New England Yearly Meeting

A community of Quakers and Quaker meetings across New England.

2016 Minutes of NEYM Sessions

Oct 25, 2016

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Saturday evening

2016-1      Following opening worship, Fritz Weiss (Hanover), presiding clerk, welcomed us to the 356th annual gathering of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends at Castleton University in Castleton, Vermont. He reminded us that today is Hiroshima Day and asked us to hold in our prayers a hope for peace. He introduced our theme, “Being The Hands of God, A Call to Radical Faithfulness.”

2016-2      Regrettably, reading clerk Andy Grannell (Portland) was not able to be present for Sessions. The clerk asked for approval of Jeremiah Dickinson (Wellesley) as reading clerk for this year’s Sessions. Friends approved. Fritz Weiss introduced the rest of the clerk’s table: reading clerk Katherine Fisher (Beacon Hill), recording clerks James “Jim” Grace (Beacon Hill) and Rachel Walker Cogbill (Plainfield).

2016-3      The reading clerks called out the names of monthly meetings and worship groups by quarter, and we rejoiced as each group stood. The clerk noted that we have six recently constituted worship groups: Hilltown Friends Meeting, Cummington, MA; Souhegan Friends Meeting (Allowed), Wilton, NH); Poultney (VT) Quaker Worship Group, West Brattleboro (VT) Worship Group, Nashoba Valley (MA) Worship Group, and Schoodic Friends Meeting, Winter Harbor, ME. We were excited to welcome many newcomers; more than 10 percent of attendees this year are attending for Sessions for their first time.

Throughout the week the following visitors were introduced and welcomed:

Sa’ed Atshan (Swarthmore MM, Philadelphia YM)
Beverly Archibald (Manhattan MM, New York YM)
Don Badgley (Poughkeepsie FM, New York YM)
Sharon Frame (Gwynedd MM, Philadelphia YM)
Kwame Gibbs-Hobgood (New York YM)
Elizabeth Melanie Gifford (Adelphi MM, Baltimore YM)
Danni Green (Chester MM, Philadelphia YM)
Daniel Hall (Northside FM, Illinois YM),
Savannah Hauge (Madison MM, Northern YM)
Melissa Hernandez (Holguin Friends Church, Cuba YM)
Odalys Hernandez Cruz (Holguin Friends Church, Cuba YM)
Agneta Injairu (Shirugu MM, Malava YM, Kenya)
Jeannine Laverty (New York YM)
Margaret Musalia (Mbale MM, Vihiga YM, Kenya),
Margaret Nelson (Brooklyn MM, New York YM)
Candido Fernando Perez (Miami Friends Church, EFC Mid-America YM)
David Peyton and Julie Peyton (West Hills FM, Northwest YM)
Anne Pomeroy (New Paltz MM, New York YM)
Emily Provance (Fifteenth Street Meeting, NYYM)
Ian, Scott and Susan Rhodewalt (London Grove MM, Philadelphia YM)
Jeannette Smith (Langley Hill FM, Baltimore YM)
Terry SoRelle (FM of Austin, South Central YM)
Elizabeth Yeats (FM of Austin, South Central YM)
Leon Zealand (Alexandria FM, Baltimore YM)

Organizational Representatives

Holly Baldwin (Beacon Hill Friends House)
Steve Chase (Pendle Hill)
Laura Everett (Massachusetts Council of Churches)
Harriet Heath (Quaker Parenting Initiative)
Barbara Monahan and Emily Wirzba (Friends Committee on National Legislation)
Stephen Newsom (Quaker House, Fayetteville, NC)
Richelle Ogle (American Friends Service Committee)
Elizabeth Piersol Schmidt (Friends General Conference)
Colin Saxton (Friends United Meeting)
Jacqueline Stillwell (Right Sharing of World Resources)
Gloria Thompson (FWCC Northeast Regional representative)
Galen Hamann (Moses Brown School)

2016-4      John Humphries (Hartford), Sessions Committee clerk, welcomed us. He thanked Sessions Committee for its work planning and preparing for Sessions. There is a new document called “Your Guide to Sessions” available to Friends. The Yearly Meeting News will be published daily and will be available as usual. Contributions to it are welcomed. Another new feature is that popcorn and lemonade will be served in the Campus Center in the afternoon. John reviewed the Sessions photography policy and named some Friends who will be taking photos. Friends who would rather not be photographed may put a red dot on their nametag. The clerk expressed appreciation for the work of John Humphries as Sessions Committee clerk, who served an extra year as the committee clerk in order to provide continuity for the new presiding clerk.

2016-5      Noah Baker Merrill (Putney), Yearly Meeting secretary, welcomed us to Castleton in English and Spanish. He gave us a short nametag tour, including an invitation to write our preferred pronouns on our nametag. He also announced that our pastoral counselor,  Kevin Lee (Westport), is unable to be with us this year, but others are prepared to respond to pastoral care requests.

Noah introduced the Yearly Meeting staff: Jeffrey Hipp (Souhegan), Communications Technology Coordinator; Sara Hubner (Gonic), Office Manager; Kathleen Wooten (Fresh Pond), Events Coordinator; Gretchen Baker-Smith (Westport), Junior High/Junior Yearly Meeting Coordinator; NiaDwynwen Thomas (Beacon Hill), Young Friends/Young Adult Friends Coordinator; Frederick Martin (Monadnock), Accounts Manager; Beth Collea (Wellesley), Religious Education and Outreach Coordinator; Hilary Burgin (Beacon Hill), Young Adult Engagement Coordinator; and Nat Shed (Vassalboro), Friends Camp Director.

2016-6      NiaDwynwen Thomas, the Young Friends/Young Adult Friends Coordinator; Xinef Afriam (Mt. Toby), Chloe Grubbs-Saleem (Mt. Toby), and Laura Hoskins (Putney) presented the work of the Sessions Racial Inclusivity Task Force. Committee members James Varner (Orono) and Rachel Carey-Harper (Barnstable) could not be present. They shared that we all have the same dream: We want each person to be able to bring his/her whole self to the meeting community. We want to be able to live into this shared vision of God’s beloved community. We must learn to fight racism and the culture of white supremacy. The first step to curing white supremacy is to notice it. Friends are asked to put this noticing into practice this Sessions. An anonymous online forum is being set up. Each of us is asked to make one announcement on this forum to educate all of us. What do we notice about ourselves and race? What do we notice about the bigger picture in Yearly Meeting? How do race, racism and the patterns of race show up in our time together? Reflection queries are available at the Information Desk to use at Sessions and beyond. There will be a chance to reflect jointly in a small group, online, at meals, and at the Campus Center.

2016-7      Before the youth left the gathered body, the clerk shared that each year at Sessions there are four Yearly Meetings occurring, each with its own business and program. When the youth leave us, the Junior Yearly Meeting, the Junior High Yearly Meeting and the Young Friends Yearly Meeting commence. We all gather again as one body at closing worship on Thursday.

Betty Ann Lee (Westport), Junior Yearly Meeting coordinator, introduced her staff of 15 who will work with 48 children. Gretchen Baker-Smith, Junior High Yearly Meeting coordinator, introduced her staff. NiaDwynwen Thomas, Young Friends coordinator, introduced her staff. Each of these age groups departed following introductions. Parents of young children were reminded of the Family Neighborhood. There is also a preschool program, co-coordinated by Kimberly Walker-Gonçalves (Northampton) and Karen Sánchez-Eppler (Northampton).

Sunday afternoon

2016-8      Rachel Guaraldi (Beacon Hill) introduced a panel of three Friends to share their experience of radical faithfulness. She sang “Christ has no body here but ours, no hands, no feet on earth but ours.” Our times are troubling times, fraught with violence, confusion, apathy, and terror. There is death, but also life—life in the embodiment of the living God that is evident in each of us.

In May 2013 Jay O’Hara (West Falmouth) and Ken Ward anchored a 32-foot wooden lobster boat in front of a pier at a coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, and prevented a 40,000-ton shipment of coal from being unloaded for a day. The decision to take this action, Jay found, was easy. The hard part was what came before, when he made himself available to the movement of the Spirit. In order to be the hands of God, we have to be in the hands of God. That is the real act of radical faithfulness.

For Jay, this was a transformative process of giving up some things that we all conventionally think are important, including a career, attachment to family, and his sense of respectability, especially in the eyes of his colleagues, as he gave up the successful activist leadership training program he had started. Are we Friends really a “a peculiar people”? Are we “transformed, not conformed”? What are we willing to give up? Our careers? Our retirement? Our respectability? Our identity? Our family? Our houses? Our lives? If we can’t contemplate selling our houses, or whatever else it is that might get in the way and cloud our vision of how to be faithful in these times, then we, and our Religious Society, and our planet, are in dire straits indeed.

Our religious heritage points exactly to this pattern of the faithful life. Jesus implores us to get rid of “that stuff” first, and then faithfulness becomes easy. Put the Kingdom of God first, and all else will be given unto you. Sell your stuff, give to the poor, and follow me.

Before Jay quit his non-profit job, he had to force himself to continue working. He found himself angry, harsh, and judgmental. By leaving his work behind and being faithful, he found the fruits to be peace, joy and love. When early Christians were faithful in this radical way, they expressed it as having been given a new life.

“Barn burned down, now I can see the moon.” Once we clear society’s expectations away, we find that God is there, waiting for us. All we have to do is make ourselves available.

Angela Hopkins (Northampton) asked, “What does it mean, being the hands of God?” You can be the mother who cares for a family, or the man who holds up the stop sign for our children to cross the street, or the woman who sharpens the pencils in church, which nobody notices until she dies. Who are we not seeing in our community? How do we nurture and support everyone, everyone, that God sends to us? There are many calls in our lives that lead to one, we all have the same call. For those of us who consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus, we know what that call is. We were called to go out to all the earth, but what about that neighbor who lives next door? Who are we not seeing?

Angela finds her primary calling these days to be in the area of racial justice and racism. There are lots of ways to work on the issue of racism, but you can’t do it if you don’t start building relationships.

Radical faithfulness: what’s the who, what, where, and when of that? We all have our gifts, and we all have our challenges. We are all the beloved community. We are all loved for our gifts and our challenges. Our work, as she understands it, is to live into who we are authentically, day by day, and share that which speaks to our condition. There is only one way, and that is radical love. There is no radical faithfulness without radical love. And radical love means you don’t get to quit.

