This is the 343rd Annual Sessions of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting! We’re sharing the Mott Memo daily recaps here on the website, a loving tribute to the august Quaker, Lucretia Mott. Each Mott Memo is a brief look-back on the day’s events. We hope you enjoy taking part in Annual Sessions through this tradition. Shared below is the news from Friday, July 28 and Saturday, July 29.
Because of a power outage on campus at The College of New Jersey on Friday evening, our recap and the Mott Memo were delayed and Friday and Saturday are combined below.
In a similar way to how a yearly meeting epistle isn’t meant to be a “laundry list” of what a body did when gathered, the events listed on our schedule for each day do not capture the spirit of this time together. The word “connection” was heard again and again during these two days. Here are some of the ways —
Friday began with the Memorial Meeting for Worship, grounded by pastoral care Friends and opening up space for remembering and celebrating those who passed away in the last year. There is always gratitude for this event in our Sessions schedule, and the time to find peace with one another.
The second day of Bible study focused again on the Gospels but with a different kind of story. Participants explored Luke 19 : 1-10 and Jesus meeting Zacchaeus. The transformative power of Jesus’ notice of a person not only short of stature (come down out of that tree!) but also constricted in his compassion was noted. The kingdom/kin-dom of heaven is here, Jesus notes when Zacchaeus has his change/opening of heart. We wondered together about a message of welcome in the story — come as you are, join in the circle. This felt like a bridge into the day when Friends began to arrive at The College of New Jersey, and the welcoming began and the circle of Friends grew!
We actually gathered in a big, intergenerational circle that afternoon for welcome and worship that included playing “Silent Squares” and song, before the first hybrid session of meeting for worship with attention to business. Have we mentioned that the children and youth had arrived? Almost 40 young Friends were part of the community at Sessions, and one of the messages heard repeatedly from them was about connecting — with old friends who they had not seen in person since 2019, and with new friends. The Youth Programs created their own “beloved community”and invited older Friends to add a person to the neighborhood throughout Sessions.
Our second keynote of these Annual Sessions was shared by Jeanne Elberfeld (Reading Meeting) on: “Cultivating Beloved Quaker Community: An Exploration Through the Science of Stress & Safety.” Jeanne’s passion for her work, at an intersection of science and education, was palpable and lifted up for Friends new ways to examine our welcome of newcomers into Quaker worship and practices. Jeanne used brain science to ask us to consider how safety is the first step into welcome, inclusion, and belonging. The slides from Jeanne’s presentation — and slides from the Manchandas’ keynote on Wednesday — are now posted on the keynote speakers page of the Sessions website. Jeanne includes her contact information on the presentation slides and invites you to connect!
As noted, Friday evening brought some excitement in the form of a thunderstorm that knocked out power on campus and interrupted the Young Adult-hosted movie night. Still, camaraderie and connection continued in the dorm until we called it a night!
Saturday dawned still hot, but buzzing with the many opportunities to connect and be in community at TCNJ and in our blended, hybrid community. We worshipped with all ages together in the morning before the youth headed out to Snipes Farm for a morning of blackberry picking and other farm adventures. They returned hot and happy (and a little sticky with berry juice)! Kudos to the Youth Programs staff for planning programs this year that met so many of the hopes for connection — fun, fellowship, learning, grounding in worship, engaging with discernment — that all of us of any age have for Sessions together.
What a full afternoon and evening! Some Friends caught up on conversations or naps, while others participating in Intergenerational Worship Experiences and the Friends with Disabilities Affinity Group. At one end of Brower Student Center, the circle of “meeting for worship with attention to singing” grew and grew (there’s now a movement to gather more often to sing in community!). At the other end of the building Friends connected with each other and Spirit at experiences of Bible Study in the Manner of Conservative Friends and Semi-Programmed Worship. Overheard at the intergenerational Faith & Play Story experience was a child who asked: “I wonder what color Spirit is?” and then told us — blue and green. Given the focus of business that morning on addressing climate change, this felt right.
The Quaker Witness Mixer was another time to make connections as Friends moved around exhibits and table displays to learn more about the work and witness happening in PYM Collaboratives, sister Quaker organizations, and specific interests held with faith and hope in our community. Also: there were mocktails. “Rightly Ordered,” “Sense of the Meeting,” and “Margaret Fell on the Rocks” kept us refreshed while we mingled and networked over the good work happening among Friends in our yearly meeting and with neighbors beyond.
The day was not over, Friends. We went on to dinner and line dancing (so fun!) and to celebrate birthdays in the coming year (that’s all of us) there was cake, before Vespers hosted by the middle school and high school Friends.
This vespers was a special program that had been carefully planned by the youth. The focus on both the experience of community, and what each of us can do to engage and improve that experience, was grounded and opening. Choices of exercises that invited truth-telling and sharing led into small group discussions facilitated by the oldest youth that used queries to explore our experience of community. There was a sense that Friday’s opening welcome and queries had deepened with time into sharing that we might carry forward from these Sessions. Gratitude (and some awe) was expressed for the gifts shared by the youth planners.