New England Yearly Meeting

A community of Quakers and Quaker meetings across New England.

2017 Minutes of NEYM Sessions

Aug 30, 2017

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Saturday evening

2017-1      Following opening worship, Fritz Weiss (Hanover), presiding clerk, welcomed us to the 357th annual gathering of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (NEYM) at Castleton University in Castleton, Vermont. He introduced our theme “Living into Transformation,” referencing Romans 12:2: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable and perfect.

2017-2      Fritz Weiss introduced the other members of the clerks’ table: recording clerks Jim Grace (Beacon Hill) and Rachel Walker Cogbill (Plainfield), and reading clerks Katherine Fisher (Beacon Hill) and Jeremiah Dickinson (Wellesley).

2017-3      The reading clerks called out the names of monthly meetings and worship groups by quarter, and we rejoiced as each group stood. We were excited to welcome many newcomers; at least 75 attenders are here for the first time.

Throughout the week the following visitors were introduced and welcomed:

Margaret Amudavi, Dean of Friends Theological College (Elgon Lugulu MM, Kenya)

Sasha Bugler (Baltimore YM)

Gideon Grace Gagne Guaraldi (new baby) (Beacon Hill)

George Lakey (Central Philadelphia M, Philadelphia YM)

Strong Oak Levebvre (Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle Intertribal Coalition, Inc.)

Toussaint Liberator (Stone of Hope)

Moses Murenga (Kakamega YM, Kenya)

Rachel Pia (New York YM)

Anne Pomeroy (New Paltz MM, New York YM)

Theo Talcott (Vermont)

Steven Woodall (Athens [GA] MM, Southern Appalachian YM)

Elizabeth Yeats (Friends Meeting of Austin [TX])

Organizational Representatives

Jennifer Bing and Lucy Duncan (American Friends Service Committee)

Christine Ashley and Hannah Evans (Friends Committee on National Legislation)

Brent Bill and Marta Rusek (Friends General Conference)

Laura Everett and Daryl Lobban(Massachusetts Council of Churches)

Jacqueline Stillwell (Right Sharing of World Resources)

2017-4      Honor Woodrow (Framingham) and Abigail Matchette (Burlington) led us in an intergenerational exercise. Through song and reflective statements, they helped us further explore the theme “Living Into Transformation.” We were exhorted to “leave what is heavy behind,” leaving behind what limits us. In the words of Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” We gathered into joint prayer for transformation this week.

2017-5      We noted that through the week there are actually four concurrent yearly meetings: the Junior Yearly Meeting (JYM); Junior High Yearly Meeting (JHYM); Young Friends (YF); and the adult Yearly Meeting. We celebrated the presence of our youth programs attendees and staff as they left us to go to their own yearly meeting programs.

2017-6      We closed with worship.

Sunday evening

2017-7      We were prayed into worship by Maggie Edmondson of Winthrop Center Friends Church.

2017-8      We heard the epistle from Wilmington Yearly Meeting (Ohio), who shared their work considering a same-sex marriage minute. While acknowledging deep disagreements within the yearly meeting, they affirmed their love for one another, for their long-term relationships, and for the fellowship of their body. They asked “Is it, in fact, part of our witness that we continue to meet together despite our differences?” concluding, “We continue to walk in the Light that we have, and pray that more will be given.”

2017-9      Phebe McCosker (Hanover), clerk of the Faith and Practice Revision Committee, presented two new draft documents for consideration: Membership, and Personal Spiritual Practices. The committee has also been continuing work on the drafts of Pastoral Care and Bereavement. The committee desires thoughtful corporate feedback on the two new drafts from local meetings in order to reflect better the Yearly Meeting as it is today, while leaving space for spiritual renewal and fresh insight. Meetings are asked to engage with these documents over the upcoming year. What needs to be clearer? What is missing? What, for instance, are some examples of spiritual practices you have found helpful? Is new language on dual membership in this new draft helpful? The Committee would also really appreciate feedback, especially from young adult Friends, on the section about supporting the youth of the meeting as they travel to adult membership. Does it help to look at the terms “membership” and “adult membership” rather than using “junior membership” and “membership”? Finally, is this material helping your meeting to hold and explore, in love, across theological diversities? Opportunities for feedback during Sessions are also provided.

Joining her on stage were other members of the committee: Douglas Armstrong (Monadnock), Marion Athearn (Westport), Susan Davies (Vassalboro), Margaret Edmondson (Winthrop), Eric Edwards (West Falmouth), Eleanor Godway (Hartford), Sue Reilly (Lewiston), and Greg Williams (Beacon Hill). Sara Hubner (Gonic) and Ken Haase (Beacon Hill) were not able to attend.

Marion Athearn introduced three excerpts from the membership draft and asked Friends to share with a neighbor which excerpt they found most difficult and why, as a way of exploring our comfort zones with different expressions of belief.

2017-10    Leslie Manning (Durham), clerk of the Friends United Meeting (FUM) Committee, reported on her experience serving as a representative from New England to the Friends United Meeting General Board of North America and the Caribbean (NA/C). “We have witnessed to the power of love where there is fear. We have witnessed to the power of inclusion where there is fear.” It has been a labor of love to serve you in this way.

Rosemary Zimmermann (South Starksboro), recording clerk of the FUM General Board of NA/C, read the epistle from the 31st triennial of FUM, held this year in Kansas.

“The times are severe, the need is great, and we must hasten we all agree. But whither shall we hasten? Two directions we must hasten, in order to plumb the depths and scale the heights of life. We must hasten unto God; and we must hasten into the world. But the first is a prime need; though the world be aflame from its own blindness and hate, and narrow ideals. We must first hasten unto God. Men and women whose heads have not rested in the bosom of God are not yet ready to be saviors[1] of the world.”[2]

Greetings, Jambo, Saludos, Salaam.

We gathered at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, for the thirty-first triennial of Friends United Meeting. Some 250 people were present, including representatives from 24 yearly meetings in 5 countries.

We have been reflecting on passages from Thomas Kelly’s The Eternal Promise, wherein he describes the call of Christians to minister to a distraught world. Distraught is a word that speaks to the condition of many, including many within our Society. But we are reminded that pain is condition of growth. We have struggled, but we have also grown.

“When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting.”[3]

Friends United Meeting states that its mission is to “to energize and equip Friends, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved, and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.” Sometimes these words can seem vague, but over the course of the past days, we have heard testimony as to the concrete ways that our broken faithfulness has borne fruit. We give thanks and glory to God that he has been able to use us in this way, and trust that it is only insofar as we dwell in the spirit of Christ that we can continue to serve.

“A branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.”[4]

FUM has always been committed to education, especially of those living under oppression. In the past triennium many of these efforts have continued to branch and grow. In Belize we have grown from a small project to an expanding center encompassing education, nonviolence work, and pastoral ministry. In Palestine, the Ramallah Friends School has constructed a middle school building, gained International Baccalaureate accreditation for all grades, and upon completion of a major building project, made significant steps towards financial sustainability.

We continue to evangelize, in particular testifying to the Love of Christ that transforms conflict into peace. This deep commitment to our Peace Testimony has led to growth in peacebuilding work in all countries where FUM Friends are present.

FUM’s ministry has not all been outward but also inward. We see ourselves as tenders and shepherds of a decided and mature spiritual life among Friends.

“True decidedness is not of doctrine, but of life orientation. It is a commitment of life, thoroughly, wholly, in every department and without reserve, to the Inner Guide. It is not a tense and reluctant decidedness, an hysterical assertiveness. It is a joyful and quiet displacement of life from its old center in the self, and a glad and irrevocable replacement of the whole of life in a new and divine Center.” [5]

To this end, we celebrate the growth and continued development of Friends Theological College: the near-completion of their lengthy accreditation process; the appointment of a Kenyan as principal; and the theological depth that FTC is bringing to Quaker education throughout East Africa.