Judy Goldberger (Beacon Hill) asked, “What would you do to gain your freedom?” Would you wade into the Sea? We stand together on the shore of the Red Sea, every First Day morning. Behind us, pressing upon us, the thunder of a terrible, familiar, everyday reality, a world which rewards brute power and wealth, a world where many are enslaved and a few stand on their necks. Ahead, the waters. Ahead, God’s promise of freedom.

She spoke of meeting with an undocumented immigrant who was cordial, but had learned to be distrustful and not forthcoming about himself. She later visited him in prison after he had been picked up. What could she do or say? Later, she could read, attend vigils, help find him a lawyer. In the moment, she could sit on the other side of the visitors’ window and press her hand up to the glass. Her heart had not been shattered, but it had been broken open. Once the heart is broken open, God can enter in. God doesn’t call the perfect. God perfects the called. And so she glimpsed that the ocean of Love overpowers the ocean of death. What would the Society of Friends look like if we lived as if that Truth were true?

Today feels a lot like the 1980s. Men, women, and children are fleeing bloodbath and terror in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. The authorities in their countries are corrupt and can’t be trusted to protect them. Our country’s authorities say that, except in certain limited circumstances, they do not qualify for asylum and turn them back, too often to their deaths. Houses of worship are springing up to offer them sanctuary.

God’s work comes most fully alive when we come together to listen, when we live out together what we hear. Only in covenant community can we leave a life which rewards brute power and wealth, which brutalizes many for the benefit of a few. Only in covenant community can we risk unlearning all we’ve ever known. Only in covenant community can we cross the Sea to live into the unknown, to live into God’s peaceable Kingdom. Let us cross the Sea, together.

As we received and pondered the Truth shared by these Friends, our hearts were opened, and we entered into a deep period of waiting worship.

Sunday evening

2016-9      Our clerk reminded us of our practice of staying in worship through the Meeting for Worship for Business. He has invited pastors of the Yearly Meeting to introduce each evening session with a prayer, to help us sustain the sense of worship, and to take advantage of the long, rich, and living tradition of pastored meetings within our Yearly Meeting. Maggie Edmondson, pastor of the Winthrop Center Friends Church, opened our Meeting for Worship for Business tonight.

2016-10    We heard the summer 2016 epistle from Ramallah Friends Meeting. Friends wrote of their very dire circumstances but also of their transcendent belief that there is strength when we join together with God accompanying us.

2016-11    Ben Guaraldi (Beacon Hill), Jackie Stillwell (Monadnock), and Noah Baker Merrill reported on their experience as our representatives to the Friends World Committee for Consultation World Plenary in Pisac, Peru. Elias Sánchez-Eppler (Northampton) joined them, representing our fourth representative, Rachel Guaraldi (Beacon Hill), who was unable to be present. Others from NEYM were also present. We watched with deep appreciation a video from the plenary made by Rachel Guaraldi.

Elias Sánchez-Eppler talked about ideas from one of the plenary working groups focusing on increasing meetings’ viability and members’ engagement.

Noah Baker Merrill told a story of two Friends from different yearly meetings who had both attended the previous world plenary in Kabarak, Kenya, and who had wrestled together at that time with their different understandings about homosexuality. One of the Friends had proclaimed that homosexuality was against the will of God. The other Friend came out during the conference as gay. At the end of that conference, the first Friend said he was no longer sure what God thinks about homosexuality but he knew that God calls us to love. At the plenary in Pisac, Peru, the two Friends met again. The one who had previously spoken against homosexuality said that he has prayed over this for years, that he is now feeling called to work within his yearly meeting on a change of heart regarding homosexuality, and asked the gay friend for help. The love of God works through relationships.

Jackie Stillwell expressed her thanks that she could represent this Yearly Meeting at the gathering. She shared the preamble from the sustainability minute approved by the plenary. Jackie Stillwell and Ben Guaraldi read several suggestions from the minute for promoting sustainability. The full minute is available in the Advance Documents.

The minute requests that all Yearly Meetings:

  1. Initiate at least two concrete actions on sustainability within the next 12 months. These may build on existing projects of individuals or monthly meetings or they may be new initiatives. We ask that they encourage Young Friends to play key roles. We ask that meetings minute the progress and results, so as to share them with FWCC and Quaker meetings.
  2. Support individuals and groups in their meetings who feel called to take action on sustainability.
  3. Support the work done by Quaker organizations such as the Quaker United Nations Office and the Quaker Council for European Affairs to ensure that international agreements and their implementation support sustainability.

We will return to these requests in a future business session to see how the Yearly Meeting wishes to respond.

It was noted that Friends in New England are already doing many of the items listed as examples in the FWCC minute. We are invited to take further steps in our witness.

A Friend shared that the Rwanda Yearly Meeting has responded to this challenge from FWCC by applying for and receiving a grant to support planting trees and educating their membership around sustainability issues.

2016-12    Five quarterly meeting clerks shared reflections on the States of Society in their quarters.

Kenneth Glover (North Shore), clerk of Ministry and Counsel in Salem Quarter, expressed that our work this week is to love and to see one another. This has been a year for pruning some of the activities for Salem Quarter. One example was the Quarter’s decision to no longer sponsor the Quaker Studies Program at Beacon Hill. This leaves the Beacon Hill Friends House as the only sponsor of this program. Acton Monthly Meeting is determining its future. Kenneth shared stories from the Family Fair held by Framingham Monthly Meeting and encouraged other meetings to consider holding similar events. The Quarter is providing some of the funding for Greg Williams’s ministry, “Stone of Hope,” which is addressing racial justice.

Eleanor Godway (Hartford), co-recording clerk of Connecticut Valley Quarter, reported that not all its constituent meetings participate in quarterly activities and business meetings. Their best attendance is at programs. This year there were several: one on possible actions on Palestine, a discussion with Hal Weaver and Anne Nash about Hal’s new book Black Fire, a consultation on the minute on climate change, a program on the Journey of Healing in the work of repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, and the Alternatives to Violence Project.

Janet Hough (Cobscook) is clerk of Vassalboro Quarterly Meeting Ministry and Counsel, which has shepherded work in the absence of a clerk of the Quarter. As a rural group, gathering in Quarter is a cherished time for their small meetings to connect. Their Quarter is old and they remember a complicated and honored past continuing into the present. Members of the Quarter founded Ramallah Friends School, and Rufus Jones was instrumental in founding Five Years Meeting (now FUM) and the AFSC. Diane Dicranian (Winthrop Center Friends Church) has traveled through the Yearly Meeting for the last 2 years with a minute from Vassalboro Quarter, under a concern to support LGBT friends and their allies. Last year the Quarter presented a minute for information. This year they bring it for action. Diane Dicranian read the “Minute of Concern on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered (LGBT) Ugandans” from Vassalboro Quarterly Meeting:

Vassalboro Quarterly Meeting holds a deep concern over the Ugandan government’s continued targeting of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer (LGBTQ) population in Uganda. The Ugandan government has created a climate where the life, freedom, and human dignity of all LGBTQ Ugandans, and those who support and assist them, are at immediate risk. We are distressed by the plight of LGBTQ citizens who have been forced to leave their homes, denied basic rights, been beaten, imprisoned or killed, and who live in constant fear of further reprisals. We abhor and are appalled by the violent, unjust, and inhumane actions of the Ugandan government as it terrorizes its own citizens.

Washington State’s Olympia Monthly Meeting has created the “Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund” (FUSTF) to aid LGBTQ Ugandans and their allies who are fleeing their homeland for their lives and safety. The purpose of the FUSTF initiative is to financially support Ugandans helping to save Ugandans.

We ask that New England Yearly Meeting Friends, both individually and through their monthly meetings, learn more about the plight of LGBTQ Ugandans by visiting Olympia Meeting’s site, friendsugandansafetransport.org. The website contains background information and reports on current activities. We also ask that individuals and monthly meetings prayerfully consider if they are led to financially support the work of Olympia Monthly Meeting and FUSTF and to take action in accordance with their leading.

Diane has spoken at Vassalboro and Northwest Quarterly Meetings; Midcoast, Hartford, Northampton, and Wellesley Monthly Meetings; Beacon Hill Friends House; and the Maine Council of Churches. Diane has reported regularly to her monthly meeting and to Vassalboro Quarterly Meeting. In addition to many individual Friends, the meetings that we know of within NEYM that have supported the FUSTF, a project of the Olympia Friends Meeting in Washington, are Eggemoggin Reach, Middlebury, Mt. Toby, Northwest Quarter, Orono, Vassalboro Monthly and Quarterly Meetings, and Winthrop Center Friends Church. The minute asks Yearly Meeting to support the Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund through a minute of support and/or a contribution to the fund (See Minute 2016-13).

JJ Smith (Concord) is leaving as clerk of the Dover Quarterly Meeting. She finds it is a small quarter in which it has been difficult to have a ministry and counsel meeting for many years. It has few meetings in it, and she is not sure that the quarter is being helpful to its constituent meetings. A nominating committee has been formed and a new clerk may be named.

Penny Wright (Hanover), clerk of Northwest Quarterly Meeting, reported about that quarter. In addition to the written report about the rejuvenation of the quarter, orally she lifted up a concern that has evolved around supporting Syrian refugees coming to Rutland. The status of that move is not clear at this point. We pray we can support such refugees as a quarter.

2016-13    Friends were asked to consider whether we might support the Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund by endorsing and/or contributing to it.

Friends are in solidarity with LGBT Ugandans who are being persecuted. However Friends had concerns about understanding the subtleties of western Friends minuting and acting on concerns of African Friends. We asked Diane Dicranian to convene a session to address this concern and then bring the issue back for discussion at a future business session.

2016-14    Phebe McCosker (Hanover), clerk of the Faith and Practice Revision Committee, thanked Jan Hoffman for the foundation that she laid in the first years of the committee’s work: for her grasp of the scope of the work and how best to approach it, for her spiritual insights, and for her ability to pull the committee together into a cohesive working group. Jan does not feel a “rising of the Life” to continue on the revision committee, but has bequeathed them with an incredible set of documentation including all the concerns and correspondence which have informed the committee’s work. The major undertaking of this year has been a working paper on membership which is coming back to us now for dialogue. A listening session will provide the opportunity for engagement with the committee. In September they will be sending the clerks of all the monthly meetings and worship groups a copy of the document, encouraging our spiritual communities to engage with the work done so far and to respond to them with our thoughts. The committee suggests listening to each other about where each of us is on our experiences with membership.

