In the lead-up to Annual Sessions, we asked a few members of the PYM community why they attend sessions and for some of their favorite memories from past annual sessions. Here’s what they had to say…
Why do you attend Annual Sessions?
Carter Nash Harrisburg Monthly Meeting — I attend because it’s been among the best ways to build strong, meaningful, loving, relationships within and across the Yearly Meeting. It’s about the best way to be able to with f/Friends and get to know what and how they are truly led by Spirit.
Wally Evans Doylestown Monthly Meeting — To demonstrate my continuing support of PYM, learn about what has happened in the PYM community since the last Annual Sessions, participate in decision-making, and (better when live) renew Friendships.
Jeanne-Elberfeld Reading Monthly Meeting — To meet other Quakers to allow myself. To listen and learn from Spirit through others who are differently ‘seasoned’ than I.
Kimani Keaton PYM Staff — I attend Sessions because it is an opportunity to step away from my day-to-day, check in with my community, myself, and others on a Spirit-led/ Spirit-full level.
Tom Wells Fallsington Monthly Meeting — One of the reasons Sessions is fun and interesting is the occasional non-Quaker guest speaker. The outside-the-bubble perspectives on gender, social justice, and other hot topics are always welcome.
Zachary Dutton PYM Staff, Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting — Before the reason was that I was a member of the staff, I went to see friends and participate in the business sessions.
Melinda Wenner Bradley PYM Staff, West Chester Monthly Meeting — I’ve attended Annual Sessions since I was a little girl, and while I was not as present during college and my early adulthood, after Matt and I had children there was a draw to be with other Friends, other families, and give my own children the experience of being in community with a larger circle of Quaker kids.
What’s a meaningful memory from a past Annual Sessions?
Jeanne-Elberfeld — I recall at DeSales a few years ago a few people challenging the “catholic-ness” of the space we were gathered in. I felt this personally, as I came to Quakerism from Catholicism. But, through opening myself and really listening, I was able to gain a better sense of others’ perspectives.
Wally Evans — Being “warmly” greeted on my arrival by the General Secretary in the parking lot on a 100° afternoon!
Guinevere Janes Media Monthly Meeting — Attending Annual Sessions last year was very special for me. Normally, from May to October I suspend attending almost all Quaker activities. The majority of PYM’s events are held in Meetinghouses and buildings that do not have air conditioning. (I have a chronic illness that greatly impacts my body’s ability to sweat. Too much heat is deadly for me.) With Zoom, I had access to gatherings I previously would never be able to attend, or afford. Sitting in my apartment at last year’s annual sessions during worship, I looked at my screen full of square boxes and wiped tears from my eyes. It was the first time I felt like I belonged in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.”
Kimani Keaton — A meaningful memory from a past Sessions also happens to be my favorite. I love to watch toddlers and young people waddle and walk to the front of the room and read their epistles. One Sessions, the Children’s Program examined climate crisis and thoughtfully requested the adults to do something in their epistle. The Children’s Program epistle has equal parts joy, thoughtfulness, fun, and love and it is always a pleasure to listen and witness.
Zachary Dutton — The last time we were in person, on the first day a lot of the staff dressed up in unicorn onesies and other rainbow-themed attire we found in the post-pride month discount rack at target when picking up last-minute supplies. It was both queer affirming and also just a fun vibe for attendees on the first day.
Melinda Wenner Bradley — When I was a little girl, coming to Arch Street in March and staying at the Holiday Inn across the street was a big adventure — We lived in Upper Susquehanna Quarter on a farm. I loved being in the big meeting room, imagining the Friends who had been in that same room long before me. It was fun to see the banner we had made in our children’s program at meeting hanging with everyone else’s in the East Room where we ate together. Children would be done eating long before adults were done talking and would be released to go explore the William Penn dioramas (still there!) or the displays in the reception room (real bonnets!). I remember joyfully running around Arch Street with packs of kids and being greeted by adult Friends who I knew — both experiences that knitted into me a sense of belonging and contributed to my sense of identity as a Quaker.
And here’s an excerpt from a Friends Journal article where Melinda’s children, quoted above, reflect on the meaning of yearly meeting.
Can you share some about your experience of yearly meeting programs for children and youth?
William — The community is good. Something to be noted: a lot of introductions happen! Whether it’s your first or tenth time. So new people are always welcomed.
James — I can remember being at annual sessions as a little kid and being in the Fox group, and then I can remember being a middle school Friend and starting to have business meeting and taking on more responsibility. Young Friends are a needed voice when making decisions in the community. It’s a place where you can go and meet new people and create a lot of friendships and connections, but George Fox said that we should come together once a year to worship in community. Sometimes that gets lost.
Ellie — I have fond memories of annual sessions and family overnights. The friendships that I had with other Quaker kids growing up were really important to me, and those were the times that I could see those friends and actively share our Quaker identity together through program and play. I always felt very cared for and listened to during those programs. Experiences like epistle writing and sharing with the wider yearly meeting what my age group was doing were opportunities for me to share my voice and feel heard.
Featured Photographs of prior Annual and Continuing Sessions by PYM staff