In North America, which is a growing priority area for ministry, we have struggled at times to find our way. Sometimes the work we expected to achieve has not been the work we actually achieved. Perhaps the most hopeful movement to emerge has been the “Stoking the Fire” conferences, which have been a tinderbox for spiritual passion among North American Friends.

As we reflected on the current spiritual condition of Friends, youth and young adult Friends provided powerful ministry. These Friends reminded us that age does not determine how the Spirit moves. We are all complete and whole at this moment. We do not need to wait for the future to become fully ourselves; we are fully ourselves in Christ.

And also, our identity is a continuous working-out that we are all called to. For each of us, it is a refining; a pruning; a continuous deepening of our experience in God.

As we as individuals are continually evolving, so is our organization. We cannot let this moment pass without acknowledging our gratitude for the faithful service of Cliff Loesch, our presiding clerk, and Colin Saxton, our General Secretary, both of whom will be completing their service in those positions.

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”[6]

Yours in Christ,
Friends United Meeting

Kristina Keefe-Perry (Fresh Pond) offered reflections on attending her first FUM Triennial. She saw an organization that has outreach in what would historically be called missions, moving from a charity model to a model of accompaniment in ministry. When spiritual insights were expressed from the floor of the triennial, the clerk made room for further spirit-filled discernment. Friends from very different geographical, theological, and social positions made connections to each other across the divides. She found FUM is therefore a place to build bridges across diversity.

Leslie Manning concluded that FUM is a net that captures us all, across the span of Quaker diversity. She observed that the FUM board has minuted that it is no longer in unity with the sexual ethics part of the personnel policy from 1988, but no alternative has come forward from any of FUM’s constituent bodies.

When we seek to make real God’s love in this world, when we seek to decolonize, and uphold God’s love in a postcolonial world, when we seek to answer that of God in everyone—even those with whom we are in deep and painful disagreement—lives are transformed, including our own; communities are transformed, including our own; empires fall, including our own.

2017-11    Carol Forsythe (Putney), clerk of the Archives and Historical Records Committee, presented the policy on historical records, processes, and forms needed for monthly meetings to donate records to the University of Massachusetts Department of Special Collections and University Archives (UMass SCUA). The committee eagerly encouraged monthly meeting contributions to the archives and urged monthly meetings to look at the website for how to do this. On the website, there are further advices, and other choices, including information about archiving oral material, options for material which includes copyright concerns, and an ability to determine the relative level of public access.

The clerk introduced members of the committee: Brian Quirk (Lawrence), Nancy Slator (Mt. Toby), Betsy Cazden (Providence), Eileen Crosby (Mt. Toby), and Donna McDaniel (Framingham). Thanks were given to Rachel Onuf, who was our consulting archivist, and Sara Hubner, who gave much office support.

We were also reminded of the wonderful exhibit that has been up for six months at the W.E.B. Du Bois library at UMass Amherst. The exhibit, “All that Dwell in the Light: 350 years of Quakers in New England” showcases the New England Yearly Meeting collection. SCUA will be hosting a conference in 2018 for Quaker historians.

2017-12    Co-clerks of the Nominating Committee, Connie Kincaid-Brown (Hanover) and Penny Wright (Hanover), presented the preliminary slate of nominations which will be brought for approval later during these Sessions. Please see the committee reports and consider whether you might be led to volunteer your services. Our committees are changing and morphing into something new. It can be scary or beautiful. Many opportunities to serve still abound.

Committee members who were present were introduced. Nominating Committee designates a member to serve as shepherd for each committee of the Yearly Meeting.

2017-13    Friends appointed the following visitors to the sessions for youth through young adults:

0–4 years: Laura Sturgill (Worcester), Betsy Cazden (Providence)

Junior Yearly Meeting, K–1st grade: John Wilmerding (Putney), Frederick Martin (Beacon Hill)

Junior Yearly Meeting, 2nd–4th grade: Sara Smith (Concord), Sheila Garrett (Putney)

Junior Yearly Meeting, 5th–6th grade: Skip Schiel (Cambridge)

Junior High: Catherine Bock (Burlington), Gail Rogers (Cambridge)

Young Friends: Marion Baker (Weare)

Young Adult Friends: Debbie Humphries (Hartford), Jackie Stillwell (Monadnock)

2017-14    We closed in worship.

Monday morning

2017-15    We heard the epistle from Intermountain Yearly Meeting. Their theme this year was “About Money: A Call to Integrity, Community, and Stewardship.” In worship sharing and plenary sessions, they challenged themselves to consider their values and spiritual orientation toward money and the economic system we live in. They are preparing to adopt a pay-as-led system for their yearly meeting, as they saw demonstrated by New England Yearly Meeting. In one session, Young Friends offered their responses to queries on the theme of identity. “Identity is about more than just gender,” said one Young Friend. “It’s about who and how you love. Love is at the root of it all.” The Yearly Meeting echoed these words at the end of their epistle: “Love is at the root of it all.”

2017-16    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, called into our gathering.

2017-17    Sarah Gant (Beacon Hill) reported on Permanent Board’s  decision that, to act with integrity, the Yearly Meeting needed to increase staff salaries to meet the minimum standards of the regulations in the proposed federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), whether or not this was ultimately implemented by the government. Specifically, “we would increase the salaries of all non-exempt permanent full-time staff to the level at which they are exempt from the FLSA overtime reporting rule and we would offer proportional raises to our part-time and grant-funded staff—even if the FLSA rules were challenged in court.” This has had an impact on the Yearly Meeting budget. Personnel Committee, Finance Committee, Development Committee, and Permanent Board worked together in the discernment that we must pay our staff justly and develop paths forward to accomplish this, knowing that the financial implications on the budget can be frightening and uncomfortable.

2017-18    Ben Guaraldi (Beacon Hill) reported for the ad-hoc Long-Term Financial Planning Committee (LTFPC) . During Sessions 2015, Friends approved the purpose and priorities for the Yearly Meeting as a whole. The LTFPC then worked with the Coordinating and Advisory Committee (C&A) to support committees in revising the purposes, procedures, and compositions for each committee so that they are in line with the purpose and priorities of the Yearly Meeting as a whole. The expectation of the LTFPC committee is that long-term financial planning will become a part of the regular structures of the Yearly Meeting, such as Permanent Board and the Development, Finance, and Coordinating and Advisory committees. Future work may involve the development of programmatic funding goals, showing the relationship between funding and Yearly Meeting priorities (for example, what it would take to raise the next generation of youth ministers).

2017-19    Speaking for the Development Committee,  current clerk Sara Smith (Concord) and rising clerk Chris Gant (Beacon Hill) gave a brief summary of the success of fundraising over the last 4 years, also detailed in their report in the Advance Documents. Individual gifts have exceeded goals each of the last four years. Sara thanked the Yearly Meeting for the opportunity to serve and shared her belief that giving money may also be perceived as sharing a gift of the heart with this yearly meeting. We thanked her for her service.

Going forward we need $42,000 more than had been budgeted in order to meet the guidelines of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The plan of the Development Committee is to meet this added amount through strengthening their efforts to elicit donations. Permanent Board members have promised to increase their own individual giving. There is also a challenge match of $20,000 to match new or increased donations for this year. Friends are encouraged to consider giving monthly and/or to set up a bequest. Monthly meetings will continue to be contacted to see what they need from Yearly Meeting and how they can support Yearly Meeting’s work. The ambitious goal is to have a balanced budget in two years.

2017-20    Friends responded to the three presentations, one each from Permanent Board, the ad-hoc Long-term Financial Planning Committee (LTFPC), and the Development Committee.