2016-15    We reviewed our accomplishments of this evening, our work for tomorrow, and then settled into closing worship.

Monday morning

2016-16    We opened in worship, hearing the April 2016 epistle from Ireland Yearly Meeting, with the theme “Who is my Neighbour?”, sharing their discernment about how their relatively small group could be faithful in addressing issues such as immigration, poverty, climate change, and social exclusion.

2016-17    The clerk asked for names of people who usually attend Sessions but are unable to attend this year, so that we may prepare and send cards of greeting to them. As we heard the names spoken, we sensed their spirit among us.

2016-18    The clerk of Permanent Board, Sarah Gant (Beacon Hill), expressed her deep love for the engaged minds and brave hearts of the Permanent Board members who keep her on track and centered, for the God who is present when they discern together, for the strong backs who carry Yearly Meeting through Sessions and throughout the year, for those who care for children in retreats and make the Camp a safe haven, and for all who discern God’s will and act as the hands of God.

She gave an overview of the work of Permanent Board.

She then reviewed what has happened since last year when Permanent Board laid down the ad-hoc Structural Review Committee after Sessions. This committee had drawn on decades of previous work by numerous Yearly Meeting committees and had engaged in an extensive process of listening to our current condition throughout the Yearly Meeting. Informed by this work, Permanent Board is working on organic structural changes in the Yearly meeting to better support our work, to better support communication across NEYM, and to support additional gatherings for worship and renewal.

  • Permanent Board is working more closely with Ministry and Counsel. These two committees meet jointly in September. This year they jointly discerned how memorial minutes would be received at Sessions. This year they intend to consider the process for travel minutes.
  • Permanent Board approved the laying down of Committee Days so that staff time and other resources are available to support our committees in other ways, such as setting up conference calls, coordinating in-person meetings, better sharing of information with committees and the wider Yearly Meeting, and creating a new electronic newsletter.
  • The Youth Ministries Committee, which was re-purposed in 2014, has begun their work. This committee has done the work necessary so that Permanent Board has approved a Child Safety Policy for the Yearly Meeting programs.
  • The Quaker Youth Education Committee has asked to be laid down, so that a new, networking model can be raised up that is nimble, responsive, accessible, and inviting to Friends to participate in the work of youth education. Permanent Board endorses this proposal.
  • There have been three consultations during the past two years, including one on Emerging Practices in Quaker Outreach; one on Young Adult engagement and outreach, which led to the joint application with NYYM for the Shoemaker grant; and one on the pastoral care needs of the Yearly Meeting which has enriched the conversation about how we do pastoral care. This is a new form for discernment that supports engagement in a concern across committees and invites participation from Friends involved in the concern in their monthly and quarterly meetings.
  • We are planning two Living Faith Gatherings in the coming year, November 5 at Friends School of Portland and April 8 at Moses Brown School. They will be family-friendly and accessible to those who don’t come to Annual Sessions.

2016-19    We accepted the recommendation of the Quaker Youth Education Committee and Permanent Board and approved laying down the Quaker Youth Education Committee, with appreciation for their many contributions over the years.

2016-20    The clerk of the Legacy Gift Committee, Suzanna Schell (Beacon Hill), introduced the committee: Jean McCandless (Burlington), Pat Wallace (Northampton), Edward Mair (Amesbury), Sarah Gant (Beacon Hill), Shearman Taber (Beacon Hill), and Fritz Weiss (Hanover). The committee received applications from Friends in most quarters and has awarded 24 grants, which are listed in the Advance Documents. Suzanna shared how the committee receives and considers applications. A review team is assigned to each application. This team explores concerns and questions about the application and organizes a presentation to the whole committee. Applications are expected to be under the care and support of a meeting. We are reminded that these funds support the life and ministries of Friends in New England. When a grant is awarded, the recipient is encouraged to share information about his/her ministry and the project at Sessions. The committee, with the Ministry and Council and Finance committees, will be presenting a workshop in October 2016 called “Leadings, Meetings and Money.”

The committee has learned some lessons and has some questions after this first year of work. A small amount of money can do a lot. Many requests on climate change were received but very few addressing racism. What should our role be in encouraging certain types of requests? There were many requests for assistance on meetinghouse upkeep and repair/maintenance. There is more needed for our buildings than is available through the Legacy Gift project. Are there other ways this could be addressed? There was one request to provide funds for the Wôpanâak language reclamation project as an action consistent with our repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery. The application indicated that no Friends were actively involved in this project. Does the Legacy Gift have a responsibility to support projects connected to the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, in addition to supporting the ministry of Friends in New England?

We appreciated the hard work of Suzanna Schell who guided the three-year discernment of how to use the Legacy Gift and has clerked the committee during its first year.

2016-21    The clerk of the Nominating Committee, Constance Kincaid-Brown (Hanover), reported on the work done by that committee. Many opportunities still abound for service to the Yearly Meeting.

Nominating Committee is a microcosm of the Yearly Meeting. They are graying and in transition. They have low numbers. They do not have the depth to keep going when key members are not at the top of their game. They are transitioning to a focus of finding opportunities for people with gifts rather than just filling slots.

All meetings are invited to appoint representatives to Nominating Committee but only two have. The committee requests that more meetings appoint representatives.

If you feel a tug to serve on a committee, talk to someone. If you have an idea of a person who might serve in a certain way, talk to them. There are many opportunities for service in the Yearly Meeting, in your monthly meeting, and at Friends Camp.

Constance Kincaid-Brown introduced the members of the committee.

2016-22    Noah Baker Merrill, Yearly Meeting secretary, reported on the first year’s experience issuing time-sensitive public statements as approved at last year’s Sessions (Minute 2015-57). When in unity, using discernment and restraint, the clerk and the secretary are authorized to issue statements for the Yearly Meeting consistent with our testimonies and witnesses.

There have been seven statements issued this year:

September 2015: A public statement on Climate Change in response to the visit to the United States by Pope Francis
October 2015: Facing the Challenge of Climate Change—A shared statement by Quaker groups
November 2015: “Choosing Love in a Season of Fear,” in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris.
March 2016: A letter in support of the amicus curiae brief in “Shrine of our Lady of LaSalette vs. Assessors,” a case before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
April 2016:  Endorsement of a letter asking for a Marine Monument off the coast of New England.
May 2016:  Epistle to the United Methodist Church
June 2016: A prayer in response to the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando

The full statements are on the NEYM website. The charge has been carried as a weighty one, and has always been in collaboration with suggestions from the body and with discernment shared among with other Friends. Friends were asked to respond and share advice or concerns about this practice based on our experience during this year.

Noah asked for advice and feedback concerning this new practice from those gathered.

Friends responded in appreciation for the care and eloquence of the statements, and in joy at finally having a voice as Quakers on current issues. It is good to stand together with others. The discernment process has been very careful. The statements have been helpful to bring to ecumenical gatherings. Sometimes they have been a seed for monthly meeting statements. Humility in speech has been appreciated, but we should not err on the side of silence. Leadership when the moment calls is important, even if an issue may not be as deeply seasoned within the Yearly Meeting. Sometimes the statements are magnified by social media. As a body we are asked to continue to be a part of this ongoing discernment in the next year.

2016-23    Sarah Gant (Beacon Hill), clerk of Permanent Board, spoke to the hiring process for the new director for Friends Camp. The ad-hoc search committee, clerked by Edward Baker (Westerly), worked very hard. The application process was extensive, and the person who fit best, Anna Hopkins, is one who already has long experience (six years) with the Camp. She is also well connected to other youth programs in the Yearly Meeting. Anna comes to us after teaching at Moses Brown Friends School. Sarah Gant introduced Anna and asked our approval of her appointment as the director of Friends Camp. We heartily approved her appointment.

Monday evening

2016-24    We were prayed into worship by Odalys Hernandez Cruz (Holguín Friends Church), the presiding clerk of Cuba Yearly Meeting. She then shared the 2016 epistle from Cuba Yearly Meeting, with a translation following. The epistle reminds us that in relationship we become workers for peace, and that reconciliation is everyone’s ministry. The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Let us seek the meanings of Christ’s teachings, serving God and our neighbor.

2016-25    Friends appointed visitors to the youth programs, who will report back Thursday morning:

Childcare  Colleen Crowley (Portland), Martha Schwope (Wellesley)

Junior YM K–1   Edward Mair (Amesbury), Dan Hoskins (Putney)

Junior YM 2–4   Melanie Gifford (Adelphi MM, Baltimore YM), Thayer Quoos (New Haven)

Junior YM 5–6   Ada Kerman (Monadnock), Darcy Drayton (Souhegan)

Junior High YM   Wendyl Ross (Wellesley), Marion Athearn (Westport)

Young Friends   Galen Hamann (Providence), Bob Fisher (Plainfield)

Young Adult Friends   Will Jennings (Beacon Hill), Mary Gilbert (Cambridge)

2016-26    Agneta Injairu brought greetings from Malava Yearly Meeting and Friends Theological College in Kaimosi, Kenya. She appreciates NEYM’s support in enabling her and Margaret Musalia to come to this country, where they have done much visiting with Quakers. They look forward to going back home to continue to train and encourage the women there through teamwork with Marian Baker of our Yearly Meeting. They need prayer and financial support to meet the challenges in Uganda.

Margaret Musalia, visiting from Vihiga Yearly Meeting, and from United Society of Friends Women, Kenya, taught us a call-and-response greeting: “God is good all the time and all the time God is good.” She acknowledged the support and deep friendship from Marian Baker, the support group in Kenya, and this Yearly Meeting. She noted here we have all ages together at Sessions. In Kenya there must be separate yearly meetings just because of space; they have 500 children alone. She tells us, “You are doing something good, and don’t be tired. Hold on to the good things you are doing. You have touched many people without knowing. You have touched us. We are part of one family. Be the light of the world wherever you are. May God bless you and encourage you all.”

