New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers)
 

May 18, 2020
 Dear Friends,

Across New England, people are talking about “re-opening”. After much anticipation in the media, today the State of Massachusetts released guidelines (here) for houses of worship as some public health restrictions are being lifted.

While other states in our region are moving on their own timelines, events seem to be unfolding quickly in many of the places New England Quakers call home.

The Massachusetts safety standards, informed by what is now known about the coronavirus, mean that in-person worship will look quite different, will be limited in numbers of people permitted to gather, and will require extensive and frequent sanitation. 

In response to the announcement, the Massachusetts Council of Churches (of which New England Yearly Meeting is a member) issued a public statement (here) reminding church leaders that:

“Churches are designed to be places of healing, not sources of sickness. We receive these new minimum safety standards from the state with much concern for those people most at risk in our churches and our communities….just because congregations may return to their buildings does not mean they should.”

It’s clear from these unfolding events that although many people are understandably eager to gather in person again, there will be no going back to the way things were. We can only move forward on the path before us now; we can only respond to the invitation before us.

Fresh Pond (Cambridge, MA) Friend Kristina Keefe-Perry shares her sense of how we might move into the future together:

To go back to “normal” means to accept structures that are built on exploitation and inequity. And so we keep on walking forward. That doesn’t mean that we can’t mourn the loss of a world we’ve known…while we do it, we have to look towards building a world that’s reflective, truly reflective, of God’s kingdom.

As we look forward toward what’s ahead in our lives and the lives of our Meetings over the coming months, what helps you to listen? What is the Inner Guide saying? What does looking toward a world more aligned with God’s dream for us mean for you, in this moment?  

Regardless of where we live, we are moving into this unknown future together. And the choices we make—alone and as communities—matter more than ever. 

Read on for updates.

New Resources for Friends Serving Their Meetings

In response to requests for support with decision-making as some restrictions are lifted, which we heard on our Tuesday evening check-ins with local Meeting leaders, we have created this new page on our website with nuts-and-bolts resources and tools for reflection.

We hope this will be helpful to Friends across New England and beyond as we consider the challenging decisions of this moment.

An Update on Annual Sessions: From your suggestions, extended dates announced
First, thank you to the many Friends who have reached out to the Summer 2020 Programming team via this digital suggestion box with hopes, ideas, and questions related to re-envisioning Annual Sessions for this summer. 

We want you to know that we are reviewing with care and prayerful attention all of the insights that you are sharing with us. Many of your contributions align with the creative discussions our small group is already engaged in, while others are great new suggestions we had not thought about. So thank you for all that you offer!While we are still mourning the loss of the in-person aspect of our annual gathering, we are deeply encouraged by the enthusiasm and clarity we’ve heard from Friends.

From your many responses and reflections in the suggestion box, we want to reflect a number of themes:
 A desire to connect emotionally and spiritually with the wider body of Friends across New EnglandThat Friends hope this will be an opportunity to make Sessions more accessible to those who need to work, or have caregiving responsibilitiesAcknowledgment that not all Friends have access to web- or internet-based contentKeen awareness that “Zoom fatigue” is real, and that Friends do not want to spend long stretches of time at their computersThe central importance of opportunities for small group connection That Friends yearn to connect “beyond the screen”–though postal mail, over the phone, via simultaneous prayer, or, if possible given the public health situation, in small physically-distant localized groupsThe need to hold over non-essential decision making until Friends are able to be with each other in personThe desire to allow space for grieving, and also for joy, celebration, and fellowshipThe yearning for “peer” spaces for mutual support among those with shared experiences and needs in this time, especially for youth, young adults, and parents
 Supported by your feedback, we have become clear to extend the dates of Annual Sessions 2020.

We’re excited to announce that programming will begin on Saturday, August 1, and will conclude on Sunday, August 9.

This means that this year Sessions will include two weekends—and the week in between. A Wednesday Sabbath day, without programming, will offer further time for prayer, exercise, and refreshment. We hope this extended schedule will allow for a more spacious experience, with breaks between digital activities, an alternation of youth and adult programming, and plenty of offerings on evenings and weekends for Friends who will be working during this time.

Please continue to submit hopes, ideas, and questions related to Sessions in the digital suggestion box here.

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a more formal invitation to Sessions, an announcement of registration, and more schedule specifics about how Friends can participate in the re-envisioned, physically-distant Sessions experience this summer. As we all move forward in preparation, we want to especially emphasize our appreciation for the loving, faithful work that so many of you have offered in helping our annual gatherings to be possible in years past.

As we pivot to a new format for this year’s gathering, we are building on a strong foundation thanks to the many, many gifts that you have offered, your time and talents, to help make New England Yearly Meeting Sessions a vibrant and Spirit-filled experience.With love and care, and in faith,
 The Ad Hoc Working Group on Summer Programming 2020Elizabeth Hacala, Events Coordinator
Rebecca Leuchak, Sessions Committee Clerk
Bruce Neumann, Presiding Clerk
Nia Thomas, Quaker Practice & Leadership Facilitator
Noah Merrill, Yearly Meeting SecretaryUpcoming Opportunities for Sustenance and


Connection *for newcomers*: Quaker Sampler Workshop, May 23
 Quaker retreat center Powell House offers this one-day series designed for new Quakers and the Quaker-curious to learn more about Quakerism. Learn more here. *for young adults*: Continuing Revolution Online, June 5-9

 Pendle Hill’s annual conference for Friends ages 18-35, this year offered online with a focus on conflict transformation. More information here. 

*new*: Experience Playing in the Light Workshop,  June 10 at 7pm Come learn about Godly Play and Faith & Play, an experiential, Montessori-inspired approach to religious education designed for children ages 3–12. Facilitated by Faith & Play co-creator Melinda Wenner-Bradley. Learn more and register here. 

*ongoing*: Weekly Check-in for Meeting Leaders, Tuesdays at 7pm
Connect with other New England Friends serving in leadership roles in their local meeting as we respond to the needs of Friends in this pandemic together. More information here. 

*ongoing*: Weekly Parents Tea-and-Chat, Thursdays at 8pm
 Join Youth Retreat Coordinator Gretchen Baker-Smith and Quaker Parenting Initiative Founder Harriet Heath for weekly drop-in conversations about parenting in these times. More information here

*for lamentation and prayer for our world*: Day of Mourning, May 25, sunset vigil  Join Friends in Chicago and across the world to mourn the losses of all of Earth’s children in this time. At sunset wherever you are, light a candle and, if it is safe for you, step outside to be seen by your neighbors in a witness of prayer for the world. Learn more here

 To see a full list of events for Friends in New England, visit our events calendar In the promise of what’s possible, and until we meet again,

Nia Thomas, Quaker Practice and Leadership Facilitator
Noah Merrill, Yearly Meeting Secretary