To Friends everywhere, warm greetings from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, held at DeSales University, Center Valley, PA, July 17-22, 2001.
At the beginning of our opening session, under a wide tent on a warm evening, we were asked to consider whether and when we have been faithful. Where is our passion, our prophetic voice? As Friends spoke from their experience, a storm broke around us, driving cold wind and rain into the tent, forcing those at the clerk’s table to leave their platform and moving us all closer together. When our voices could not be heard, we simply listened to the pounding rain. At these 321st annual sessions, we have been challenged to let the Spirit break into our planning and structures so that we may hear God’s still, small voice and respond with faithful love. Friends have spoken of the passion that leads them into service and ministry and of the need for a community grounded in faith to support and channel this passion in God’s service.
Our Yearly Meeting’s theme, Living Our Faith, ran through our whole program. How do we live our faith when an institution is under our care? When we are bringing up our children? When we are reaching out to new members? When we are witnessing in the world around us? As different members spoke of their experiences, we learned from each other’s stories and have much to carry home to our monthly meetings. When we considered what encourages visitors to join our meetings, we heard that we sometimes fail in hospitality. But we were moved by two parents of children with disabilities who spoke of the warm welcome they had received and the sense that their children are valued for who they are. Another Friend recalled that it wasn’t the welcome that kept her coming back, but the living presence of the Spirit that she found in meeting for worship.
Organizational matters have called on our faithful attention, as well. We are still getting used to new structures and trying to learn how they may free us to serve God more effectively. In our discussions about incorporation of the Yearly Meeting, we faced the challenge of living in this world without being conformed to it, as we sought to speak simply and truthfully in the legal documents. Frequently during these sessions we have been reminded of our physical and spiritual oneness with all creation and called to take more heed of the environmental devastation taking place on the planet now. When we discussed the process and value of the Yearly Meeting writing minutes on social concerns, we were urged to undertake something even more difficult — the engagement of our whole lives, the journey to Jerusalem.
Our gathering was greatly enriched by the presence of visitors from other parts of the world, including Bolivia, Canada, England, India, Ireland, and Mexico. Loida Cutipa of Santidad Yearly Meeting moved us with a heartfelt message, speaking of our oneness with Friends in Bolivia and urging us to a deeper acquaintance with Jesus. Anne Thomas, from Canadian Yearly Meeting, led innovative Bible study sessions and spoke to us about the importance of telling and preserving our faith stories.
Our workshops and displays informed us of our wide range of ministry to Friends, neighbors, and the world. While we support a multitude of concerns, we are struggling to discern what collective witness we may be called to.
Young Friends labored with breaches in their relationship with our larger PYM community. They wrote a minute asserting their desire for direct involvement in developing guidelines for their behavior and sharing their desire to work together and achieve unity with us. Adults who joined Young Friends in their deliberations found their openness encouraging. Many adults accepted an invitation to join them in worship sharing and discussion about deepening our spiritual lives.
At a multigenerational talent show showcasing a wide range of artistic and creative abilities among all ages, we sang and danced and celebrated together. We have enjoyed the presence of our many children, who were happily engaged in a thoughtfully planned program on the theme of Integrity. This year young people and adults joined together each morning in song and prayer and open worship, which gathered us closer as a community of faith.
Integrity emerged as the key to many of our questions: consistency between our inner relationship with God and our actions in the world, consistency between our roots in the Spirit and the fruits of our concerns, consistency between our faith and our practice.
Despite brief rains, our days have been blessed with warmth and sunshine. Our closing worship was permeated by that love in which we are all sisters and brothers. Through our unity in the Spirit, we share with you all this warmth and love.
Signed on behalf of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting,
Arlene Kelly, clerk