2016-27    The Connecticut Valley Quarter climate change minute was presented for our consideration by Peter Blood Patterson (Mt. Toby) and Alan Eccleston (Mt. Toby) of Connecticut Valley Quarter, and Ruah Swennerfelt (Burlington), clerk of NEYM Earthcare Ministry Committee.

Alan Eccleston shared how he came to realize that he could do a voluntary carbon tax. This is a systemic response to the complexities of living embedded in a carbon economy. This has expanded to seven meetings. More information can be found on voluntarycarbontax.org. Can we in this Session, gathered in radical faithfulness, approve a landmark carbon minute? Save a livable planet, listen to creation’s call. Listen, listen, listen: “Here am I, Lord, choose me.”

Peter Blood Patterson noted that each generation has a unique challenge. There is a growing threat from climate change. The sixth mass extinction may be underway. As largely white, middle-class Americans, we live in the epicenter of this great crime. He read from the epistle from the second New England Climate Spring (text included in our minute below). Can we call on all our meetings to see what they might do, to hold each other accountable, to live out the changes that are required?

Ruah Swennerfelt called us to act toward sustainability, even while holding ambiguity and grief for the state of the planet, for our complicity in that. She spoke of gratitude for good people who are working to make a difference in the climate chaos that is upon us. It is up to this body to decide how we respond. Approving a minute is not the most important thing, but embracing the issue and taking it home with us is. She led us in singing “The tide is rising, and so are we. This is where we are called to be.”

We accepted the following minute from Connecticut Valley Quarterly Meeting:

Climate Minute Approved by Connecticut Valley Quarterly Meeting
5/4/14, 2/7/16

Quaker testimony urges Friends to be good stewards “so that future generations may inherit an earth on which they can live in hope and dignity” (NEYM Faith and Practice, 1985, p. 189). It is time to urgently affirm the overwhelming scientific consensus that greenhouse gases released by human activity are causing climate change, that these changes threaten life on our planet as we know it, and that we have a responsibility to address the very real threats that will impact both rich and poor. Those on earth who have contributed least to this crisis are likely to suffer most from it. While systemic change is necessary, we cannot wait for governing bodies to do what is needed: change must begin with individuals and groups of people acting together. As Friends living in a high-carbon society we have a special responsibility and opportunity to live up to our testimony of stewardship.

We believe that although the problems we face are large, complex, and overwhelming, following our faith can lead us to unity and hope. Friends are encouraged to move from this affirmation to specific action as led.

2016-28    Friends were clear that while we could accept the minute from Connecticut Valley Quarter, we were prepared to go further. The recording clerks brought a minute forward from our discussion. Friends approved the spirit of the minute but asked the recording clerks to work on the language. The final minute was received later in the week (Minute 2016-67).

2016-29    We returned to the Friends World Committee for Consultation sustainability minute and the three actions they asked yearly meetings to take.

The minute requests that all Yearly Meetings:

  1. Initiate at least two concrete actions on sustainability within the next 12 months. These may build on existing projects of individuals or monthly meetings or they may be new initiatives. We ask that they encourage Young Friends to play key roles. We ask that meetings minute the progress and results, so as to share them with FWCC and Quaker meetings.
  2. Support individuals and groups in their meetings who feel called to take action on sustainability.
  3. Support the work done by Quaker organizations such as the Quaker United Nations Office and the Quaker Council for European Affairs to ensure that international agreements and their implementation support sustainability.

Friends approved all three of these action requests.

The clerk asked if the body would support directing Katherine Fisher of the clerks’ table, who is also a member of the Young Adult Friends Climate Working Group, to lead a threshing session to attempt to name the two or three concrete actions on sustainability we would take. We approved this discernment process.

2016-30    Elias Sánchez-Eppler, clerk of Finance Committee, introduced the Friends Camp budget and the Yearly Meeting budget. These budgets and a full discussion of them are in his report. This is the first time the Friends Camp budget has been presented for explanation and approval, but there is an endeavor to make our process more transparent. For this presentation he gave us the top-line numbers in graphic form. Friends Camp was thanked for moving their budgeting process up by nine months. Friends Camp budgeted income and expenses for FY17 match, at $404,860.  

Since 2014 the Yearly Meeting has been operating with a deficit budget, and the budget we present this year is no different. Actual income is a little below expenses, but the gap is relatively tiny. We have developed a full budget which will reduce the deficit in 2018 by another $10,000. To trim the budget, we cut many of the buffers in each category of spending. In consultation with the Ad Hoc Long-term Financial Planning Committee, we also project contributions to the general fund to go up by 3% for both individual and monthly meeting contributions this year.

There are three big things to celebrate:

  1. We are developing multi-year financial plans.
  2. We are on course to close the gap between income and expenses in the next two years.
  3. New federal overtime policies will move our society towards economic justice, but it does mean we need to pay some staff more. We are underpaying and overworking our staff, and the federal government is calling us to moral account. Personnel is working out details as these regulations are recent. New costs may range from $15,000–$37,000. We want this to be equitable among all the staff pursuant to their responsibilities. We have the resources to cover this additional cost many times over. Do we have the courage and integrity to do so?

The committee has begun visiting with monthly meetings to share news about the Yearly Meeting and to talk about monthly meeting contributions. Volunteers are welcome to join in this effort.

2016-31    Sara Smith (Concord), clerk of the Development Committee, talked about why she gives to NEYM. Her son grew up in NEYM, and the youth program was life-changing for him. He developed an understanding of the Quaker testimonies as he lived them in the JYM community. He learned about integrity and equality. The activities were the essence of simplicity but done with spirituality. She realizes now that the fees she paid did not cover all the costs. Young families often do not have the income to pay all the fees, but we need those young families, so we subsidize them in our budget. We help each other in so many ways, not only financially, in donating to make these programs possible.

We have increased the number of households who give and the number of monthly donors. This financial year we have so far reached 66% of our goal. We still need to raise $46,432 by the end of the fiscal year.

NEYM supports youth programs. NEYM supports monthly meetings in many ways. NEYM supports work in outreach, welcoming and inclusion. We support Quakers who witness in the wider world. The Development Committee has initiated the deployment of an electronic monthly newsletter to connect Friends in New England. Friends are encouraged to sign up for this on the Yearly Meeting website and to encourage others to do so.

When you give to NEYM, it is a spiritual gift of hope. You can see the work of the Yearly Meeting in all the reports in the Advance Documents.

2016-32    Shearman Taber (Beacon Hill), Yearly Meeting treasurer, presented his report. “In theory, theory and practice are the same thing. But in practice, not so much.” The Finance Committee approved two job descriptions, one for a treasurer and one for an assistant treasurer. The assistant treasurer position is open.

Shearman Taber encourages all meetings to have an outsider do an annual review of their books. He offers to do that for local meetings.

There are several changes coming to our financial reports, including combining the financial reports of the operating division (us) with that of Friends Camp in a single report.

Secondly, grant funding will be included in our regular figures. There is an increased use of grant funding for special projects in the Yearly Meeting. For example, some of our staff expenses are being covered by money from the Shoemaker Fund.

As of May 31, 2016, it appeared that the Yearly Meeting would be running a deficit at the end of this fiscal year of $36,499, assuming that contributions continue as they did last year. This is a big assumption, because last September we received contributions of $129,000. That’s 29 percent of the amount budgeted for the entire year received in one month! We need to work hard to match last year’s accomplishment.

Intentional deficit spending is only in its third year. We need both individuals and monthly meetings to increase the amount they contribute. Individuals can change their spending more quickly than monthly meetings. It is important to know there has never been a set relationship between the proportion of individual and meeting contributions.

2016-33    We reviewed our progress on the agenda, closing in worshipful silence.

Tuesday morning

2016-34    We opened in worship, hearing the New York Yearly Meeting Epistle in which they shared their knowing that “we can nurture the blessed community with faithful listening and a readiness to grow and change, even—perhaps especially—when growth and change are hard.” They also shared their yearning for a more economically and racially diverse body and the need to “trust in one another and trust in The Source.” Tendered by the awareness of the persistence of racism and the difficult legacy of white privilege, they rededicated themselves to “advancing a more equal society that recognizes that of God in every person.”

2016-35    Candido Fernando Perez brought warm greetings to us from the Miami Friends Church. They invited us to visit, and have both open doors and open windows in welcome. Miami Friends feel blessed to be part of the bridge between Cuba and NEYM and believe it to be a God-given ministry for them.

2016-36    Noah Baker Merrill, Yearly Meeting secretary, introduced the Yearly Meeting staff. There are no hireling ministers here. George Fox decried the hireling ministers as those who cared for others only for money, and not from a calling. Here, there are people with a calling who are paid for some of their time to carry their leading, and to liberate the ministry that we all share.

Frederick Martin, Accounts Manager, said that he serves in what he sometimes calls the back office, and it’s an enabling ministry. Money has curious spiritual qualities if you are careful with it. Frederick has always said that truth is integrity about money, but he recently has realized that the love side is equally important. Money accomplishes the motions of love.

Beth Collea, Religious Education and Outreach Coordinator, shared that she tries to live by the adage “Meet people where they are, but don’t leave them where you found them.”

Be on the Quaker path and help each other to move forward and deeper on that path.

Concord Monthly Meeting is part of the new pilot outreach project. A recent visitor there said there are three pieces that attract her to this meeting: 1) Concord Friends believe there is something beyond us; 2) when we’re in Quaker worship, we’re interacting with that beyond; and 3) when we’re connected with the divine source, we’re connected to the world where we go and feel compelled to serve. Wellesley, another meeting where there has been work, has outlined a whole curriculum using a journey model, with members of meeting speaking to their lives of faith as examples of each stage of this journey.

Hilary Burgin, Young Adult Engagement Coordinator, was introduced by Noah Baker Merrill. She is the second newest staff member, hired out of funds entirely provided by the Shoemaker grant. Hilary grew up in Acton Meeting and is currently a member of Beacon Hill. She also serves as the Coordinator of Quaker Voluntary Service in Boston. She will be working intensively with meetings to help engage their young adults, and to do the most important work—to work with God in one another. We welcomed Hilary to the staff.

