Overheard at Annual Sessions Day 5

Annual Sessions

Written by Grace Sharples-Cooke, Interim Director of Development

After Meeting for Business and lunch on Sunday, Friends, Attenders, and families were turning in their keys, and packing their cars. In the parking lot near the south townhouses, I caught up with Liana Hershey, Mount Holly Monthly Meeting, one of our volunteer caregivers in the children’s program. As she spoke, Liana’s expression revealed deep affection for the children at PYM and the work she does as a volunteer.

She explained: “I work with the children from the Kindergarten ages to third graders. There are two groups of kids, those; and then the fourth and fifth grade. Then, there are the babies and toddlers. So, I work with the middle age group and it’s a lot of fun.”

On Saturday, she said, “we went on a trip to Snipes farm; we saw the animals there, and we picked blackberries. The kids really liked that. The days before that, we’ve been doing a lot of arts projects; we played outside, and we’ve been going along with the theme of your ‘love wolf’ and ‘fear wolf’ and so this morning we had the kids draw both of those. And we did a workshop with Spiral Q the first day … and I think the kids enjoyed that.”

Liana’s takeaway from Sessions? “I love working with the kids: It always makes me feel such joy. I usually see the same kids, year-to-year and it’s nice to see how they grow.”

Jean Marie Prestwidge-Barch, of Schuykill Monthly Meeting, said she comes to Sessions to support her “commitment to really, directly, interact with people, committing deeply to knowing one another in that which is eternal. And, being willing to be available in this way to knowing the other person …”

Her observations about Sessions at its closing follow: “One of the things I think that allowed us to move forward after last year were the efforts that Sessions Planning Committee made to give us opportunities for interpersonal interaction—at a level that was meaningful—and that people entered into that willingly. I spoke to many people who came with trepidation and real concern, particularly after the last called session, that things were just not going to be O.K. So that’s one piece.”

She continues: “I think another piece, that made a huge difference, was that our Clerk, Penny Colgan-Davis was in a space of graciousness and listening, that seemed very open. I found that disarming in a wonderful, genuine, and very connected way. I think the ability of both our General Secretary, Christie Duncan-Tessmer, and Penny, to be clear in their own hearts about what their strengths were, clear about where they were falling short of what they considered the mark, and public about that, without a whole lot of defensiveness, had a positive impact on us all.”

John Marquette, of Lehigh Valley Monthly Meeting, and a member of PYM’s Membership Development Granting Group, left Sessions with a continued determination to do all he could to raise up the profile of Quakerism, and its tenets, in the world.

As an example of how he and the Lehigh Valley Meeting have done this, he told this story of being the first Friend to deliver the invocation at the Pennsylvania State Senate. “It all started at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival when my friend John Lamb, the pastor at the Lutheran Church in Allentown, said he was going to give the invocation at the State Senate. And I said; ‘Oh really! How did you do that?’ He said ‘I contacted my state senator’ who I believe was Senator Pat Brown. I said ‘Hey! I wonder if we (at Lehigh Valley Monthly Meeting) could do that?’ So I floated the idea at Worship and Ministry, on which I sit as a member, and the committee found it to be an interesting idea. And so, the Committee decided we would take the idea to Meeting for Business. And Meeting for Business liked the idea, and they asked me to carry it forward and deliver the message (to the Senate).”

John then formally applied to give the invocation, and was selected. “So, I fretted about the content for a long time: I knew I’d need “that of God” and probably something from William Penn, because after all, I was going to be standing in the PA state capital building, in the senate chambers, and they needed to hear something from William Penn, but I didn’t know what was going to tie everything together.”

“And so, I continued to fret until I went to a wedding in October, and at the wedding the retired district superintendent of the Church of the Nazareen, in Shippensberg PA, gave a sermon using a chapter from Jerimiah to the people in exile. And when I heard him talk about planting gardens, and having children, and having a new life while you are in exile, I realized that was going to be in my message, which would be non-partisan, and without issue.”

By referring to the biblical story about exile in his message to the senate, John was making a point about the human condition of both immigration, and migration. John gave the invocation, which seemed to be well received.

In assembling these interviews with 22 Friends over the last few days, I notice that our PYM Friends have a lot of heart, and love for their communities and for Quakerism. Nurturing that collective community on every level is the task to which PYM staff apply their talent and effort. We hope you will join us, in a Collaborative or Sprint, at a workshop, or Sessions event in the near future, so that you can hear such voices first hand.