George Schaefer serves Philadelphia Yearly Meeting as the Care and Aging Coordinator. He works with meetings, aging Friends, and individuals to support PYM’s spiritual growth, pastoral care, and community wholeness. This essay is his response to the burdens we may be carrying today and in the coming weeks. Tea with George is always perfect. Please sit with these thoughts and have a favorite cup of tea close to hand. [Read more…] about In These Times: A Pastoral Message
Faith & Practice
As part of our Runway to Annual Sessions we’ve been featuring more than two dozen workshops, plenary, or wellness events. Shelly Xia is a young professional who works with PYM on organizing membership information in our new database. In addition to being knowledgeable about data and excel sheets, she is passionate about bridging people from different parts of the world to work together on protecting the environment and addressing climate change. She enjoys martial arts, photography, and Argentine tango in her spare time.
Many people come to Quakerism without growing up in the faith. We wondered what it might be like for someone to experience Annual Sessions programming for the first time, so we asked Shelly if she’d be interested in describing her ‘first time’ experience of a PYM workshop for our web readers. [Read more…] about What Do We Talk About, When We Talk About God? – Personal Reflection on a Workshop
This is a check-in to see how you and your meeting are doing in these unique times. The physical distancing required by the Covid-19 pandemic has created unexpected opportunities for discerning how to feel connected when physical contact is not possible. Some meetings are also struggling with how to complete their Spiritual State of the Meeting Report given the challenges of Covid-19. We offer some guidance here. [Read more…] about Ministry & Care Letter to Our Meetings
The Quaker Life Council approved the following minutes of appreciation as a sincere expression of gratitude to the Friends who facilitated the recent January 26 Threshing Session on Membership and to the monthly meeting that hosted. In addition to continuing a process of discernment about membership that has had many years of seasoning in our wider yearly meeting, this was an opportunity for intervisitation during which Friends from across our yearly meeting community could join a meeting for its worship on Sunday and take part in its community life. Intervisitation is an important part of Quaker tradition because it serves to reinforce the bonds we need in spiritual growth.
What Happened at the Recent Thread Gathering on Diversity and Equity in Our Meetings and the World, and Next Steps
The February 2020 PYM Thread Gathering on Diversity and Equity in Our Meetings and the World was a day-long workshop that explored the spiritual foundation of the work of healing racism. Facilitated by Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting members .O and Dana Reinhold, and Francis Elling, a member of Unity Meeting and attender at Ujima Friends Peace Center and CPMM, the workshop focused in particular on building our personal readiness to transform as we uncover what is needed for our Meetings to become truly equitable and inclusive.
View a downloadable/PDF version of the report here.
The bulk of this report is made of minutes of exercise taken by PYM Recording Clerk, Jim Herr. The minutes review the proceedings of the day. Following the minutes of exercise, the report contains a transcription of collections of “advice to the yearly meeting” in response to several queries that participants wrote down in small groups. Find in Appendix A the advance documents that were provided ahead of the threshing session.
Find a letter below from the new PYM Ministry & Care Committee of Quaker Life Council. The letter went to our community on Tuesday, January 21, 2020, describing the value of Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports as the capstone to the spiritual self assessment process, and requesting engagement from all of the communities in our yearly meeting.
As one of its very first tasks, the new Ministry and Care Committee of Quaker Life Council has turned attention to the Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports. Friends may wonder why. We believe that the annual custom of conducting a spiritual self-assessment deepens and enriches our spiritual community.
These reports support monthly, quarterly and ultimately the yearly meeting in moving toward shared understanding of and greater obedience to Truth. Gifts and needs can be identified and shared through this process, both internally for each meeting and throughout the yearly meeting as a whole. Concerns expressed in the spiritual state of the meeting report can evoke support from and provide guidance to other meetings. With wider awareness of needs, more appropriate allocation of resources becomes possible at all levels.
Crafting a Spiritual State of the Meeting Report is a transformative opportunity for the meeting, and can serve to draw the community together more closely. Meeting members and attenders can profit from sharing their spiritual condition and relationship with the Divine and looking together at experiences that have enriched them throughout the year. Communication of felt needs allows meeting members and attenders to express their yearnings and learnings within the meeting community and to share them with the broader fellowship of the yearly meeting.
