New England Yearly Meeting

A community of Quakers and Quaker meetings across New England.

Permanent Board: Report from the Long-Term Financial Planning Committee

New England Yearly Meeting’s expenses have exceeded its income in recent years, creating deficits that have required us to spend down our reserves invested in the Pooled Funds, as well as using some of the Legacy Gift resources to balance our budgets. This situation is not sustainable. The Long-Term Financial Planning Committee has met regularly since our committee was created by the Permanent Board in accordance with the minute approved during NEYM’s 2014 Sessions:  

2014-57  The presiding clerk read the following minute on long-term planning and financial sustainability:

Yearly Meeting Sessions asks Permanent Board, in consultation with Finance, Personnel, Development, and Coordinating and Advisory Committees, to prepare and maintain a five-year financial plan for the Yearly Meeting that will bring our income and expenditures into balance. We also ask Finance Committee to prepare our annual budgets in the context of this five-year plan.

Friends approved.

Our Committee quickly determined that we could not begin the process of preparing a five-year financial plan for NEYM without first achieving clarity on NEYM’s purpose and priorities. We believe that genuine financial sustainability will be made possible by a growing and thriving spiritual community that is clear about and committed to its purpose and priorities. With this recognition, at the February 2015 meeting of Permanent Board, our charge was amended:

Grounded in the past discernment of the Yearly Meeting, and in collaboration with Structural Review and Legacy Gift Committees, the LTFPC will draft a vision of, and articulate specific priorities for, the work that we as a Yearly Meeting are called to do. The Committee will present the past discernment, the vision, and a long-term financial plan to enable the Yearly Meeting to accomplish that vision as well as bring our income and expenditures into balance.

“Grounded in the past discernment of the Yearly Meeting” is important: LTFPC was clear that we would not launch new information-gathering and listening efforts, because considerable work of this sort had already been performed and documented by staff members, numerous committees, and working groups of the YM over many years. One of our first efforts was to review and summarize this work so as to understand key priorities that New England Friends have raised, and use that work as a springboard to propel us forward. Our review revealed that the “past discernment of the Yearly Meeting” had yielded strikingly consistent themes. For a summary and analysis of the extensive past work we reviewed, please read the accompanying document, “We Need a Plan” below.

This  process has led us to consider carefully the different ways that we are New England Yearly Meeting of Friends. Please see neym.org/neym-does/what-is or refer to “We Need a Plan for a further description. We see the core purpose of the organization NEYM as support for the network of local Quaker faith communities in New England.

Friends across New England want and need the organization we call New England Yearly Meeting of Friends—consisting of our professional paid staff as well as our many volunteer committees, ministries and programs—to support and strengthen monthly and quarterly meetings and the entire network of local Quaker faith communities. By doing so, the individual Quakers who make up those local communities will be freed to live lives that speak. We envision a growing network of transformative, witnessing local faith communities in the Friends’ tradition across New England.

Specifically, Friends want help in the following areas:

1. Spiritual Development and Religious Education. As local meetings, we want help in being prepared to hear and heed the leadings of the Spirit, and to support one another in living with greater joy, authenticity and courage. Friends have inherited a transformative way of life supported by precious disciplines and practices of listening, discernment, encounter with the living Presence, and sacred work in the world. We yearn to educate and train one another to help keep the flame of our faith and practice alive and thriving in our time and in our region. 

2. Outreach, Welcome, Inclusion, and Witness. In our meetings, we also want assistance from our wider Quaker community in strengthening and growing our presence in the world. We want to draw in active and diverse seekers who can find a spiritual home among Friends. And we want help in knowing how best to welcome, educate, orient and encourage newcomers when they visit our monthly meetings. Friends want support in witness when we feel we have Truth to share, on climate change, racial justice, and other urgent needs for healing and wholeness in our world. 

3. Relationship and Communication. Friends throughout the Yearly Meeting want to connect with each other, and spend more time together. We want to deepen and strengthen our relationships in ways that nurture and challenge us. We want to know who is doing what and what is going on across the Yearly Meeting. We want more solid, effective, and efficient ways to share information, best practices, and resources, and strengthen the network of local meetings and individuals. 

4. Leadership and Administration. In reviewing the documented prior discernment of the Yearly Meeting, our Committee heard a desire among New England Friends to identify and support leaders: those who see clearly the work that needs doing among us, and who have the gifts to communicate their vision and harness the talents and the willingness of Friends to act together to realize our goals. We want to cultivate and strengthen the emerging leaders among our youth. We want our clerks and committee members, at all levels, to be effective at helping us listen to the Spirit and get our work done. We need to deepen our understanding of how leadership can free the gifts of the whole in a community in which all are called to ministry. Local meetings want NEYM to provide administrative services and support that monthly and quarterly meetings cannot provide efficiently for themselves—financial and insurance services, legal services, technology and communications infrastructure, training and education—for the benefit of the whole

5. Stewardship, Integrity, and Accountability. New England Friends have said that we need to be clear about what work we engage in, and why. We need to revisit our activities regularly to ascertain whether we are actually moving forward toward achieving our goals in faithful, healthy, and productive ways. If after careful discernment we resolve to do things, integrity requires that we follow through and do them. Sometimes we will have to decide not to do things, or to stop doing things. We must be wise stewards of all our resources, and must live within our means, investing our energy and attention in that which is essential.

