General Secretary Report to Councils

General Secretary, PYM

Mid-March to Mid-April 2019

Business and Finances:

  • We evaluated our Operating Reserve status and it is holding steady. Last year, after PYM met its Operating Reserve goal of $1.2 million the Finance Committee approved a rubric to apply on an annual basis to ensure the Reserve is not becoming underfunded or overfunded.  This month we reviewed it and found that the Operating Reserve is at 97% of six months of annual operating expenses for the fiscal year just ended ($1.29 million) – an excellent result. [for more details about the operating reserve go to the end of the report]
  • We expanded our accounting software to include a budgeting module which will allow us model different options, provide needed historical data to department heads for their budgeting purposes and upload the approved budget at the touch of a button, saving us literally weeks of work.
  • We prepared 2018 financial statements for the audit of the Friends Pension Plan. PYM administers the Plan which is a multi-employer plan sponsored by PYM and FGC and covering several other Friends meetings and organizations.
  • Wrote and designed the spring appeal with a theme of water and featuring illustrations by a Quaker professional artist (they are beautiful!). Final personalization and segmenting will be completed midweek and they’ll be in the mail before the next monthly report.
  • The 2018 Annual Report was mailed it to all PYM donors. This is the first time all donors have received an annual report.The Annual Report was also sent as part of the annual covenant outreach mailing to monthly meeting treasurers. The mailing also included a gift of the new Faith and Practice.

Program and Ministry:

  • 117 Friends from 50 Monthly Meetings, including 30 youth attended March 23 Continuing Sessions in Reading Pennsylvania.  The logistics were more complicated than previous Continuing Sessions featuring an action on site against the Berks County Residential Center (Family Detention Center), youth programming at Reading Meeting and Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business held at Miller Center for the Arts.  A report of the day, a story about the action and business minutes are online.  Participants were sent an electronic invitation to provide feedback about the day. 15 staff members worked hard to ensure that the 3-site Continuing Sessions held in Reading was a success.
  • On Sunday, March 31st Birmingham Meeting hosted PYM’s second 2019 Friends in Fellowship event, welcoming 100+ F(f)riends to worship, followed by a talk the Director of the Hagley Museum and a tour of William Brinton House. [learn some Quaker history from the event at the end of this report!]
  • Tote Bag, a monthly e-newsletter with resources for religious education and families was sent to over 1100 subscribers on April 1.
  • Quaker Family Meetup event for PYM families was held on April 6 at Princeton meeting featuring an afternoon of fellowship, play, worship sharing, and spiritual refreshment. And snacks.
  • Teachers at Goshen Friends School participated in an in-service about Quakerism and nurture for children’s spiritual lives facilitated by PYM staff.
  • An online conversation with Youth Coordinators in Quarterly Meetings was organized and facilitated by PYM staff.
  • Many, many quilt squares have been received by meetings and other Quaker groups (like our Young Adult Friends)!
  • Resource Friends worked with and supported two meetings which have a concern for worship and care of members.
  • Princeton Meeting had a workshop on Quakerism, its past and its present facilitated by PYM staff.
  • The inaugural Collaborative Housekeeping Newsletter was sent out to Friends who are involved in PYM Collaboratives. The newsletter contains information relevant to collaborative resources, support, and time frames for submission dates to support their work.
  • Annual Sessions 2019 – There’s always something on staff desks about Sessions. Some of the details being worked out right now are logistics regarding space, dining choices, and program.
  • Monthly/Quarterly Meeting Bridge Contacts now number 28; a group of Bridge Contacts convened at Continuing Sessions to help shape the PYM program with Meeting and Quarterly Meeting input.

Communications and Technology:

  • We received information from 36 meetings to allow us to be able to communicate with Friends from those meetings more reliably and to connect them to programs and events in our community. This year we initiated a new way of doing this which is far less time-demanding of Friends in the meetings and puts the onus instead on the PYM office.
  • Nearly 500 Friends responded to our request for contact information updates which has been entered into our database.
  • In addition to the Spring Appeal, mentioned above, we designed and sent information on Refugee and Migrant justice and Eco-Justice initiatives. We collaborated with Young Adult Friends to design the butterfly-themed posters “No Cages No Walls” for the worship action at Berks County Residential Center.

Staff and Administration:

  • Identified a source for mandated reporter training for Program & Religious Life staff. In-person training will be scheduled for September 2019.
  • Onboarding is a key aspect of our staff and inclusion work because this is where employees begin to understand what we do, why we do it, and how we work together. We are continually strengthening and refining it.  This month we clarified how staff who are only occasionally active, like babysitters, are onboarded.
  • The Children and Families Youth Program Assistant position is turning over. Interim support is being identified.
  • We are still recruiting for Event Support Staff for Arch Street Meeting House.
  • We turned the annual staff chili cookoff into a retirement party for Carol Walz and, with a mix of joy and sadness, celebrated her 24 years of skilled and dedicated service to the PYM community as Director of Grantmaking. Her successor, Nick Gutowski, is on parental leave with his new daughter.  We have an experienced grants administrator coming in on a part-time consulting basis until Nick’s return.

Inclusion and Anti-Racism: 

  • Based on conversations in staff meetings and the climate survey that was conducted in the fall, the Operations team (senior staff) has committed to five practices including improving Onboarding, reviewing and revising policies, recognizing and discussing patterns of diversity, providing culturally competent supervisor training and learning from assessment tools.
  • The staff as a whole has begun identifying what we will all commit to, based on the climate survey, previous work and facilitated discussions with the Director of HR and Inclusion. This process will be ongoing.
  • The General Secretary was appointed by the National Council of Churches to their newly re-established task force on ending racism.

Visits to Quaker Meetings and Organizations:

  • Christie Duncan-Tessmer, General Secretary, attended the FWCC Section of the Americas Section Meeting in Missouri.
  • Christie attended the National Council of Churches board meeting.
  • Christie attended the Interfaith Philadelphia Religious Leaders Council meeting.
  • Christie visited Reading Meeting for worship and business meetings.
  • Grace Sharples Cooke, Associate Secretary of Advancement & Communication, attended Birmingham Meeting for worship and the Friends in Fellowship event.
  • George Schaefer attended Abington Friends School’s Quaker Day.

Further notes (referenced above)

  • Maintaining an operating reserve is a nonprofit best practice. Operating reserves help organizations weather change and adverse economic conditions until they can adjust their operations.  PYM’s reserve helps ensure our financial stability and long-term sustainability.  To “refill the granaries” after the 2012 financial crisis when we spent down our reserves, PYM used surplus budgets for several years and dedicated the surplus cash to building the Operating Reserve.  When Annual Sessions first approved the reserve in 2014, the goal of $1.2 million represented six months’ worth of PYM’s operating expenses.
  • The Friends in Fellowship event included a “surprise reveal” of original research on Quakers conducted by the Hagley Museum. The Duponts were originally drawn to invest in the Brandywine region because they admired Quaker principles and respected Quaker talent and integrity. Research revealed that Alfred Dupont was the mysterious supporter who loaned $1200 to underground railroad stationmaster Thomas Garrett, so Garret could discharge a court-assessed $1500 fine for his material support to a group of enslaved people escaping from bondage.


To what purpose, April, do you return again?  Beauty is not enough.

You can no longer quiet me with the redness  Of little leaves opening stickily.

I know what I know.

The sun is hot on my neck as I observe  The spikes of the crocus.

The smell of the earth is good.

It is apparent that there is no death.

But what does that signify?

Not only under ground are the brains of men  Eaten by maggots.

Life in itself

Is nothing,

An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.

It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,  April

Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Edna St. Vincent Millay