Yearly Meeting News
by Lucy Duncan
The Undoing Racism Group of Philadelphia YM has been working for two years to support the yearly meeting’s central corporate witness expressed in this query, “What is God calling PYM Quakers to do next to end racism and white supremacy in the Religious Society of Friends and beyond?” We have offered 10 workshops at sessions last year and this, provided learning materials, a group of traveling workshop leaders, hosted a YM wide viewing of “I am not racist, am I?,” hosted affinity groups and led events at YM annual sessions and continuing sessions, led events at Quarterly meetings and young adult Friends gatherings, created a vision and plan for our work going forward, held open monthly meetings that always included learning activities… all while having no formal relationship or place at the table of the new PYM structure. We have been encouraged to keep working, with an earlier proposal to form a committee having been rejected.
We labored for months with what might work to support this work as a central PYM concern. A Friend of color in leadership received advice from people within PYM about how to weave our work throughout the YM. We presented this proposal to the Implementation committee who rejected it, asked us to continue as an informal body focusing on sessions planning (this is a Quaker pattern: teach us, we want to learn, but not more). We consider what we are trying to do to be about creating the courageous many, deep change that can transform our body to carry this work as a central spiritual concern and show up for the broader community that is deeply impacted. I have experienced true, real, tender community in the Undoing Racism Group, we are practicing imperfect, loving, community: what we are trying to birth within all of PhYM, one of our members says we are his spiritual community.
We asked to meet with the Implementation committee and those who came to the meeting of 30 of us seemed willing to support this as an experiment. They met, could not find unity, decided to lay themselves down and propose an ad hoc committee to consider the work. We presented the proposal to the body inviting many folks to labor with the questions. We offered an action on Saturday that represented the sense of growing support and that the body take action. Some of us persisted after and disrupted the faith and practice presentation after the clerk said we would grapple with it the next day. Though it felt as though there was urgency and spirit moving, I can see how some would interpret this as pushing too hard, perhaps even bullying.
The next day the clerk masterfully clerked a session in which she asked the body to consider with their hearts if we could move forward with the proposal for a two year experiment. Many voices expressed support and others expressed fears, concerns, the one which resonated with me most was what about our spiritual sanctuary? It resonates for me because for too many Friends of color Quaker spaces are not sanctuary, but hostile spaces and the work of Undoing Racism is to try to help create sanctuary for us all. And when asked for a decision most people said, “Yes” and the few who said, “no” did so very loudly.
I have been grieving, been perplexed, been in dialogue. I know we were asking a lot … and shouldn’t we?… and one thing that keeps rising for me is a story about a Haverford professor of African American studies, who left years ago saying you want me in your institution but you treat me as a guest: if you wanted me to really live here, you would consider letting me move some of the furniture. We were asking to move some furniture to support the change, as an experiment. We were asking for seats at tables where decisions are made that impact the whole…
As my spiritual grounding returns I am praying about, “What next?” I am praying about mistakes we made and openings, too. Some of my Friends will not return as this journey has been too painful. Each day I think differently, some days I want to get back in the struggle, finish the work we began, because I love my faith community. Other days I feel depleted, and wonder if I might be called to pursue this work in another space, another form. I am clear that if called elsewhere others may emerge to carry forward what we started. What I grieve the most is what we have co-created together as a group, as a community within Undoing Racism: a space where we can be real, ourselves without apology, and where love is tender and palpable. I have been awakened and enlivened by relationship in particular with Noah and Vanessa, as co-clerks. This has been the fuel for the journey. Perhaps we didn’t share that enough with the wider body… I am striving to hold the tensions and the learnings, let my heart grieve and open and rise for the next calling.
This article was composed by Zachary T. Dutton.
The Tyson Memorial Fund has granted Philadelphia Yearly Meeting fifty thousand dollars to support the formation of a new Community Engagement Team!