The five themes described above are needs that Friends have been asking the Yearly Meeting to focus on for decades. Having now gathered and named them clearly, the Long-Term Financial Planning Committee proposes adopting these themes as priorities to be the basis for NEYM’s organizational financial planning going forward. 

Some of the things described above we are already doing; often we are doing them well. But, we believe we can do even more, and we can do better. Some of these things are new for us, and will require learning and experimentation, practice, patience and perseverance. But as we all become clearer about our purpose and more intentional and disciplined about our work to support Quakers in New England, we will be more effective, we will foster greater engagement of Friends, and we will attract more newcomers to the Quaker movement. We have faith that these outcomes will result in increased financial contributions, by monthly meetings and individuals, to support NEYM.

In order to complete the essential work with which we have been charged, we ask that the Yearly Meeting in session take two actions:

Affirm that Long-Term Financial Planning Committee is moving in the right direction by having identified the core purpose and key priorities for the work of NEYM.

The core purpose: New England Yearly Meeting of Friends exists to support and strengthen a network of local Quaker faith communities in New England

The key priorities:

  • Spiritual Development and Religious Education
  • Outreach, Welcome, Inclusion, and Witness
  • Relationship and Communication
  • Leadership and Administration
  • Stewardship, Integrity, and Accountability

Affirm our Committee’s intention to begin to translate this purpose and these priorities into a long-term financial plan, under the continuing oversight of Permanent Board.

Respectfully submitted June 12, 2015, Long-Term Financial Planning Committee:  Christopher Gant (Beacon Hill), clerk; Virginia Bainbridge (Permanent Board); Holly Baldwin (Permanent Board clerk, Coordinating & Advisory); Brad Bussiere-Nichols (Ministry & Counsel); DavLonid Cadbury (Structural Review); Deana Chase (Ministry & Counsel); Ralph Gentile (Finance); Ben Guaraldi (NEYM treasurer, Coordinating & Advisory); Noah Baker Merrill (NEYM secretary, Coordinating & Advisory); Sara Smith (Development); Becky Steele (Permanent Board); Shearman Taber (Finance, Coordinating & Advisory)

“We Need a Plan”: Discernment and Action In a Time of Growth and Change

Presented to the Permanent Board of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends by the Long Term Financial Planning Committee May 2015 (see also LTFPC Report, page 17).

On every side we hear of “the great people to be gathered.” Are you ready? 

Most of us feel that we are not ready; that our meetings must first provide for the spiritual renewal of our members. But the harvest time is now, “the grain is ripe unto harvest.” Who then can be sent to bring in the harvest? Will it be…the Yearly Meeting Committees when they are re-organized? Will it be your Quarterly Meeting or your Monthly Meeting? They certainly must provide the climate for the harvest, and the continuing fellowship for us to share, but in the last analysis it is you, each of you in your daily activity, who must gather the harvest. It is up to you, whether you are the newest member of your Meeting or one of those “weighty Friends” we have heard about…

You are called to respond to needs, to the thirsting for the fellowship of the spirit, which alone can calm the restless hearts. Only as friend meets friend in the joint actions of living do we experience the Truth; making love visible and making all things new. 

(Report of Worship-Workshop on Meeting Renewal & Attracting the Seeker, Minutes of NEYM, 1968)

Background: Some Notes on How We Got Here

In the fall of 2014, the clerk of our Yearly Meeting’s Development Committee affirmed to the Permanent Board of NEYM what many have raised in different language: 

“People don’t fund unmet needs. They fund the plan to meet those needs.” 

We do not currently have such a plan. 

For several years New England Friends have recognized a need to set clear priorities to encourage the life and ministry of our Yearly Meeting[1] [Endnotes follow] Since at least 1980[2], Yearly Meeting has charged several groups to consider whether changes in priorities, focus, structure and function were necessary in order for Friends to grow and thrive in our region.

At the request of the Long Term Financial Planning Committee (LTFPC), in December 2014 the Yearly Meeting secretary wrote a report summarizing the work of these many groups, and the LTFPC was encouraged by Permanent Board to adopt the report’s insights as a basis for its work. With the help and support of the Structural Review Committee, Coordinating & Advisory and Permanent Board, the LTFPC has adapted and revised that report to create this document, which is to be shared with the wider community of Friends in New England to support understanding and action by the Yearly Meeting as a whole.

Efforts considered in this analysis include (among others): the two Long Range Planning Committees (1980–1981 and 1999–2001), the Ad Hoc Committee on the Financial Health of Yearly Meeting (1992–1993), the Procedural Review Committee (2004–2006), the Staff and Organizational Structure processes, the Ad Hoc Vision Committee (2007–2009), the Staff Planning Committee (2009), the Legacy Gift Discernment Committee (2012–2014), and the Structural Review Committee (2012–present). All of these groups’ work has involved significant consultation with constituencies through a variety of methods, including a wide range of Friends active at various levels throughout the Quaker communities of New England. 