One theme emerged around the authority of the Permanent Board. In answer to a question about why Permanent Board rather than Sessions made decisions which resulted in significant budget overages, we heard that the federal regulations would have gone into effect on December 1st (although ultimately this did not occur under the new administration). After this date NEYM would have been required to increase our overtime salary costs. The Sessions-approved policy for approving overages was followed. Permanent Board and Finance Committee were able to address this issue by virtue of frequent board and subcommittee meetings that allowed intense and deep work in this area. There was not enough time to process all the pieces before last year’s Sessions. As recorded in minute 2016-30, Sessions was informed of the FLSA last year and that Permanent Board would need to respond to these regulations. Our Finance Committee clerk sees the process as an example of Yearly Meeting process at its best, and living into a challenge with joy. Permanent Board shared its goal to be transparent and accessible. We are all invited to come to meetings, held in many parts of New England, and to read the materials posted on the website.

Another theme emerged around money. We note a shift of our emphasis in fundraising largely from monthly meetings to increasing individual contributions. We want to keep our focus on “contribute as you are able,” without pressure or discomfort. A Friend referred us to Luke 21:1-4: “Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” Several Friends asked us to consider our resources of time and talent, as well as treasure.

Another theme was keeping connections strong: How do we keep rural and less wealthy meetings and individuals connected? How do we lift each other up in ministry? Could we invite participation in prayer with Permanent Board?

Even as we aired these questions, there was a strong sense in the room of wanting to pay our staff justly.

2017-21    Elias Sanchez-Eppler (Northampton), clerk of the Finance Committee, gave a broad overview of the budget. He presented the recent history of surpluses and deficits. He discussed the effects of Legacy Grant money which has been used for our operating budget in recent years, and also the decision this year to pay our staff according to the Fair Labor Standards Act. He showed the projected budget from Finance Committee (which was developed in consultation with the Development Committee). Finance Committee proposes a deficit budget this year and next, but projects a surplus budget in 2019. He also showed how the planned budget would affect the Yearly Meeting reserve levels.

The Finance Committee clerk expressed the hope that we can focus on the joy of what we are doing and the ministries that we are supporting. He showed pie charts that demonstrated the distribution of the proposed budget by income source and by expense purpose for our ministries.

Friends were encouraged to bring questions to members of the Finance Committee, to attend information sessions, and to prepare to formally approve the budget later this week.

2017-22    We closed in worship.

Monday evening

2017-23    Lisa Graustein of Beacon Hill Friends Meeting prayed us into worship.

2017-24    We heard the epistle from Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM). As BYM considered the many ways they were “called not only to respond but to plan for action,” they felt “a sense of movement” in their time together. From their Growing Diverse Leadership initiative, to environmental issues, to organizational change, to passing a budget reflective of their values, they sought “to have the courage to step into the future” believing that “faith does not ask us to pass through a place where it will not guide us.”

2017-25    Lisa Graustein (Beacon Hill) and Xinef Afriam reported for the Permanent Board ad-hoc Working Group on Challenging White Supremacy. The group was charged with seeing how the Yearly Meeting followed through with living into our minute 2016-64 on addressing white supremacy in ourselves, our culture, and our larger society.

Through a powerful digital slide show (also available on the NEYM website) the committee shared definitions, concepts, and some responses from individuals, monthly meetings, and quarterly meetings. There was a chance for paired discussion.

Xinef Afriam added a moving testimonial. He has felt held by this Yearly Meeting group and has a feeling of belonging, although he is one of only a few people of color. Using the analogy of a bowl as the container of Quaker faith, he asked us what our capacity is for holding people like him. He fell in love with the conviction there is that of God in all of us. If God is in someone, but we do not accept that one, are we thereby denying God? Our container is made from very old materials present at the time it was made. Will these materials hold all of us today? Can we alter it, or change the lining? Our work is not done until the bowl is made from materials which will hold all of us. We cannot ask not to be blamed for the sins of our ancestors at the same time as we ask to be praised for the good things they did. There are many next steps for us.

2017-26    The clerk asked Friends to respond to the report from the Permanent Board ad-hoc Working Group on Challenging White Supremacy. What do we, our meetings, and the Yearly Meeting need to do to more deeply engage in this work? We were asked to discern how we might proceed as a yearly meeting.

We settled into moving worship, from which came a mixture of grief, anguish, and hope. We felt in the grip of the Spirit. The metaphor of the bowl echoed in our conversations repeatedly. The energy of this issue held us and would not let us continue with the rest of our agenda for the session as had been planned. We recognized that this was the business we were called to at this moment. Threshing sessions were scheduled to continue the conversation over the next two days, to see if further direction would emerge.

The clerk assured us that this conversation is not finished. If we feel that the only forum for this conversation is in meeting for business, we are limiting ourselves. He exhorted us to not run away from the conversation, and to remember that we are always with God. Rather than close worship, he asked us to rise in a continuing spirit of worship, holding this issue in our hearts as we go forth.

Tuesday morning

2017-27    We heard the epistle from Alaska Friends Conference. During their time together, they focused on deepening their spiritual community in order to sustain their climate witness over time. They have come to realize that their climate witness will involve a long-term struggle for cultural, social, and economic change. They described looking for one “Aha” project, but found themselves called to support individuals and meetings on many diverse paths. Paraphrasing Frederick Buechner, they observed that “Climate disruption ... is a place where the world’s great need and our great love intersect.”

2017-28    Pastor Moses Murenga of Kakamega Yearly Meeting in Kenya greeted us. He encouraged us to hold on to our strong SPICES values and our Quaker faith, with the promise that we will get good results if we do so.

2017-29    We had the opportunity to hear staff reflections on their work. Brief highlights follow. Written reports may be found in the Advance Documents.

Beth Collea, Religious Education and Outreach Coordinator, lifts up a growing edge in her ministry, a sense of being in the ministry incubation business. She urged us to name ministry, lift ministry up, and nurture it. She listens for and affirms gifts. The challenge in today’s culture is individualism: we’re trapped into thinking that we have to go it alone, when we can get support from each other. We can let go and depend on God. Her daily prayer is: show me how to live in the Kingdom of Love today. She invites us to join her.

Frederick Martin, Accounts Manager, noted that it might be interpreted as symbolic that he did not file a report in the Advance Documents; he was spending his time getting the numbers right. His ministry as Accounts Manager is to give other people useful truth to work with, as evidenced in the reports from Finance Committee and Development Committee. He draws satisfaction from seeing reports that talk about truthful and useful information, and from providing Friends better ways to access for themselves the information they need, so they can do better work.

Sara Hubner, Office Manager, seeks God in the details. She said that she wants to be transformed but she doesn’t want to change. This job has challenged her in many ways: financially, creating office structures, learning new skills, and she has been changed. On days when the staff meets and start the day in worship, the question often asked is, How do you sense God is present in your work? She has learned that no matter whether she is feeling sad or angry or frustrated, or whether she is feeling elated, God is with her.

Anna Hopkins, Friends Camp Director, expressed gratitude for being welcomed into this place and this work. Right now there are 99 people at Friends Camp and they are in worship right now. The camp is sometimes a silly and fun place, but it is also a place for young people to practice creating a world that is in alignment with their beliefs. They now have a gender-inclusive bathroom for the first time. They had a staff member who observed Ramadan this year, and the ensuing conversations around faith were powerful. They had a pray-in at the office of Maine Senator Susan Collins. These are just some of the many significant moments in young people’s lives. There are many ways to support the camp, such as supporting a child to attend camp, as Lawrence Monthly Meeting did this year and other meetings have done in the past.

Gretchen Baker-Smith, Junior Yearly Meeting/Junior High Yearly Meeting Coordinator, and supervisor of the Childcare program, brought us stories of 8th graders exiting from their last junior high retreats. The 8th graders treasure their boxes of notes from other participants and staff, read the notes out loud with utmost seriousness, and stash them away for years. The power is not in what is said in the notes, but in how the notes hold the memory of the students’ transformation. For Gretchen, it’s humbling to realize that her ministry is about showing up and being in relationship over time. It goes both ways, as those same youth have comforted her when she has been much in need. A profound truth about transformation is that for it to be real it has to be messy. There’s an incredible give and take of love. Every year the crew of children changes, and the holy water of messiness is extraordinary, and transformations unfold.

