Called Session, November 10

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends

Convened in Called Session, November 10, 2001, at Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting

Friends gathered at the scheduled hour of 1:40 PM and settled into worship.

Minute 1: Clerk’s Welcome

Clerk Arlene Kelly began, not by introducing those on the facing bench, but by asking those assembled to look around the room and appreciate the many Friends, of various ages and locales, who responded to the call to gather today. She especially noted the Young Friends, who are appreciated not only for their participation but also in the knowledge of the weight they bear today and in days to come.

Friends on the facing bench were introduced. Then Arlene described the process by which today’s agenda was developed, accounting for the depth of movement working in many Friends in many ways in the aftermath of the assaults of September 11th. Today, however, had not been structured to allow for expression of personal emotion, but to describe and plan corporate action. The agenda was rooted in and guided by the 10 regional threshing sessions held on September 30th.

Arlene invited us all to seek to be grounded in the Spirit, laying aside our egos and inviting the Holy Spirit into our lives in this moment. By uniting in the Spirit, we may arrive in a space that is deeply profound.

Minute 2: Update on Organizational Responses

The clerk invited Michael Poulshock of the American Friends Service Committee to describe the work of the AFSC Emergency Material Aid and Assistance Program. The Program has been working on two levels: providing blankets and other items to the victims and workers in New York City, and internationally to aid Afghan refugees in Iran, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. Contributions have come in from throughout the United States, not just locally. Blanket collection continues until December 31st.

David Elder, also of AFSC, next spoke, referring to a handout describing a range of AFSC activities, organized in the No More Victims Campaign. These activities focus largely on the Middle East and the root causes of unrest and anger toward the United States; however, they also include education and witness on these issues within the U.S. These efforts also address concerns about militarism and counter-terrorism in our country.

Suzanne Day, a PYM appointee to Friends Committee for National Legislation, spoke of FCNL’s efforts, emphasizing FCNL’s representation of the spectrum of the Quaker family in the U.S., its dedication to working with well-founded and reliable data, and its diligence in effectively presenting a Quaker perspective to our national legislators, as well as communicating legislative issues to Quaker communities. She pointed out the FCNL web page as a resource for quick knowledge of activities, a weekly events bulletin available by phone or in print, and the monthly newsletter profiling issues in depth, as well as other resources.

Thom Jeavons, general secretary of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, pointed out that PYM activities have been described in detail in the current issue of PYM News. He particularly noted the three joint statements issued in the wake of September 11th, and other public statements seeking to provide a public expression of our concerns. PYM has also embarked on joint series of presentations with Pendle Hill, and is working with other faiths here in Philadelphia and at large through the National Council of Churches. A banner is being developed with AFSC for display on street posts, saying “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”

Thom emphasized, “everything we do comes from worship.” This grounding in the Spirit has not only fed PYM staff, but has nourished an unprecedented degree of cooperation and joint mission among PYM and other Quaker agencies.

Minute 3: Building Upon the Threshing Sessions

The clerk invited those assembled to next consider four themes that emerged from the September 30th threshing sessions. These themes were offered, not as definitive propositions, but as starting points for further discernment.

The first theme addressed the Friends peace testimony. As stated in the agenda:

Threshing Session participants expressed several questions/concerns which they feel need addressing if we are to be faithful in living our Peace Testimony and effective in communicating the bases of that Testimony to persons outside of the Society of Friends.

  • Some Friends acknowledge that their belief in the Peace Testimony has been deeply shaken, and there is a longing for a place within our Meetings where this crisis of belief can be brought safely into the open and discussed.
  • Terrorism and acts of violence and oppression which cause suffering to innocent (civilian) populations bring an additional challenge and complexity to our understanding of the Peace Testimony. For some, the Peace Testimony cannot be fully embraced without a deeper understanding of how to respond to such acts of violence.
  • Many Friends realized that their grasp of the Peace Testimony and their understanding of its roots in our faith were not adequate as they sought to be articulate with persons outside the Society of Friends. They are, thus, handicapped in participating in the wider conversation.

Arlene further reported previously devised recommendations addressing this theme. In the agenda, these were stated as:

Yearly Meeting resources (to include volunteers who feel called to work in this area, current staff who might be reassigned and/or special funding to support identified need for resources) be committed to developing a coordinated, year-long effort designed to address the concerns identified above, ensuring that it is regionally accessible, that it is developed to create opportunity for both deeper learning and for in-depth conversations in which heart-felt searching is supported.

