Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s new General Secretary has completed the You Are PYM! tour. In a 17-day whirlwind, Christie:
- Travelled nearly 650 miles
- To five regions of the yearly meeting
- Meeting with more than 300 Friends
- From about 65 meetings
Following the last tour date, Christie said she was even more grateful to be serving the Quaker community as General Secretary of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting than she was before she started. It was a joy to meet so many people and to hear the enthusiasm they expressed for the sense of spiritual community and empowerment which she described in her talk.
Friends who were in attendance felt the same way. In closing worship at one meeting a Friend gave ministry sharing her excitement for the opportunities that are open to us in a new way and her anticipation of our stepping into those opportunities. Other Friends were grateful for Christie’s storytelling-approach to speaking. One said she expected to hear a speech with bullet points about the new five year plan but instead was intrigued to hear an illustrated vision and engaged excitement. One Friend even said she had “shivers” as Christie spoke.
Christie spoke at each of the Tour dates about the vision she perceives for who we are as a people. She called this “setting the table” at which we each have a seat. As she spoke, she literally set a table. She began with laying down a tablecloth and speaking of the beautiful community which is the foundation on which everything else rests. We, the thousands of seekers and more than 100 meetings, are Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, she stressed. Staff, building, budgets and committees all help the yearly meeting move and be as it is called, but the yearly meeting itself is US.
Laying down a plate, Christie spoke about the connection to spirit that sustains, guides, fills and connects all of us. This is what nourishes us and this is basic to Quakerism: we live our faith in each day, each choice, each breath. A single plate on the table however is not representative of Quakerism; we require community! So Christie laid another plate and some cups. She described the community of seekers which helps us perceive more perspectives and dimensions of the Divine and holds us accountable to living up to the Truth that has been revealed or understood by each of us. Our home meetings give us this in our daily lives. To a more complex and resilient extent, the large community of the yearly meeting gives us that as well.
Then, stepping back and looking at the table, Christie commented that this is a good representation of us in isolation. We, however, live in the world. We live in a world, in fact, which welcomes the presence and leadership of Quakers. Christie gave some examples of this and then referred back to the table setting to illustrate our interaction with the world. First she packed some of the items on the table into a lunchbox (a Wonder Woman lunchbox, which, yes, she actually takes her lunch to work in. It was a gift from her daughter) and told Friends we need to take our Quakerism with us wherever we go. We need to live our lives as we are called to, with the support of the community, in the world. And finally, to come full circle, Christie added many more plates to the table indicating our need to share our path with others and invite them to join us at this table.
Participants at every location expressed their gratitude that our new General Secretary traveled out to meet them. While the five locations allowed most Friends to be able to join one of the gatherings without driving more than an hour, Christie acknowledged our geography is disperse to the extent that the commute was too much for some Friends and meetings. Her plan to visit meetings each month is one that may allow her to meet Friends from our more distant meetings.
Each Tour Date started off with Friends indicating on large maps of the PYM region which meetings they have visited. This gives a colorful picture of the intervisitation practices in our meetings (Let us know where you’ve been! Log your visits from the 2014-15 year on the PYM website).
We also ate a meal together at each Tour date –baked potatoes with topping provided by Tour attenders. Along with an abundance of the basic toppings, some favorites included chard with goat cheese and candied bacon – amazing. Each of the tables included a raw potato and Mr/Mrs Potato Head pieces to play with (The staff who organized the tour were pretty excited about the whole “potato” theme when they were planning this event). Christie circled around the room trying to meet as many Friends as possible during the meal. The room was often crowded and there was a high percentage of Friends whom Christie didn’t know, despite the fact that she has been active in the Yearly Meeting for many years. While that meant she didn’t get to say hello to everyone, she felt that it was the best kind of problem to have.
Tools for the Journey
During Christie’s talk she referred to three different “tools” (represented by silverware) to help Friends with
- How does the Truth Fare with Thee? When early Friends met one another, they would ask “How does the Truth fare with thee?” rather than asking “How are you?” They wanted to know about the other’s spiritual condition and relationship with the Divine. Christie handed out small cards with modern variations of this query that were suggested by PYM Friends and encouraged everyone to ask family, Friends and friends about their journey. See the queries online.
- Intervisitation: To expand your understanding of the gifts and breadth of our community, go visit other meetings. And then let us know about your visit. Go to pym.org/visits to let us know where you went and what you experienced. Include a picture of your visit!
- Meeting Stories: Sharing our meetings’ stories lets us know the breadth and depth of the spiritual engagement and activity that we experience in our community. It helps us see the power and the need among us. It shows us who we are. Every meeting is asked to share at least two stories a year. They can be uploaded, along with a picture, at www.pym.org/stories.
Behind the Scenes
Senior staff members, led by Jennie Sheeks (Director of Development) with significant partnership from Zachary Dutton (Associate Secretary for Program & Religious Life) and assistance from Martin Reber (Director of Communications) spearheaded this project and made it come alive, from planning the details to implementing them. On three afternoons many PYM staff members gathered around sinks and tables to prep the potatoes (over 500 in all!). Additional staff members also provided logistic support before, onsite and after each Tour event. Multiple forms of publicity sent out through the postal mail, e-mail and online. In the end, what looked like a simple potluck dinner gathering was powered by these incredibly capable and committed staff members. This team work is another thing that Christie loves about her new job.