Issuing a Spiritual State of the Meeting Report detailing the process a meeting community undertook and the insights that resulted helps the wider Quaker community. When we see what others are celebrating, mourning, and witnessing across our yearly meeting, we can be inspired and moved in our spiritual development. We benefit when we learn we are not alone in our spiritual journey.
We continue to support the process outlined in 2018 by the Quaker Life Council for developing and sharing Spiritual State of the Meeting Reports:
• All monthly meetings are encouraged to craft a Spiritual State of the Meeting Report and forward it to their respective Quarterly Meetings.
• Quarterly Meetings are encouraged to craft their own Spiritual State of the Meeting Report and to forward it along with the reports of their monthly meetings to the Ministry and Care Committee of Quaker Life Council.
• Worship groups and any other communities that are part of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting may also submit a Spiritual State of the Meeting Report, forwarding it directly to the Ministry and Care Committee of Quaker Life Council.
• If desired, monthly and quarterly meetings can use this online form to submit their state of the meeting report, either by responding to the questions, or by inserting or appending your report to the form. Friends can also email their reports directly to the PYM office, or mail hardcopies to: Ministry and Care Committee of Quaker Life Council, c/o Zachary T. Dutton, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1515 Cherry St, Philadelphia, PA 19102.
• The Ministry and Care Committee of Quaker Life Council will read every State of the Meeting Report that it receives and use the reports as a basis for its assessment of the state of the spiritual and religious life of our whole yearly meeting community.
• Based on these communications, The Ministry and Care Committee of Quaker Life Council will submit its own State of the Meeting report to QLC to be presented at the July 2020 Annual Sessions and then shared widely with Friends thereafter.
Friends may desire some direction in developing a Spiritual State of the Meeting Report. It may be helpful to consider the meeting’s journey in worship, religious education, witness in the world, preparation for worship and work, pastoral care, ministry, vocal ministry and also those operational processes which have been supports or stumbling blocks throughout the year. Meeting communities may also refer to the queries in our new Faith & Practice as a guide for conducting a spiritual self-assessment and for writing the state of the meeting report.
The Ministry and Care Committee of QLC is interested in the spiritual life of your meeting. In addition to the elements outlined above, we would be interested to learn of specific issues of concern your meeting has experienced in the past year. How has God led your meeting to face and address conflict and/or misunderstandings when they have arisen? How is your meeting community thinking about the purpose and importance of membership? Has the meeting undertaken any anti-racism work, large or small, that your meeting might be exploring? What are those learnings and yearnings particular to your meeting that you would be willing to share?
The Ministry and Care Committee of QLC plans to review state of the meeting reports in late May 2020; in order that the committee may provide a summary report to QLC in time for their June meeting, please submit your report by May 15, 2020. Meetings who have not responded to this invitation by that date may also receive direct inquiries from the Ministry and Care Committee of QLC in order that the experience of as many meetings as possible can be reflected in the Spiritual State of the Yearly Meeting Report. We acknowledge that every monthly and quarterly meeting has their own way of writing and managing their State of the Meeting Reports, and ask to receive whatever commentary best reflects the current spiritual state of your meeting at this time using the suggestions in this email as guidance where you find them useful.
Jean-Marie Prestwidge Barch, Clerk
on behalf of the PYM Ministry and Care Committee of Quaker Life Council
Greetings from Quaker Life Council of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. How does the Truth prosper with your meetings? If you are ready to let your spirit shine out, we are ready to receive your spiritual self-assessments! Many thanks to those who have already submitted their report for this year! Anything we receive before May, we will be sure to include in our summary report for our yearly meeting community.
To submit a report, click on the above link or forward your report to firstname.lastname@example.org via email. You can also mail hard copies of your report to:
Quaker Life Council
c/o Zachary T Dutton
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
1515 Cherry St
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Last year, we began the transformed practice across our monthly meetings of performing spiritual self-assessments and sharing them with the Yearly Meeting at annual sessions. Quaker Life Council compiled a summary of these reports that was shared during the summer, and PYM staff has now posted all of these state of the meeting reports on the PYM website for all meetings to see. (Available at https://www.pym.org/category/state-of-the-meeting-report/, December 15, 2018). Read them! Rejoice in our full PYM Quaker community. You may find help for an issue that your meeting is facing in the way another meeting has handled a situation. You may find inspiration. You may find a different way that your meeting would like to do the Spiritual self-assessment this year after reading these.