We are over the moon that Tricia Coscia’s role on staff has become Community Engagement Coordinator! This includes the responsibilities associated with her former position, Sessions & Volunteer Coordinator. Yet, with a five year plan that emphasizes partnership and integration, Tricia’s new role will approach organizing Annual and Continuing Sessions as part of a larger vision. Tricia will be responsible for galvanizing Friends to discover what we can accomplish when we work together.
The Tyson Memorial Fund grant will allow us to hire an additional Community Engagement Fellow. This is a twenty-month paid position. The Fellow will work with Tricia also to lay sustainable groundwork for the many burgeoning ways to engage in work, witness and activity.
Please forward the Community Engagement Fellow job posting far and wide!
Along with Tricia and the Fellow, George Schaefer, Care & Aging Coordinator, and I will form the Community Engagement Team. In the coming months, this team will focus upon the universal, spiritual insights of Friends to keep the Quaker Way a vibrant and attractive religious tradition for generations to come. We will work with Friends across the yearly meeting to reemphasize community, reignite efficient organization, and extend the Quaker Way into our whole lives, transforming ourselves and the world.
There are many examples of the work that has already begun. Here are three highlights:
At the recent Continuing Sessions, we conducted discernment in Thread groups, developing action items for which Friends were invited to sign up. Afterward, many of those who signed up joined Google Contact Lists to discern whether there were energy to form collaboratives or sprints or join existing groups like the Undoing Racism Group. You can see the different groups on the Work and Witness form where you can join the work of any of them or indicate your interest in doing something new. You can also access the form directly at this web address: http://www.pym.org/work-witness-connection/
We recently brought Friends together via conference call regarding the Syrian Refugee Crisis to discover potential points of collaboration and to encourage networking. We posted a story about the work and follow up notes on the PYM website.
The Quaker Life Council has developed an application that Friends can use if they have work, witness or activity they’d like to come under the care of the yearly meeting. The Council will guide Friends through the application process to find a place for them in the new structure that best fits their leadings.
Each of these highlights were supported by the work of our Community Engagement Team, yet the many Friends who’ve converged across our monthly and quarterly meetings were the ones who made it all happen. Join us!
You can reach Tricia Coscia at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215.241.7238.
Zachary T. Dutton
Associate Secretary for Program and Religious Life
The 334th Annual Session of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting was one of worship, fun, challenging work and fellowship! Over 80 newcomers joined us this year! We had one of the largest numbers of Middle School Friends ever in attendance! And a record-breaking attendance overall!
Friends, we have approved a new way forward, one that will help us better carry out the ministries we have been called to do. I am excited! The 5 Year Plan for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting 2015-2020 was approved at Sessions and Friends have been making good use of time since its approval a few weeks ago. The Nominating Committee will bring forth recommendations for appointments to the new Implementation Committee for approval by Interim Meeting this fall. We have also created an online form for you to submit your questions, concerns, and suggestions at www.pym.org/implementation-committee/questions-and-feedback . We are not letting any grass grow under our feet!
At Annual Sessions we also approved a sound and balanced budget and for the first time since we discontinued March Sessions we did it before the fiscal year actually begins, I invite everyone to thank the members of the Financial Stewardship Committee and its clerk Andrew Anderson (Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia), our Treasurer Ron Ploeg (Willistown Monthly Meeting), members of the Financial Oversight Working Group and its clerk Joyce Moore (Unami Monthly Meeting) and our staff financial team. All worked overtime to ensure good financial practices so we can all be comfortable that we have a sound budget and plan going forward. Now we need your support through Covenant and Annual Fund contributions!
At Annual Sessions we also approved Penny Colgan-Davis (Germantown Monthly Meeting) as our new Rising Clerk. She is the second Friend in our history to accept this new leadership position that was created for the incoming clerk to work closely with the Clerk for a year and to make any necessary life adjustments in order to carry on the work as Clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. At the end of our 335th Annual Sessions next year Penny will become our new Clerk.