These groups wrote reports identifying strikingly similar needs. We further believe that what may at first appear as differences in the conclusions of these groups in fact reflect different ways of categorizing overlapping or related concerns, rather than substantive departures in what was heard and reported. These include an emphasis on youth ministry; outreach[3], welcome and witness; religious education and spiritual nurture for adults; leadership development and training; pastoral care and conflict transformation in meetings; and more inclusive and connected communities[4,5,6,7]. They expressed concerns about our structure being too unwieldy, not fully accountable, ineffective and inefficient[8]. They raised the widely held perception of the Yearly Meeting structure and work as disconnected from the life of local meetings[9], which in turn were often disconnected from one another[10]. They noted that we face cultural challenges that tend to make leadership[11], change and innovation difficult. They lamented the hesitation to make clear choices[12]. They raised the need for us to clearly define priorities for our work[13] that would create progress toward increased vitality, growth, and effectiveness, and they asserted a deeply felt sense that Friends still had many gifts to offer the world, if we could only find ways to live into those strengths and share them more fully. 

Beginning in 2008, the Priorities Budget Process was established to allow more consultation to inform the creation of the annual operating budget. A key part of this work was soliciting input from local meetings as part of “Funding Our Vision Days” hosted by Finance Committee. In 2013, recognizing the need for an even more transparent, collaborative and comprehensive approach to how NEYM stewards and uses resources to encourage the Quaker movement in New England[14], an effort was made by the Yearly Meeting secretary and treasurer to expand the Priorities Process to discern longer-term priorities for our ministries. Feedback on this experience further affirmed the need for a more robust mechanism to set priorities for the work of the Yearly Meeting overall that would be creative and inclusive and would lead to effective steps forward. Also in 2013, Coordinating & Advisory Committee with support from Permanent Board initiated an ad hoc consultation between the Personnel, Development and Finance Committees to help us plan with a perspective beyond the next fiscal year, and to begin to develop a mechanism and shared approach for aligning resources with ministry. 

After both Sessions and Permanent Board affirmed this direction, the Long Term Financial Planning Committee (LTFPC) was created and charged, and soon after its inception united with the need to continue this discernment of vision and priorities.

For decades, many Friends have listened, and many have spoken. Many reports have been written, and abundant dreams have been lifted up. Now we need a plan. To create a plan, we need to take another step in identifying—even provisionally—what we hope to accomplish in our shared work and ministry together on behalf of Friends in New England. 

The Purpose of This Document

This report does not seek simply to summarize the findings of these many sources, but also to go beyond to distill and synthesize—both from the numerous formal processes mentioned above and from widespread consultation in both formal and informal venues across the Yearly Meeting—a sense of what might be seen as a key focus for the quickening and nurture of ministry by NEYM in the coming years.

The Long Term Financial Planning Committee hopes this perspective on New England Friends’ corporate discernment over many years will be useful to Friends throughout the Yearly Meeting as we proceed with this important work.

Wait, Why Exactly Do We Need a Plan, Again? 

New England Yearly Meeting of Friends is a community of faith spanning the six New England states, part of a global movement that our spiritual ancestors might have called “The People of God called Friends.” 

We’re a church, a religious society, not a for-profit corporation or a social service organization. Why then do we need a plan? The answer lies in how we can best support the work we believe that God has called us to do.

In a very real way, we could say that NEYM as a whole doesn’t need a mission or vision statement, or a plan. 

While we are one body and one community, it’s helpful to understand that there are five important ways we are New England Yearly Meeting of Friends

  1. A ​People: We are the 5,000 members and attenders of Quaker meetings in our region: the “People of God called Friends” in New England—a web of life-changing spiritual friendships and connections.
  2. A Network of Meetings: We are the more than 90 local meetings (congregations) across all six New England states, encompassing diverse ways of worship, sizes and theological perspectives. 
  3. A Gathering: We are our Annual Sessions,the second-largest Quaker gathering in North America.
  4. A Structure for Service: We are the committees, boards and working groups doing work on behalf of Quakers in New England—from socially responsible investing to responding to climate change.
  5. An Organization Empowering Ministry: We are an organization with staff, programs and services, tasked and committed to support the Quaker movement in New England.

Our “mission” is to be faithful to the continuing revelation of the Life and Power of God among us, supporting one another in faithfulness to the Friend of all Friends and as agents of the Beloved Community in the world. 

We don’t need a vision, since we can turn to our Teacher and affirm, “Be Thou Our Vision.” And we don’t need a “plan”, because our continuing Hope is to play our humble part in the unfolding of the one great Plan as Love’s work in Creation is revealed and comes to be ever more fully recognized.

The People called Friends doesn’t need a plan. Our work is to be faithful to how we are led, in relationship with one another and in the expression of the gifts given through us, as we carry our faith and practice as Friends into all corners of our lives. 

Our local meetings don’t all need to adopt a single plan. Our movement deeply values local autonomy and trusts each community of Friends to discern how the Holy Spirit leads them. While individual local meetings may be led to embrace more focused planning to respond to their own discerned leadings, there is no need or desire for a “one size fits all” approach to how our local faith communities do their work. In this sense, the “plan” being called for at the Yearly Meeting level is to support local meetings, but doesn’t seek to bind our local meetings to any specific way of approaching their own life and ministry as a faith community.

