Continuing Sessions promises to be a new way for us to work together. When we decided to change our structure, there was a clear statement that we needed to move beyond minuting issues of concern and begin acting. Even before the structure was finalized we began as a body to move towards examining issues of racism in our Called Session last January. Since then, all PYM Interim meetings and Annual Sessions continued that work.
We will extend that work in Continuing Sessions. The Continuing Sessions Planning Group decided that it would be best to use something familiar to focus our work: a query. The query would come, we decided from the spirit residing at Annual Sessions.
Ten attenders from diverse backgrounds came together to work on developing the query during Annual Sessions. The group was made up of Friends from throughout the Yearly Meeting and included a first-time sessions attender, members of Undoing Racism, a member of the clerk’s table, staff members, a member of Implementation Committee and a few other Friends who are highly involved in the work of justice.
We sat in worshipful reflection on our experiences at Annual Sessions. While we agreed that there are other important issues rising up in our Yearly Meeting, the work on racism is incomplete. We agreed we wanted to take everyone to the next step, toward considering how we can act together. Through worship sharing, we worked on the direction and language of the query. We wanted to be bold; we wanted to get our community to the next step, so our query reflected that ambition. The query that held the most truth for us was:
What is God calling PYM Quakers to do next to end racism and white supremacy in the Religious Society of Friends and beyond?
We shared this question with the whole of Annual Sessions at the “Big Reveal” on Sunday morning. The presentation was an uplifting message of action by people from all corners of our yearly meeting.
As everyone approaches Continuing Sessions to work on this query, it is important that we share a clear definition of how racism and white supremacy operate. White supremacy is the reality in the United States that American structures like the economy, education, language, criminal justice system and political power are designed to promote the interests of white people. While it has always meant this, the term is mostly associated with the legally enforced, segregationist Jim-Crow era, and leads some to feel defensive. But, the systems that deliberately promoted white people in the past still exist unchanged, and the system evolved to oppress people of color in new ways. The One Book One Yearly Meeting selection last year, The New Jim Crow, explained how this happened in the criminal justice system. These large systems have raised us all and have taught all of us to accept certain levels of racism — the acts that the powerful people in society take to exclude the other, based on perceived racial status.
The heart wrenching part about racism and white supremacy is that it damages everyone. Black Americans are constantly struggling to stay alive, succeed, and be equal, while white Americans can’t comprehend the barriers that they don’t see or experience. The vast majority of white Friends do not want to be privileged based upon their race; they find the idea repugnant, but the reality is that white Americans, unless they seek to understand their privilege, blindly live lives hurting others, living far from the values that they want to embody. Our system is compelling everyone to live far from their true selves.
The incoming Clerk of the Yearly Meeting, Penny Colgan Davis, has decided that the query is so ambitious that we will build up to answering it as a body over the next year. The first step, however, will be at Continuing Sessions on November 7, 2015 at Westtown School. We will meet, worship together and build the blessed community we hope to be. Come build our community in peace and in reverence of us all.
Mickleton Monthly Meeting
Clerk, Continuing Sessions Planning Sub-Group of the Implementation Committee