Philadelphia Yearly Meeting

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting was founded in 1681 to provide assistance and oversight for the monthly meetings then established or in prospect in the middle Atlantic colonies. In its early years it was called the “General Yearly Meeting for Friends of Pennsylvania, East and West Jersey and of the Adjacent Provinces.” Its geographical boundaries today are more limited but no more precise. They are the unplanned result of a series of affiliation decisions by monthly meetings in the border areas. From 1827, when the yearly meeting split, to 1955, when the branches reunited, two yearly meetings functioned in the same general geographic area and each called itself Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

Annual Sessions

All members of its constitutent monthly meetings are members of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends and should feel under the weight of duty to attend the annual sessions and participate in its deliberations and decisions. In meeting for worship for business and other forums, members come together in annual or special sessions for assessment of the life of the Society, the conduct of business, spiritual refreshment and commitment, and the renewal of the bonds of friendship.

Monthly meetings appoint two or more representatives, to assure both a large pool of wisdom and insight at each session and full and careful reports of these sessions to their home Meetings. Members of other yearly meetings and other interested persons are welcome to attend; but decisions should be made, under divine guidance, by the members present. Continuity of attendance is of great value.

The annual sessions may change in format or emphasis from year to year. They are occasions for sharing information and concerns from individual members, constituent meetings, yearly meeting committees, and other Friends’ groups, or organizations in sympathy with Friends. Some messages are in the form of epistles from other yearly meetings, to which it is customary to reply with an epistle approved near the close of the sessions.

Information, insight, and concern are received in a worshipful spirit and often evoke deeply felt responses. The yearly meeting may be led to unite in an expression of concern or in a decision for specific action. Since such expressions or actions speak for the entire membership, responsible bodies should carefully review in advance any concerns or proposals for action which are to come before the annual or special session.

Annual sessions can also play a role in the chain of assessment and oversight through the reception of and response to the annual reports of the quarterly meetings and Interim Meeting.

An annual session may have before it many actions to consider or few, but each year one of the weightiest is the budget. Budgetary proposals are given wide circulation well in advance of the annual session, with ample opportunity for comment. The discussion of the budget is most useful when it explores the spiritual and testimonial implications of budgetary decisions and elicits and weighs ideas that will influence future budgets.

The yearly meeting in annual session appoints clerks for terms of one year. In addition to a presiding clerk, these may include alternate clerks and recording clerk(s). It also appoints a treasurer and assistant treasurer for terms of three years, as well as the holders of such other offices as it may create. It establishes, funds, oversees and lays down standing and ad hoc committees and working groups; and it appoints or provides for the appointment of their members.

The yearly meeting in annual session is supported by a committee to plan a proposed agenda and schedule, and by committees to make arrangements that will contribute to the care of those in attendance. During the sessions the clerk and alternate clerk are supported by a committee to assist the clerk chosen by the clerk.

The Yearly Meeting Between Sessions: Interim Meeting

History of Interim Meeting

In the year 1756 the Meeting for Sufferings was established in Philadelphia to represent Philadelphia Yearly Meeting between sessions and to carry out its work. It consisted originally of twelve Friends appointed at large by the yearly meeting and four Friends from each quarterly meeting. It was in every sense a Select Meeting. In the course of time the name was changed to Representative Meeting, and in the 1970s it was decided that attendance at the sessions would be open. In 1996 the name was changed to Interim Meeting.

Any significant change in the makeup and function of Interim Meeting is the sole responsibility of the yearly meeting in session.

Interim Meeting membership

The number, selection, and terms of service of members of Interim Meeting are from time to time reviewed and determined by the yearly meeting upon recommendation from Interim Meeting.

Participation in the sessions of Interim Meeting

Friends gather in worship at Interim Meeting just as they do at their quarterly or yearly meeting, not as instructed delegates but as individuals guided by the Spirit at that time and place. Interim Meeting is representative of the yearly meeting in annual session; it is not a gathering of representatives of constituent bodies. In any representative body members will, nevertheless, experience the tensions that are implicit among the dictates of individual conscience, the desires of the bodies that appointed them, and the best interests of the whole.

The designation of individuals as members encourages both continuity of attendance and seasoned judgment. Continuity of attendance is imperative for satisfactory communication between the Interim Meeting and monthly or quarterly meetings and their members. Information and understanding must constantly flow into and out of Interim Meeting so that policies and decisions may be made with widespread help and be widely understood and implemented when made.

Interim Meeting has adopted these queries to guide its members:

  • As part of Interim Meeting in a worshiping community, am I faithful to the responsibility of seeking God’s will in carrying out the business of our yearly meeting? Do our practices provide us with spiritual refreshment? In what ways do I contribute to this?
  • Am I faithful in sharing the decisions reached by Interim Meeting with my monthly meeting, including all information appropriate to the understanding of those decisions? Do I share other reports and information about events?
  • Do I participate in a way that helps the clerk accomplish the agenda of the meeting?
  • Am I careful not to speak too easily or too often, careful to discern whether my speaking is rightly ordered?
  • Am I careful to listen to the Spirit as it is reflected in the contributions of others as well as within myself?
  • If I am not in agreement with the discussion, do I strive to present alternatives in a way that both helps others understand my concerns and maintains the spirit of worship?
  • Do I assist the clerk by remaining focused on the agenda item under discussion? Do I hold the clerk in the Light, especially when there are tensions in the decision-making process?

Functions and responsibilities of Interim Meeting

Interim Meeting acts for the yearly meeting when the yearly meeting is not in session and ensures that the work and witness of yearly meeting are carried forward in the spirit of yearly meeting in session. It reports annually to that body.

