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THE NAME "Yearly Meeting" refers both to the annual Sessions and the year-round organization. It's the oldest yearly meeting in the world, dating from when Friends gathered in 1661 in Newport, RI, and continued to meet annually. Friends first came to America in 1656, in New England, four years after George Fox began his ministry in England.
New England Yearly Meeting's annual Sessions for business, usually held-in early August on a college campus, have the features of a conference and a family camp, with workshops, interest groups, talks, worship-sharing, and recreation. A large number of children and young people attend. The Sessions Committee works all year making arrangements for the six-day annual Sessions attended by over 700 persons. Not only meeting members attend, but it is also open to those not in formal membership.
When Yearly Meeting is not in session, its decision-making is handled as need arises by the Permanent Board, an appointed body consisting of Friends from all over New England. The Board meets several times a year.
The Yearly Meeting has over 4,000 members on record, plus many meeting attenders who have not yet joined, in 98 meetings–of which 68 are monthly meetings and about 30 are preparative (subsidiary) meetings or worship groups. All monthly meeting members in New England are automatically members of the Yearly Meeting, as well as of their respective quarterly meetings. (There are three meetings in New England that belong to the Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region and ther are several meetings in lower Connecticut that are members of New York Yearly Meeting). Each meeting is asked to contribute to the budget for the year-round work approved at the annual Sessions.
In the 19th century, American Quakers split into groups over matters of faith. The "Gurneyite" meetings, with programmed worship and pastors, in the "Yearly Meeting of Friends for New England," and the "Wilburite" meetings with unprogrammed worship and no pastors, in "New England Yearly Meeting," came together in 1945 along with the Connecticut Valley Association of Friends, and the independent Cambridge, Mass., and Providence, R.I., meetings, to become New England Yearly Meeting. Today the Yearly Meeting belongs to two national Quaker groupings: Friends United Meeting, one of two organizations of meetings with pastors and programmed worship; and also Friends General Conference, the organization of meetings without pastors, worshipping on the basis of silent waiting.
Yearly Meeting Authority
Monthly meetings are independent congregations which run their own business and own their own property; preparative meetings or worship groups are in the care of some monthly meeting. Individuals' membership is in the monthly meeting and is reported to the Yearly Meeting. By having approved and adopted Faith and Practice, each monthly meeting is expected to follow certain common practices and procedures—including support of the Yearly Meeting. Matters of faith are broadly described in the book to recognize the diversity among Friends in New England; matters of common belief are identified.
The Yearly Meeting currently employs the following staff:
- The Yearly Meeting Secretary (full-time) uses skills in administration, communication, and pastoral care to support Friends in doing the work of God. The Secretary listens to and communicates effectively with all the elements of the Yearly Meeting—Monthly Meetings, Quarterly Meetings, committees, and individuals—assisting them to be informed, educated, and inspired in their spiritual and practical religious activities. The Secretary has primary responsibility for ensuring that all Yearly Meeting staff work to achieve the goals articulated by the Yearly Meeting, and serves a key role in the planning process bringing those goals forward. The Yearly Meeting Secretary has overall responsibility for the arrangements for the annual Sessions.
- The Communications Director (full-time) manages internal and external communications serving as a hub for the flow of information for the Yearly Meeting, and provides administrative support for its operation.
- The Director of the Friends Camp (full-time) on China Lake, ME is a year-round position.
- The Junior Yearly Meeting (JYM)/Junior High Yearly Meeting (JHYM) Retreat Coordinator (full-time, currently shared by two individuals, half-time each) ministers to elementary and junior high-aged Friends in NEYM through the coordination and supervision of the JYM and the JHYM retreat program. The purpose of the retreat programs is to provide a safe and trusting community in which young people can seek to find that of God in themselves and in each other in a joyous and loving circle, grounded in the Religious Society of Friends. Pastoral care, information and referral services, and general communication between retreat weekends to the young people and their families is a significant component of this work.
- The Young Friends/Young Adult Friends Coordinator (full-time) ministers to high school aged youth and the young adult Friends community (ages 18-35ish), during the Sessions and on weekend retreats throughout the year.
- The Accounts Manager (1/2 time) manages the bookkeeping and finances, working closely with the the NEYM Treasurer.
- The Christian Education Coordinator (2/5 time) has responsibility for assisting local meetings with First Day school education.
- The NEYM Archivist (6.5 hours/week) is the administrator of the NEYM Archives located at the Rhode Island Historical Society Library in Providence, RI.
The Yearly Meeting Secretary is accountable to the Coordinating and Advisory Committee (C&A) and will be supervised by a member of that committee as designated by the committee. The Camp Director is responsible to the Friends Camp Committee. The Communications Director, Junior Yearly Meeting /Junior High Yearly Meeting Retreat Coordinator, Young Friends/Young Adult Friends Coordinator, the Christian Education Coordinator, and the NEYM Archivist report to the Yearly Meeting Secretary.
Institutions and Property
The Yearly Meeting owns and operates Friends Camp, a summer camp for youth in China, Maine, and the New England Friends Home–Thayer House, an assisted-living facility for the elderly in Hingham, MA, through committees. There are also several Friends-related institutions in New England not under the care of the Yearly Meeting.
This statement was written for use in orienting first-time attenders to Yearly Meeting Sessions.
—William B. Kriebel (updated 5/2010)