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I am writing to ask for your prayers and to tell you about the planning for our annual Sessions. Perhaps one quarter of the 4000 Quakers in New England will gather at Bryant University in Smithfield RI for our 350th Annual Sessions, August 7-12, 2010. Wherever we are, we are bound together in the love of the Source of all being and non-being.
In this second year of living into Jubilee, with the teachings from Leviticus 25 and Luke 4:16–19 about what the Divine calls the world to, we have been trying to let go of familiar forms and procedures, to make more room to hear that call.
Our book of Faith and Practice says that the purpose of our Yearly Meeting Sessions is to conduct the business rightly before us. The Discernment Working Group of the Sessions Committee, meeting since December, has come to a sense that the central business of this year’s Sessions is to try to hear God’s call in a different way (see the article Meetings to Hear God's Call from the Discernment Working Group)
Our business sessions this year are called “Meetings to Hear God’s Call.” We plan to leave room for the possibility that some of these may become “Meetings to Answer God’s Call,” should that way open. Two sessions are for the first time being jointly planned by Young Friends, Young Adult Friends and older Friends. They will be co-clerked by the clerks of Young Friends, Young Adult Friends and the presiding clerk and may include agenda items specific to those younger Friends. An overarching focus of all our plenary times of waiting worship will be the spiritual condition of our religious society.
We hope to use the Unity Agenda more extensively this year so that we will have time to listen in ways that are different from our typical practice. The Unity Agenda will include all our regular items of business, such as: accepting and approving, without discussion, committee and staff reports, staff appointments, the budget, nominations. Also there will be the continuation of the process approved last year, in minute 2009-54, for monthly meetings to discern whether to contribute to Friends United Meeting, through their contributions to NEYM. Monthly meetings have been laboring with this concern and more time seems warranted for that process to continue. We will hear memorial minutes read during each session.
As was the case last year, each item on the Unity Agenda will also have advance documents listed, that people can review, as well as a contact person, who will be available to hear concerns and answer questions. Should there be significant unresolved questions or concerns, an item may be taken off the Unity Agenda and brought forward as a regular item of business.
Use of the Unity Agenda—not hearing and seeing the people who carry the ministries represented by the reports and recommendations listed there—is a sacrifice by all. These members of our community need and deserve our attention, care, recognition, acknowledgement and oversight. And we need to accompany them for our own nurturing. It is risky to forgo attending to each other in our usual ways. It is likely to be uncomfortable. We know this because in the planning there has been anxiety, hurt feelings and insecurity. There has also been profound gratitude, joy and relief at seeing that the power of the eternal is always over all. Time and again, we can taste the sweetness that comes as grace in the surrender of our own will, expectations, and opinions, that allows the abundance of God’s love to appear.
In preparation for this year’s Sessions, in the recent New England Friend, I asked people to read Sandra Cronk’s Pendle Hill Pamphlet 297, Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community, available through Pendle Hill. I pray that we use the Unity Agenda, and the resultant freeing of time for sinking down to the seed, as an experiment in seeking Gospel Order in our communal life.
We need to be together in this process as much as we can. Our only hope is resting in the Divine together. So I ask for your informed prayers. Please share this letter with your meeting, go to the NEYM Sessions website, sessions.neym.org, or contact the NEYM office to get copies of the schedule, advance and background documents. Read and pray about them, and us all. And then come to Sessions in August. I look forward to worshipping, resting, singing and being grateful in your presence.
In God’s love,