Nia Thomas, Young Friends/Young Adult Friends Coordinator, shared some of her vision for the future of her work. She sees the Young Friends and Young Adult Friends programs as an open door into the Quaker faith, into our meetings, to whomever passes by. We have a lot of open doors such as Friends Camp, Quaker schools, and local youth groups like the Western Mass and Boston Area Youth Groups. Many youth participate in these programs who are new to Friends. When our gifts are affirmed, we can become part of something larger and more meaningful. We all see this in a concrete way as Young Friends and Young Adult Friends take on significant roles in our annual sessions.

She believes that each Young Friend is going somewhere where she cannot imagine. Loving adults are essential to support Young Friends on these spiritual journeys.

Sara Hubner, Office Manager, has spoken previously about seeing her job as a switchboard operator and that image still speaks to her. She apologizes to any of you who she forgot were on hold. Her job is connecting Friends with one another who have similar concerns, connecting Friends with the Yearly Meeting office, and connecting them with the information they want.

When she looks ahead, she sees working with the Archives Committee, getting more training in our database software, helping to develop the monthly newsletter, and helping to get the news out about how the staff can help the local meetings. The connections she wants to make are not about getting people involved in the Yearly Meeting so we can staff committees or improve our fundraising, but she wants to get us to know each other in that which is eternal.

Jeffrey Hipp, Communications Technology Coordinator, shared with the body that he is resigning from this position next month. He came into this position from a clear leading to this work that was affirmed by the unity of the search committee, and by a clear sense that we are his community and have been instrumental in shaping who he is as a Friend. Through Friends Jeff has found access to the ultimate spiritual authority that can transform and gives us the power to embody our testimonies. He felt loved and welcomed; his gifts were drawn out and put to good use.

Serving us has been a joy in so many ways, and in so many ways it’s been a challenge. He is resigning because he does not feel a clear leading to continue. He does feel other leadings in which he wants to be faithful, especially the awe-filled work of parenting, where he finds holy moments in which he feels the warming fire of the Spirit.

Jeff feels deeply loved and deeply valued by us, epitomized by the words of one Friend: “I don’t understand what the heck you do, but I see there are some good fruits coming out of it. Keep it up.” He particularly appreciated loving support from his supervisor Noah Baker Merrill, his fellow staff, and all Friends in the body of New England Yearly Meeting. He counseled us to find someone who is filled with the God’s fire and stand with them to kindle the fire within us.

We will have the opportunity to express our gratitude and love back to Jeff.

Gretchen Baker-Smith, Junior High/Junior Yearly Meeting Coordinator, and Kathleen Wooten, Events Coordinator, were each too busy in their work to come and report to us.

2016-37    The clerk of Friends General Conference Committee, David Haines (Wellesley), reported about the challenges that FGC is facing and its response to those challenges. FGC has been funding programs from its endowment. When they began planning for a major fundraising campaign, they recognized that there was necessary work to do to clarify the mission of the organization and its relationship with constituent yearly meetings. The decision not to proceed with the fundraising campaign has resulted in some difficult decisions to reduce programs and expenses. FGC desires a stable financial picture, with matching income. The first step has been to define the purpose of FGC, which is: to foster and nurture collaboration among yearly and monthly meetings,  to grow and strengthen the Religious Society of Friends, and to foster a more-inclusive community.

David reviewed some of the recent changes at FGC. The bookstore has been moved to Pendle Hill from downtown Philadelphia and the inventory of books and the staff have been reduced, but the online presence is improving. Publishing has been reduced. The Quaker Quest Program has been laid down, although it’s still available online. The Stewardship Program and the New Meetings Program (funded by grants) have been laid down, although learnings from the latter will be useful in the future. From this work, much has been learned about the fertile boundaries of our world . Staff has decreased; reliance on volunteers is increasing and the organization is discovering new ways to integrate them into the organization. The FGC Gathering is relatively unaffected, as it is self-supporting. The Quaker Cloud will continue, but is being adjusted to meet the needs of the community.

Even in the context of diminished resources, we find FGC at its core is about developing the relationship between its constituent parts (both monthly and yearly meetings) and supporting collaborations between them. Here are some examples. The Quaker Religious Education Collaborative has received support from FGC. Different yearly meetings and monthly meetings are offering programs at FGC Gathering, such as programs about racism and about serving as treasurer or clerk, as well as ones on families or welcoming newcomers. All are important topics for that cross-fertilization. NEYM has contributed much. One example is the many documents from the NEYM Young Friends program that have been provided to other YF and YAF training programs. A new program, the Spiritual Deepening Program, is still supported in its work of increasing the depth and fire in our lives and our meetings. FGC has maintained structure and support for a ministry on racism, including participation in the White Privilege Conference. FGC continues to discern its way forward, and sees much more important work in the future. Important work is rarely easy, but we can approach it with honesty and humility, and support each other in community and spirit. All are invited to the next FGC gathering, July 2–8, 2017, in Niagara, NY.

David also shared some of the challenges experienced at the FGC gathering this year. This summer’s Gathering theme was: “be humble, Be Faithful, BE BOLD.” The Gathering was held at a college in Minnesota. When choosing the gathering site, it was noted that the college had an African-American president, a student body with a significant proportion of people of color, and an acknowledged LGBTQ group. Unfortunately we learned that these factors did not translate into this being a safe place for Friends of color. Friends reported experiencing micro-aggressions during the pre-conference for Friends of color before the Gathering, and during the Gathering itself. FGC and the Gathering planning committee recognize they have lessons to learn and difficult conversations before them. It is work that must be done by the whole community. It is hard, but we have the faith, the love, and if we make mistakes the community will hold us.

2016-38    Sheila Garrett (Putney) reported that in April many Friends, including many from New England, attended the 17th annual White Privilege Conference in Philadelphia. There are many perspectives on this work and on the conference. There are many hopes and there is much to learn. The following Friends reported on their experience.

Lizzie Szanton and Drew Chasse spoke about conference speakers who talked about such things as counseling a son about racism and safety in public, and losing a son to a police bullet. For those of us who are white people, it is easy to become paralyzed with a shame that blocks our ability to speak. It is not the job of white people to lead a movement speaking for people of color. Instead, white people must focus our efforts on confronting white supremacy. There can be no more protecting white people from feeling shame or guilt; these are feelings that have to be confronted. The White Privilege Conference has enabled Lizzie and Drew to conduct conversations with others about white privilege. They hope to use this conference further as a springboard into concrete action.

LVM Shelton (Plainfield) spoke of her second participation in the White Privilege Conference. White supremacy can be found within each of us in this culture. It is an addiction. The tools this conference put in our hands are mammoth. They change guilt and frustration into hope. Community is at the heart of this recovery. Whenever we point our fingers at others who are engaging in acts and thoughts that are contrary to spirit, three fingers are pointing back at us.

How can we apply what was learned in the White Privilege Conference in our lives as Quakers? LVM Shelton reported an opportunity at this year’s FGC Gathering and pre-conference which led her to join with other Friends to dismantle further the institutional white supremacy that is found in FGC. The choice of site for this year’s pre-conference and Gathering became an issue. The events were riddled with racial wounding. Friends were told to go in threes when going to town, because if they were accosted by police, there would be a second person who could record what’s happening, and a third who could go for help. Further, there were a number of micro-aggressions from campus security, such as following people going to their cars. Friends of color have lifted up for a decade that there is a systemic failure of FGC to address white privilege. The FGC staff and clerks were all white, and in a parody of tokenism they asked Friends of color to sit on the stage. They refused. Friends of color should not be seen as representatives of their race, because they are not. They are people. There were efforts of Friendly persuasion during the course of the week. Two specific requests were made of FGC: for the site selection committee to have a majority of Friends of color, and for an external cultural competency audit of FGC.

FGC has acted on the first request; the site selection committee now has a majority of Friends of color. The second request is more complex and more difficult for FGC to follow through. Just as our organizations receive external audits on our finances, we should receive an external audit on our cultural competence. Are not people as valuable as money? The process has begun. The staff is embarking on the process of learning more about what is required to complete such an audit. When they better understand what the audit would entail and what resources it would require, they will bring this information to the FGC Central Committee. What we need now is to support this effort and stand in solidarity with it. Lake Erie Yearly Meeting minuted that it would earmark a portion of its donation to FGC for the audit. Will NEYM do the same? What is our response?

The clerk noted that this is the first time that many of us have heard of this issue, that it is an important conversation, and that we will have a conversation about it, but not at this moment in our agenda. We need to learn more about this issue, and to seek guidance on how we can best respond. He proposed that LVM Shelton and David Haines lead a session for all interested Friends to help us better engage in this question and to discern a proposal to bring back to our business process. Friends approved.

Later in the business session, the clerk realized that two Friends had brought a concern to us, and that the clerk had made the mistake of giving them more work. He proposed instead that Friends permit him to select some wise Friends from among the body to facilitate this session for all Friends who wish to discern with them. Friends approved.

2016-39    Gretchen Baker-Smith spoke for the Yearly Meeting leading us in a celebration of Nat Shed’s tenure and contributions during his twelve years as Friends Camp Director.

We celebrate Nat Shed! Nat transformed the Camp. Campers were asked: What do you think of when you think of Nat Shed? The answers were: his Hawaiian shirts, Nat’s shed (his office cabin), Friends Camp, and fun. For them it is a place of magic, friendships, freedom, and joy. His legacy is so much more, including his vision and understanding of the Yearly Meeting ministry, openings to the Spirit, his availability around the clock, his creation of a space where campers can connect to nature and each other and find simple joy, a place where a relationship to God has room to grow, and a place where campers remember spiritual relationship has wonder. Our numbers have been expanded because of him. His leadership involves true delight in youth and teens, and finding what they need. His knowledge of child safety and hiring, training, and supporting top notch counselors is a model. He has been a source of inspiration and knowledge to this Yearly Meeting’s child safety group.  He has focused on practical matters such as facilities and land that ensure the camp will go on, but he has also kept campers’ signatures on the wall, where children can find the place where their parents signed and add their names below. He has collaborated with other staff in bringing in children who could not otherwise afford to come, all behind the scenes. He has projected ease and hospitality, as if running a camp were no harder than setting an extra place at dinner. With thanks and spiritual compassion and love, we send him on his way, but glad to have him accompanying Friends Camp in an auxiliary capacity for a little longer.

Young Friends prepared and shared their version of the George Fox song for Nat: “There’s a light that is shining in the heart of a man...”.

