State of Society Report
a searching self-examination by the meeting and its members of their spiritual strengths and weaknesses and of the efforts made to foster growth in the spiritual life
New England Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice, 1985
State of Society reports are written by local meetings in the beginning of each year for the calendar year just completed. Members of Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel prepare the State of Society report for the Yearly Meeting as a body.
2020 State of Society Report
Quakers, Wake Up and Let Go! We Have Everything that We Need.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
(Romans 12:1–2, New International Version)
The State of Society reports submitted for monthly meetings represent a carefully considered description of each meeting’s struggles to build community, to nurture, support, and hold accountable each person’s use of their gifts of the spirit; to make connections to the larger world; and to heal. Some smaller meetings struggle with aging and concerns for their very survival. Some meetings share a concern for ever smaller numbers in first day schools. Some meetings are thriving with renewed energy and commitment; others share a sense of being a bit adrift. Some meetings find strength in supporting corporate and individual witnesses against injustice, environmental degradation, and the violence of our society.
Most reports were written in the pre-Covid days and so do not reflect the concerns about maintaining loving community in an ever more virtual world.
All reports were written before the video of George Floyd’s murder by police went viral. This event has become an epicenter for renewed action that demands the privilege of justice that some Euro-Americans enjoy, for all of us.
From the perspective available to us now in August, the reports are significant as much for what they don’t say as for what they do say. They describe struggles: new ideas replacing old, newcomers poised against the lack of transparency in those who have been in the meeting a long time, financial shortcomings, and not having enough people to do the work of the meeting as it has been understood. They describe people learning from and loving each other, whether engaged in laughter or lamentation.
The reports describe a variety of ways of being good Quakers and of being both enhanced and stressed by difference. Yet, the reports only hint at the wounding many Quakers, of various abilities, genders, ethnicities, affectional preferences, and social classes feel, enthralled as we are by our culture of control and domination, which we have learned to call Empire.
The Empire we are immersed in is a culture, where the few have power over the many. In spite of Quaker values and the most righteous of intentions, Empire is manifest within almost all of us. Again, in spite of our Quaker values, we grieve at the prospect of losing Empire: if whiteness is decentered within us and in our lives, both Euro American Quakers and Quakers of color may feel loss: Many of us are grieving and feel the anger or depression and the pull to denial and bargaining that grieving consists of. Each of us has a part to play in letting go of Empire: within ourselves, within the institutions and groups to which we belong, and ultimately, globally.
To change the world, we of NEYM must also transform ourselves. Those of us who are Euro-Americans, must let die that white privilege and power that adds to the armor around our hearts. Those of us who are people of color must let go the a armor of victimhood that surrounds many of our hearts. Can we strive to transcend the erasure of the sea of whiteness in which we are immersed, contributing our experience to the whole from a framework of co-creation?
All of us can pray that our hearts be softened so that we can be healed.
One practice of this life-long endeavor is to sink deeply into the pain, anger, fear, and shame of losing our armor. If we listen with the intention of love, we can have compassion for and support one another. We can be freed and can act in unity when God’s grace bestows a direction upon us.
In his NEYM plenary talk of 2017, Xinef Afriam brought us the metaphor of the chrysalis, which contains unstructured cellular matter, called imaginal cells. The chrysalis is deep in the chaos of transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. As people within an organization in the midst of a radical paradigm shift, we experience imaginal chaos. Yet, our meetings, with possibly one or two exceptions, are still like growing caterpillars, giving and receiving in various degrees of health or wholeness. The “imaginal cells” that rise up in most of our meetings are gently allowed to die away through lack of nurture. Can we, rather, immerse ourselves in chaos?
If we are to transform ourselves and the world, we must be ready to say “Here I am” when leadings of spirit, which some call “opportunities,” come to us. If we accept the challenge and enter the chrysalis state, if we cast off the clothing of Empire, we become willing to let go of whatever does not serve the butterflies we are to become.
The process is messy, chaotic, sometimes scary. Yet, if faith in the process is maintained, imaginal cells—our imaginative selves—abide in love that moves us to growth, action, and ultimately, peace.
Our world has changed.
It is time now to surrender, move into the acceptance stage of grieving for whatever we found comfortable about being imprisoned by Empire—even if it was only that it gave our lives coherent order. Can we allow ourselves to be transformed? Can we imagine the butterflies we can become? Can we work through the long process of bringing that imagination to life?
We have everything we need to do this: healers, teachers, mystics, artists, philosophers, nurturers, and hard workers. Can we honor all our many gifts and give each other support? As Amanda Kemp said in her healing plenary presentation on Sunday, we need to ask, as members of one another, What feeds us, gives us life?
Jesus asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love Me?”
Peter was deeply hurt that Jesus had asked him a third time, “Do you love Me?”
“Lord, You know all things,” he replied. “You know I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” (John 21:17)
We have long known this in our heads; now we must know it in our hearts and our bodies and be moved to action in ways we have not thus far been emboldened to do. We are called to transform and be transformed.