Welcome to 2020 Online Sessions

Rowers roring into the dawn

Row on! Row on!
Another day may shine with brighter light.
Ply, ply the oars and pull away.
There’s dawn beyond the night!*

Dear Friends across New England,

We will "row on" this August—gathering New England Friends for the 360th Annual Sessions of Quakers in New England!

We hope you will join us.

From August 1 to 9, 2020, we invite you to join with Friends in new and exciting ways, both online and in creative expressions of our faith from wherever we find ourselves. Friends from far and wide will be able to join us, and we especially welcome those Friends who may not have not been able to attend Sessions in prior years.

This year we commemorate 360 years since Friends first gathered for what would become known as a "yearly meeting." We feel acutely how much our current circumstances—in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the renewed recognition (among many) of racial injustice stemming from centuries of oppression—connect us to the times of earlier Friends. 360 years ago, Quakers were engaged in the fundamental struggle for a vision of divine liberation and Love, in a Lamb's War against a system built, as ours is today, on inequality. We have come full circle to a moment where Quakers are called again to wage "war" against the systemic racism, the wealth disparities and soaring poverty, and the climate catastrophes of our time.

This year marks another anniversary for New England Friends, our 75th year since the reunification in 1945 of the Gurneyite and Wilburite Yearly Meetings. These Friends' example of laying aside difference, uniting to "row together" in the common rhythm of the Spirit, may encourage us to unite in facing the challenges of our own times.

And so the words of the chorus—"Row On, Row On!"—which form our theme this year exhort us to renew our commitment to common labor. The Spirit calls us in these times to faithfulness: engaging with issues of racial injustice, empire, and the continuing destruction of this planet we call home. Together we ply the oars, together we move toward the Light—holding fast to our faith that "there's dawn beyond the night."

Our work together this year in Annual Sessions will be supported by extensive use of Zoom videoconferencing tools, with which many Friends in monthly meetings across New England have become familiar in recent months. We will also offer alternate times and programming for both worship and activities of many kinds away from electronic technology. Adult and youth programming will be organized on a staggered schedule to allow for easier access via home electronic devices and to free parents to ensure appropriate oversight of their children’s activities.

To offer Friends more spacious engagement with the Sessions program, our gathering will extend across a full week, bracketed by two full weekends. The Wednesday mid-point will be a Sabbath day, unplugged from electronics, in which we encourage all Friends to take time for rest, prayer, and deeper connection with the Spirit. Zoom fatigue, uncertainties of work schedules, limited access to technology and/or connectivity were all factors that were considered in the planning of our time together. While we know that we can't meet everyone's needs, we hope that what we are preparing will respond to the life circumstances of as many Friends as possible. 

A recent New York Times article featuring Quakers worshipping online posed the question: “Can we hear God over Zoom?” Many Friends have been finding this spring that the answer is: “Yes!”

We know God’s grace is always available, but we must prepare ourselves to listen and respond.

By way of preparation—and whether or not you are able to participate this year—we invite you to pray in advance that the gathered body will experience God’s presence and guidance. We encourage you to plan ahead for which elements of Sessions you expect to attend. And as much as possible, we hope you will prepare yourselves and the space you will be in—by anticipating and caring for your other responsibilities, ensuring you are adequately fed and hydrated, and establishing an expectation of privacy with those around you, if appropriate.

Most of all, we will invite the Divine when we enter this new virtual space with reverence—for the presence of the Holy Spirit and for the imperfect, God-filled fellow Quakers who will meet us there. In recent months, many Friends have discovered that, as with in-person gatherings, the preparation and intention of the members can have a felt effect on the gathering.

Highlights

Speakers

Dr. Amanda Kemp will be our plenary speaker on Sunday afternoon. A Friend from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Dr. Kemp is a passionate advocate for racial justice and healing and empowering cross-cultural dialogue. She is the author of Say the Wrong Thing: Stories and Strategies for Racial Justice and Authentic Community. Dr. Kemp has attended New England Yearly Meeting Sessions several times in the past and many New England Friends have benefitted from her workshops and wider ministry. We hope her presence with us will build on our ongoing commitment to recognize and dismantle white supremacy and patterns of oppression in our spiritual community and beyond. Learn more about her work on her website here.

Cherice Bock will offer the Bible Half-Hours throughout the week. Cherice serves as co-clerk of Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting, which is among the newest Yearly Meetings in the world, an open and affirming, progressive expression of Quaker Christian faith including local meetings in the Pacific Northwest. Cherice is a recorded minister and professor of ecotheology. She will speak to us about how we, as Friends, might respond to our time, using dialogue between scripture and context, specifically in relation to care for the environment and intersections with other justice issues. She will introduce the practice of watershed discipleship as a way to follow the Inward Light as participants in the community of creation. Learn more about her work on her website here.

Corporate Discernment

in business meeting will be focused to account for the challenges of Zoom fatigue, and in recognition that some issues will be better considered when we are able to gather in person in the future. The Permanent Board of the Yearly Meeting has approved a one-year extension of the Friends United Meeting contributions-withholding policy in order to allow space for further discernment; we will not seek in these Sessions to discern a more ongoing resolution to this issue, although we will have an opportunity to listen to how Friends are impacted by the continuing concern. We will also consider recommendations concerning our continuing relationship with and responsibility to Native peoples in New England.

Home Groups

We envision that "Home Groups"—small groups of ten or so, connecting regularly through the week—will be a significant part of our experience of Sessions. These small groups will be an important place for Friends to connect, to share their experiences, to nurture spiritual community and, we paray, to move toward bolder witness in these times.

We Look Forward to Welcoming You

So Friends, in the first week of August our boat awaits—we hope you'll prepare for the journey ahead, and climb on board!

Together, we will gather in worship: to faithfully discern our way forward as a community, to do the business before us, to encourage each other to live bravely and fully into the Spirit that transforms the world as it transforms each one of us. Each of us is needed; all of us are welcome. 

Row on!

Bruce Neumann, Presiding Clerk of the Yearly Meeting
Rebecca Leuchak, Clerk of the Sessions Committee

* These lines are the chorus to the song Row On. The full lyrics (verses and chorus), describing a story of shipwreck and survival, were found in a sailor’s 1846 journal of the New Bedford whaling ship Three Brothers. The tune was added by the contemporary Dorset musician Tim Laycock.