Priorities Threshing, August 1 – afternoon

Friends settled into worship for our called threshing session regarding the Priority proposals brought forward earlier in the day by the Priorities Process Standing Committee.

The Clerk began our business with a reminder about our song sung this morning where God troubled the water. Perhaps this is an indication of our need to accept God as our guide in this threshing session. The Clerk, Thomas Swain, then acknowledged that mistakes have been made in agenda execution this morning, unrealistic expectations for tomorrow’s session and a missed consideration of the needs of parents and their inclusion in our decision making process. Thomas expressed regret about this and asked forgiveness from the Meeting. He then asked us to focus on the word “we” in our upcoming discussion. If the “we” is emphasized it will benefit the “I.”

Alternate Clerk, Dana Kester-McCabe, rose to make some introductory remarks. We are seeking approval of the four essential priorities which will act as seeds that we wish to see grow. The sub-points beneath each priority are “action guidelines,” that Standing Committees and the Priority Process Standing Committee will use for future work. The presented proposals are not listed in any distinct order to allow for flexibility in how the Standing Committees deal with them. Please keep in mind the experimental nature of this undertaking.

Dana shared with us her vision of this process as a garden: Priorities are seeds, Spiritual Growth and Renewal are fruits and vegetables, Caring for Our Community is the herb garden, Witnessing Our Faith is our field of grain, and Making Ourselves Known is the flower garden. The equipment we use to care for the garden and the pathways connecting them are the necessary infrastructure. Sometimes a plot will need to lie fallow, sometimes we won’t be able to plant all four seeds. But the possibility of the planting will always be there.

The Meeting was then opened for questions and concerns from those attending. The first set of concerns dealt with the Priority setting process.

Question: During this process did the Committee decline any suggestion that came to it? Yes, if there were single constituent suggestions that did not appear in any of the listening sessions, that suggestion was dropped.

It was emphasized if a future suggested project is not matched by an action guideline on this list list, it does not necessarily mean that the suggested project will be ignored.

There was no attention paid to getting the input of our Young Friends, our 18 and younger Friends, even our youngest Friends. This needs to change in the future. Only then can we say that the whole Yearly Meeting was involved.

How objective was the analysis process? Was it driven by data analysis or a subjective view of the suggestions? It was a subjective process that added weight to a suggestion if it appeared in several sources. An example of this was a near universal appeal for help with First Day School. However, regarding the financial support for education, requests came in for support for both attendance at Friends schools and for public schools in distressed areas. This produced a more nuanced proposal for educational support.

Did the Committee create any priorities or just post suggested priorities? The whole process involved finding out what Friends desired. There was no sense in the Committee to create priorities on their own.

One Friend asked in an exercised manner, “Where is this unease coming from? Our Committee has done an incredible job. What is the problem?”

Another question: Are these new, real priorities or just things we are currently doing? These are real priorities that look like things we are already doing. That is understandable as this is a first time experiment. This set of priorities will be used in a dialog between the Standing Committees and the Priorities Process Standing Committee. That is the next valuable step. These priorities will allow the Standing Committees to reinforce what can or is working and also what is not working.

The concerns now shifted to the actual content of the priorities and their action guidelines.

One Friend delivered this ministry: This document represents the very finest work that can be done at this time. We seemed to have “topped” out. Its time to approve this and let God take us further.

Another Friend offered some editorial suggestions that could stir the passions of Friends and attract more interest: Save people from the lies of consumerism; stop the slaughter of species; Stop Global Warming; Confront our wasteful and destructive habits of living; Create creative loving communities, Supporting Friends through difficult times; Offer people a place to know God.

Where is the support for pastoral care? The staff person for Friends Counseling Service shared her concern that we need to continue to assist Friends in distress. This did not come up in any of the Listening sessions. Yet here is an example where the Friends Counseling Service fits under Caring for Our Community so the Standing Committee could seek support for it under this process.

It was a surprise to have “Making Ourselves Known” as a priority, a pleasant surprise!

What about all the people who were here this morning but are not here now? Is there a way to let them know that we missed them? How can we commit to this as a whole Yearly Meeting when we are not all here?

Tyla Ann Burger, a member of the Priorities Process Standing Committee addressed the body. Are we asking for approval for just the four priorities or for them and the action guidelines? The answer is somewhere in the middle. All of these priorities and guidelines will go to the Standing Committees to be used for discernment. If a particular committee has resources to support a guideline it can get done. If a request comes up that is not a guideline but supports a major priority – it could be done.

One Friend asked for support of pastoral care across all age groups. Another questioned the lack of order of the priorities. Another asked what will happen after approval. And another was concerned that the necessary infrastructure parts were not delineated.

In the midst of rampaging concerns, an attender from Trenton Monthly Meeting rose to acknowledge her and her family’s appearance here and their continued presence at Trenton Meeting as examples of an outreach success. She praised us. She provided a much needed light note and eased the tension with her affirmation.

Another Friend had an “ah ha” moment. He rose to say that he just suddenly got it. This was not as complicated as he originally thought. Things were not as fixed as he thought. We were only seeing today a snapshot of a worshipful long term process. We cannot get to California by turning the steering wheel only once. We need a roadmap and this is a very special roadmap, the result of the Spirit at work in our committee and our Yearly Meeting.

The clerk then brought the threshing session to a close, asking if the body was easy with reading back the notes before that part of tomorrow’s business session where approval would be sought. We were asked that these would be considered notes. This was approved.