From the body of Meeting, it was observed that the peace testimony is not the foundation of our faith, but a fruit of our faith. Funding will not nourish this fruit nearly as effectively as recourse to the Spirit.

Another observed that moderate clergy in the Middle East bear a particular burden to speak truth to power, especially regarding persistent denials of human rights.

Friends also wrestled with the peace testimony during the Gulf War; we still have a need for education in the history of the testimony.

A Friend cautioned against indulging in “introspective talk and no action.” He urged that PYM sustain and build upon public worship and witness. One particular example would be to promote respectful observation of Ramadan, which calls for fasting and increased prayer — activities from which we ourselves would benefit.

It was noted that not all monthly meetings have found a common understanding or call to activity, but yet are seeking unity and need support in this quest.

One Friend appreciated a recent speech by Thom Jeavons, which was quite informative about the peace testimony. Recordings of this presentation are available from Pendle Hill.

Our attention was called to the fact that our own country is in great need of witness and calling to peace. The U.S. has much to account for in our international conduct. As a country, we might act most honorably by recusing ourselves from the international pursuit of justice in these matters.

A Friend called us to talk among ourselves, even about those truths that we assume we understand and share. We may be surprised and enlightened by the differences.

Another reminded us that these events are neither abstract nor distant. As the anthrax incidents have shown, fear, anger, disruption and harm can touch any of our families.

A Friend appreciated the various statements and educational resources issued from Friends Center, representing not dictates from a central authority but support of local and personal discernment. This called to mind in another a passage from Proverbs: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waits in vain.”

After announcements and a brief rest break, the clerk called our attention to the second theme: supporting our youth. As stated in the agenda:

Concern regarding support of our youth was expressed on two levels.

  • Specifically, there is recognition that many meetings have let lapse efforts at counseling their young people as they approach their 18th birthday and need to register for Selective Service and have let lapse the practice of having their young people record their leading in regard to conscientious objection.
  • More generally, care of our young people is also seen to include support as they seek to discern right action amidst conflicting expectations of their elders and also the pressures coming to them from the larger community and culture of which they are also a part.

Recommendations for responding to the stated concerns

  • The Conscience, Militarism and War Tax Concerns Working Group has in place a program designed to support youth and to support monthly meetings in exploring issues of the draft and ensuring that meetings support youth in documenting their positions regarding conscientious objection in case it should be needed at a later point for a Draft Board hearing. It is recommended that any additional resources needed by this Working Group (such as an additional day of staff time) to meet the increased requests of meetings and schools and otherwise to be responsive to the concerns in this area be provided.
  • In the area of fuller communications with and support of our youth and young adults, there is less clarity about next steps. Many Friends acknowledge the need for attention to this area. Do we have the will to make the commitment which is necessary? Where within our Yearly Meeting do we have models of this being done well from which we can learn? What are the next steps?

From the body, we realized a need to extend this focus beyond PYM youth, to other faiths and other locales. Indeed, youth throughout the world are wrestling with peace issues. One Friend described several points in support of education, such as improved funding, teaching of second languages, and outreach to youths in such groups as ROTC and Junior ROTC.

A Young Friend invited the simple grace of talking — plain old, everyday special, personal communication among Friends of different ages. As noted by another, formal intergenerational gatherings, such as those of the Quarters, often are not well attended. Teens tend to disappear into Young Friends events, of which families that do not have teens are usually unaware. We can both talk individually and gather collectively, welcoming Young Friends into “adult” meetings, supporting Young Friends events, and staging common gatherings.

Already, instances have arisen of young adults who seek support in understanding and developing their stance in peace and conscientious objection. Some meetings are providing this support; others are struggling to find ways to respond.

The clerk then invited us to consider the third theme: collaborating with Friends organizations and people of other faiths. As stated in the agenda:

The notes from several of the Threshing Sessions recognized that the events and aftermath of September 11th have led us to reach across boundaries which earlier were not easily transcended. Clear and strong affirmation focused on several points.

  • Appreciation for the collaboration which has occurred in new and fuller ways between the Yearly Meeting, FCNL, AFSC, FGC and other Friends organizations and a call to continue with this.
  • The importance of our speaking on issues of peace and justice in an authentic and grounded voice beyond the historic peace community.
  • The recognition that we are not alone in our pacifist stance. Rather, church leaders across the country are taking a stand against wars and further violence and we must seek appropriate ways to stand with other people of faith.