The three subsequent ways that we are NEYM, however, require a greater level of organization and shared stewardship of resources toward specific goals, in support of the foundation of the first two ways. 

Friends’ experience of divine guidance is that we are called both to discern God’s will for us and then to act on that discernment to the best of our abilities, and making use of all the faculties and skills we have been given for the service of Truth. 

In order to organize our Annual Sessions each year, we create budgets and organize volunteers and staff to make it all happen. No campaign to address injustices in our neighborhoods or witness against endless wars would be successful without dozens of phone calls, emails and meetings for coordination. This work is necessary to help get the word out about a transformative spiritual retreat or workshop opportunity. This is even more true when the level of complexity involved in our work expands to include the year-round supervision of skilled staff, the management of complex legal and child safety issues, and the responsibility to provide meaningful and high-quality support to the local communities of faith and practice which are the foundation of our life together as Friends.

The “plan” we are calling for, then, is intended to help the part of NEYM that is an organization to serve its intended role – supporting and strengthening the Quaker movement in New England. 

This organization was created by the local monthly and quarterly meetings, and exists to serve them. The organization is—and should be–accountable to the local meetings. The part of NEYM that is an organization is a small part of who we are as Friends, but this organization needs a plan. Faithfulness and integrity require us to do this work in the best ways we are able, and to bring to these efforts all of the gifts we have been given, including faith, financial resources, intelligence and critical thinking, professional skills, insights informed by concrete data as well as intuition and discerned guidance, and best practices in organizational governance and leadership. This is why we need a plan.

Vision 

As a simple statement of a vision (the condition in the world to which we hope our work will lead) a general sense of what Friends are hoping for might be something like the following:

We envision a growing network of transformative, witnessing local faith communities in the Friends’ tradition across New England.

“Growing” includes both spiritual and numerical growth. We have repeatedly heard affirmed that spiritual growth and development should be our primary concern and the foundation for our work. The inclusion of numerical growth reflects an aspiration that, looking at the whole display of the Quaker “ecosystem” across New England, both local meeting membership and the number of local meetings will increase over time. This doesn’t mean that all meetings need to be growing numerically or that we need to be constantly forming new meetings in every region, or even that such growth is the only measure of a healthy yearly meeting. Still, we hope to encourage these two kinds of numerical growth overall, alongside spiritual development and transformation.

By “transformative,” we mean that it is through engaging in the corporate practices of discernment, worship, prayer and seeking to live faithfully together that we grow more fully into lives that reflect the Light. Inviting someone to live as a Friend is asking that person to join a movement with an authentic spiritual practice leading to transformation and growth that has much to offer the world. Living in the Life and Power in the Quaker tradition changes us.

“Witnessing” draws on the deepest sense of the Quaker use of the word, suggesting that local Friends communities should be a sign and a model for the world of justice and integrity to which our tradition calls us. Friends meetings should shine in our local communities as resources, supports and energizers for the challenges and struggles of our surrounding areas. People should know there are Quakers among them by the humility, love, and vibrant living that our communities at their best help make possible, as we welcome the presence of the Spirit. 

Finally, the word “local” signifies that strengthening NEYM as an organization is not the primary goal of our work. As we do our work of financial planning, we are not asked to plan simply to support the structure of committees or staff. In Friends’ experience, spiritual formation and transformation happen primarily through life-changing connections at the local level[15]. While the ways that we as Friends organize ourselves may change over time, these person-to-person connections remain central to our understanding of how the Spirit works in relationship. In our conversations about structure and initiatives at the Yearly Meeting level, are we drawing energy or attention away from our local meetings, or embracing work that will lead to their being strengthened and enlivened? 

In all of our work, let us seek to use as a guideline whether the steps we are taking will strengthen or weaken our communities of faith and practice at the local level.

Nothing that happens “up at the top” or at “some remote center” or that is done in an office, or a committee room, will be very momentous unless in the last resort it stirs fresh life and brings new vitality into play in the local groups—the little cells—which constitute the Society. The Society of Friends is not a yearly meeting…not a central office somewhere, not a series of committee meetings; it is primarily and essentially a widely scattered number of local meetings, little cells, where the actual vitality and power and future potency of Quakerism is being settled and determined. We work in vain unless we keep our minds focused on these local units…the ganglia and arterial fountains of our spiritual life. (Rufus Jones, “What Will Get Us Ready,” 1944)

Ministry Focus 

Identifying any area of focus will mean making difficult choices. While we would not be laying down all of our other work as a Yearly Meeting, we would be clearly communicating the need to focus our resources on supporting local meetings. This would sometimes mean saying “no” to other needs. While the specifics here would need to be worked out in practice over time, this focus might indeed require laying down some work or adding new resources as we become clearer about what is needed. Some portions of our work that aren’t mentioned here might continue but be approached differently as we consider how these areas of ministry could support vibrant local meetings.  