Hilary Burgin, Young Adult Engagement Coordinator, reported on the central question of how to maintain and hold the most basic beliefs of Quaker spirituality and how to do it in a new way. She works with monthly meetings to help them welcome newcomers more effectively, and also supports the Young Adult Friends (YAF) community. In a YAF retreat, affinity groups discuss queries such as: What do you need to put down to be present here? What is on your heart? YAFs hold peer-led workshops on such topics as white supremacy and climate change. At Sessions, it can be hard for some YAFs to enter into Yearly Meeting business because of a lot of history and baggage in the agenda. This year they gathered the night before Sessions for a mini-retreat, where they checked in with each other and looked through some of the Advance Documents. YAFs are engaged in many of the activities and responsibilities of the Yearly Meeting at Sessions and sometimes feel separated from each other; they use their group times during Sessions to maintain their connections. She encouraged us to ask deep questions of each other no matter our ages, such as “What do we do during worship?” and “How are you being faithful?” She expressed gratitude for serving in this role.

2017-30    Ruah Swennerfelt (Burlington), clerk of Earthcare Ministry, introduced the report from Earthcare Ministry, the Prophetic Climate Action Working Group (PCAWG) and others. She suggested that we start by “planting our feet solidly on the ground.”

Katherine Fisher (Beacon Hill) reported on the climate consultation hosted by the Yearly Meeting. Some of the concrete things that Friends and Friends meetings in New England are doing to help lessen our contribution to climate change are doing energy audits, installing solar energy systems, and taking other actions. The Legacy Gift Fund has supported some of this work. Often, meeting-wide actions come from one person’s leading. She presented suggestions for individuals, for monthly and quarterly meetings, and for Yearly Meeting.

For Individuals:

1.Pray deeper. Find the spiritual foundation for the climate work. Listen to Spirit. Form spiritual deepening groups to support one another.

2.Be bolder. Be prepared to take risks on behalf of Earth. Get out of our comfort zones.

3.Show up when the opportunity arises to make a difference.

4.Make space for the necessary grieving work to help us move through despair to empowerment.

5.Get involved with state and local government. Work together with climate change groups to leverage impact. Get involved with companies (e.g., power companies) that are key players.

6.Consider the implications of the Quaker value of simplicity in terms of its potential for impact on our production of greenhouse gases. Understand that deep, systemic changes are necessary, beyond the simplification of our individual lifestyles.

7.Get to know each other (because we are dispersed communities) in a way that matters (knowing each other’s hopes/dreams/foibles) so we can connect. Doing this frees up such an enormous power and creates so many opportunities, breaks down artificial barriers, and brings wealth of resources in communities.

For Monthly, Quarterly, and NEYM:

1.Encourage all 90 of the meetings in NEYM to become actively engaged with climate change. As part of this, we need to develop better ways of communicating/connecting among all of the meetings so that we can share success (and failure) stories.

2.Measure the CO2 used at (or associated with) the Yearly Meeting—and at all of our Meetings.

3.Have closer interaction with Friends Committee on National Legislation to identify things to work on/write letters on. Have each Meeting organize a regular use of letter writing to promote climate-related legislation; perhaps a “letter writing First Day”?

4.Encourage green manufacturing /green services, since we can’t reduce greenhouse gases fast enough without doing this. This may involve one or more green certification processes, as well as providing information about the amount of non-renewable energy used in producing individual goods and services.

5.Help families (as well as meetinghouses) reduce their carbon footprint.

6.Charter buses or shuttle from bus station to Sessions.

She reported on how we have been faithful this year to the 2016 climate minute:

  • We have supported a Prophetic Climate Action Working Group.
  • We held a Climate Consultation to hear of the work being done.
  • We gathered for a weekend of discernment on how to move forward.
  • NEYM Friends represented us at the Standing Rock Water Protection Action.
  • We sponsored the Climate Pilgrimage in July.
  • Many monthly meetings stepped up to the Minute and took concrete action during the year.

Jay O’Hara (West Falmouth) reported that the Prophetic Climate Action Working Group, which came together during last year’s Sessions, is not a committee of the Yearly Meeting. They are a group of people who try to listen to what leadings are given them for action in climate witness.

God leads us in steps. It takes humility to realize that we do not need to know where we are led. We just need to take the next step. If the leading is true and powerful, more steps will follow, and the ground will shift. God moves first through individuals; the Holy Spirit moves through individual gifts and leadings.

Meg Klepack (West Falmouth) reported that PCAWG has felt love and prayers every step of the way. They have investigated what it means to prophesy. Prophecy is not telling the future. Prophecy breaks through routines, calling us to a deeper faithfulness and witness which is framed by our authentic Quaker existence. They met multiple times, first preparing the ground. They hosted meetings for grieving. They waited for direction. In their March meeting, they wondered if it would be their last meeting, but then way opened for action and new life arose as they found a way to witness to the transformation of God.

In July PCAWG set off on a 7-day, 60-mile pilgrimage between two coal-fired plants in New Hampshire, joined by many in a corporate witness. The walk prepared participants to give over their lives. Civil disobedience followed. Some blocked the train tracks so that coal could not be delivered to the plant. Those blocking the tracks were invited into the invitation of Jesus to give over their lives to whatever would happen on those tracks. The police never arrived, so they had abundant time on the tracks which they spent in Bible study, worship, and in finding community with each other. There were some rough edges, but they found that their true work in that place was discovering how to live into holy community.

Members of PCAWG believe they are discovering new vessels for God’s work. They hope that their experience may inspire others. They asked all who were present: where do you find life, energy, and resonance?

We settled into worship, then engaged with these questions in pairs and small groups.

2017-31    From the suggestions for further action given by Earthcare Ministry and the Climate Consultation, Friends approved the following:

1.We recognized that we have much work to do around climate change.

2.We reaffirmed last year’s climate minute: 2016-67:

Friends at the New England Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions at Castleton, VT, 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.

2017-32    Sarah Gant (Beacon Hill), Permanent Board Clerk, spoke of the power and wonder of experiencing unconditional love, in her firstborn child and in New England Yearly Meeting.

She presented Permanent Board’s nominations for next year’s clerks’ table:

Presiding Clerk: Fritz Weiss (Hanover)

Recording Clerk: Jim Grace (Beacon Hill)

Recording Clerk: Rosemary Zimmermann (South Starksboro)

Reading Clerk: Jeremiah Dickinson (Wellesley)

Reading Clerk: Katherine Fisher (Beacon Hill)

Friends approved. Rachel Walker Cogbill, exiting recording clerk, was thanked for her service.

NEYM Nominating Committee (in consultation with the Committee for Nurturing Friends Education at Moses Brown School, the Moses Brown Board Nominating Committee, and the Friends Coordinator of the Moses Brown Board) has over recent years discerned Friends to serve on committees at Moses Brown School and brought those names to NEYM Sessions for approval.

Because orientation to committees and Friends’ service at Moses Brown School begin in June (before NEYM Sessions), Permanent Board reported to Sessions that Permanent Board will support the discernment and approval of Friends to the Committee for Nurturing Friends Education at Moses Brown School and the Board of the Moses Brown School. Permanent Board will approve these nominations at a meeting prior to June each year. The specific process is presented in the revised purposes and procedures for the Nurturing Friends Education committee and Moses Brown Board.

