its purchase. These were the first at which we had people hold us in the Light. And we gave more attention to making sure that voices were heard than we did to anything else. We tried our best to hear each other with love. In the end we said no, but this “no” had a different sound to it. Everybody could tell that something had shifted.
Things began to happen more quickly. We held a crucial meeting about the future of the Burtt House, a building willed to the Meeting which is too small to house us all but which contains our library, our records, and many memories of its owners, beloved members of our Meeting. Some members had supported selling it and using the proceeds to fund a new building. Others could not imagine our Meeting without it. It was the rock on which many earlier discussions had foundered.
At that meeting we decided that a new meetinghouse was going to have to be funded without the sale of the Burtt House. With the Burtt House off the table, people who had opposed its sale felt heard rather than threatened. We knew it would make whatever meetinghouse project we went forward with smaller, but it would mean doing the project together.
Then, in January of 2010, we learned of a restaurant in downtown Ithaca that had come on the market. It was in a central location. It was in one of Ithaca’s most diverse neighborhoods. It was affordable. It had a large room downstairs and smaller rooms upstairs that could be used for classrooms. It was also a wreck.
At this time we discovered that a woman who had just begun to attend our Meeting was a construction manager. She agreed to visit the property with us and helped us evaluate it; after several more weeks, she quietly offered to act as superintendent for the project. (Not long after the process started, she asked to become a member and was joyfully received into the Meeting.)
We moved into high gear, negotiating the purchase price and conditions in a matter of weeks. We brought the purchase before the entire meeting at two called meetings. We wrote up and distributed as much information as we could beforehand. We aired every opinion we had heard and addressed each one in writing as fully as possible. This saved a lot of time once we met together. In the meeting at which the purchase was approved, we heard concerns and were all clear that they did not mean that the group was not in unity. We felt led. It was a powerful and moving moment.
An enormous amount of pent-up energy was released. 50 people volunteered to demolish the building interior during weeks of blistering heat. We raised an unprecedented sum for renovations, many times our annual donation budget. We quickly made the decision to sell the land we had thought about building on. We heard from people who had left us during the dark times.
Trust had been rediscovered. The nature of the trust was “When I speak what is laid on my heart, it will be heard. It will not be ignored.” As we started behaving in more trustworthy ways, the trust grew.
Now, as we move into the meetinghouse, we are entering another period of testing as we negotiate the building’s use and needs. Ithaca is still a young meeting spiritually. We have many worldly resources and individual spiritual resources but are still learning to work together as a group. We are beginning to see that maintaining peace in our own community takes constant and loving attention to each other in the Spirit. And we are inspired by the vision of this new life flowering in the Society of Friends.
Letting Our Lives Speak and Speaking Our Lives
Anne Pomeroy, New Paltz Meeting
My children at ages of 15 and 18 are strongly identified as Quaker and active in their faith communities. I asked them what they saw as important to developing their sense of being Quaker. This article is a combination of their responses and mine to what is important to raising children who identify as Quaker and are active as teens and young adults in our faith.
I did not set out to raise Quaker children but to raise these particular children into who they define they are. Raising children has been a ministry and like many ministries is mutual. I have learned as much from them as they have from me.
What was important? Letting our lives speak. Particularly, my children identify my faithfulness on my spiritual journey as important. I let my life speak to them. My life centers on my faith. They witness my faith journey. But I am one. They have also met many Quakers who are deeply faithful through events at Powell House, at our Yearly Meeting sessions (Fall and Spring as well as Summer Sessions), in our home, and at the FGC Gathering. They have seen other faithful people and been inspired by them. I nurture these connections.
Another way our lives speak is in creating a space that fosters their spirituality. We limit the technology in our house. For example, we get only PBS on the nondigital TV that we have. We live in the country. Our exposure to the daily messages of our culture to consume is limited. We choose the values that create the space that our children experience. We create a space where we listen to their voices and what is important to them.
Integral to our lives’ speaking is our core value of a deep and abiding love for one another and all creation. It is a love that both accepts them where they are and sets limits. I do not tell them what to do or who to be but support their journey even when it diverges from mine. This love perseveres through tough times.
