Overheard at Annual Sessions Day 3

Annual Sessions

Written by Grace Sharples-Cooke, Interim Director of Development

I caught up with FCNL reps Jim Cason and Christine Ashley, who came to PYM to run a workshop and meet with Friends interested in engaging in legislative lobbying for bills with bi-partisan support. Christine says, “we are absolutely here because we want to see where Friends are right now. It’s a challenging time, and I know that Friends have been coming out in many ways and thinking about the internal condition of the spirit. (We ask) what does that mean in terms of the outside world and how does that come into play: specifically, what can I do as a Friend?”

In addition to coming for FCNL work, Jim says he is “here first and foremost because we want to get a chance to worship with Friends in the area. We are grateful to PYM for making the space for us as a national Quaker Organization to be with Friends for a couple of days. We brought three staff people with us because that’s how important it is for us to just be grounded in Friends communities around the county. (Nationally) there are many Friends who are concerned about what is happening in our political scene. And, they come from different perspectives; we have Friends who are business leaders; and Friends who are eco-activists.”

Given the range of perspectives across Friends Churches in the United States, Jim thinks it is really important to have first-hand conversations. “We feel that—as a Friends organization—the path we need to walk is one of trying to talk to everyone and finding out where others are coming from. (We ask) how can we figure out a path forward, together? A path that speaks to the Quaker principles of Peace, Truthfulness, and Simplicity and, I would add, Justice and Right Relationship with the Earth.”

In addition to several individual and small group meetings with Friends at Annual Sessions, Jim, Christine and another FCNL colleague offered a well-attended FCNL legislative workshop yesterday afternoon. A US Ambassador to Suriname joined the workshop and offered to further network FCNL with other retired Senior Diplomats in the DC area, so as to help assess where to apply legislative lobbying efforts. Later, Christine will resume the Meeting and Quarterly Meeting work that makes up a large part of FNCL’s efforts to connect Quaker institutions with the community tools they need to influence their senate and congressional representatives’ decision-making.

Bryn Hamerstrom, a member of Quaker Life Council (QLC), said he has been coming to Annual Sessions for years and years. “When our daughters were younger, we came and fell in love with Melanie Doughty who was running Middle School Friends. We are from Wellsboro Meeting – the farthest meeting from Philadelphia. If you drew a line from 1515 Cherry Street to Niagara Falls, New York, we are in the middle.” Bryn explained that just as it is distant, his meeting is also small – with about three to six people in Worship on Sunday.

Bryn’s role here as a member of QLC has led to his participation in the drafting of a minute, which is to be read today at Yearly Meeting in session. The minute—which is addressed to the Yearly Meeting body from the Quaker Life Council—will express QLC’s hope that they can be a resource for the community as it comes together after changes to our structure and staffing, and continues to have discussions about racism.

Pamela Williams and Paul Indorf were talking together last night after Inspira William’s and Sarah Willie-LeBreton’s evening session/workshop, on building welcoming meetings. The event’s workshop (with small group work) was particularly powerful, and people returned to Kendall Hall for the session’s conclusion in an open and reflective mood. Sarah spoke about how hard some of the anti-racism work (of changing perspectives and increasing awareness) was, and then Inspira and Sarah turned to the community to generate a closing list of welcoming practices meetings could adopt, before handing out the names of helpful experts who’ve offered a sample of their services at no cost.

When the feeling of an event is good, people love to linger and talk. This particular evening closed with a sense of warmth despite the cloudy, starless, sky. Strangers introduced themselves to each other and clustered on the steps outside of the auditorium. Some couples wandered off, hand in hand, down the brick and concrete, woodland or lawn bordered, walkways. Pamela talked about her connection with Haverford College, and other Quaker organizations with passion and introspection. She said she came to 2017 Sessions “because I still feel committed to some of the diverse and transformative nature of (what) Friends’ organizations can do. I know that this is a challenging time and I think it’s important that you work with the challenge.” Paul, who enjoys meeting outreach work, came to Sessions because he “is always delighted to meet new Friends and old, and to look for ways where we can (ultimately) have more new Friends through membership development.”

Pamela added that it was interesting to learn “how people think about the importance of their spiritual involvement personally, and how it affects their outward life.” She added that Annual Sessions “is always invigorating to experience, particularly when you may be having some questions about the (worship/community) places that you are making now—and across the ages.”

A little farther down the Kendall Hall steps, Chestnut Hill member Phil Lord was gathered with Ayesha Imani from Germantown Meeting, and Laura Boyse from Providence Meeting. With a warm and infectious laugh Phil—who serves on the board of American Friends Service Committee—indicated that Ayesha inspired him to attend, but overall, “Yearly Meeting is an important event for the health of Friends in the area, and so it’s important not to neglect it. That’s who we are! Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s not (so much) fun, but always its important.”

Ayesha chimed in—“that’s true for me, too, but I am also here because I’m excited about the opportunity to share information about opening Ujima Friends Peace Center—which has come together, and grown, under this weight of state-sanctioned violence. This year we acquired a space, incorporated, and (we) are now doing (our work) in the community.” Ayesha is part of a team of facilitators (including The Fellowship of Friends of African Descent) that is offering a workshop at Sessions today. In its work, the Ujima Center uses Mpatopo: Peace Works Curriculum, which is a cultural responsive adaptation of the Alternatives to Violence program. Ayesha concludes “we are bearing witness to our Quaker faith and standing with our brothers and sisters in North Philadelphia, making the problems of North Philadelphia our problems.”

Laura reported that she came to 2017 Sessions “with a particular interest in the session that we just had, on how to be a more welcoming meeting. And I think that is very important, to encourage folks to have all people feel very welcome, no matter what their back ground, no matter where they are from, (at) whatever meeting they happen to come to. So, I just really wanted to support the facilitators of the session, who are good friends of mine. I haven’t been to Yearly Meeting for quite a number of years, so this is a good return, and I certainly look forward to coming next year.”

It should be noted here, that both Sarah Willie-Lebreton, who is also a professor at Swarthmore College, and Inspira Williams are involved with the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent and the creation of the Ujima Peace Center. Like the Friends interviewed above, and so many other Friends present at Sessions, they are deeply committed to a range of mission-critical projects central to the future of our global community and our Quaker Faith.

Finally, before signing off – here is an alphabetical listing of Friends Schools and other educational institutions that preregistered at PYM’s Annual sessions.

Friends Schools – Delaware Valley Friends School, Friends Central School, Friends School Mullica Hill, Friends Select School, George School, Greene Street Friends School, Haddonfield Friends School, Lansdowne Friends School, Media Providence Friends School, Westtown School, William Penn Charter School

Other organizations – Arch Street Preservation Trust, Earth Quaker Action Team, Fellowship of Quakers in the Arts, Indian Committee, Learning Monthly Meeting: A Quaker Home Schooling Organization, Penn Friends Community Church, Quakers in Pastoral Care or Counseling, School of the Spirit, and Undoing Racism Group.