Sarah Gant reported on the Living Faith gatherings at Friends School of Portland in the fall and at Moses Brown School in the spring. Noting the success of these gatherings, Permanent Board approved two Living Faith gatherings for this next year: October 28, 2017, at the 224 Eco Space in Hartford, Connecticut, and April 14, 2018, in Maine. We appreciate the efforts of the organizing committee: Lisa Graustein, Hannah Zwirner Forsythe, Sarah Cushman, the NEYM Secretary, and the NEYM Events Coordinator. For some these gatherings are more accessible than Sessions. Newcomers are encouraged. Volunteers are needed. The organizing committee would be glad to have help.

Yearly Meeting has a Fund for Sufferings but it has not been used much recently. The Legacy Gift Committee requests that Permanent Board review and revive the fund. The Legacy Gift Committee is going to seed the Fund for Sufferings with $25,000.

A Permanent Board working group will take on the charge of figuring out whether, and if so how, we would undertake reparations to the first nations of the land, such as supporting the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project. Participation is welcome.

As approved by Yearly Meeting Sessions last year (minute 2016-64), we committed to raise $4,000 to contribute towards the Friends General Conference Institutional Assessment on Racism. In the same minute last year, we directed Permanent Board to use any extra money raised to support the work of interrupting white supremacy. We raised a total of $5,500. Permanent Board allocated the additional $1,500 for leadership throughout the Yearly Meeting to attend Beyond Diversity 101, and other activities that will forward our absolute commitment to breaking down our involvement in white supremacy.

Coordinating and Advisory Committee facilitated a triennial review of the committee purposes, procedures, and composition, as this Committee is charged. The revised purposes and procedures and compositions appear in the Unity Agenda. One outcome of this review is the recommendation from the Permanent Board to the Yearly Meeting gathered in Sessions that four committees be laid down, as follows.

2017-33    At the committee’s request, Permanent Board proposed laying down the Committee on Aging. Its function is being continued in Support Across Generations for Elders (SAGE) under the care of Ministry and Council. Friends approved.

2017-34    At the committee’s request, Permanent Board proposed laying down the Correspondence Committee. The committee responsibilities had included: reading the epistles, which is now done by the reading clerks; organizing correspondence with other yearly meetings, which is now done by staff and the Sessions Committee; and serving as the Epistle Committee during Sessions. Going forward, the Epistle Committee will be named each year by the Clerk of Sessions Committee and the Presiding Clerk. Friends approved.

2017-35    At the committee’s request, Permanent Board proposed having the Ecumenical Relations Committee become a committee under the care of Ministry and Counsel. Friends approved.

2017-36    After wide consultation, Permanent Board proposed laying down the Peace and Social Concerns Committee. Friends approved. Permanent Board requested that C&A explore new forms and structures for this work. Friends felt pain in letting go of this beloved and longstanding container for putting our faith into action, and expressed faith that the right structure will be found for this in the future.

2017-37    We closed in worship.

Tuesday evening

2017-38    Greg Williams (Beacon Hill) and Toussaint Liberator, both representing Stone of Hope, prayed, sang and drummed us into worship along with Friends from an afternoon workshop, many of whom had not drummed before. The Spirit filled the hall, and Friends joined in singing “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”

2017-39    We heard the epistle from Cuba Yearly Meeting. Gathered for their 90th year, they reported hearing a call to bear witness with passion and dedication to the work of the Lord. “[T]aking up again the universal priesthood of the first Quakers,” and with a concern for the condition of our planet and for the places where there is no hope and no joy, they exhort us to shine wherever our footsteps go, and to proceed with a spirit peaceable and mutual.

2017-40    Keith Harvey, northeast regional director of the American Friends Service Committee, recognized the regional staff members present. How can we represent all the work that American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has done for 100 years for peace and justice in the world? He read the AFSC mission, vision, and values statements:

Mission:

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action. Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, we nurture the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social relations and systems.

Vision:

AFSC envisions a world in which lasting peace with justice is achieved through active nonviolence and the transforming power of love. We work toward a world in which:

  • All persons affirm the common good and recognize our mutual interdependence
  • Societies steward resources equitably
  • Caring, respectful economic development, including work with dignity, promotes wellbeing for all
  • Communities and societies fractured by exclusion and marginalization are healed and transformed, embracing inclusion and equality
  • Conflicts are resolved through restorative means and without force or coercion
  • Governments and societal institutions are fair and accountable

Values:

AFSC values are grounded in Quaker experience and universal truths that are upheld by many faiths and that honor the light of the divine in each person.

  • We cherish the belief that there is that of God in each person, leading us to respect the worth, dignity, and equality of all.
  • We regard no person as our enemy. While we often oppose specific actions and abuses of power, we seek to call forth the goodness and truth in each individual.
  • We strive for integrity, simplicity, and practicality in our expressions and actions.
  • We assert the transforming power of love and active nonviolence, as a challenge to injustice and violence and as a force for reconciliation.
  • We work in partnership with people in communities around the world, respecting their wisdom about how to change their circumstances and offering our own insights with humility.
  • We trust the power of the Spirit to guide the individual and collective search for truth and practical action.
  • We accept our understandings of truth as incomplete and have faith that new perceptions of truth will continue to be revealed.

Keith Harvey talked about how Friends have a book of faith and practice. The AFSC is about putting faith into practice. The AFSC brings in other communities and builds relationships. We become part of communities because we invest in them and become partners.

For 100 years, the AFSC has been working for peace and on issues such as race and immigration, “speaking truth to power.” Their work is being part of a living sacrifice. Do not be conformed, but transformed. The prophet Jeremiah spoke in plain language and spoke truth to power, much like Friends, and because of his plain speaking he was thrown into a dry well and left to die.

Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, “Take thirty men with you from here, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.” So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to the house of the king, to a wardrobe in the storehouse, and took from there old rags and worn-out clothes, which he let down to Jeremiah in the cistern by ropes. Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Put the rags and clothes between your armpits and the ropes.” Jeremiah did so. Then they drew Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. (Jeremiah 38:10-13)

The pieces of the rope and cloth represent the community around him. Sometimes we think that power does not know the truth. But power knows the truth. It is when everyone else knows the truth that power has to change.

Keith Harvey expressed his wish that he had the time to talk about the American Friends Service Committee’s work with:

  • Life over Debt
  • IRCA-1986 Immigration and Control Act (employers’ I-9 forms), civil disobedience of the board protesting that, No Human Being Is Illegal.
  • The publication Speak Truth to Power and the group who worked to write that document
  • Bayard Rustin: a gay black Friend who spoke out for LGBT rights, and a civil rights organizer, major organizer of the March on Washington, confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., executive committee member of the AFSC New York Metropolitan Region Office
  • Bill Sutherland and his work in Africa, southern Africa, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mali, Quaker International Affairs representative
  • Our prison work, working against mass incarceration
  • Our work in the Middle East
  • Vietnam
  • Iraq, Eyes Wide Open—the cost of war exhibit
  • Our history and relationship with the civil rights movement, Dr. King, SCLC, the poor people’s campaign, Tony Henry
  • Clarence Pickett, Steve Carey, Barbara Moffet, Corrine Johnson

He told the story of a grandmother who wore a necklace decorated with two wolves, one wolf big and healthy, and the other scrawny. When asked by her grandchildren about the wolves, she replied that the two wolves represented the struggle within ourselves. One wolf is the fear wolf, who is anger, envy, sorrow, resentment, and greed. The other wolf represents peace, love, hope, generosity, compassion, truth and faith. Both of them, the grandmother said, are fighting inside of you. “Which one will win?” the grandchildren wanted to know. “The one you feed,” replied the grandmother.

We need to feed the “love wolf.” AFSC is having some bumps because of finances, and it is painful. Some of their programs are going away, but many staff members are still here. We are asked to hold them in the light. Keith Harvey reported that for him personally, the fear wolf is very active right now. Some scary organizations seem to have direct links to some of the highest places in the land. Sometimes the fear wolf motivates you to feed the love wolf more.