2016-40    Nat Shed spoke to the Yearly Meeting, stating that he is full of thanks, just thanks: thanks to the people and the ideas that shaped him, that gave him the skills, and the wisdom for what he does best, including Maria Montessori, who teaches systems can right themselves if designed in the right way; to his cousin Betty Van Wyke, an expert on child development and a Quaker; to his wife Julie de Sherbinin for the ongoing awareness for making Friends Camp more inclusive for campers and staff, and for seeing how much institutional white privilege has been built into our culture. Also she supports him, and has helped him with writing. Thanks for Bob Philbrook, for giving him a concept of the preference for the poor, and making that a priority; and the Marriott Hotel for anticipating the needs of others: good customer service, but also living out the golden rule, treating others as we would be treated. Thanks to Erica Shed, his daughter, from whom he learned so much when she was a child, and now when she is a cook and counselor, and he is thankful for the yearly meeting that has helped raise her. There have been lots of people on the Camp committee, but two in particular: David Marstaller for building and grounds, and Betsy Muench, a longstanding committee member and treasurer, with whom he could share his biggest worries, and mistakes, and times it wouldn’t pull together, and the frustrations of running the Camp as a small business. She was always a rock and he is thankful for her ministry in the world of finance. The staff he has worked with have been wonderful, worshipping and sharing with him, with especially a shout-out to Jonathan, Noah, and Beth Collea, all the Quakers from Portland and Vassalboro, for wonderful messages and support, and the blessing of a chance to develop his own spiritual growth.

There are many things to do in the future: step up to trans and gender fluid children who come to Camp, support the infrastructure, and provide for children who don’t have the means to come without financial support in order for the Camp to be diverse so that we look like the rest of America. America is diverse, and for the most part we are not.

2016-41    Nat Shed introduced Anna Hopkins as the next Friends Camp Director. Anna comes to us from the faculty of the Moses Brown School, where she has been the Lower School science teacher. She was raised as a member of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and has ably served Friends Camp for five years, the last two as assistant director.

Anna talked about an email she received from a camper mom, saying that Friends Camp is just magic. Part of that has been the leadership from Nat. It’s also from God who is speaking to us. We are incredibly blessed from the 12 years that Nat has spent with us. Fortunately, Nat will be remaining in a capacity to consult with Anna and the camp.

Friends felt joy for Anna’s appointment and for the continuity between Nat’s and Anna’s leadership of Friends Camp.

2016-42    Christopher Gant (Beacon Hill), clerk of the ad hoc Long-Term Financial Planning Committee, gave a presentation of who the committee is, where it has been, and where it is going. In his written report he talked about the steps that have been taken to make the Yearly Meeting a financially sustainable organization, including the development of a statement of purpose approved last year at Sessions, setting priorities, and ongoing discussions with committees about their purposes and how they align with the Yearly Meeting’s. We were walked through our current financial status and one potential pathway for retiring our deficit.

Chris reminded us that although many of us volunteer hours, our organization needs the expertise, skills, and continuity of paid staff, and we need to pay real money for it, including normal costs of inflation and including overtime as now defined by the U.S. government. The goal is to be able to approve budgets without deficits by 2019. This will require increased giving by individuals and monthly meetings.

In subsequent discussion our body also heard this question: As we try to make ourselves financially sustainable, how do we also take into consideration the amount we budget for the organizations of which we are an integral part, FGC, FUM, and FWCC, which also need financial stability?

Wednesday morning

2016-43    We opened in worship, hearing the 2015 epistle from Baltimore Yearly Meeting. As Baltimore Friends gathered to work with the theme “Living Into Right Relationship,” they gave their attention to restoring relationships that have been distorted by racism, over-consumption, and exploitation.

2016-44    Debbie Humphries (Hartford), clerk of Ministry and Counsel, shared the committee’s responsibilities of holding Meeting for Worship at Sessions and also working on the State of Society report. They have received monthly meeting State of Society reports for the Yearly Meeting that are now online. They note the centrality of worship in every monthly meeting. They notice the threads of hope and of resilience in the face of challenges. They hear a growing call to become engaged in the spirit-led movements of activism. The committee has discerned several pieces of the Yearly Meeting State of Society as follows:

  1. We are trying to learn how to faithfully support and nurture gifts of ministry that are coming forth in our meetings, and we have conflicting feelings and different ideas about what ministry is.
  2. We are working to keep our hearts open to the pain and suffering in our meetings, in our communities, and in the wider world, while also embracing the joy and beauty around us.
  3. We hear a growing call to become engaged in the movements of spirit-led activism, holding our deep complicity in the historical structures of oppression that these movements are struggling to change.

Friends in the Session were then invited to respond to the following queries out of worship:

  • Where have I seen others being the hands of God?
  • What is my spiritual experience of being the hands of the Divine?

Friends responded to the queries. Honor Woodrow, recording clerk for Ministry and Counsel, participated with the clerks to help record a sense of these responses.

One Friend lifted up the importance of the small, hands-on actions, using the example of how Friends in her meeting have made quilts for babies and for Friends who are ill. Another Friend spoke of the importance of the daily activities of feeding the birds, shoveling snow, feeling part of the land, and loving it.

When people in the community do small things for each other, it can release them for the ministry to which they are called. We heard a Friend share her capacity to lead a racial justice and healing workshop because of the gift of a Friend from another meeting who cared for her child. Sometimes the power and fuel we gain is from the things that go unseen.

When elders are empowered to exert their gifts of listening, we can feel heard, and receive the gift of peace and freedom. When we trust that our elders are listening to the Spirit and not their own ego, we can be released from our agitation.

We are deeply grateful for those in the Yearly Meeting who work with our children.

The beloved community is both right now and not yet. It’s hard to think of the not-yet, but it is within, and it is now.

Sometimes we are not the hands of God, sometimes we are other parts of the body. We are no less a part of the body when we are not the hands. We are part of the whole.

When we are open to God’s guidance, Truth is revealed and healing happens.

We were encouraged to share what remains on our hearts with the person who walks towards us and is meant to hear it.

2016-45    Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, greeted us. The Massachusetts Council of Churches is building a network of congregations and people convinced that what unites us in Christ is stronger than what divides us. Through the statements of NEYM during the year, our voice has joined others. We are invited to work together with other churches in the body of Christ.

Other parts of the Church can learn from Friends an attentive and intentional listening to God and one another, prioritized above efficiency. We can learn from others about outreach and evangelism.

2016-46    Mary Frances Angelini (Framingham), clerk of the Archives and Historical Records Committee, reported on a very busy, successful, and eventful year. She expressed gratitude to Karen Sánchez-Eppler, who joined the work of the committee this year, and to Sara Hubner for facilitating the committee meetings. The New England Yearly Meeting archives were transferred on April 24, 2016, to the Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, as the Yearly Meeting had authorized at our sessions last year. Also as authorized at our Sessions last year, Permanent Board has been negotiating and finalizing the terms of this relationship between Yearly Meeting and the SCUA. The relationship consists of two parts: the Deed of Gift that has already been completed, and a Memorandum of Understanding that is still being worked on, to define how materials will be transferred to the SCUA. The Archives Committee is also working with the Yearly Meeting secretary to define the position of NEYM archivist, and expects to work with whoever fills the position in any capacity that the committee, the Yearly Meeting, and all its constituent members require.

The materials are being catalogued and made available online by SCUA in exciting new ways that will enrich us beyond our expectations.

The clerk expressed appreciation for Mary Frances Angelini and the entire committee for extending their time on the committee in order to complete this work.

2016-47    Sarah Gant, clerk of Permanent Board, presented more of the work approved by that body since last Sessions. Details about these items are in the written Permanent Board report to Sessions.

In partnership with New York Yearly Meeting, New England Friends were awarded a substantial three-year grant from the Shoemaker Fund of Philadelphia. The focus of this project, “Fostering Vibrant Multigenerational Meetings,” is to develop approaches for outreach, welcoming, and inclusion across the Northeast and beyond. In New England a key focus is working alongside meetings to increase our capacity to welcome and include young adults and families. With this grant we were able to create the position of Young Adult Engagement Coordinator, and hired Hilary Burgin (Beacon Hill) to fill this position. We were also able to add one more day to the work week of our Religious Education and Outreach Coordinator, Beth Collea.

Permanent Board also approved the final Friends Camp Good Governance Report and is supporting and assisting the Friends Camp Committee to grow into new practices to ensure the sound management of Friend’s Camp. This work is a necessary way for us as an organization to support the Camp, which is a central ministry of the Yearly Meeting.

The Personnel Policies of NEYM were carefully and comprehensively revised. This was a major task in which we addressed existing gaps, such as the absence of a harassment policy, and changed old structures which we have outgrown. One important change is that the policy changed the employment status of the secretary and the Camp director to regular employees so that we do not need to reappoint them at Sessions every year.

For 12 years the Yearly Meeting has been operating with a draft child safety policy. The newly reformed and repurposed Youth Ministry Committee has worked with this draft and brought it up to date. The Permanent Board approved an official child safety policy at their meeting on August 6, 2016.

2016-48    Sarah Gant proposed the following names to serve as our clerks for the coming year, beginning their service at the close of Sessions 2016:

Presiding Clerk: Fritz Weiss (Hanover)
Recording Clerks: James Grace (Beacon Hill) and Rachel Walker Cogbill (Plainfield)
Reading Clerks: Jeremiah Dickinson (Wellesley) and Katherine Fisher (Beacon Hill)

One Friend pointed out that all individuals on the clerks table and all the paid staff are white. This does not feel welcoming, nor consistent with our testimony on equality, nor with our deeply felt concerns on racism and white privilege.

Friends approved these appointments.

2016-49    The clerk expressed his appreciation to Andy Grannell, who is completing his term as reading clerk, for being a wise mentor, for helping to shape the agenda for these Sessions, and for helping him better understand his new role as clerk.

2016-50    Elias Sánchez-Eppler, clerk of Finance Committee, reminded us of our interlinked responsibilities. If we approve the budgets for Friends Camp and for NEYM, we need to support them. We also need to volunteer to serve, where needed, such as on the Friends Camp Committee.

2016-51    Friends approved the proposed Friends Camp budget.