Above all, we hope that you again focus on the Spirit in the process of assessing the Spirit. We encourage you to have the process be rich and energizing, rather than depleting. I have included the Faith and Practice guidelines which outlines a process you may choose to undertake. However, do not hesitate to be creative in your process and in your reports. If your meeting needs more worship, do your assessment in worship. If you need to know your hard numbers or want to write an intellectually based historical report, go for it. If your meeting sews in the Spirit, do your spiritual assessment in a quilt. Write songs or stories together if you would like, or play games and share back the rules of how to play that makes your community shine. We can receive videos, pictures, written reports, whatever you would like to share that captures your meeting’s Spirit. Make it a good and rewarding experience for your meeting, because this is done for you and for the Spirit of our whole PYM.
We, the Friends in Quaker Life Council extend our love to you and your meetings. We want our Spirits to shine together. Thank you for holding us in the light as we do our work, we are doing the same for you. Please know that we are here to help nurture your Spiritual growth. Call on us if you think we might be able to help. We are so glad that your meeting is a part of PYM and we are thankful to be serving you.
Here is the Faith and Practice Section on Conducting Spiritual Self-Assessments:
When early Friends met one another, they would ask “How does the Truth prosper with thee?” rather than asking “How are you?” They wanted to know about each other’s spiritual condition and relationship with the Divine.
Undertaking a prayerful assessment of the Friends meeting’s spiritual condition and needs and issuing a state-of-the-meeting report on a regular basis can provide a deep and meaningful opportunity that draws the community together. The meeting’s self-examination process may involve several steps. The meeting could begin with queries that address its spiritual strengths and weaknesses and also efforts to foster growth in the spiritual life of each member and of the meeting as a whole. The meeting may use the queries suggested below; it may use selections from the general queries above; it may decide to use queries from some other source; or it may formulate its own queries. The meeting may charge one of its standing committees, such as worship and ministry, or an ad-hoc group to prepare a response to the chosen queries or to oversee a process of gathering information more widely in the meeting from which to prepare a response. In the latter case, the committee may hold discussions with committee clerks, the meeting’s young Friends, or new attenders, for example; or it could conduct worship sharing by small groups within the meeting or by the meeting as a whole. The committee will prepare a draft report in a format that is most helpful to the meeting. The report is then submitted to the meeting for discussion and approval.
After approval by the monthly meeting, the meeting may agree to share its spiritual self-assessment with other meetings.
Suggested Queries for a Spiritual Self-assessment of the Meeting:
· What practices and strategies are employed by our meeting to help members and attenders of all ages prepare for worship—whether in meeting for worship or in meeting for business?
· What are the challenges to and opportunities for enhancing the worship of our meeting, and what are we doing to address these?
· What opportunities are provided to address topics important to deepening both personal spiritual journeys of members and the spiritual life of the meeting?
· What is most needed to strengthen the communal witness of the meeting to the local community and beyond?
· To what priorities does God call our meeting? How do our annual budget, our meeting’s standing committees and other aspects of the meeting’s life reflect those priorities?
Quaker Life Council (QLC)
Kate Bregman, Central Philadelphia Meeting (Philadelphia QM)
Amy Taylor Brooks, QLC Clerk, Birmingham Meeting (Concord QM)
Julia Carrigan, Mickelton Meeting (Salem QM)
Melanie Douty-Snipes, Fallsington Meeting (Bucks QM)
Gray Goodman, QLC Recording Clerk, Providence Meeting (Chester QM)
Bryn Hammarstrom, Wellsboro Meeting (Upper Susquehanna QM)
Ayesha Imani, Germantown Meeting (Philadelphia QM)
Cathleen Marion, Downingtown Meeting (Caln QM)
George Rubin, Medford Meeting (Haddonfield QM)
Anthony Stover, Germantown Meeting (Philadelphia QM)
Friends of the Quaker Life Council have collected these kernels of wisdom from Quarters, Monthly Meetings, and Worship Groups throughout the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. We hope that others will delight in these practices as we have. We hold this information up to you not as a burden but as a source of strength and inspiration from God’s presence amongst Friends.