2017-41    Penny Wright, clerk of Northwest Quarterly Meeting (NWQM), brought forward Minute 16.169 of Hanover Friends Meeting to Yearly Meeting for consideration. NWQM approved this minute in June, then shared it with other monthly and quarterly meetings. It was also posted on the Yearly Meeting website. Based on this, Friends approved the following minute.

2017-42    Friends gathered at New England Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions at Castleton, Vermont, August 6–10, 2017, approve the following:

As members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker), we believe that the human family is one family; that there is that of God in every member of this family; and that generosity of spirit toward all the members of the human family is of overriding importance.

As Quakers, we reaffirm our unconditional support for the wellbeing and protections of all threatened individuals in our community, including, especially at this troubled time, Muslims and undocumented immigrants.

We urge our government to reaffirm our country’s founding values, especially freedom of religion; to affirm our welcome to peaceful refugees and immigrants; to reject bigotry and xenophobia; and to adopt laws and policies that respect the humanity and dignity of all people.

We call on our fellow community members to join us in defending human rights for all, working toward nonviolent religious and civic sanctuary that protects all who are vulnerable, and striving together for compassion, dignity and safety for everyone.

2017-43    Based on recommendations from Northwest Quarter, we also approved the following:

We encourage each monthly meeting and quarterly meeting within NEYM to share minute 2017-42 with local faith communities and publish it in local papers, and to discern further how they are led in this issue.

We will forward this minute to the wider Quaker world.

We will look for ways to collaborate with other faith communities in addressing these issues, and ask that our Ecumenical Committee share this minute with the wider church.

2017-44    Northwest Quarter also asked the Yearly Meeting to consider declaring ourselves a sanctuary denomination. We realize that this has many possibilities and implications, and that this is a large and complex issue, but we also recognize that many of our meetings are already exploring sanctuary. Their work could inform our future decision-making.

2017-45    Skip Schiel, Ian Harrington, Jonathan Vogel-Borne, and Minga Claggett-Borne (all of Cambridge) presented a minute from Salem Quarterly Meeting on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Based on this minute, Friends approved the following:

2017-46    Friends gathered at New England Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions at Castleton, Vermont, August 6–10, 2017, attest to the following:

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) testimony on peace, justice, and nonviolence is based in our experience of the divine in all of creation and within all persons. Thus, we are deeply troubled by the suffering and injustice caused by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and we are concerned that our government perpetuates that violence by continuing to send billions of dollars of military aid to the region.

We call upon our nation to:

  • Cease sending United States military aid and selling weapons to the entire Middle East
  • Continue diplomatic efforts with all parties and remain in dialogue even with those who have acted violently.
  • Join the international court system and accept its jurisdiction.

We call upon all nations to:

  • Work with the United Nations Security Council to end military aid and arms sales from all outside countries to all parties in this conflict.
  • Support the United Nations efforts to bring justice, peace, security, and reconciliation to all parties in the conflict.
  • Take measures to assure that international laws are applied universally.

We call upon all individuals and communities to:

  • Support and learn from the many organizations that bring Israelis and Palestinians together for justice and peacemaking.
  • Examine how anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and privilege affect our understanding of the conflict

We are deeply grateful to the Friends who have worked over many months in preparing and seasoning this minute.

We ask Friends to report back on what insights and conclusions they have in addressing this conflict.

2017-47    We closed in worship.

Wednesday morning

2017-48    We heard the epistle from Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting, who gathered with the theme “moving together with the spirit.” They are responding to a shared leading toward intervisitation among monthly meetings, and also challenging older Friends to listen to younger voices and reconsider some traditional practices. Benigno Sánchez-Eppler visited from FWCC, and urged them to resist the separating spirit and to mend separations among Friends. As they moved together during the week, they reminded each other, “Our differences will want us to fight for them, but our love will make no room for the violence.”

2017-49    Rev. Daryl Lobban of the Massachusetts Council of Churches brought us greetings and told us of his own Quaker spiritual heritage. The founder of his denomination in the Church of God movement left Quakers because his meeting endorsed slavery.

2017-50    The Yearly Meeting approved the Unity Agenda, which included the following:

Accepting Staff Reports

Accepting Board, Committee & Representative Reports

Approving Yearly Meeting Committee Purposes, Procedures, and Composition

Approving Bank Resolutions

Accepting Memorial Minutes

Accepting Memorial Minutes

Approving Clerks’ Authorization to Make Edits & Corrections

We approved the following resolutions brought by the Finance Committee on August 9, 2017:

Bank Resolutions Minute

  • That Shearman Taber be appointed New England Yearly Meeting treasurer for the ensuing year or until a successor is appointed and qualified.
  • That Robb Spivey be appointed Friends Camp treasurer for the ensuing year or until a successor is appointed and qualified. The Friends Camp treasurer will work under the oversight of the NEYM treasurer and the Friends Camp director.
  • That Shearman Taber, Yearly Meeting treasurer, be authorized to open and close bank accounts in the name of New England Yearly Meeting as needed.
  • That Robb Spivey, Friends Camp treasurer, be authorized to open and close bank accounts in the name of Friends Camp as needed.
  • 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.
  • That Anna Hopkins, Friends Camp director; Jeffery D. Adelberg, assistant director; Robb Spivey, 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.

Minute to Authorize Edits & Corrections

Friends authorize the presiding, recording and reading clerks to make and approve edits, clarifications and corrections to the minutes of NEYM Sessions 2017.

2017-51    Elias Sanchez-Eppler (Northampton), clerk of Finance Committee, presented several items for approval.

2017-52    Friends approved Shearman Taber to serve for another year as NEYM treasurer.

2017-53    Friends approved the Friends Camp Budget.

2017-54    Friends approved the “non-camp budget,” formerly known as the operating budget.

2017-55    Shearman Taber (Beacon Hill), Treasurer, reported on our funds and fund balances. We have enough reserves to get us through 2018 and beyond, as long as we adhere reasonably to the budget. Otherwise, we may have to start making contingency plans next spring, though such plans may not be ready for Sessions 2018.

Shearman Taber reviewed the responsibilities of the Finance Committee and the Treasurer. He noted that a two-year budget projection is not a long-term financial plan, but can be helpful when other NEYM bodies prepare their own budgets.

He also noted the need for an assistant treasurer.

2017-56    We heard reports from visitors to the youth programs.

Childcare—Betsy Cazden (Providence), Laura Sturgill (Worcester)

The Spiritual Lessons We Received from Our Youngest Friends

  • We do like to read and listen to words.
  • Sometimes we make noise but it’s hard for other people to figure out what we’re really trying to say.
  • Moving my body in fun and silly ways helps me calm down and rest.
  • We like having people talk to us in a soothing cheerful voice.
  • We can get cranky when we’re uncomfortable—or tired, or when things don’t go the way we’re used to.
  • It’s important to take deep breaths.
  • Sometimes you just need to cry, and all someone else can do is just be there with you.
  • Even the smallest blade of grass can be fascinating.

JYM Kindergarten and 1st grade—Frederick Martin (Beacon Hill)

I arrived to find the K-1 group attending their all-JYM morning meeting, where the 2–4 group was sharing the tie-dyed T-shirts they had made. I noticed some particular aspects of the way the program is set up because of my background as a teacher. As the K-1 group left, the adults did an unobtrusive number check: “six kids leaving the room,” one said to another as they marked the number on a clipboard. The K-1 room was cozy and well-prepared, with picture books, pillows, a first-aid kit, snacks, and displays of their craft projects. The room and staff seemed caring and friendly. When they arrived back at their room, they began drafting their epistle, led by one of the adults. The adults listened carefully to each child, and invited them all to share ideas for the epistle. The children’s eyes lit up when they heard their own words read back to them by JYM staff.

JYM 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades—Sheila Garrett (Putney), Sara Smith (Concord)

Our visit began at 8:15 a.m. on “Tired Tuesday.” JYM starts the day together with singing, reading an epistle, check-in and announcements. A story, Enemy Pie, was turned into a play. Worship was both deep and wiggly. When the groups split up, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades did a few stretches and a brainstorm for their epistle.

