Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Synergy in Community
On Thursday, November 1, 2018, around 12:30 PM, in West Chester, PA, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting General Secretary Christie Duncan-Tessmer, Quaker Life Council Clerk Amy Brooks, and I, Multicultural Audit Steering Clerk, enjoyed a nice afternoon together as we nurtured our relationship and worked to strengthen the ties within our Beloved Community.
History Before Lunch?
Meeting in the parking lot of an affordable, yet highly-rated, Thai restaurant we would later enjoy, Christie, Amy, and I jump into Mrs. Mert, a crossover vehicle I named after my grandmother. I named the consumer good after my grandmother because (1) my grandmother loved to “ride,” as she often described her cruising along the beach in my coastal Mississippi hometown not far from New Orleans, LA and (2) it is the first car I purchased after her death.
The Autumn weather is pleasant: the crisp air is not cold, the bright sun is out, and the falling leaves are the most beautiful golden and red colors, while the non-evergreen trees still have green leaves holding on, but in vain. Our attitudes were light-hearted and joy is abound. Christie and Amy have no idea of what to expect, but they trust me.
Less than a mile later, to their surprise, they are on the campus of West Chester University. Here, they will learn more about abolitionist, journalist, and feminist Frederick Douglass. I take them in the direction, we– the supporters of the Frederick Douglass statue– want visitors to meet Douglass. So, under a canopy of a long archway, they see the statue of Douglass from the back, but the more they walk, they find themselves walking around him, only to encircle to view him in the front. The spirit captured in the Douglass iconography is that of a determined young human who has broken free–mentally and physically– from enslavement (to read about the fight that changes Douglass’ life see: Douglass). Sculptured by the talented Richard Blake, Douglass’ mane rages like a lion, his 6’2 height is evident, and the look in his face exemplifies rugged hope, keen insight, and audacious determination.
As they behold Douglass, they are in awe to learn Douglass gave his last public address at West Chester University. From there, I point to one of the six benches that surround Douglass. It reads “United States Colored Troops and Thames Family.” “My bench,” I explained, “wants to highlight a contribution of Douglass. The only reason I put my family’s name on it was to have it uniform with the other benches.”
Next, we journey to another side of the student quad to see a historic marker explaining Douglass’ visit to West Chester University. Next, we go to the Frederick Douglass Institute, where Christie and Amy meet the student staff and receive the Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, among other materials. With each step, Amy and Christie learn more about me as I learn about them. I observe the smiles on their faces as they share reactions to learning about WCU and Douglass. At that moment, we are in relationship.
As we conclude our campus visit, we walk back to Mrs. Mert talking about the impact Douglass and his contributions have on the modern-day landscape of a college. Isn’t it astonishing how activism, over a 100 years later, still has impact?
Fellowship Over Thai
After the campus tour and return to the parking lot, Amy leaves to go to a scheduled appointment (she generously accommodated her life and time to share this time with us–how wonderful!) . Christie and I bid farewell as we walk into the restaurant. For over three hours, as we eat a three-course Thai lunch, we discuss how the MASC would work with the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s staff in hopes of capturing the witness and testimony of each member and attender who wishes to share in this assessment. There at the lunch table, I compose the language that would be on the formal launching of the MASC’s work moving forward (see last week’s post).
The lunch ends with a hug and hope. Both of us hurry to our vehicles to escape the chill of the weather that occurred as we lunched.
So, what do I enjoy most about our gathering on Thursday, November 1, 2018? Our learning more about each other as we work with intention and hope about the PhYM ecosystem to which we are contributing our lives, time, faith, and love.
Here are some pics at the end of this post. Enjoy!
tonya thames taylor, Clerk of MASC
Oh yeah… why are we hiring a professional consultant?
This was not discussed over lunch. Yet, since sessions, MASC has received one email asking for such clarity. I answer it here because others might be wondering the same.
Who affirmed this Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PhYM) assessment? Members of Monthly Meetings (MMs) at PhYM’s Annual Sessions in both 2017 and 2018.
What is this self-assessment all about? The origins of how the minute (see link), does not tell the full story. Essentially, the time is right to gather testimonies and witnesses to learn more about our Beloved Community. It is good to operate moving forward with better insight.
Is this self-assessment needed? Yes. We need to know the impact, if any, the implementation of a new Strategic Plan has had on our MMs and those who attend. We need this to help us better understand the priorities in our community. Lastly, one of the by-products of this assessment is an archive of interviews (witness and testimonies) for future generations; for now, these interviews can highlight our strengths and gaps when it comes to us strengthening relationship with one another.
Why can’t the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PhYM) do the work themselves? We are. We are simply asking an external, objective professional to look at data to ascertain patterns. A consultant will use professional techniques to help us better understand ourselves through the answers we provide in a mixed-method approach of gathering information.
Why is the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting doing this? Well, frankly, a yearly meeting already does this type of work when it calls a session for Worship with Attention to Business.
Please indulge me here. The best way I can explain the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PhYM) is to make it analogous to a federation (I know, but bear with me). In this spiritual, faith-based federation each Monthly Meeting (MM) has sovereignty. Yet, to worship, seek, and discern collectively on issues and concern facing MMs and Quarters in a particular region, the yearly meeting organizes sessions where business as it pertains to those issues and concerns are discussed. Over the past decades, there have been concerns “That of God in Everyone” has not translated into interactions and practices effectively in MMs. With this self-assessment and the hiring of a consultant, we are not trying to find a savior or outsource our concerns. We are trying to learn more about our community to learn better how to strengthen our beloved community. Thus, the yearly meeting is addressing a concern that has emerged from some MMs and have been asked to examine deliberately, with the professional services of a consultant. PhYM is not asking for a consultant to affirm that issues exist. PhYM is hoping to gather insight into what impedes and facilitates relationships within MMs and Quarters.
tonya thames taylor, MASC Clerk
Through Relationship, We Are A Beloved Community
Three Quakers at Frederick Douglass Statue; tonya has a bench around the statue. West Chester University, PA, 11/1/2018