When composing minutes, meetings either had an individual or a team prayerfully consider how to respond to PYM queries or queries the meeting community created. After collecting answers, Friends brought the report to a business meeting for further amendment and final approval. The Quaker Life Council formed a Sprint to read the reports from 2018 and most of 2017. Insightful responses or concerns were compiled into categories:
Deepening the Spiritual Community: Worship, Spiritual Growth, First Day School
Friends found a variety of ways to enhance worship and find a closer bond with Spirit. Some prepared for worship by collective singing and reading sacred texts aloud. Others sank into the Silence with the children present. During worship, some meetings preferred an unprogrammed format while others used a monthly prepared message or query. In closing worship, some groups preferred the children to enter a settled meeting. Others sang to end worship. Many meetings shared joys, concerns, after-thoughts, introductions, and announcements after worship.
Friends used many different methods of spiritual improvement. Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and extended worship were practiced. Classes such as Spiritual Formation, Quakerism 101, Quaker Quest, and a speakers’ series were additional paths to fostering growth.
First Day School was often enhanced with trained, hired instructors aided by volunteers. Weekly sessions for all age groups using spiritual text, video, and/ or speakers were helpful.
Building Community: Social Contacts, Membership, Business, Anti-Racism, Concerns
Community was best built through social activities that bring joy and fellowship to all ages such as: intergenerational games, movies, star-gazing, meals, singing, scavenger hunts, etc…
Greeters at doorways makes others feel welcome. Notes to Friends at college or lifecare communities lets them know they are remembered. Notes on holidays and birthdays help everyone. Having social dinners for attenders welcomes them to the community.
Caring for the meeting’s business is a spiritual practice filled with concrete, practical tasks. Creating brochures introducing Friends’ ideas and practices educates all. Sending Friends to clerking workshops provides future trained leaders. Reviewing practices involving committees, records, bylaws, and finances helps Friends maintain best modern practices. Providing time between MFB and MFW helps Friends adjust their spiritual focus
Community often means helping each other with challenges. For majority Friends, acting on racism often begins with looking within oneself. It is helpful to join a group, preferably outside one’s comfort zone. There is a great deal of literature and media available for educating oneself and others. What is important is to begin the process and maintain humility. Challenges can also involve how to adapt to a changing community, aging buildings, and declining membership.
Involving the World: Local organization, Friends institutions, Witnessing to the World
Friends find their spiritual strength and growth not just within their houses of worship but also outside in their surrounding community, letting their lives and actions speak to others. Many meetings encourage outside groups to use the meetinghouse and grounds. Others invite the outside community in for special events. Having a strong, positive relationship with neighbors solves many problems in advance. This is also true when a meeting may share space with another organization like a school. Neighbors provide opportunities as well as challenges.
If a meeting is connected to a Friends institution, it is important to set up a Care Committee to nurture the spiritual, financial, and physical assets the two organizations use. Invite families to worship on First Day. Provide financial support for Friends of all ages to participate in Friends institutions as well as contribute to and publicize activities of FCNL, AFSC, FGC, etc…
Witnessing one’s Spirit-led beliefs, ideals, and actions often means public action in one’s own community and in the broader world. Public vigils of protest or commemoration can inspire others to act. Some meetings share monthly meals with those in need as an act of shared experience instead of only charity. Other Friends give material aid to refugee families including ESL and citizenship classes. Collecting goods + books to be shipped elsewhere may be expensive but still needed. Quarters and meetings can organize service trips on their own or with other faith communities. Service involves learning about one’s community and discerning what help is needed especially if Friends are open to being transformed by the experience.
These ideas listed here come directly from PYM’s monthly and quarterly meetings as we renew the old tradition of sharing year-end reflections of our practices with each other. This first year is a step towards learning more from each other as well as where Spirit is guiding us. The Friends on the Quaker Life Council gathered this information as a service to Friends and Meetings throughout the Yearly Meeting. Our hope is that this year’s reports will inspire more Meetings to take the time to renew the art of collective reflection on the past year to guide Friends to where God is leading them in the coming year.