The second activity was weaving a structure or sculpture. Four groups were formed, each having a big ball of yarn to wind around chairs and cardboard tubes. This required lots of sharing, trading off, and collaboration. There was a quiet absorption for about 30 minutes of using a mindful body as they ducked under and stepped over the growing web. There was leadership by older children helping younger. As their creation became a complex 3-D web they started adding tube creations. Soon a storm of snowy Styrofoam bits fell. One boy walked by with “frostbitten hands.” One creative child threw the yarn over the hanging light. Then everyone tried it—carefully! Then it was declared finished.

Outside they paired off with new partners for snacks. As we left for the playing field, we stopped to examine a pool of water by the path filled with frogs. At the field they cooperatively decided on a game. Monsters followed a museum guard but froze as she looked at them. Others worked carefully on a mandala.

We think our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders have a lot to teach us about cooperation.

JYM 5th and 6th grades—Skip Schiel (FMC)

The group was highly interactive and playful, as expected, with much decision-making accomplished jointly. This might be good prep for Quaker process. Kids played with clay and then spoke about their work. Small groups met outside, ours choosing eventually to talk about being or maybe being Quaker, what this means, and how one might decide. I left after a round game but more were planned. One child opted out of the three activities I observed, I’m not sure why, and the adult leaders let her withdraw.

JHYM—Catherine Bock (Burlington), Gail Rogers (Cambridge)

We visited the Junior High School Yearly Meeting on Monday afternoon and found the group playing games and ukuleles, and relaxing together. Cell phones were checked at the door. One group was at the swimming pool and then collecting snacks to bring back. We noticed how happy the young people were, as well as the staff. Their area has both indoor and outdoor spaces for gathering, and access to fields and facilities.

We heard that new junior high school participants were welcomed and quickly integrated into the group, whether they were Quaker or not.

Adults told us how remarkable this group of young people is this year, and also that they feel this way with all of the groups every year. Volunteer staff often return from year to year, a sign of joy and health in the program.

We heard about how a panel of adult Quakers, as well as Noah Merrill on another occasion, came to spend time with the group, and that the young people had shared with depth and insight in response to the topics and queries presented. The staff was inspired by the depth of their sharing about their own transformation journeys. We also heard a desire on the part of the youth to be seen and heard as full participants in the community with insights and active spiritual journeys rather than as immature beings not yet ready for prime time. Many religious traditions welcome youth to adult fellowship at 13 or 14 with rites of passage.

Upon inquiry, we learned that there are 23 junior-high-aged participants, with 10 volunteer staff total, and 5 staff with the young people at any given time. Gretchen Baker-Smith’s leadership and support was strongly praised, as well as that of the volunteers.

It was our pleasure to visit with this group, and we are happy to be able to make this report.

Young Friends—Marian Baker (Weare)

To find out when to go, I asked a teen in the lunch line about their program. Abby from Portland encouraged me to come that afternoon. She welcomed me warmly when I arrived.

Emily Provance from New York Yearly Meeting led a sharing on barriers to inclusivity. One issue is Quakerese—do we explain Quakerly terms so that all, including newcomers, feel welcome?

Second is “spiritual” being equated with solemn, not joyful. They don’t know that the majority of Friends in the world are singing, joyful Friends.

Third is ageism: The Young Friend who welcomed me thought I was very brave to reach out to a teen! They would like to be more a part of the Yearly Meeting, not isolated all the time.

Fourth was the barrier of social media versus paper and email.

Fifth was the cost of gatherings, but they reasoned that to include those with disabilities, we need more expensive facilities.

We have much to learn from our teenagers. I encourage each of us to reach out and greet teens as equal Friends.

Young Adult Friends (YAFs)—Debbie Humphries (Hartford), Jacqueline Stillwell (Monadnock)

The Young Adult Friends (YAFs) front-loaded their programming with a pre-Sessions retreat Friday evening at a local church. There they gathered, connected, and reviewed the agenda of our business sessions to prepare for our week together. They did not have their own business sessions.

By Tuesday afternoon, their time together was spent in long walks, affinity groups, and playing games. We enjoyed playing games with them, while eating cookies, apples, chips and salsa. Might we learn from them?

The YAFs carry deep concerns for the wellbeing of each member of their community, affirming the evolving awareness of personal identity, holding each other with tenderness and love.

The Young Adult Friends are here with us in our business sessions, our threshing sessions, our workshops, our committees, and our worship. We are one body.

We appreciated and resonated with something of the spirit and the joy from each age group. We of different ages have much in common.

2017-57    The Clerk expressed his appreciation for the Legacy Gift Committee. The committee has granted funding for many ministry projects in the Yearly Meeting, such as the Stone of Hope ministry in the Boston area. The clerk noted that we had directly experienced the power of the Stone of Hope ministry on Tuesday evening. These ministries have affected many Friends throughout the Yearly Meeting. Friends are very grateful for the work of this committee.

2017-58    Co-clerks of the nominating committee, Connie Kincaid-Brown (Hanover) and Penny Wright (Hanover), presented the slate of nominations. Friends approved.

The clerk noted that one change in the revised purposes and procedures approved in the Unity Agenda is that clerks of committees are now appointed by the Yearly Meeting instead of by the committee itself.

The Nominating Committee is placing less emphasis on filling a complete slate of committees to bring for approval at Sessions, and more emphasis on raising gifts and talents and matching them to committee work after prayerful discernment. Nominations that are not ready to be approved at Sessions can be brought to Permanent Board for approval.

2017-59    We closed in worship.

Thursday morning

2017-60    We heard the epistle from Quaker Women in Public Ministry. They see themselves in a line of Quaker women in ministry, but lament that practices for supporting ministry have sometimes fallen into disuse. They invite Friends everywhere to work together to find new ways to support ministry and eldership.

2017-61    We have deep appreciation for this year’s Bible Half-Hours by Marty Grundy, and for our plenary by Ruby Sales. This ministry has spoken to our souls.

2017-62    We heard from Debbie Humphries, clerk of Ministry and Counsel, about the state of the Religious Society. She read the following:

Ministry and Counsel has received state of society reports from monthly meetings. These are rich with vitality, deep honesty, and are a gift to read. We noticed the threads of the grounding experience of our corporate worship, our experiences of pastoral care and outreach, and our work on issues such as white supremacy and climate change. Meetings also shared their efforts at outreach as they strive to be more welcoming to families, young adults, and newcomers. All of the monthly and quarterly meeting state of society reports are now available. M&C is clear on three elements of our sense of the state of society of New England Yearly Meeting.

  1. We are listening deeply to hear how we are led to embody the Spirit in our daily lives as individuals and worshiping communities.
  2. We hunger for the power and vitality of the Spirit that guided previous generations of Quakers.
  3. We want to be real allies to those who are seeking to overturn structures of oppression.

As a way of reflecting on the state of our society, we were asked to settle into silent worship, answering the following queries out of the silence.

  1. When we gather in meeting for worship, are we open and expecting to be changed?
  2. When the Light shows us places that need healing or transformation, how do we respond?
  3. As we seek to identify the places in our communities and in the world where our actions and voices are needed, what is the good news we have to share?

A summary of these reflections was read back by Honor Woodrow, recording clerk of Ministry and Counsel:

Friends shared the following reflections, starting with the good news:

The good news is that our God hears us, and speaks to us, and guides us. This is our testimony that has always been to the whole world. We do not have to build the kingdom of God. It has already been built and exists. All we have to do is enter into it.

We were reminded that Moses never reached the promised land, but he kept on walking. The good news is that we keep on walking; we believe it is possible.

The good news is that we have a tradition of discernment, of challenging, and testing ourselves. The really good news is that it’s True and accessible. It really is possible to be completely stress-free right here, right now.