We also approved Alison Anderson (Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting) as an Alternate Clerk, joining Becca Bubb (Abington Monthly Meeting) in that role. Alison previously served as a standing committee clerk and as one of our Elders. Alison replaces Steve Olshevski (Radnor Monthly Meeting) as Alternate Clerk and we minuted our gratitude for Steve’s faithful work. Contact information for all of our officers and clerks is available on the PYM website at www.pym.org/contacts.
We also welcomed Christie Duncan-Tessmer as our new General Secretary. She will start in this role in September. Friends enjoyed welcoming her as a community during Annual Sessions. We also gave deep gratitude and ‘said goodbye’ to Arthur Larrabee as he retires from his position as General Secretary. Arthur has served us in this role for seven and half years. We are excited for him as he enters a new chapter of life and in knowing that he will continue to remain an active member of our community.
I would like to express my deep appreciation to the members of the Sessions Planning Working Group, and its clerk Ken Park (Providence Monthly Meeting) and to our wonderful staff, in particular our Sessions Planning Coordinator Tricia Coscia. These Friends have worked tirelessly to ensure all of our needs were met and that everyone had a wonderful time together.
As we continue to attend to the work before us, I ask all Friends to remain engaged. Decisions will be made and updates will be given during upcoming Interim Meeting sessions and we will continue to inform you through our website, PYM Today Online and other publications.
Luke 12:48 is often quoted as “To whom much is given, much will be required” however the entire sentence reads: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask for more.” (NKJV)
God is looking of a return on His investment. Friends, much has been given to us, individually and as a religious society – our gifts, finances and buildings. I look forward to joining with you this year as we continue to strengthen our ability to give the maximum return on what has been invested in us.
Jada S. Jackson
The beginning of Summer has brought with it a sense of affirmation and relief to many Friends as a formal reconciliation process concerning the PYM Transgender Youth Policy has concluded its initial steps.
This past winter, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting asked the Traveling Ministries service of Friends General Conference to help our community address and resolve the various conflicts and hurt feelings that resulted from last year’s announcement and subsequent suspension of a new PYM Youth Programs Transgender Policy. (Please see the end of this article for background information.) The FGC Traveling Ministries service connects meetings seeking support with experienced Friends who have spiritual gifts to share. The Traveling Ministries service has started us on a reconciliation process in a way that has been supportive and opening to everyone concerned and the connection has been a nurturing and effective support for our faith community.
Following the suspension of the PYM Youth Programs Transgender policy last summer, the Young Friends Program continued operating in the same manner it had the previous year, including the practice of all youth and adults using the facilities of the gender with which they identify. Some aspects of this practice are complicated and continue to need attention and the Young Friends community is laboring to find practices that best meet its needs. While practical concerns such as this are being addressed, it is also important for us to to engage and work with Friends who have felt alienated or hurt over this issue.
Elaine Bishop, of Canadian Yearly Meeting and her elder Rosalie Dance, of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, agreed to travel in the ministry and serve as visitors to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to assist and facilitate healing. After reviewing documents and a general timeline of our experience, Elaine engaged in deep listening with Friends across our faith community. She listened with staff, Young Friends, Friendly Adult Presences, committee members and parents. Her compassion, paired with her deep knowledge of Friends community and process, and her understanding of the issues that trans* people face has helped create a trusting space where Friends are felt heard and engaged. (Elaine’s professional work has included advocating and developing resources for trans* people in the medical field.)
The first step of our reconciliation process took place this Spring. Elaine and Rosalie came to Philadelphia for four days, during which time they spoke individually with Young Friends; Program Staff, the Associate Secretary for Program & Religious Life and the General Secretary; Friendly Adult presences and the Clerk. They then met with people in small groups for sharing of experiences and feelings. Some of the meetings were in person and some were on the phone, allowing for the most flexibility and inclusiveness. Elaine and Rosalie met with Staff as a group and with Friendly Presences in their own group. They attempted to set up a meeting with Young Friends as a group but the timing and illnesses of two youth meant that it didn’t work out this time. Elaine and Rosalie also met with the entire Education Standing Committee, whose members demonstrated commitment to our reconciliation process, even those committee members who were not active as the policy was originally being developed.
