Minutes of Exercise, March Sessions 2009

Draft version – please suggest changes by July 14, 2009. Email Wright Horne

The spiritual exercise of our life together was powerfully evident this weekend among Philadelphia Friends. Our opening worship settled quickly and was like a living stream that allowed us to be carried to a new place. Amanda Kemp’s presentation that evening was called “Is This a Good Time to Talk? Creating a New Conversation About Race In America.” Amanda shared stories from her own life that led us to remember important personal connections in our own. She showed us a source for healing within. She gently encouraged us to surrender our own stories to find a real connection with others.

Saturday was our big day with a full agenda that showed our yearning for new ways of relating to each other that nurtured our Spirit-led decision-making process. Mary Ellen McNish told us that we were living in a critical time in history. We too as members of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting are living at a critical time in life of our community. Several important changes have been initiated over the last two years. The Budget Process Review brought us a place where we can use “frozen” financial resources for new and current projects. The Priority Process Standing Committee is listening to us to hear the God-given desires we feel as live concerns within our community. Hopefully when it finishes its work this summer with a presentation in July, we should have a set of priorities that will shape our work and enliven our testimonies, enrich our spiritual lives, and challenge our ability to cooperate with each other for our limited resources.

The third aspect of our renewing energy is the Governance Report. We approved it yesterday authorizing an Implementation Committee to guide how we can grow in relationship to one another calling upon our growth in trust and love as we show that we are teachable in Quaker process. We spent spacious time responding, sharing, and seeking Truth that created a structure that can move us to be a body with passion, power, and revealing God’s glory.

One of the lessons from the Gathering on Peace was that when the task was focused and simple, like providing a venue for listening to God’s Call, the individual task groups, although discrete and individual in focus, worked together for the good of Heeding God’s Call. That Gathering, as we heard, was powerful, even transformational, in its impact in the world. So too, the three measures we’ve initiated in the last several years will allow us to have a single focus and revive the inherent power of Spirit-led actions.

In a letter from Deborah Fisch, FGC Regional Staff, and Clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative, she wrote:

“We are at an important time for Friends. There is much, much work to be done and to model for the rest of the world, but…. we are like the tree that looked beautiful, but upon closer inspection had no fruit. The owner wanted to destroy it, but a hired hand begged for another year to fertilize the tree in hopes it would once again begin to bear fruit. God, the owner, said – okay one more year. We in the Religious Society of Friends are in that ‘one more year’ time in the existence of Friends. We can say yes or no…the choice is ours.”

Last night we heard Mary Ellen McNish say that we were living in a critical time. At the last National Council of Churches General Assembly, we heard a similar lament that we are in a dangerous time because we have been set free (in the sense that a decent and faithful man is in the White House) AND we haven’t reached the Promised Land.

Like our country, we are discovering that we, when we are in community like we have been this weekend, know we are free. AND we haven’t reached the Promised Land – yet. We still have a ways to go and together we can get there in our faithfulness. But most of all, if we need to continue to learn that, we can love each other.

As I close, I recall writing from one of my favorite stories by Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit:

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. … For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room…. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.”

Our friend, Isaac Pennington, said it this way: “Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness, and bearing one with another and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.”

If we are in a critical time frame, we need to love one another… for a long, long time, not just to play… but REALLY love, we will become Real. We need to pray for one another. If we can love and pray, we will reach the Promised Land together.

Thomas Swain, Clerk