We can share the good news about our work here this week on undoing white privilege.

We heard themes about the challenges of change and transformation from earlier in the week reflected in the sharing.

Each of these queries comes with a certain openness to conflict. To be changed I have to recognize that I have to be changed from something. To have a place that has to be healed or transformed there has got to be room to do that. This is risky business.

Across the Yearly Meeting there are a lot of us who are asleep, and sitting there conventionally, not in hope or expectation or irritation or in much intellectual activity. We’re receiving some rest, and that’s to be welcomed, but it isn’t rest to the soul. I think most often the things that the Light shows us at those times is that it’s time to wake up, and that does happen. And what joy it is that as busy and as sleepy and as distracted and as unfaithful as we tend to be, we are getting back into the habit of naming the problem without fear, and in a workmanlike manner, putting ourselves into the hand of the great workman.

We heard a song encouraging us to “Wake up.”

When the divine light of God shows us places that need healing and transforming, I have found that if we are willing to go and just listen, willing to go and learn from others in whatever condition they are, that we will be amazed, we will be changed and transformed.

I am aware of how much work we have to do in our monthly meetings to hold one another in healing and in transformation. It’s easier in some ways to do it with people we see once in a while. It’s harder to do it with people we see all the time.

We closed in a period of silent worship.

2017-63    We heard the Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas (FWCC-SA) report from Rachel Guaraldi (Beacon Hill), her infant son Gideon Guaraldi, and Judy Goldberger (Beacon Hill) clerk of FWCC-New England. An electronic slideshow was presented. We heard about FWCC’s vital travel ministry, bilingual curriculum development, and outreach programs. Further details of their report are in the Advance Documents. Gideon added happy babbles when World Quaker Day was mentioned. The engagement of NEYM with FWCC is part of what makes a blessed community

2017-64    Noah Merrill (Putney), Yearly Meeting secretary, reported. His written report is found in the Advance Documents.

He asked that we hold our Young Friends community in prayer. It has been a challenging time for them as they seek to address some issues that have come up among them this week. Resource people and others who have been working with them are also in need of prayer.

Consistent with minute 2015-57 of two years ago, the Yearly Meeting secretary and presiding clerk are authorized to issue time-sensitive public statements during the year on behalf of the Yearly Meeting. This year there were three:

  1. November 3, 2016: “A Call to Prayer and Support for Standing Rock,”
  2. November 10, 2016: “More Than Ever: A Post-Election Message” (actually a letter from the Yearly Meeting staff),
  3. January 31, 2017: “Welcoming the Stranger,” a joint letter from Massachusetts Heads of Church on Refugee Resettlement,

Noah Merrill passed around a beautiful ceramic bowl, made by a New England Friend, which was full of holes. The vessel that is the Religious Society of Friends is not a container to hold us. We are the container, formed by the Spirit to carry living water in the world. He invited us to allow institutional forms that no longer serve to fall away; to allow ourselves to be transformed; and to recognize that when transformation happens, more and more will be called to join with us. Come, let us go down to the Potter’s house, and see the Potter working on the clay. Let us place ourselves in the Potter’s hands, knowing that we are being transformed from one vessel, beautiful and flawed, into another that will serve better.

What must we do so that the ministry of Friends can grow and thrive here, now? Noah Merrill offered some reflections he hoped would be useful:

  1. Meetings: How are we supporting our local meetings? Rufus Jones in 1944 said that it is in our local meetings where the vitality, potency and future of our society resides.
  2. Ministry: We are nurturing vital gifts in ministry. How can we fully release in our local meetings the gifts that the Spirit is pouring out in abundance among us? It’s time to harvest the fruit and to allow these ministries to thrive.
  3. Money: How can we embrace putting money in its proper place? Does money control us, or do we use money to support ministry?
  4. Movement: How can the tools we have be most fully used to liberate our movement? We are traveling and we don’t know where we are going, but we are on a journey together and we are being accompanied on that journey.

Noah ended with an invitation to remember that none of our work makes sense without a commitment—now, and in each moment—to renew our openness to the presence, movement and guidance of the Holy Spirit, as we go down to the Potter’s house, together.

2017-65    We heard the report of Events Coordinator Kathleen Wooten. Our annual Sessions have been growing in the last two years, and have had more first-time attenders. Precise statistics on attendance will be included in a later report, to be distributed after Sessions. Some are following the events at Sessions through social media.

She expressed her deep appreciation to her partner in ministry Ken Glover (North Shore), Events Coordinator Assistant, for his faithful, joyous service.

All gifts are from God, and all those who serve are part of the Body of Christ. Please remember to give thanks for every part of that Body.

We were moved as she presented a slideshow of photos from our Sessions.

This year Kathleen Wooten concludes her service to us as Events Coordinator. The Yearly Meeting expressed its heartfelt love and gratitude for this service.

Leslie Manning (Durham), clerk of Sessions Committee, presented Kathleen Wooten with a suitably inscribed tee-shirt as a token of our deep appreciation of her service to the Yearly Meeting: “Mind that which is eternal, which gathers your hearts together up to the Lord, and lets you see that you are written in one another’s heart.” (George Fox)

With humor, Leslie also inducted Kathleen into the Order of the Quaker Fez, presenting her with a custom-made piece of that headgear, in deep appreciation for all her service to the Yearly Meeting as exemplified by one of her challenges: managing the logistics on our first day of Sessions each year at Castleton when the Shriners parade through the campus while we are gathering.

2017-66    Friends approved our Epistle, with thanks to the Epistle Committee.

2017-67    Earthcare Ministry clerk Ruah Swennerfelt offered the following statement as a follow-up from earlier in the Sessions:

The Earthcare Ministry Committee is not bringing back a request for NEYM to sign or endorse the Paris climate accord. It’s become clear we’re not ready at this time to consider that request. Instead we’re offering the following, which requires no action today.

At Sessions this year we reaffirmed the 2016 Climate Minute, indicating that we will “pray, wait, and act with a focus and fearlessness appropriate to the urgency of the times.” The Earthcare Ministry Committee believes that setting concrete goals to reduce our emissions in line with a maximum 1.5°C global temperature rise (the aspirational goal of the Paris climate accord) would be helpful for our next steps. The committee will coordinate collecting carbon emission data as a basis for proposing a percentage emissions reduction goal for the Yearly Meeting. That proposal will come back to Sessions in 2018 for consideration.

2017-68    Lisa Graustein of the Permanent Board ad-hoc Working Group on Challenging White Supremacy reported back to the body on the widely attended threshing sessions held during Sessions, a continuation of the tenderness experienced at business meeting on this topic (see minutes 2017-25 and 2017-26). While no definitive suggestions for action emerged, there was a deep desire to focus on what we are working towards rather than what we are working against; to support the work we need to do in ourselves to liberate ourselves from white supremacy; and to remember that we need to work in community with each other, and with God. In this manner, we may work towards justice and healing in a beloved community. A diagram helped explain the flow of this work. The committee will continue its work to see what may come forward to Sessions next year.

2017-69    In worship and song, the children and youth joined us.

2017-70    We heard the epistles from the week, from Childcare through adult Sessions. The young adult Friends chose to be part of the adult Sessions this year, so did not draft a separate epistle of their own.

2017-71    We closed in worship, purposing to meet on August 4–9, 2018, at Castleton University, Vermont, and hoping that we can gather again on October 28, 2017, at the Living Faith Gathering in Hartford, and in the spring of 2018 in Maine.

 


[1] Kelly is not making a theological statement about the atonement, but is referring to our human tendency to outrun our guide, ungrounded in Christ.

[2] Thomas Kelly’s The Eternal Promise

[3] I Corinthians 15:36-37

[4] John 15:4-5

[5] Thomas Kelly’s The Eternal Promise

[6] John 15:1-4

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