Letting our lives speak is important but is not sufficient to let our children know what a faith journey holds. We are called to speak about our journeys. I believe that all children have spiritual experiences but often lack the framework or context to understand those experiences.
In addition to sharing my journey, I ask my children questions about spiritual matters, which in turn leads them to ask me questions. One evening my son asked, “What happens in meeting for worship?” I knew he did not want the answer of “center down” but wanted to hear about what I experienced in the midst of the silence. I needed to find words to describe this to him. I described the experience of losing my sense of self and feeling deeply loved by God and feeling connected to all life.
Once children have a language or context to describe spiritual experiences, they want to engage in conversation about them. Sometimes the simple question “Where is God in this?” leads them in a new direction. Since attending the School of the Spirit Spiritual Nurture Program, I can clearly articulate my spiritual journey to my children. I create opportunities and openings to invite them in. This openness led to their feeling a part of the journey. I share who I am and what is important to me. They are led to explore their journeys. Thus our journeys are intertwined.
Whether it is raising our children or speaking with the newcomer at meeting for worship, it is important that we both let our lives speak and speak about our lives. Our children and the world are thirsty for our experience of the Divine.
From New YAF Field Secretary
My Name is Gabrielle (Gabi) Savory Bailey, of Chatham-Summit Monthly Meeting in Northern NJ. I am your new Young Adult Field Secretary (YAFS)! I am very excited to serve in this new role. I have had a message bubbling up in me the past couple of weeks: “With an open and grateful heart, I take the next step through the next door.” At this moment in my life there are many next steps, and many new doors. I have just begun on my journey as a mother and I have a beautiful three-month-old daughter, Madeleine. I am also just beginning this new ministry, which is already a gift filled with Grace.
I would like to take this opportunity to invite all of you to join in a conversation. In my life, I am hungry for community, deep spiritual connections. In the past, in this very Yearly Meeting, I have had the experience where my gifts were not acknowledged or seen. When asked to serve or participate, I was not eager. I did not feel a part of the community. I have also had the experience of deep connecting and spiritual belonging. This happens most often when I get to know people, their gifts, their needs. When someone has gotten to know me, seen me, acknowledged my gifts, then I can find my place in a truly meaningful way in that community. That is when I have felt Spirit moving most deeply.
This feeling of being seen for my gifts has been most important when I have been in transition, in unknown territories and not feeling settled. In March, I had the pleasure of participating in the Circle of Young Friends (CYF) conference at Purchase Meeting. The topic was “Deepening Our Connection through Vulnerability.” This was a powerful topic. The first night we were asked to name a time when we feel vulnerable. An overwhelming majority of the participants said that they feel vulnerable when they are in a group of people that they have never met or do not know well. I see the time of newness, of getting to know another, as a tremendous opportunity to deepen our connections.
I believe a community of Faith needs to allow for the discernment of gifts and the safe testing of leadings. Ideally, there is a network of people to support the energy and Spirit that is moving. Since my daughter’s birth, I have felt acutely that we are truly meant to be a tribal people. We are meant to live in community, interacting in each other’s lives, supporting each other, witnessing the daily moments, being present to each other through all parts of the lifespan. We are meant to learn and teach each other so that the life stages and moments are not so mysterious, and the times of transition are celebrated and not feared. Older and younger can guide each other based on their unique gifts and how each one adds to the community.
This is an exciting time for our Yearly Meeting, Regional and Monthly Meetings. We have a gifted and energetic group of Young Adult Friends (YAF). There is Spirit moving. It is my hope that I can support and encourage the connections between individuals, helping to foster leadings and be a point of contact. The time between 18 and 35 (and all ages for that matter!) can be transient, tender, and full of uncertainty. I hope that transition time can be a time of deepening and connection that supports our Young Adult Friends, developing into leaders and strengthening our community.
I ask Friends to hold me in the light and in your prayers. I have a feeling that there is much to do and know in my new ministry, and that Spirit is already moving. I know I do not do this work alone. I often struggle to name my own gifts, and already I have experienced Grace in this opportunity for our community.