Many Friends expressed how deeply moving their time and experiences with Elaine and Rosalie had been; that they felt heard and understood during the grounded listening that allowed them to voice their feelings and concerns.
The next step in the reconciliation process will take place this Fall when Elaine and Rosalie will return to Philadelphia to bring groups together to talk with one another. The process is proceeding at a careful and deliberate pace to help ensure inclusiveness and completion.
Friends with questions or other thoughts may contact Christie Duncan-Tessmer, Associate Secretary for Program & Religious Life at 215-241-7008 or email@example.com.
- Young Friends & Education Standing Committee – A Reconciliation Opportunity, April 8, 2014
- Transgender Youth Policy Suspended by Action of the Clerk, July 24, 2013
- Youth Programs Transgender Policy, July 19, 2013
Reflection is significant in our worship. We practice listening. We seek acquaintance with the divine. We find that of God in others and respect that of God within ourselves. These and more have been living spiritual experiences in the life and work of the Long-Range Planning Group.
Nearly three years ago the Yearly Meeting charged the Long Range Planning Group to discern specific directions for the Yearly Meeting as an organization and means to evaluate periodically how our systems are working. Re-Kindling Our Fire: A Five-Year Plan for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is LRPG’s response to that charge. The plan attempts to capture what LRPG heard in listening as Friends expressed dissatisfactions with the past or present and hopes for the future. A theme that emerged is the desire to keep our structures simple so that our primary bond may be to God. We acknowledge that some decisions are for all of us while others can be delegated to small groups we entrust with responsibility and authority to act on our behalf and be accountable to us. We yearn to be more visible, vibrant, diverse and spiritually rooted; and we seek new ways to connect with one another and participate in the life and work that serves God and our wider spiritual community.
Reading Re-Kindling Our Fire could lift your spirits if you know what to expect. Our yearly meeting has over 100 meetings and close to 10,000 members – we are a large organization! When members cherish the intimacy and familiarity within their monthly meeting and possibly their quarter, some may resist shifting attention to how the larger level of our religious society operates. What you will find in the plan are vision and actions for our central work. Consider the vision; are we there yet? The plan is a roadmap so we may get closer to achieving our vision.
I encourage you to read the one-page Synopsis of the plan on the PYM website. For more information, the complete plan is also available on the PYM website: we suggest that you start with the overview on pages 6-7 of the plan, which summarize the six strategic directions and proposed action steps. A transition plan beginning on page 17 shows us the way over the coming year to move from our current structures to ones that are proposed. There are also two short videos available for you to view: one with Friends speaking about New Strategic Directions and one explaining the Proposed New Organizational Structure.
When you prepare yourself by absorbing the advance materials, you are preparing for a centered spiritual experience as we come together in Session to discern our way forward as a yearly meeting. You are likely to have questions about the plan – please join us at Annual Sessions for after-lunch “Conversations with LRPG” on Thursday and Friday in the plenary room.
In Session on Saturday afternoon, July 26, we will seek divine guidance as a wide and shared community. The Long Range Planning Group recommends the Yearly Meeting move forward together with this plan. In such a complex endeavor as a five-year plan, it would be unlikely that any one of us would be enthusiastic about every item in the plan – or satisfied that every item we had hoped to be there could be found. Discernment isn’t about my or your personal preferences. It’s about what it means to be a Religious Society of Friends.
Trusting in the Guide,
Suzanne R. Day
Long Range Planning Group
For more information:
Synopsis of the proposed 5-year Plan for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Re-Kindling Our Fire: A Five-Year Plan for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting 2015-2020
Video: New Strategic Directions (16 min)
Video: Proposed Organizational Structure Explained (12 min)