I wish I might emphasize how a life becomes simplified when dominated by faithfulness to a few concerns. Too many of us have too many irons in the fire. We get distracted…and before we know it we are pulled and hauled breathlessly along by an over-burdened program of good committees and good undertakings. I am persuaded that this fevered life of church workers is not wholesome. Undertakings get plastered on from the outside because we can’t turn down a friend. Acceptance of service on a weighty committee should really depend upon an answering imperative within us, not merely upon a rational calculation of the factors involved. The concern-oriented life is ordered and organized from within. And we learn to say No as well as Yes by attending to the guidance of inner responsibility. (Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, 1941)

Strategy 

If we affirm the articulation of the vision above, it follows that to achieve this vision we need to focus our efforts in the near term on the intensive support of our local meetings

We would begin by establishing a clear sense of where we are now, both in terms of measurable data and more subjective perceptions and perspectives (sometimes called an “evaluation baseline”). Our State of Society and annual statistical reports, as well as financial information, records of travel minutes for ministry, and other relevant documents would provide a great starting place. We could then begin to identify realistic goals that we believe we can accomplish in a given timeframe. Setting goals before we have a baseline of some kind would be premature, and we need a clearer sense of our current condition first. However, one example of the kind of goal we could set might be increasing attendance at weekly meetings for worship by adults under 35 by 5-7% overall within 3 years. As we go forward, the work of moving toward implementation must be a collective process that engages the whole community if this new direction is to take root and flourish.

For any religious movement to be effective, it must have able leadership. We know that growth and outreach are dependent upon leaders with vision and understanding who can give capable guidance to our Quaker organizations and to our local Meetings. What we desire is not an authoritarian hierarchy, but rather a multitude of proficient and dedicated workers, with sufficient guidance to give efficient co-ordination and direction to our activities. Organization is not an end in itself, but merely a necessary means for the effective promotion of the Lord’s work. (Seth B. Hinshaw, Developing Quaker Leadership, 1964) 

Our strategy to accomplish these goals—the way we will go about trying to support local meetings—could be to increase Friends’ understanding and demonstrated capacity in the following areas[16]:

  • pastoral care (e.g., caring for the grieving, responding to mental and emotional health issues, competence regarding gender inclusivity & sexual identity, child & family issues, supporting aging and life transitions) 
  • quality of worship (preparing for, caring for, leading, and deepening worship)
  • conflict transformation (helping foster constructive conflict, healing relationships, and reducing the negative impacts of conflicts within our local meetings)
  • ministry[17, 18] (including naming gifts, providing care and oversight of service, mentoring, preparing leadership)
  • creating a culture of welcome and witness (supporting outreach/witness[19, 20], inclusion and community-building)
  • spiritual nurture[21, 22] (eldering, accompaniment, formation, exploring Quaker theology and experience)
  • Quaker practice (clerking, recording, administration, finances)

Methods/Approaches

Recognizing that a diverse toolkit will be necessary to support the specific needs of local meetings, we imagine building on existing capacities and strengthening new ones in the following ways:

  • networking—through meeting online and in person, in groups and using the “buddy system”—Friends serving in parallel/corresponding roles in local meetings (e.g., MM clerks, treasurers, M&C members), learning from one another
  • organizing and providing resources (speakers, programs, logistics) for regional gatherings, including quarterly meetings
  • hosting workshops and trainings (both at retreat centers like Woolman Hill and on site at local meetings, partnering with quarterly meetings)
  • producing high-quality topical curricula and short (1-2 pages) accessible resources (print and electronic)
  • sharing news and information about Quaker events and work through the NEYM website, calendar, publications, email updates and social media
  • coordinating and connecting traveling ministers and resource people 
  • sharing examples and case studies of innovation and successful strategies across the network of meetings—learning and improving our practice

Key Insights and Aspirations to Guide Our Work

As we work to support our local meetings, we suggest that we keep before us the following perspectives. We might look at developing queries to be considered in developing and delivering programs in the areas above, to ensure that they are informed by and consistent with the understandings below.

One Yearly Meeting: There are many ways we are NEYM, including as a people of faith, a network of local meetings, an annual gathering, a structure for service and an organization providing programs and services. Everyone engaged with Quakers in New England—from lifelong members to people whose children attend a Friends’ school or who are drawn to witness alongside Friends—is in some way a part of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends.

Growing Toward Wholeness: An essential aspect of our work if we hope to show how Friends are relevant in the world is to remove barriers and welcome the full participation of people who are seeking to make an informed and Spirit-led commitment to be a part of that movement, especially focusing on removing barriers in regard to race/ethnicity, age, sexuality, gender identity, class, cultural experience, educational and occupational background. Supporting inclusion of and participation by young adults in local meetings is an example of “low-hanging fruit” in this area. To encourage participation, we also need to remove both any reality of and any perception of a lack of openness or access to meaningful participation by all members of the NEYM community—as it exists today, and as it will expand.

Faithfully Effective: All of our efforts at discernment and consultation may ultimately prove fruitless if we do not free one another to do our best work. This means using the best of our minds, expertise, financial resources and wider connections in support of the needs we have discerned[23]. To do less is not faithfulness. We need to be honest with one another about our limitations, to ask what gifts and skills are needed to do the work that needs to be done, and then to seek to do that work together effectively. This will mean building a culture of accountability and evaluation, both celebrating and sharing successes/best practices and learning from the opportunities to improve that our failures present. When we are able to hold one another accountable for doing well the work we have discerned and undertaken, we will do better work together, to the benefit of all.