I am looking forward to Summer Sessions and invite you to help me by alerting those Friends between 18 and 35 in your meetings to attend, especially those who have not done so in the past. Send them my way if they have any questions. Summer Sessions can be intimidating if someone has never been. I would like to offer my support and presence to any and all YAF who are led to be there. We are looking to cluster rooms for families with young children. This might help with childcare and support for what can be a daunting time for young families. Please contact me if you know of anyone who may fall into that special category. Also, please spread the word that there are assistance funds available to those who need, and we encourage Friends to contact me, or the NYYM office, to get them, rather than stay away.
I can be reached through many paths. My YAFS phone number is 607-749-0088. My e-mail is nyym.yafs [at] gmail.com. My Facebook profile is Nyym Ya Fieldsecretary. My Skype address is nyymyafs. I look forward to connecting with you through any of these methods. Spread this information widely in your meetings, add it to your directories, post it on your bulletin boards and Web sites, and feel free to pass it on to any YAF friend in NYYM. Please use my personal information in the Yearbook for personal matters or emergencies, and this information for matters pertaining to my ministry as YAFS.
I look forward to many conversations and connections. Please join me in this inspiring and creative work!
In peace and loving friendship,
Gabi Savory Bailey
Young Friends in Residence Ripples
Donna Beckwith, Perry City Meeting
Lob a pebble into the pond. Watch the ripples move out, concentric circles gently lifting as they pass. And so each of us affects the other. The Young Friends in Residence (YFIR) program is almost two years old, and both the program and the interns have been changing my meeting community. It may be subtle, yet if we take time to notice—we are different.
YFIR is a NYYM program hosted by Perry City Monthly Meeting in the Farmington-Scipio Region. Up to four interns live in intentional community in the Beloved Community House, about 10 miles from the meetinghouse. The interns are part of the meeting community and are responsible for facilitating a program for youth in their early teens. Because they are supported by Friends, the interns also have a chance to live fully as Quakers and follow their leadings, which include adult education, prison ministry, living more sustainably, and intervisitation, among others.
The pebble, the core, are the interns. These young Friends serve the larger body of Friends. They are responsible for initiating youth workshops—weekend conferences for Friends in their early teens. But they do more. They offer adult education, help with First Day school, and serve on committees in their host meeting, their regional meeting, and Yearly Meeting.
Naming the Ripples: YFIR Benefits. . .Who?
Perry City Monthly Meeting had second thoughts, then third thoughts, when discerning whether to adopt this program. Friends felt excited yet overwhelmed. And it is always difficult to walk into the unknown. Friends knew it would be different, and also knew we could not predict how. Some of the changes include improvements in the meetinghouse and in the attached six-acre nature preserve. But there is a new life and new pride in meeting. There is a deepening in worship as one intern leads discussions challenging our perceptions and expectations of meeting. There is playfulness as one intern jumps into an impromptu hide-and-seek game with a very young Friend. There is relief as interns do committee work, making that work more efficient and joyful.
Interns have managed to entrenched themselves deeply in Quaker community, exploring life as a Quaker, modeling community and simplicity. Their experiences with community deepen the lives of those they touch, including the host meeting and the neighboring meetings. It seems that their experiences in this program will color the rest of their lives.
YFIRs have been involved in the much larger Quaker body. Then they come home to us with deepened awareness of the larger world of Friends. They also represent us with their presence at national meetings.
Mature Friends who are involved directly or peripherally with YFIR—those who serve on support committees, those who take classes, those who have children who participate, etc.—touch on new vision of Quaker Community.
YFIR interns are involved with NYYM’s Circle of Young Friends (CYF). This group has met at Beloved Community House and Perry City Meeting. Having a group of Young Friends living together offers a cohesive meeting point. And now the neighboring meetings have a stronger sense of CYF, since Young Friends have worshiped with local Friends and done service projects.
