A Letter to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends from the Former Clerks


The Admin Council received an open letter to PYM from six former clerks of the yearly meeting. The letter is shared below. The Council read it and has great appreciation for our clerks’ care for our spiritual community. We hope that it will be circulated broadly within the Yearly Meeting and that it is received in a spirit of loving reflection.

April 2019
A Letter to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends from the Former Clerks

Dear Friends,

As the six living former Clerks of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, we offer this letter of loving encouragement to our Yearly Meeting. Over the course of our Yearly Meeting’s three hundred and thirty-eight year history, we have experienced times when Friends were troubled and exercised about public actions and weighty concerns in Annual Sessions. Nevertheless, we endured and continued with our faith, vision, and love for one another. We have a robust and proven spiritual tradition and we are called to understand and practice it today, even in the face of discord.

It is our experience that our community has been in a state of contentiousness and unfriendliness that has separated us in what seem to be secular ways. Several factors have contributed to this condition: tensions regarding a vision for undoing racism; adjustment to new structures; abuse of social media; the unfamiliarity that many Friends seem to have with Quaker decision-making practices in large groups; and hurtful behavior that has gone unaddressed. Some Friends stay away either out of frustration or because our public conflict is uncomfortable.

It can be hot and messy when we do not manage conflict well. When we are challenged, it is essential that we stay in relationship with one another while seeking the way forward and resolving individual differences. Love still abides in and with us. We can, in all humility, love one another even when there are painful differences.

We unite in encouraging each of us to stay in relationship, to hear one another, and to move forward with love and respect. Our Yearly Meeting is a spiritual community; with God’s help, we can transform these struggles into something new—strong, penetrating and effective to address all matters before us, including our concerns with racism.

Our decision-making is a spiritual process that calls us to hold our meetings for business in a spirit of worship, seeking and being open to the leadings of the Spirit. We know that together in waiting worship and with Divine assistance many things are possible; we will be astonished at what unfolds. It takes all of us: we who pray, we who listen, we who heal, we who witness for peace and justice, and we who have voice and vision are needed now. Now is a time for us to join together, humbly finding our way, sharing kindness, and uniting as a community in Spirit-led witness. On the following page, we suggest some of the shared practices that can be useful to us as we travel with one another for Truth.

In tenderness and love,

Arthur M. Larrabee (1991 – 1995)   Gretchen Castle (2002 – 2005)
Martha B. Bryans (1995 – 1999)      Thomas Swain (2005 – 2012)
Arlene Kelly (1999 – 2002)               Jada Jackson (2012 – 2015)

Reminders of Good Business Meeting Practices

When we as a spiritual, deliberative body understand and adhere to our shared practices and discipline, Friends decision-making processes work well.

  1. Be present in a spirit of worship, holding the meeting, each speaker and the clerks in the Light.
  2. Seek the good of the meeting as a whole and God’s truth for it; be prepared to change your mind and to let go of personal preferences and ego.
  3. Listen carefully to the person speaking, particularly holding in the Light those people and ideas with which you disagree. Consider an attitude of curiosity rather than an attitude of judgment.
  4. Challenge yourself to trust the Light that is given to others; be open to new truth, revelation and insight; be teachable.
  5. Seek and wait for the clerk’s recognition before speaking; address the clerk or the meeting as a whole, not individual Friends. Not everyone who wishes to speak will be recognized.
  6. Speak in the hope of serving the meeting’s search for Truth. Your personal opinion, or your feelings on an issue, are relevant only to the extent that they help in that search.
  7. Share the truth that is given to you. After you have spoken, release what you’ve said to the meeting. Releasing is as important as what you have to say.
  8. Let your speaking be simple and concise. Debate and appeal to emotion are out of place in a meeting for business.
  9. When tensions arise, consider how they might be used creatively in the search for Truth. While we belong to a community committed to loving fellowship and unity, we know experientially that the “third way” we seek often emerges from engaging tensions.
  10. Participate with clerking consciousness, thinking about the meeting and the process through the eyes of the clerk.
  11. Respect the authority of the clerk and the elders. We have given them special responsibility to guide us in supporting the meeting and our decision-making. When the clerk is standing or speaking, deference to the clerk is expected.
  12. Acknowledge, with gratitude, the opportunities we have to do the work of the Spirit in community.