Assessment and Evaluation

Several measurable statistics have been initially suggested as indicators for the efficacy and progress of our work as we go forward, including but not limited to:

  • monthly meeting membership, especially among young (under 40) adults 
  • monthly meeting financial contributions to the NEYM annual operating budget (or overall income in support of our operating budget)
  • number of Friends active in public ministry in New England[24] 
  • attendance at Annual Sessions
  • attendance at quarterly meetings and/or other regional events
  • attendance at weekly meetings for worship (both Sunday and at other times)
  • attendance at monthly meetings for business
  • Friends visiting to worship in meetings other than their home meeting (visitation)
  • visibility in media (print/blog/online media mentions, visits to NEYM website, Facebook Shares/Likes, Twitter followers)

We Need Much More Than Numbers

It may also be wise for us to develop a simple and consistent means of conducting qualitative surveys that could be used to establish a baseline and perform periodic assessments of progress in less numerically straightforward areas, possibly including measures of perception in the strategic areas and/or demonstrated examples of effectiveness—such as through a survey of perceptions of spiritual satisfaction or perceived depth of worship (e.g. “My meeting has discovered new spiritual depths in meeting for worship, as we have benefitted from new understandings of Friends’ practices of vocal ministry and eldership. We’re grateful for the richness that visits from traveling Friends have helped us reach together as a faith community in the past year.”)

One limitation in our ability to measure success is that practices for record-keeping and reporting of statistical information are inconsistent across our local meetings, meaning that information being gathered on membership, attendance at meeting, etc., is not highly reliable. In using data more intensively to strengthen our effectiveness, consistency, transparency and accountability, we should recognize that new attention to these details will require new resources. While this improvement does seem possible, and would surely be valuable, our 68 local faith communities (~90 if you include preparative meetings and worship groups) are accustomed to significant autonomy and may not easily or swiftly adopt new practices, so improvement will require an intentional effort.

Another important consideration is that the results of increased focus in our work may not be immediately apparent, both because local meetings will need time to experience the benefits of new approaches and because reporting will lag behind change in experience. It will be important for us to balance our desire for evaluation with patience in the process.

Finally, we might be wise to recognize that we are not seeking to collect comprehensive information, but rather to identify perhaps two or three data points that, monitored closely, could give us a helpful snapshot to identify a general trend and to help guide, assess, and perform course corrections for our ongoing efforts. 

Hopes Going Forward

As we have said above, the Long Term Financial Planning Committee offers these reflections to seed our conversations and work, in hope that we can proceed together. They are not in any way intended to describe or include all of the various work that will be done by Friends throughout NEYM, but rather to affirm the vital need for us to steward our resources and undertake very specific and focused efforts toward growth, change and renewal of the Quaker way in New England. We look forward to our further conversations as we continue this exploration together. We offer our gratitude to each of you, dear Friends, for your willingness to help our New England Quaker community take these next steps on our 355-year journey of seeking to be faithful.

Ye have no time but this present time, therefore prize your time for your souls’ sake. (George Fox, 1652)


ENDNOTES:

1.  “The Ad Hoc Procedural Review Committee, appointed in 2003 by Permanent Board brought their concern that a clear mission or vision for the Yearly Meeting is needed. They asked, ‘what are we called to do as a Yearly Meeting, and how do we best serve the members and meetings in New England?’…The committee is confident that appropriate staffing and committee structures can be developed once the needs of the Yearly Meeting are clearly identified.” (Minutes of Sessions 2005)

2.  However, these issues were not surfacing for the first time: “The Committee to Study Committee Structure has prepared a revision of a chart presented earlier…” (Minutes of NEYM, #68, 1961)

3.  “On every side we hear of “the great people waiting to be gathered.” Are you ready? Am I ready for those who ask: How do you know that God speaks to you? What is unique about Friends’ worship and approach to God? What do Friends mean by a practical religion?

If we want to be relevant to our times, we must know the answers to these questions. We must, as George Fox put it, “be possessors of the truth, not just professors of it.”

Most of us feel that we are not ready; that our meetings must first provide for the spiritual renewal of our members. But the harvest time is now, “the grain is ripe unto harvest.” Who then can be sent to bring in the harvest? Will it be the Friends General Conference Publicity program, the Yearly Meeting Committees when they are re-organized? Will it be your quarterly meeting or your monthly meeting? They certainly must provide the climate for the harvest, and the continuing fellowship for us to share, but in the last analysis it is you, each of you in your daily activity, who must gather the harvest. It is up to you, whether you are the newest member of your Meeting or one of those “weighty Friends” we have heard about…

You are called to respond to needs, to the thirsting for the fellowship of the spirit, which alone can calm the restless hearts. Only as friend meets friend in the joint actions of living do we experience the Truth; making love visible and making all things new.

