Outgoing Epistle 2008

PYM Outgoing Epistle – August 3, 2008

Greetings in the Light to Friends around the world,

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting met for the summer portion of our 328th annual sessions held July 30th through August 3rd, 2008, at DeSales University, Center Valley, Pennsylvania. The theme of our gathering was “Sharing Our Journeys – In Light, Love, and Peace.”

We began with a message from Fred Kauffman, a Mennonite minister and a member of the steering committee for the ecumenical peace gathering to be held at Arch Street Meeting House in January 2009. Fred set the stage for our sessions with his meditations on our need to become followers of the Spirit of Christ, not simply seekers of worldly satisfaction. He also shared the message that Jesus did not come so much to be a living sacrifice for all of us, but to teach us that God does not want blood sacrifice. He came to teach that the true way to Peace is through compassionate love and understanding for everyone, even those we dislike, fear, or do not understand.

We can begin this by just talking to one another. We learned about the power of simple conversation to change the world through our “One Book – One Yearly Meeting” selection: Turning To One Another: Simple Conversations To Restore Hope To The Future by Margaret J. Wheatley. It is always an inspiration to simply sit and talk with old friends and new. How wonderful to rediscover that these conversations can be the beginnings of a better world.

In our plenary sessions our individual stories came together in a one-ness even in the midst of previous divisions. We listened to the Spirit and experienced healing through our laughter and our tears of deep emotion and sometimes grieving. After our Friday evening session there was joyful contra dancing. We are a people born for love and joy. We felt the Spirit of Love and Truth flowing throughout the Meeting, in small groups of people discussing God’s vision of a world free of poverty, in toddlers chasing a butterfly on the lawn, the spontaneous music played in our library, even in the business sessions themselves! The performance art duo Quiet Riot (Bill and Dave Mettler) told us stories of community based around the themes of: Belonging, Choice, Fun, and Respect. Using mime and sound effects, they demonstrated how we are valued and valuable in community.

Our children’s program provided a variety of experiences for every age group. Many imaginations were fired by one role-playing game in which they became 17th century Quakers on an adventurous journey to the Americas encountering pirates, storms, and bears. Our children helped us begin each day in worship. Their exuberant attitudes and ministries of mischief and innocence are greatly treasured.

Friends in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting recognize that we have been in a period of transition for some time. This began in part with our work to modernize our organizational structure which was done in the 1990s. Our aspiration has always been to seek a balance between the many facets of what it means to be a “Yearly Meeting.” This includes continuing efforts to understand the organic nature and changing roles of our member bodies, Monthly and Quarterly meetings, our committees and working groups, and our employees.

Now in these business sessions with Divine Grace, we have tasted the fruits of those labors. In the holy community we created at this gathering, we had opportunities not merely to make choices but to welcome the Spirit-led work done by all these groups and individuals. All of the business brought before us was approved or accepted. We experienced a joyful confidence in the workings of the Spirit through each other. We are so grateful for the tremendous blessings and tireless work done by all those who made these sessions possible. Together we were all part of a great collaboration. Each of us was vital to the Spirit-led accomplishment of the work before us.

Now we have committed to an intentional process of self-discovery and discernment. This can only be described as a renewed commitment to hearing and answering God’s call to us to be a people gathered. This not only includes exploring a new process to discern our Yearly Meeting priorities, but we are on a path to further revise and strengthen the relationship between our annual sessions and continuing business sessions throughout the year. We also approved a new committee to oversee the stewardship of our beloved Arch Street Meeting House. We are committed to accountability and a well-ordered division of our labors. In the coming year we will also develop those priorities which will help us nurture a loving faith community of communities.

Like people all over the world, concerns for peace, justice, and an earth restored are much on our minds. We have a group engaged in re-envisioning the Quaker peace testimony. They have encouraged us as Meetings and individuals to take this up ourselves as well, that we might live that testimony authentically in our daily lives. We know that as we develop better ways of discerning our priorities and conducting ourselves we will also be developing the tools to help us become better agents of healing in our world.

Colin Saxton, Superintendent of Northwest Yearly Meeting, was our Saturday evening presenter. He affirmed our work on the peace testimony. He invited us to see how far we can go to live in that power, life, and Spirit which takes away those barriers which separate us. He asked, “Are we at peace with each other?” Further, he reminded us that we can be transformed by “that Light which helps us see that we are written on one another’s hearts.” The world needs people who have been transformed. Colin asked us to evangelize by sharing our stories of transformation and witness. Our lives are the poems, love letters, and songs of God. They are being sung in a way that humanity can best understand now.

Indeed, we feel we are transforming as a Yearly Meeting. We are emerging from a period of serious distraction and dissonance. We were like a great jazz band with no set list of music. Now we are finding those songs we can play together. We are discovering how to harmonize with each other. We now have the confidence to improvise and compose new music as the Spirit so conducts us. The music is sweet and simple yet it soars. When we ask, “Where is God in this?” the answer is “All over.”

We send you our prayers and good wishes and look forward to hearing how the Truth prospers with you.

Thomas Swain
Clerk, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting