The theme of the 356th Annual Sessions was ”Being the Hands of God: A Call to Radical Faithfulness.” Doug Gwyn, pastor of Durham Friends Meeting in Maine, offered the Bible half hours each morning. Through stories of early Friends reclaiming the power they encountered in the Scriptures to build a world-changing movement in their time, we heard a call to take up the work of listening for and living in the guidance of that same Life and Power as we seek to be faithful now.
Nearly 600 Friends attended Annual Sessions in Castleton, Vermont. 83 of them–nearly 14%–were attending for the first time, a significant increase from last year. Youth attendance also continues to grow. We celebrated strong representation from each of the New England states, with the largest increase being Friends from Rhode Island. We were also joined by 48 visitors from beyond our Yearly Meeting, including Quakers from Kenya, Cuba and several other yearly meetings within the United States, as well as ecumenical representatives.
Here’s a summary of important news from the week:
We committed to action in the areas of work for racial justice, responding to the climate crisis and support for LGBT people in Uganda.
1. Support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people: Continuing work brought to us from the quarterly meetings, New England Yearly Meeting publically endorsed the work of the Friends Ugandan Safe Transport Fund, which supports Ugandans in providing safe passage to other Ugandans fleeing persecution due to sexual or gender identity.
2. Climate Change: Reflecting years of faithful work in our local meetings and the ongoing ministry of many New England Friends, Sessions approved a minute which begins:
“Friends…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…”
Responding to a call from Quakers worldwide who gathered at the Friends World Committee for Consultation World Plenary of Friends held in Peru in 2016, we corporately committed to take three concrete actions in the coming year:
a. Support a working group of New England Friends led to participate in bold and prophetic nonviolent direct action consistent with the urgency of the global climate crisis
b. Encourage all local meetings to prayerfully consider how they might further respond to the climate crisis, and to share news with the Yearly Meeting office to enable better communication and support for our collective witness
c. Organize a consultation for New England Friends on our witness for sustainability and our response to the climate crisis in the spring of 2017
3. Racial Justice: Recognizing the urgency of work for racial justice and the ways in which white supremacy affects and is present in our Quaker faith communities, in the coming months the Yearly Meeting will explore concrete steps New England Friends can take to help us more fully realize God’s vision of the Beloved Community. To begin and inform this work going forward, we asked the Permanent Board of NEYM to explore an external audit of our cultural competency. We see that the work of change and recovery from the spiritual disease of systemic racism needs to happen in each of our hearts, within our organizational structures, and in each of our local meetings. Expect to hear more soon about opportunities for your meeting to engage in this work, and please share ways you are already learning, healing and acting for racial justice.
Supporting this work more widely, we further committed to raise funds in support of the efforts of Friends General Conference—a North American association of Yearly Meetings in which we hold membership—to also undergo a cultural competency audit.
Legacy Gift Committee: With joy, Friends heard reports from the first year of grants distributed from the Legacy Gift funds. Grantees—including local meetings and individuals across New England—updated us on the fruits of their work through displays and small group conversations. For a complete list of recipients and the ministries being supported, and for more information, visit neym.org/legacy-gift. The next deadline for applications to the NEYM Future Fund is November 1. Please send questions and inquiries to email@example.com.
Public Statements: Friends reviewed the public statements made on behalf of New England Friends in the past year, and offered guidance to the presiding clerk and secretary for how to approach this work in the coming year. We heard strong support for continuing to lift up a clear and timely witness on issues of concern for Friends in these times. Monthly and Quarterly Meetings will be notified whenever such statements are made. Meetings are encouraged to share their news and work with the Yearly Meeting office in order to help us all stay connected and increase the visibility of Friends witness in the world. A summary of all statements is available on page 11 of the 2016 Sessions Advance Documents.
Living Faith Gatherings: Responding to calls for more opportunities for nurturing spirituality, fostering community and strengthening witness, New England Yearly Meeting is planning two daylong Saturday gatherings over the next year. Friends from across our region are invited to gather on November 5 at the Friends School of Portland, Maine; and on April 8 at Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island. To learn more, get involved with planning or share your gifts at this event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit neym.org/livingfaith.
Archives: We heard that the NEYM Archives have been successfully relocated to the W.E.B. Dubois Library at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Attention will now turn to gathering records from local meetings and making the Archives more fully available both on site and online.
Budget: Sessions approved the fiscal year 2017 budget for the Yearly Meeting as an organization. This budget continues progress toward financial sustainability while eliminating reliance upon subsidy from Legacy Gift funds. We are not yet clear how new federal rules ensuring more equitable pay will impact our budget, but look forward to aligning our finances with our commitment to fair employment practices for Yearly Meeting staff. In the coming year, the Ad Hoc Long Term Financial Planning Committee will support development of multi-year budgeting and planning.
Friends Camp: We celebrated the 12-year tenure of Nat Shed at Friends Camp, and approved the appointment of Anna Hopkins as the new Director. We gave thanks for the completion of a review of governance and administration at Friends Camp, renewed our commitment to diversity and inclusion at the Camp, and heard hopes for even more integration of Friends Camp with the other vibrant youth ministries of New England Friends.
Working Paper on Membership: The Committee revising the book of Faith and Practice of New England Yearly Meeting presented a working paper on membership in the Religious Society of Friends for consideration and feedback from local meetings and individuals. The document reflects significant progress in our conversation about commitment and what it means to be a part of our Quaker faith community. The working paper on membership can be downloaded at neym.org/sessions/addocs16.
Further details, video & audio recordings and minutes will be posted soon at neym.org/sessions. To receive news and updates on the life and ministry of Friends across New England, subscribe to the new monthly email newsletter at neym.org/mc-signup.