Recommendations for responding to the stated concerns

  • It is recommended that the deeper collaborative relationships with other Friends organizations continue to be nurtured. Specifically, it is recommended that the Clerk and General Secretary invite the leadership of FCNL, AFSC and FGC into a conversation regarding the ways in which each entity can ‘bring to the table’ in a cooperative way the particular strengths it can contribute to a holistic approach among Friends. The intention of such a conversation would be to assist the development of deeper relationships between other Friends organizations, monthly meetings and individual Friends, and also to explore the possibility of appropriately pooling resources for the carrying out of particular projects.
  • Further, it is recommended that active ways be sought to achieve commitment of financial resources to funding opportunities which may open for us to work collaboratively on projects.
  • PYM does, already, participate in the National Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches and the Metropolitan Christian Council in Philadelphia. These associations provide opportunity for collaborative work to some extent. If we have the commitment, however, to work more fully and effectively on relationships with other people of faith in areas of common concern and interest, reflection on how best to accomplish this, i.e., how to actually implement it, will be needed. The reality is that our response time, as a Yearly Meeting, sometimes means opportunities pass us by. The reality is that there are many statements to which we could put our names, but discernment is needed regarding when and to what end we choose to do that. What are our intentions, for example, regarding actions to follow the signing of statements? Is this an area warranting further attention? What are Friends thoughts regarding how it can be more fully pursued?

From the body of Meeting, a Friend spoke of his concern that international relations need to be radically restructured, and Quakers have a responsibility to sound the call for a turning to peace. PYM in particular, with its wealth of resources, can take the lead in this, starting by establishing a full-time staff position dedicated to peace work.

Another encouraged us to look forward and attend to how the peace that will follow the current conflict will be structured. One aspect would be to establish sanctuaries, as inspired by the six cities of sanctuary described in Joshua.

We can use help in learning how to converse with those of other faiths, with respect for their beliefs.

Collaboration is not restricted to the Yearly Meeting level; it can be, and has been, happening energetically and meaningfully at the Quarter and Monthly Meeting levels. Local activities may be the best opportunities for individuals to participate in a profound way.

The clerk at this point acknowledged that many Friends have specific ideas and concerns that are worth consideration, but to entertain them all was beyond our scope in this setting. With the consent of those assembled, Arlene called us to settle into worship to seek guidance.

The clerk observed that we have been called into a place of humility, that we not act for the sake of acting, and yet acknowledge the need to act. Some of us have found a need to better understand the peace testimony; others, to better live it. We also clearly need to act in a way that involves and is sensitive to many types of people: different ages, different faiths, different nationalities, different traditions.

A Friend noted that we miss opportunities due to cumbersome organizational processes. She suggested that the clerk of Yearly Meeting, the general secretary, and clerk of Interim Meeting might be authorized to act on our behalf, answering to Interim Meeting. Despite initial affirmative momentum, we could not achieve unity on this idea.

A Friend cautioned that, in order to be heard by the larger community, we need to account for the injustice and tragedy of the assaults of September 11th. Another spoke from his sense of patriotism, which we also need to acknowledge and value in our discussions among ourselves and in the wider community.

The clerk tested, and the meeting affirmed, that we need to provide opportunities for dialogue among Friends to explore the peace testimony in depth. This concern is worthy of significant commitment of PYM resources. Furthermore, we charged our general secretary to inventory what resources we may commit to this, reporting to Interim Meeting, and we asked for clarity in the ways that ideas to address peace activities may be brought forward to Yearly Meeting.

From the body, it was suggested that we approve the actions already taken, encourage further cooperation with Quaker agencies, and resolve to hold another called session if needed. No action was taken on these suggestions.

A Friend called our attention to a set of queries addressing our meetings’ support of young adults’ consideration of peace and conscientious objection, asking that we approve these queries for use by our monthly meetings. Those assembled approved the use of PYM resources to support these considerations, by these queries and by other means such as the Young Friends program, relevant working groups, and individual action.

The fourth theme — becoming more fully informed — was not addressed due to the press of time.

The minutes of this session were read, corrected, and approved. The meeting closed in worship at about 5:45 PM.

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Following the Called Session, Annie Patterson and Peter Blood held a Benefit Concert of Healing and Hope at Friends Center, starting at 7:00 PM.