This gathering will demand more power from us than our weekly meetings alone can supply. Only daily devotion in the family and individual moment to moment commitment to that of God within our friends and in ourselves can take the burden of this work out of time and make it a pleasure in spite of hardship and a joy in spite of suffering. So now, when we hear of the “great people to be gathered,” we must listen also for those words of acceptance, “Here I am; send me.” (Report of Worship-Workshop on Meeting Renewal and Attracting the Seeker, Minutes of NEYM, 1968) 

4.  “There was a high level of unity in images of the desired future…Friends were asked what they hoped would be true for the Society of Friends in New England five to ten years in the future. The key elements of the response included:

Increased membership both in the sense of more meetings and more members in existing monthly meetings. This aspiration was frequently linked to a greater diversity of members with regard to race, ethnicity and class.

Deeper spirituality. This aspiration was usually expressed in the context of a concern that Friends as a faith community do not currently have sufficient spiritual depth.

More communication and support between Meetings…

A greater and more visible presence as a relevant faith community in New England. This aspiration encompassed both our presence as a spiritual or faith organization and our presence with respect to Quaker testimonies”

(Organizational Options for Staff Structure, 2008)

5.  “At the end of our first year of work, this committee has identified six important areas of focus. The six themes are: Youth, Outreach and Witness, Spiritual Life and Theology, Leadership, Organizational Structure, and Intervisitation.” (Long Range Planning Committee, 2001)

6.  Subjects touched upon [in reports from local Meetings]:

  • the growth of meetings
  • the important vitality offered by the children of our meetings
  • the desire to deepen the quality of worship
  • healing within the meeting community
  • social witness
  • continuity in being faithful to God’s work, in spite of loss and change

(State of Society Report, Minutes of NEYM, Minute #16, 1994)

7.  Subjects touched upon [in reports from local Meetings]:

  • Spiritual growth and development
  • Interdenominational and interagency outreach and cooperation
  • Delight in our children and Young Friends
  • Seeking unity in meetings that contain both Friends who prefer programmed worship and those who prefer unprogrammed worship
  • The challenges of small Meeting size (with few seasoned Friends) or isolated Meetings
  • Membership issues
  • Dealing with conflict and needy Friends and attenders 

(NEYM State of Society Report, Minute #12, Minutes of NEYM, 1980)

8.  “Two years of corporate discernment about how to use the Legacy Gift has undammed a torrent of dreams...Our hope is that this potent seed, this legacy, a “gift from the past to ensure the future” – coupled with our evolving learning about fiscal responsibility, stewardship, and accountability; and who we intend to be as managers, employers…will lead us to the longed-for stability, sustainability and, indeed, vibrant growth of our Religious Society.” (Legacy Gift Discernment report to PB, 2/2014)

9.  “We would remind Friends that one of our findings, based on interviews and dialogue on this subject, is the widespread view that most Friends in New England either don’t know what the Yearly Meeting is or how it is run. There is also a sense that it is run by a group of insiders. We are concerned that the setting of goals, allocation of resources and coordination of collaboration be more transparent to all.” (report to PB from Staff Planning Committee, 1/2009)

10.  “…we are aware that some meetings are not included…and feel hungry for spiritual nourishment...we support Ministry and Counsel in its continuing search to revitalize intervisitation.” (Long Range Planning Committee report to Sessions 8/1981)

11.  “In moderation, a concern about how individuals exercise authority within the Society of Friends seems appropriate. Extended to the extreme, however, the concern seems to reflect a rather unFriendly mistrust of other Friends. Or, in a more extreme case, it seems an unFriendly passive-aggressive means of assuring that nothing happens without the person with the concern affirming the decision or action. We believe that it is in keeping with Friends values to extend trust to other Friends who may make decisions or “speak for” NEYM in their staff or volunteer leadership role.” (Organizational Options for Staff Structure, 2008) 

12.  “We trust that Friends appreciate that not reaching affirmative unity on a desired option is, in fact, reaching unity to defer or discard the other options…we want to stress that that option to not change has both long and short-term consequences for NEYM. While appropriate discernment should not be rushed, we urge Friends to forge a road to unity that is a positive choice as opposed to defaulting to the path of least resistance.” (Organizational Options for Staff Structure, 2008)

13.  “…Friends tended to express the belief that, if NEYM is clear about the value the organization can bring, Friends will give appropriately and NEYM can make a valuable contribution to the life of Friends in New England.” (Organizational Options for Staff Structure, 2008) 

14.  “55. After expressions of concern about the projected deficit of income over expenses, Friends directed the Permanent Board to consider forming a subcommittee to monitor our financial situation, and to recommend new action as necessary.”