The yearly meeting has delegated the following duties to Interim Meeting:

  • Accepting responsibility for those concerns specifically referred by yearly meeting in session.
  • Providing general oversight and coordination of the work of the committees of the yearly meeting and of other groups of Friends acting under leading with yearly meeting approval.
  • Representing the yearly meeting and appearing in its behalf whenever the cause of truth, public welfare, or the interest and reputation of the Society of Friends may require.
  • Providing for widespread consultation and discussion on matters of major import to the Society of Friends.
  • Providing for the printing and distribution of literature that will extend the knowledge of Friends’ faith and practice, and reviewing both communications and publications specifically issued in the name of the yearly meeting.
  • Providing advice and assistance to monthly or quarterly meetings, upon their request, in the administration of property and trust funds, or in dealing with difficult situations.
  • Providing advice and assistance for any persons suffering because of adherence to Friends’ testimonies.
  • Receiving and endorsing minutes of Friends traveling in the ministry or under other circumstances related to Friends’ concerns.
  • Establishing contact with other Quaker bodies and other religious organizations on matters of common concern.
  • Designating the duties and responsibilities of the treasurer and assistant treasurer of the yearly meeting.
  • Appointing the general secretary and associate secretaries of the yearly meeting, designating their duties and responsibilities; and providing for each oversight, support, and regular evaluation of performance.

Interim Meeting appoints, customarily for one year, its clerk and such officers as it finds necessary, and designates their duties and responsibilities. The clerk shall not be concurrently the clerk of yearly meeting.

Experience has shown that eight sessions a year are usually necessary to perform the duties of Interim Meeting. Its clerk may call special sessions as needed.

When need arises, Interim Meeting may ask the clerk of yearly meeting to call special sessions of the yearly meeting. When vacancies occur among the officers of the yearly meeting, Interim Meeting makes interim appointments.

Interim Meeting may not make any changes in Faith and Practice, issue any statement of faith, or act upon any matters specifically reserved for the yearly meeting. It should advise the yearly meeting when a revision of the text of Faith and Practice is indicated.

Any significant change in the makeup and function of Interim Meeting is the sole responsibility of the yearly meeting in session.

The Yearly Meeting Between Sessions: Committees of the Yearly Meeting

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM) is empowered to appoint, fund, oversee, and require regular reports from its five standing committees and these, in turn, have authority to create, oversee, and lay down services and projects in program areas assigned to them by PYM. This authority is subject to budgeting and program direction from Interim Meeting or PYM in session. In addition, each standing committee oversees representatives to those external organizations and granting groups which PYM has assigned to that specific committee.

The principal functions of the standing committees are as follows:

  1. Education—review, guide and support the religious and academic education of young people and those who serve them within PYM. This committee thus oversees such activities as curriculum development for First Day Schools, non-violence and children’s projects, and also support for Friends Schools and for Friends in public education.
  2. General Services—provide oversight for the various elements of administration that enable PYM to pursue its ministry. These elements include finance, personnel and office services, coordination of granting groups, conference management, and property management.
  3. Peace and Concerns—select, enable and monitor projects that implement Friends testimonies both locally and in the wider world, in order thereby to help bring about a more just and peaceful world. Such projects arise from the leadings of individual Friends who find support within their monthly meetings or from a group of Friends, including established working groups.
  4. Support and Outreach—provide essential services that will strengthen monthly meetings as fundamental units within PYM. Such services include the PYM library, publications, support for monthly meetings in their outreach efforts, and support for regional coordinators.
  5. Worship and Care—support and encourage members and meetings in enhancing their temporal and spiritual lives. The committee has oversight of various groups and projects dealing with spiritual enrichment and pastoral care such as aging concerns spiritual formations and adult religious education.

Worship and ministry are essential to the life of the Religious Society of Friends. In recognition of this fact, the Meeting on Worship and Ministry of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is specifically charged with the responsibility of nurturing the quality of worship, ministry, and spiritual life throughout the yearly meeting. Annual sessions of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting have traditionally opened with consideration of matters laid before it by the Meeting on Worship and Ministry.

Prior to the restructuring of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1998, this group was known as the Committee on Worship and Ministry, and was itself a standing committee. Under the new structure, the Meeting on Worship and Ministry continues to perform these functions under the aegis of the Worship and Care Standing Committee.

Members for the five standing committees are proposed by the Nominating Committee and approved by Interim Meeting or PYM in session. Determination of how members of a working group are selected is the responsibility of its standing committee. The standing committee may request the assistance of PYM’s Nominating Committee or delegate the responsibility to the working group itself when that seems to be suitable. However, members of groups that make monetary grants must be selected by the standing committee and their names reported to Interim Meeting.

Nominating Committee

The Nominating Committee presents to the annual sessions nominations for the following yearly meeting positions:

  • Clerks of the yearly meeting, for terms of one year. These include alternate clerk(s) and recording clerks in addition to the presiding clerk.
  • Treasurer for a term of three years, but not serving more than 4 terms; and an assistant treasurer as needed.
  • Such other officers as the yearly meeting may direct.
  • The Nominating Committee presents either to the annual sessions or to Interim Meeting nominations of the following:
  • Persons to serve on the five yearly meeting standing committees, on the Financial Stewardship Committee, and on other bodies as directed by the yearly meeting.
  • Persons to represent the yearly meeting at other gatherings and organizations that are consonant with Friends’ practices and beliefs.

The Nominating Committee also prepares a list of nominees to the Friends Fiduciary Corporation from which it appoints its members according to its by-laws.

Financial Stewardship Committee

The Financial Stewardship Committee is charged with preparing the PYM budget. The process of budget development includes gathering funding requests from the standing committees as well as the perceptions of monthly and quarterly meetings regarding the relative value of the various yearly meeting projects and services. The committee is made up of a representative from each of the standing committees and five to nine at-large members appointed by PYM through its nominating committee.