Besides being very close to Perry City, Beloved Community House lies near four other monthly meetings: Ithaca, Poplar Ridge, Elmira, and Central Finger Lakes. Ties between Ithaca and Perry City have strengthened and deepened. We hope to see increased intimacy among the other meetings through interaction with interns and their youth programs, and increased attendance at adult ed classes led by one of the interns.
In order to support the interns, Perry City was advised to host an eldering workshop. Friends from Farmington-Scipio as well as other regional meetings attended. The intent was for each intern to have an elder, a spiritual companion. But we have received an added gift as we have learned to hold worship, and especially business meeting, in the Light, deepening the spiritual work we do. This has also led to familiarity with the larger body of Friends and awareness of gifts that are available to support us.
Because we are trying to seed a new youth program, YFIR has increased awareness and support of youth ministry in FSRM. Friends in this region are looking at themselves and their priorities more closely.
Because we are a very small meeting, Perry City Friends have a small presence in and understanding of NYYM. YFIR has increased the interaction of Perry City Meeting, as well as some of the neighboring meetings, with NYYM. There are Friends doing committee work who have never served on a NYYM committee before. This means that the meeting has developed more awareness of the larger body of Friends. It also means that some Friends from NYYM now know there is a Quaker presence in central New York.
Perry City expected to benefit from having Young Friends involved with meeting, and we have benefited beyond what we could have imagined. One intern taught us that Young Friends want to be valued for their gifts, not for their age. We were gently taught not to say, “Oh it’s so nice to have young people here,” and instead to say, “It’s so nice to have you with us!” We are learning, we are changing, we are riding the gentle ripples with faith.
Powell House: The First Fifty…and the Next
Melanie-Claire Mallison, Ithaca Monthly Meeting, PoHo 50th party planner
Looking back at 1961, it isn’t easy to know what NYYM envisioned for the future when they accepted the gift of a house and land from Elsie K. Powell Sr.—the Gift Committee minutes speak of committee workshops and young Friends activities, so they had hopes for this new venture, but did they dream big enough?
They probably didn’t foresee a young girl of 14 leaving Watertown, NY, a conservative military town, and taking the bus across state, on her way to her first Powell House youth conference, desperate to find a group of peers who would accept her being a vegetarian, a pacifist, a Quaker—all just so darned weird to those she knew in her daily life. That young girl found those understanding peers at Powell House, and she reveled in the awesome discussions, silly games, and joyous explorations of beliefs and testimonies. Could that body of Friends have foreseen how that girl grew? Strong now in her understanding of her Spiritual Self, taking on the responsibilities of adulthood and Quaker community, bringing her own child to Powell House conferences, so that he too would experience that exploration and strengthening of Spirit—and one day, that woman would come home to her son and say, “They’ve asked me to be clerk of Powell House Committee!” Could those Friends have envisioned so grand a future? Where the son would say, “Wow. That is really an honor, mom. It’s a special place and I’m proud of you for saying yes.”
Because that is the story of how my 40-year relationship with Powell House has affected my life and the life of my son, Nathan. And while I’m not presently on the Powell House Committee (though I’m sure I will be again!), I’m putting my skills to work helping Powell House celebrate its 50th anniversary this coming August.
I know that, like me, there are thousands more people, each with their story of how their life was changed over the past 50 years because that body of Friends decided to create the Elsie K. Powell House Conference and Retreat Center. And not just the people who attended “PoHo” conferences, but also the families, committees, meetings, prisons, and on and on—all those who benefited from having more centered and committed people in their midst. And I’d love to hear all those stories—or at least as many as possible!
So here’s the challenge—get on Facebook, the Powell House (Group) page, and write your PoHo story on the wall, in 420 characters. Or mail in your 420-character story and we’ll put it up on the wall for you! Post your PoHo photos on Facebook too, or bring your photos with you in August, so we can copy them into our archives.
Let’s see how many recollections we can gather before August 25–28, 2011, the date of our three-day 50th-anniversary celebration. Consider yourself invited!
