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New England Yearly Meeting State of Society Report 2018
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. Amos 8:11
The words of the Lord are justice, love, mercy, patience, service, comfort and joy. We find them inscribed deep in our yearnings, suffering, hope, and imagination, often unaware they are a sacred gift. Through them we enact our lives, inhabit our bodies, and work with the materials of the world and of culture. Reminders echo around us in the wordless language of the land, the creatures, and the rhythms of the cosmos. Some of us are reached in one way, some of us in another; at bottom the hunger is the same—to be available, filled up, transformed so as more and more to speak, act, and live as children of the Light. We feel the words as divine intention and a call to follow where it will lead in this time of fear—and hope.
As we have reflected and prayed about the spiritual condition of our Yearly Meeting, we have heard in visits, meeting reports, newsletters, minutes of concern, and prophetic witness that Friends are seeking to live more fully according to the gifts of the Spirit that we are given. The hunger for knowledge and for better access to the wisdom of our community are leading to a widespread desire for adult religious education. The recognition of this need, or desire, in turn is calling out gifts of teaching, writing, and organizing in many meetings. The results take many forms—book groups, forums, retreat attendance, and more. Groups of Friends called to ministry are gathering more frequently for mutual encouragement and guidance to better service. The gift of eldership, which can liberate the life and service of individuals and of meetings, is more widely understood, encouraged, and put into action. We rejoice in the freshness of the life that rises. It stands in bold contrast to the tenor of our times that leaves us at times cold and lost.
The longing for justice, for right living, and for peace that is more than the absence of war is bearing fruit in acts of witness. Friends reach for the commonwealth of God when we stand with the earth in a time of climate change, stand with refugees, immigrants, and Native Americans in a time of xenophobia, and stand with those who bear the burdens of the economic and social systems in which we are all embedded. One Friend's gift of money to every meeting in New England stimulated the power of imagination, and enabled many meetings to take steps to strengthen their work or presence in the community.
There are, in truth, as many challenges before us as ever. Some meetings feel themselves in decline; some Friends feel isolated in meetings which have not taken the risk of seeing and encouraging the gifts of their members. A number of meetings have made an effort to increase their connectedness within their meeting community and thereby reduce the sense of isolation that some may feel. This has often been coupled with outreach to the communities which surround them. The work to know and see each other more deeply, and to reach out to non-Quakers has resulted in a clearer sense of who we are as Friends. It has also been important when meetings have actively shared resources with each other within their quarters and beyond.
There is a constant pressure from the culture and society around us to live individualistically. We feel the invitation to judge, separate, and make distinctions within our communities. Friends struggle to turn the invitation aside and claim instead the blessing of true community so that the common life can flow freely. We are learning that when we allow the Spirit to keep our individualism in check, fuller life and vitality in the meeting are unleashed. Investing in the common life brings blessings that are for some surprising and unfamiliar. In true community, the individual's uniqueness, voice, agency, and gifts, are affirmed and refreshed with new meaning.
We have been led as a people to walk further and further out on the limb of faith. Taking risks in our commitment to address the seeds and practices of white supremacy within us, and to respond prophetically and actively to the climate crisis. We see that taking a risk, even a small one- encourages more risk-taking, and as we have read all the news of the yearly Meeting, a risky question arises: What is the foundation of our hope? How can we speak with confidence about the springs from which our witness, our endurance, our experiments and our joy take their strength?
We see that where we are alive to the springs of life, are willing to be foolish in the eyes of the world, to be children in the Spirit, our faith takes us into hard places. In these hard places we see our true condition more clearly. This demands of us both deep inner work and deep outer work. Where will we find courage and capacity to tell that story, and to share what wonders we have found?
Ministry and Counsel Committee
New England Yearly Meeting