Now the Work of Christmas Begins
by Howard Thurman
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost,
to heal the broken, to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
July 29, 2018
To Friends everywhere:
Greetings from the 338th Annual Sessions of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, held at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, New Jersey, from July 25 to 29, 2018.
Christmas in July greeted Friends who arrived early to attend a 24-hour retreat led by the Spiritual Formation Collaborative. The retreat leaders, holding an open, listening space, offered exercises to deepen spiritual grounding and personal reflection. While four yearly meeting Elders were present, all the retreat participants felt led to step forward as elders for the duration of Annual Sessions, relying on Spirit, and the belief that God could transform us during our time together.
Our theme of “How our Lives Speak” resonated throughout sessions as we practiced breathing, deep listening, grounding, and holding our clerks and each other with care and compassion. We recognized that we will make mistakes, we will say the wrong thing, we may hurt each other and yet we will love and care for each other as members of the beloved community.
We mourned the loss of our beloved clerk, Penny Colgan-Davis, who served with grace, wisdom, and firmness through challenging and sometimes contentious times. In the absence of a clerk, our Alternate and Council clerks stepped up to form a collaborative, cooperative clerking team designing a sessions agenda that balanced reports and minutes with spirit-filled plenaries, grounding exercises, reflection, and body prayers.
Plenaries offered rich examples of the work of Christmas. Sharing her ministry of transformation, Dr. Amanda Kemp focused on the questions, “How do we prepare ourselves to let our lives speak? What kinds of spiritual practices do we engage in so that we stay grounded and maintain our own integrity as we do the hard work of loving the world?” She encouraged us to hold space for transformation by getting grounded, breathing, checking in with ourselves, and setting an intention to allow unconditional love and unconditional acceptance to flow through us. Amanda also offered that the first song in her head each morning provides her spiritual guidance for the whole day.
Members of Ujima Friends Peace Center offered a presentation on the work, witness, and worship of Friends of recent African descent. Ujima serves the North Philadelphia community by offering weekly worship, after-school programs, food giveaways, renters’ rights workshops, and conflict transformation. Ayesha Imani, president of Ujima and member of Germantown Monthly Meeting, defined Ujima as recognizing that the problems of our brothers and sisters are all of our problems. Friends from Ujima celebrated that children in the neighborhood identify them as “the Quakers.” She invited us to look at our own communities and see how we can bring the spirit of Ujima to the places we live.
In an experiment in open space technology, we connected with others who shared our passions. A later plenary led by Walter Hjelt Sullivan helped us examine our covenant relationships and explore the pain in our community when the covenantal relationship is broken. In a listening exercise, the workshop leader encouraged us to find the balance of firmness and gentleness in our connections with each other.
Each afternoon we participated in workshops on a wide range of subjects, led by Friends of all ages. The workshop covered a wide variety of topics including “Emergent Strategy: Creating Community, Unpacking the Knapsack, and Transforming Justice,” “Art and Advocacy: Making Comics for Social Change,” and “How our lives speak as we dialogue with Native and Indigenous Peoples.” On Saturday evening, we celebrated the official printing of our new edition of Faith and Practice. Each day we gathered for multi-generational worship in All Together Time and heard reports on the activities of our young Friends. Our younger members ministered to us by providing soul-searching queries for all members to consider in a worship-sharing format.
We experienced the transforming Power during important business. The clerk of the Multicultural Institutional Audit Steering committee offered a personal reflection on the misunderstandings that have led to profound frustration and delays. The clerk’s reflection offered a new way for the committee to move forward. The Friends present from the committee expressed a sense of disillusionment and disappointment about the overall experience, yet remained dedicated to completing this work. In an afternoon listening session, more than 100 Friends gathered to share perspective on the process, listen to each other, and through the grace of Spirit, transform into a place of trust, hope, and faithful listening. In an evening meeting for business, and with the winds of Spirit still present, Friends affirmed their support for the committee and their ongoing work.
An empty water goblet at the Clerks’ table reminded us that we are ready to be filled with the Living Water, sometimes over and over. A juggling ball represented the transfer of leadership within our clerking team. A hazelnut reminded us of our prayer upon rising each morning and before retiring for the night. Beautiful, natural collections of flowers recalled fond thoughts of our former clerk. Quilts scattered on the floor signified our commitment to comfortable worship space for the littlest legs in our community.
We leave with a deep sense of God’s work in us still present, and a renewed commitment to love, trust, support, encourage, and care for each other. We return to our communities, replenished with a sense of love for our neighbors and an intention to share Spirit with those who were not here with us.
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in Annual Sessions July 2018