2016-52    Elias addressed some questions about the budget for the operating division of the Yearly Meeting. Friends approved the proposed budget for the operating division of the Yearly Meeting, expressing some “fear and trembling” as we continue to approve budgets with projected deficits, with the intention of growing into sustainable financial condition.

2016-53    Louis Cox (Burlington),  Bonnie Norton (Wellesley), and Lisa Appleton (Mt. Toby) from the Correspondence Committee read the draft 2016 epistle. Friends expressed gratitude for the work of the committee so far and suggested further revisions. Friends were invited to direct suggestions in writing to the Correspondence Committee as it continues its work.

Wednesday evening

2016-54    Kristina Keefe-Perry (Fresh Pond), Minister for Earth Community for the American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts, prayed us into worship.

2016-55    We heard the 2015 epistle from Northern Yearly Meeting, which focused its sessions on climate change and chose to “take steps, even if they are not perfect.”

2016-56    The clerk noted that during these Sessions we have explicitly thanked some of the staff members and volunteers who have worked on our behalf. There are also other volunteers that have served in a number of capacities all during the year. We would like to honor and thank all the volunteers, all the committee members, and everyone who has contributed during the year to the life of the body.

2016-57    We approved the Unity Agenda which includes:

  • Accepting all staff reports
  • Accepting board, committee and representative reports
  • Accepting memorial minutes for James Ellingboe, Cynthia Fisk, John Foster, David Hall, Nancy Isaacs, Peter Keenan, Annette (Anne) Kriebel, and Ishmael Rosas.

Approving the clerks’ authorization to make edits and corrections.

2016-58    We approved the following bank resolutions:

  1. That Shearman Taber be appointed New England Yearly Meeting treasurer for the ensuing year or until a successor is appointed and qualified.
  2. That Elizabeth Muench be appointed Friends Camp treasurer and Robb Spivey be appointed assistant Friends Camp treasurer for the ensuing year or until successors are appointed and qualified. The Friends Camp treasurer and assistant treasurer will work under the oversight of the NEYM treasurer and the Friends Camp director.
  3. That Shearman Taber, Yearly Meeting treasurer, be authorized to open and close bank accounts in the name of New England Yearly Meeting as needed.
  4. That Elizabeth Muench, Friends Camp treasurer, and Robb Spivey, assistant Friends Camp treasurer, be authorized to open and close bank accounts in the name of Friends Camp as needed.
  5. That Shearman Taber, NEYM treasurer; Ben Guaraldi, immediate past treasurer; Sarah Gant, Permanent Board clerk; and Noah Baker Merrill, Yearly Meeting secretary, be designated as alternate signers, individually, of all bank accounts of New England Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, except those checks for greater than $5,000, which shall require the signatures of two signers from the list above.
  6. That Anna Hopkins, Friends Camp director; Jeffrey D. Adelberg, assistant director; Elizabeth Muench, Friends Camp treasurer; Robb Spivey, assistant Friends Camp treasurer; and a designated member of the Friends Camp Committee be authorized, individually, as signers of the Friends Camp bank accounts, except those checks for greater than $5,000, which shall require the signatures of two signers from the list above.
  7. That Anna Hopkins, Friends Camp director, be authorized to open credit and vendor accounts in the name of Friends Camp as needed, subject to review by the Friends Camp treasurer.

2016-59    We approved the names brought forward for committee service by Nominating Committee clerk, Constance Kincaid-Brown. (See page 76)

2016-60    Fran Brokaw (Hanover), who along with Lori Martin (New Haven) coordinates SAGE (Support Across Generations for Elders), told us about the first year of the program, modeled after a successful program in NYYM. We were reminded of how close grief is to all of us, which means that we all have deep love. The vision of the program is to train people to be resources for their meetings and Quarterly Meetings to work with people across generations, not only elders but everyone.

2016-61    Noah Baker Merrill, Yearly Meeting secretary, sang: “We have no time but this present time, ye have no time but this present time, therefore prize your time for your soul’s sake.” The message he has for us has been given in every activity of this Yearly Meeting so far, even in the coffee house: “I am just one more voice, trying to testify to the Life.”

He told a story of a people who were seeking for a place of lost glory and transformation, a city, a castle in the sky. Then just as they were landing at the entrance, the city began to collapse. At a moment of crisis, they fled to safety, to what they are familiar with. They abandoned the city, but two children turned around and looked back. Within the shell of the structure there was an ancient, living tree with leaves spreading across the heavens and roots going down deep into the ground. It was never the structure of the castle that had been holding up that place. The power was the brilliant, radiant light shining in the heart of the tree. Who are we in the story? Are we the people running for cover, or clinging to the stones as they fall from the sky? Are we the children? He wonders.

This year he’s been drawn to the tides of loss and waves of grief in our lives and in our society, the sense that the whole world that people were told they could look for is crumbling. There is a sense of loss of poor white people—that they have been at least the second lowest class in this country, but even that may be taken away from them. This empowers hatred in our country. There is the greater grief of black people who lose family members to violence. Loss and grief don’t know morality. In Black Lives Matter we understand that hearts are breaking and we feel that suffering.

Can we feel and embrace loss, and also feel and embrace hope, neither of them negating the other? He believes we can do that tonight.

What has been said before is still important to say again. We still have the opportunity to be faithful. In fact right now is the only time we ever have to be faithful. We are, even now, thriving, mourning, celebrating, rejoicing, whole, imperfect, perfect. We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for, if we can be present with our hearts and eyes wide open to all that is passing away and all that is being revealed. This is our opportunity, the same one we always had. We have glimpsed the glory. Now is our opportunity to live as if the Truth is true.

2016-62    Janet Hough (Cobscook), Vassalboro Quarterly Meeting Ministry and Counsel clerk, shared the deep discernment process concerning our response to the concern from Vassalboro Quarterly Meeting for the Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund that has occurred at Sessions following the direction of Minute 2016-13. This led to a new minute for the body to consider. They presented the following report of their process:

Since Sunday, we have had numerous conversations with individuals and groups of Friends regarding the Vassalboro QM minute calling NEYM to endorse the Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund. This seasoning resulted in a new minute. This report speaks of our process and summarizes several related concerns which arose:

  • In calling attention to the dangers facing LGBT people in Uganda, we are answering the clear call of faith, to stand in solidarity with those who are vulnerable and oppressed. We are keenly aware of the fact that we have no right to speak on behalf of Ugandan Friends. We have thought carefully about how to proceed so as not to unintentionally put them in danger. Friends among us who have spoken face to face with Uganda Yearly Meeting leaders about this concern helped redraft the minute.
  • New England Friends will continue to seek ways to strengthen our bonds of love and unity with Ugandan Friends. We remain eager to learn from their perspective and experience, and hope for further intervisitation as way opens.
  • Just as our own country cannot be defined by one issue, as urgent as that issue may be, Uganda is a multi-faceted country with many challenges and also many blessings. By focusing on this specific situation of severe injustice in an African country, we may risk inadvertently reinforcing the prevailing stereotype that African peoples and African countries are more violent and inhumane than other peoples and places. This stereotype is a feature of white supremacy that we recognize and repudiate.
  • The work of the Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund is undertaken with a high degree of confidentiality to protect the safety of those who are doing this work on the ground. Although we recognize its necessity, this secrecy does not always rest easy with us. We are calling for this endorsement with a prayer for God’s grace in releasing us from the need to have all the information.
  • The actions of certain American Christians have fueled the flames of homophobic hysteria and greatly increased the level of risk under which LGBT Ugandans live within their own families and communities. Uganda has been the locus of particular activity by anti-gay Christians from New England, directly resulting in the 2014 anti-gay law and a new culture of social acceptance for violence against LGBT people. This degree of socially and legally sanctioned violence is a new and externally introduced phenomenon that is appalling to African Friends. As American people of faith with long-standing commitments to peace and to solidarity with Africans, what is our responsibility for calling out the ways in which our fellow American people of faith are using the Bible to spread hatred and violence in Uganda?

We appreciate the input of those who had the knowledge to help this deep discernment.

We approved the following minute on the Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund:

Friends gathered at New England Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions at Castleton, Vermont, August 6–11, 2016, abhor violence inflicted on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) individuals, whether it occurs in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on the streets of one of our communities, or on the other side of the globe. During our Sessions, one of our members has given powerful ministry from her deep and well-seasoned concern for LGBT individuals in Uganda, where the government has promoted policies threatening the lives, freedom, and human dignity of all LGBT Ugandans and those who support and assist them. They have been forced to leave their homes, denied basic rights, beaten, imprisoned, or killed; they live in constant fear. She has brought this concern forward through her meeting and quarterly meeting, and has travelled under her meeting’s care to carry her concern to a number of other meetings.

Our Friend has lifted up the work of the “Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund,” a project of Olympia (Washington) Monthly Meeting (North Pacific Yearly Meeting), which provides financial support such as housing and transport for LGBT Ugandans and their allies who are fleeing their homeland. A number of Friends meetings in the United States and elsewhere have endorsed and/or financially supported the Fund.

New England Yearly Meeting publicly endorses the work of the Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund and encourages individuals and meetings within NEYM to consider contributing financially to its vital work. We hold in prayer all individuals affected, and those who are helping people find safe refuge.

2016-63    Jay O’Hara presented the work of an ad hoc working group of over 30 people which has been working at Sessions to determine two concrete actions on sustainability to take within the next 12 months to meet the recommendation of the FWCC Plenary to affect climate change, as directed by the body in Minute 2016-29.

Friends wrestled with the proposal, affirmed the group’s work, suggested improvements, and ministered about how we can take this work forward in our life together. This ministry included an expression of joy that there are those among us who are actively considering further civil disobedience, with a reminder that we still have a Fund for Sufferings to provide assistance to those who encounter financial difficulty on account of their conscience. Also, this is a great time to work with both ecumenical and interfaith groups and with other religious bodies.

The clerk expressed his sense that we are almost there, and asked the group to take our feedback and report back to us tomorrow morning.

2016-64    Our hearts were touched earlier this week when we heard the pain and honesty in the reports of the experiences of Friends of color and other attenders at the 2016 FGC Gathering and in the report from several Friends who attended the April 2016 White Privilege Conference in Philadelphia. We felt the spirit move us to affirmation and action. The clerk requested that we hold a threshing session to determine our initial step (Minute 2016-38).

