Dear beloved Friends,
We want to begin by thanking all of you who attended Continuing Sessions and all others who have shared their questions, support, and concerns about the recent announcement of changes in the staff structure. Our community is going through a huge transition with our new structure, and we are finding our way as we grow into it. Some parts of the structure have worked well from its inception; others have needed tweaking, and still others have created significant issues. The process of making a change in the structure of PYM staff is just such an example.
We recognize that we in the Religious Society of Friends are not isolated from our culture in which racism is structurally entrenched. The water from which we all drink is poisoned, and our yearly meeting is no different. The leadership of PYM acknowledges that in recent months there has been deep pain and hurt and that assertions regarding racism have been expressed in our yearly meeting. We understand that Friends may be wondering what we are doing to address the pain and concerns and we want to share what that looks like for us.
Since Continuing Sessions, PYM leadership has been in a process of discernment about how to respond to those concerns, how to care for our entire yearly meeting community, and how to be faithful to what God calls us to do. This letter is to share what we heard and learned from Continuing Sessions, and how we propose to move forward with love and compassion for all.
What We Heard and Learned
We learned that Friends felt both blind-sided by the changes and deeply upset by the impact of some of the changes on beloved members of the PYM staff. We learned that Friends care passionately about our programs for children, Middle School Friends, Young Friends, and Young Adult Friends, and the staff people who have lovingly cared for our children, young people and young adults. The people and the programs matter deeply to Friends. We also learned that, if we are to be faithful to our corporate witness of ending racism and white supremacy within PYM and beyond, we cannot make staffing decisions that negatively impact people of color without ameliorating that impact to the best of our ability. Probably our biggest learning was that decisions affecting the structure of yearly meeting must be done in a more transparent way. Friends must know when such discernment is about to begin, what needs are being addressed, what the timeline for discernment is, and how Friends will be asked for feedback. In addition, Friends must be given frequent updates about the progress of the decision making. We learned that the governing councils must take more time to consider proposed changes. We have also learned that the councils should better reflect our diversity of backgrounds and experience to ensure that the discernment is as expansive and inclusive as it can be and, we must persist in making this a reality.
Our Responses to Date
1. Recognizing the vital importance of understanding systemic racism, all three Councils and their committees participated in a day-long training with Crossroads on April 8th and identified follow up steps to continue to grow in our understanding. We are exploring options for professional guidance in conflict resolution and identifying and addressing racism within our structure, and we stand with our General Secretary as we observe her seeking to be teachable and open to Spirit’s call to us when racism surfaces. We call on those for whom racism is an active concern, as well as those for whom that isn’t yet the case, to engage with us in a healing journey at this time. (PYM is hosting a training by Crossroads at Friends Center, see details online).
2. Administrative Council has become more closely involved in understanding not just the goals and costs but the details of structural changes in staffing, the reasoning, the outcomes and the impacts. It began this immediately in a called meeting where it reviewed extensively the details of the change in administrative support and then identified a member of the Administrative Council to be present in conversations about that position with the Executive Assistant and General Secretary. The Council received, threshed and approved a plan that would allow the Executive Assistant to continue working for PYM in a position that is full time and at her current hourly rate and benefits. In addition, the Administrative Council has caught up with posting minutes shortly after they are approved.
3. In the weeks before Continuing Sessions, the General Secretary asked the clerk of the Administrative Council to identify a process for appointing a small group of people who deeply understand the dynamics of racism to work with the General Secretary to identify and address possible patterns of racism in activities and plans she is responsible for. The leadership is committed to making this happen in the near future.
4. Minutes of concern from three meetings have been forwarded to the leadership of the yearly meeting. Our new governance structure does not identify a process for responding and addressing minutes. Administrative and Quaker Life Councils are working together to develop a plan and to use the working basis of that plan to respond to the minutes to avoid any further delay in responding.
5. We agreed that several proposed staffing changes will move forward, as they did not raise concerns and are immediately needed to support the work of yearly meeting. These include the Director of Staffing and Inclusion, Associate Secretary for Advancement, Director of Donor Engagement, Gift Processing and Data Entry Associate, and the Administrative Assistant for Arch Street Meeting House. The General Secretary is currently creating job descriptions for these positions and will present them to the Personnel Committee and Administrative Council for review before posting. The positions will be posted when the job descriptions and reviews are complete and when there is capacity to manage a search.
6. The Administrative Council and the General Secretary are in conversation with the Executive Assistant.
7. Young Adult Friends staff position will be continued for two years. The proposed changes for the children, Middle School Friends, and Young Friends staff were always planned to take effect October 1, 2017, which allows Sprint 3 (Visioning and Mission of the programs) to complete its work. Once completed, the General Secretary will present to the Councils for review data gathered over the past two years (from three Sprints, surveys, the visioning session and the extensive review of program impact and statistics) along with a proposed staffing structure that meets the needs identified in the data. Following that, the Councils expect to share this information with the wider community at the beginning of June.
8. A called session was mentioned, and we have begun to do shared work around that.
As painful and difficult as this period has been for many Friends, we remind ourselves that we are a faith community that believes we can have direct and immediate access to God’s leading. We also believe that we can resolve our conflicts by looking to that of God in each of us, that the strength of our community depends upon treating each other with love and respect, and that we can look to our testimonies to guide us in this work. When we speak directly, out of love, to those with whom we disagree, listen deeply and openly to what the other has to say, forgive one another our mistakes and missteps, and allow room for transformation in others and ourselves, we can become a more beloved community.
In peace and love,
- Penny Colgan-Davis, Clerk of PYM
- Bruce Haines, Clerk of Administrative Council
- Lane Taylor, Clerk of Quaker Life Council
- Melissa Rycroft, Clerk of Nominating Council
- Andrew Anderson, Treasurer of PYM
- Christie Duncan-Tessmer, General Secretary