“56. In our discussions of finances, we see that there are broader and deeper issues here than the spending and getting of money. We lay ourselves the task of seriously exploring our stewardship of all our resources, material and spiritual, as an urgent need for the coming year.” (Minutes of NEYM, #55–56, 1986)

15.  Rufus Jones wrote: Nothing that happens “up at the top” or at “some remote center” or that is done in an office, or a committee room, will be very momentous unless in the last resort it stirs fresh life and brings new vitality into play in the local groups—the little cells—which constitute the Society. The Society of Friends is not a yearly meeting…not a central office somewhere, not a series of committee meetings; it is primarily and essentially a widely scattered number of local meetings, little cells, where the actual vitality and power and future potency of Quakerism is being settled and determined. We work in vain unless we keep our minds focused on these local units…the ganglia and arterial fountains of our spiritual life. We send down documents from the higher-up brain centers, but documents work no wonders even when they are read, which is not always. (Rufus M. Jones, 1944)

16.  “Possible priorities discerned thus far: 

  • Increase support for the needs of monthly meetings, especially newcomer orientation, pastoral care, quality of worship, and conflict resolution. Renew current meetings and found new meetings.
  • Strengthen training for adults in Quaker faith and practice.
  • Provide more opportunities for us to gather as Friends, for fellowship, discernment, worship, spiritual nourishment, and connection on issues of shared concern.
  • Build and support a culture of outreach.
  • Develop Friends’ capacity to engage in visible and effective witness.
  • Sustain and grow our vibrant youth ministries, including retreats and pastoral care for youth and families.” 

(Priorities Process Report for FY2015, 3/2014)

17.  “We need to find ways to season leaders at the monthly meeting and quarterly meeting levels—this means to draw out, to develop, and sometimes to release Friends to service.” (Long Range Planning Report to Sessions, 2001)

18.  “We heard concerns about how the YM can get the kind of leadership it needs at all levels. We note that a misinterpretation of our testimony on equality sometimes prevents us from dealing directly and practically with leadership issues, and sometimes we undermine our own leaders. We see leadership issues arising in connection with YM staff, volunteers working on YM programs, and leadership in the local meetings. We need to find ways to season leaders at the monthly meeting and quarterly meeting levels—this means to draw out, to develop, and sometimes to release Friends to service. In doing this, we need to encourage emerging leadership among Young Adult Friends. We should also be prepared to prevent experienced elders from moving into the background prematurely.” (Long Range Planning Committee report to NEYM Sessions, 8/2001)

19.  Desiring a spiritual renewal and a more fruitful sharing of faith, both individual and corporate within and beyond the meetings of the New England Yearly Meeting... It is requested that each monthly meeting…choose one person within the meeting who appears best able to express such thoughts for special outreach activities. A conference of the individuals so chosen is suggested [to] plan a program of outreach suitable for use by local meetings. This might include a kit of materials to be used by local meetings in planning an appropriate program at the local level.

Woolman Hill appears to be a good place to hold such a conference and in order to make effective such a program by a year from now, the planning conference should be held no later than the Spring of 1968. This program…would be designed to assist local meetings to intensify and broaden [their current outreach work]. (Statement of the Worship-Workshop on Outreach, Minutes of NEYM, #58, 1968)

20.  “Many members in the YM spoke of the need for Quakers in New England to witness more actively in the world. In order to witness, we must know that to which we are witnessing. Do our values and actions flow from our faith? Is our faith the foundation for the “why” of all that we say and do? Why should we take outreach seriously? ...because we are led by the Spirit to share what we have found.” (Long Range Planning Report to Sessions, 8/2001)

21.  “We have heard how important spiritual formation and growth is to Friends…Our working group conducted telephone interviews with Friends from six quarterly meetings, and their responses reinforced comments we heard from many other sources during the past two years…Friends spoke in many ways of a hunger for a spiritual life that produces tangible results. There is a sense that we need to become better and better practitioners of Quaker spirituality. We need to gain experience and skill in waiting on the Lord, and in exploring and in articulating our faith in vocal witness and in other service.” (Long Range Planning Committee report to NEYM Sessions, 8/2001)

22.  “As our youth travel throughout other YMs, it has become increasingly clear that they are unable to explain their beliefs and spiritually support their values to others. As adults, we need to not simply live out our values, but we must actively articulate our faith with each other and our youth. The YM needs to encourage and foster such faith discussions among adults and youth at all levels of the YM. Much talk in meetings about beliefs and practices occurs informally among adults, and conversations across the generations are both harder to structure and too rare.” (Long Range Planning Committee report to NEYM Sessions, 8/2001)

23.  “41. Anne Kriebel, Clerk, reported for the Ad Hoc Committee on the Financial Health of Yearly Meeting. They have been charged with both responding to the current financial crisis of New England Yearly Meeting and considering long-term needs and ways of funding our spiritual vision. This is at heart the question of the relationship between our spiritual and financial conditions, our feelings and actions regarding money. Anne described two authentic voices heard during budget discussions at Sessions. One cautions against approving a budget without adequate means to support it; the other reminds us of the spiritual dimensions of the Yearly Meeting’s work, and declares that if we only have the will, way will open. We are now faced with the effects of not having adequately heard either voice. While the immediate crisis can be responded to by a small group, it will take all of us working together to respond to the long term needs. (Report from the Ad Hoc Committee on the Financial Health of Yearly Meeting, Minutes of NEYM, 1993)

24.  Some Quaker accounts say that the two queries included in the first annual state of society reports were “How does the Truth prosper among you?” and “How many Friends imprisoned for the Truth have died…” Perhaps today’s equivalent would be recognizing those whose meetings are supporting them in public ministry?

New England Yearly Meeting of Friends

901 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602

(508) 754-6760 - [email protected]