LVM Shelton and David Haines reported on the discernment of these Friends and proposed a minute for our discernment.

The body engaged in a deep, vulnerable and extended exercise in response to the proposed minute. We truly labored over the work and traveled over the rocky ground we needed to traverse.

Some were uncomfortable with the words “white supremacy” and “colonized” in the minute. These are strong words; one Friend described them as “brutal.” Not everyone present agreed that these words are accurate as a description of our condition. We do not share a common understanding of these words. Friends made many suggestions of other words or phrases we might use together to express how we are affected by the pervasive structure of racism and power in our culture—”white privilege,” “complicit in” and “wounded by” were suggested. Others felt that although these are hard words they are honest. “Supremacy” refers to a system that empowers white people. “Colonized” is an accurate word for how we are inhabited by the culture without our consent. Fear or denial of a hard truth causes us to forget our deep connections with each other. We need to release our fear to hear each other clearly.

We are each only able to truly speak from and know the world from our own experience.

We heard how the experience of Friends of color and the experience of white Friends differ even within our beloved Quaker communities and gatherings; even this week at Sessions.  Only a few among us know first-hand the experience of “driving while black,” or the constant fear of wondering if our children are safe, even when simply leaving the campus of Castleton University to walk to town to get a milkshake.

We long to find the right words, but we do not know the right words. Yet we are clear we want to do this work. When we know Truth experientially, but do not know each other’s experience, we only know a portion of the Truth. 

This minute is an important instance of speaking Truth to power. This minute represents the hard truth of Friends of color. The largely white Yearly Meeting is the power that needs to receive this Truth.     

We want to grow; we want to become whole. We have received this minute and have been exercised. We want to invite others into the same experience. With our hearts broken open we approved the following minute, uniting with it with both joy and pain. This is the truth God has brought us to at this time. We feel the Love in these words.

We are complicit in white supremacy. We at New England Yearly Meeting have been “colonized” by our white supremacist culture and fall short of our full potential as a gathered body of Quaker Meetings because of this colonization.

We commit to engaging in interrupting white supremacy in ourselves:

  • within individuals
  • interpersonally
  • in our meetings
  • and at all system levels of NEYM

To start this, we ask Permanent Board to explore an external cultural competency audit of New England Yearly Meeting.

We support Friends General Conference, an organization of which we are a part, in its efforts to interrupt white supremacy in its organization.

We commit to support fundraising by the New England Yearly Meeting FGC committee to raise $4,000 from our membership and our monthly meetings by the end of 2016. These funds will be available to FGC towards the cost of an external cultural competency audit if FGC decides to have one conducted. If more than $4,000 is raised, we direct the Permanent Board of NEYM to find use for the additional funds to support the work of interrupting white supremacy.

The clerk asked us to go forward in love, in confidence, and boldness, knowing that God is with us.

Thursday morning

2016-65    We opened in worship, hearing North Pacific Yearly Meeting’s 2015 epistle focusing on the theme “Quaker Craft: Becoming the Quakers the World Needs,” a skill which is learned experientially through practice and teaching.

2016-66    Doug Gwyn, pastor of Durham Friends Meeting and author of many books, Quaker historian and Biblical scholar, brought us a Bible half hour series to match our Yearly Meeting theme, “Being the Hands of God: a Call to Radical Faithfulness.” Using stories of first-generation Quakers in the 17th century, he showed us their lives of radical faithfulness, what it meant for these early Quakers to answer the call in a way that often stripped them of their possessions, their liberty, and sometimes their lives, and opened the Bible to them in fresh ways based on their experience. Doug Gwyn suggested the early Quakers could be our intermediaries to a better understanding of the Bible, as he shared excerpts of their writings. We learned that these Quakers, often very young, lived in tumultuous times and were willing to risk everything for their faith. They supported each other. We can learn much from their stories. They had a clarity, born of crisis, that we can but admire, and that led them to transformation.

Early Quakers lived Biblical stories through their lives. Jacob, the twin who stayed at home, was their metaphor for finding the Spirit internally; the bondage in Egypt was their struggle in the everyday world; the Red Sea was a symbol of the narrow path to a transformation of a people; Jericho, the city taken down by loud shouts, was a declaration that the Lord’s day had come; Revelation was the end of a corrupt social structure; and as Jesus’ 70 disciples were sent out in pairs, the Valiant 60 went out in the world preaching Truth. They read the Bible, experienced these themes in their lives, and then in turn their experience affected the way they read the Bible.

Doug Gwyn told us of specific ways that these early Friends created a community as they took radical actions, sharing examples and writings from George Fox, Margaret Fell, James Naylor, Ann and John Ogden, John Burnyeat, Sarah Jones, Sarah Blackboro, and Francis Howgill. They were frequently imprisoned for their beliefs. They wrote epistles, as did the early Christian church, with language which intentionally echoed Biblical passages. They reimagined a social order that included universally consistent pricing instead of bargaining and they did not take oaths or recite creeds. They used nonviolent direct action in their Lambs War. They were willing to suffer for what they believed.  

We, informed by the early Quakers, are challenged to put ourselves in a place of crisis that will challenge our comfort zone, find the place where we can take a stand, awaiting where the Lord will meet us, going through the Red Sea of transformation to the Promised Land. We have a choice of staying in bondage in Egypt or taking radical transformative action.

2016-67    The clerks brought back Minute 2016-27 from Monday evening, having incorporated suggestions from Friends.

Drawing from the spirit and words of the Connecticut Valley Quarterly Meeting minute on climate change and the epistle from the second New England Climate Spring, Friends approved the following:

Friends at the New England Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions at Castleton, V, August 6–11, 2016, have heard a Divine call to the witness of addressing climate change. We affirm the overwhelming scientific consensus that greenhouse gases released by human activity are causing climate change, that these changes threaten life on our planet as we know it, and that we have a responsibility to address the very real threats that will impact both rich and poor. Those on earth who have contributed least to this crisis are likely to suffer most from it.

This is not just one concern among many to be carried by only some among us. We all live on this planet and are all complicit in altering its climate. It is incumbent upon every Friend and every Friends Meeting to discover how God is leading us to do our part to reverse this great threat.

As in past times of crisis, the strength and love of our community life will make it possible for Friends to see to what they are called, and carry it out faithfully whatever the cost. We can engage with each other tenderly and hold each other lovingly accountable to move from fear into courage, in response to this crisis. This is the manner in which Friends have always responded to great moral challenges of their own time.

Recognizing that we, gathered here, are shaped and limited by our own economic and social positions, nevertheless the divine Witness challenges us, in compassion and in love for all children of God, and for the beautiful earth, to pray, wait, and act with a focus and fearlessness appropriate to the urgency of the times. Love requires it of us.

Friends received this with gratitude.

2016-68    Jay O’Hara and Meg Klepack presented recommendations of the ad-hoc working group discerning what two concrete actions the Yearly Meeting could commit to this year. Friends were reminded that on Monday evening we had directed the Yearly Meeting to take two concrete actions as challenged to do by the FWCC minute on sustainability (Minute 2016-28). The ad-hoc working group proposed:

Gathered in our midst this week are those who are led to take bold public prophetic action. These Friends, gathered as a working group, will convene early this fall for discernment of God’s leading into ongoing nonviolent direct action for climate justice, rooted in the vision of faithfulness described movingly by Doug Gwyn in our Bible half-hours this week.

  1. We will listen to how we will, as a Yearly Meeting, collaborate with and support the actions of this working group.
  2. Building on the minute we have adopted on climate change this Session, we ask each Monthly Meeting and constituent body of the Yearly Meeting to enter into an intentional process of discerning:
  • God’s leading for each meeting and its members to take concrete action, and to commit to taking action before next Sessions
  • what further steps God is calling us to take as a Yearly Meeting to address this issue.

New England Yearly Meeting will hold a consultation in spring of 2017 to receive what has risen during the year and to discern together where the Yearly Meeting is being led.

Friends approved committing to these actions.

2016-69    Lisa Graustein (Beacon Hill), convener, and Hannah Zwirner Forsythe (Beacon Hill) of the working group planning for the Living Faith Gathering, shared that the first of two events will occur on November 5, 2016, at Portland Friends School, followed by an optional dinner and dance. Those who come will be fed, nurtured, and will have many opportunities for fellowship, prayer, and fun. There will be programs for all ages. Friends who are interested in helping to plan these gatherings are invited to contact the planning group. These are also short-term opportunities to serve as a part of planning one or more of these gatherings.

2016-70    We received the epistle for this year from the Correspondence Committee with great thankfulness for the movement of the Spirit this week. (See page 81)

2016-71    We heard and accepted the reports from our visitors to the other business meetings that are a part of NEYM.

2016-72    Kathleen Wooten (Fresh Pond), Events Coordinator, shared that every year she experiences a little more love and a little less chaos. The community has come together to help each other, in ways small and large. This is the first year her daughter has attended Sessions, and she was in our hands. Kathleen is filled with gratitude and love, and caffeine.

She thanked John Humphries, Sessions clerk for the last 3 years, and gave a special gift, a T-shirt reading on the front: “I was YM Sessions Clerk for 3 long years, and all I got was this Tee Shirt… and…”, and on the back: “The deep gratitude of the Quakers of The New England Yearly Meeting.”

2016-73    Noah Baker Merrill presented a report about attendance at this year’s Sessions and about the continuing experience of the pay-as-led approach to fees. This year 595 people attended Sessions. There were 83 first-time attenders, and 125 attenders in the 0–18 age group—both increases from last year.

Other yearly meetings are considering pay-as-led rather than traditional fees following our model. We have similar breakdowns of figures to last year: 44 percent of attenders paid less than what it costs, 28% of attenders paid more (which is an improvement over past years), and 28 percent of attenders paid the traditional amount. Equalization contributions from monthly meetings are $10,000 more than budgeted for. Altogether Sessions revenue was a little over $214,000.

2016-74    In worship and song, the children and youth joined us.

2016-75    We heard the epistles from the week, from nursery through adult. 

2016-76    We closed in worship, purposing to meet on August 5–10, 2017, at Castleton University, Vermont, and encouraged to attend the Living Faith Gatherings in November 2016 and April 2017.

 

New England Yearly Meeting of Friends

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