We’ll share our stories over the long weekend, along with the games, songs, foods, and crafts that were the highlight of each decade. We’ll have a “formal dinner” on Friday evening celebrating the last 50 years and welcoming in the next. We’ll have a fair on Saturday, open to the public, with games, music (bring your instruments!), tie-dyeing, face painting, cotton candy…we also plan on getting into the Guinness Book of World Records by having the largest Pata-Pata dance ever recorded. Doesn’t that sound fabulous!?! (I’m pretty sure the Friends from 1961 did not envision that!)
The history of New York Yearly Meeting and Powell House proves that we cannot dream too big when envisioning the next 50 years of souls touched by this special place. Join us in August, share the past and the present—as we jump off into the future. Let’s see what we can dream up next for Powell House.
See you there!
On Your Way to Silver Bay
Adirondack Meeting, about an hour from Silver Bay, extends an invitation to Friends to visit meeting for worship on Sunday, July 17. This is a wonderful way to extend your knowledge of NYYM Friends and add a worshipful break to your journey.
Adirondack Friends Meeting offers programmed meeting for worship at 10:30 a.m. After worship there will be a time of refreshments and sharing.
The meeting is at 27 Saratoga Ave., South Glens Falls NY 12803. For information or directions, call Regina Haag, 518-793-3755.
Letters to the Editor
My 80-year-old memories of Friends is of First Day school. As I aged I found that America’s melting pot has applied to Friends also.
We have been enriched by the joining of many people originally from other faiths. I believe this has been promoted by our not having a creed. They are more comfortable where they are not expected to subscribe to ideas different from the content of their own conscience.
We seldom make this point, and with all the religious strife in the world, we should be teaching our tolerance and welcome for others.
Harry S. Hoffman Jr., Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting
Envisioning the Future of Quakerism
An example of failed media is that 70% of all environmental scholars agree on global warming, yet most people are unaware of anything beyond what fringe science offers through the media, fueled by our inherent tribal affection for voyeur like testimonials. There are many more instances of misinformation that ultimately leads to failed decisionmaking based on incorrect suppositions. Wisdom and attending to the leadings of the spirit are derived from knowledge and experience/tolerance, not vitriol. The inherent human need for meaning knows no substitute for an educated society of thoughtful people. Quakers have provided testimony since our inception and it is my opinion that we need to rise up and offer the same once again, not by heady scholarship but via common sense. None of us are as smart as all of us, and we must bring the middle ground to our meetings and the communities we serve. There is more influence found in everyday newspaper articles and electronic news media than in the most prestigious technical journal. Quakers should become the voice of the middle ground with our respect for all lucid and validated facts and arguments. Our goal is to allow for honest consensus, thereby providing a unifying force rather than a body of divisive inflammatory rhetoric.
Our youth seek truth—every generation does—yet even the most common concepts of heroism, truthfulness, and honor have been redefined to concepts that meet the short-term agenda. The horrors of war have been filtered, the truth hidden behind political alliances. Similar to the fall of ancient Rome, we have given up our voice in the republic and allowed special interests rather human interests to become the fulcrum that assures balance and allows people to find justice and meaning in doing the right thing.
Still, we should not underestimate the power of a small group of people with conviction, whose sole purpose is not to offer yet another opinion or faction that may work for some, but rather to provide a method, supported with available facts for thoughtful people to seek truth. It is time for Quaker elders to form Quaker think tanks in our communities. The charge would be to provide an incubator for common sense, to harness that knowledge in the form of easy-to-understand and readily available media articles or spoken editorials. I am looking for other like-minded Quakers to join me in the formation of such a think tank here in Albany, N.Y.
Here is the format I suggest:
NASA’s National Institute for Advanced Concepts states:“The genius is in the generalities, and not the details. The new idea creates a pathway that addresses a roadblock. It inspires others to produce useful science and further elaboration of the fundamental idea. It contributes to a shift in the worldview. It triggers a transformation of intuition.”
Our nation has developed the science to send people to the moon through incubation of advanced concepts.The Quaker method of consensus has brought together many individual leadings of the Spirit, found in each of us. I see no reason why these two methods, if brought together, would yield anything less than magnificent!
J. B. Goss, Quaker Street Meeting
This column is prepared from information received from the local meeting recorders.