Thursday, September 07, 2006

reflections on yearly meeting

It's been a little while since our Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions now, which were the last week of July. But better late than never, eh?

I got to go to YM pretty much all week because I was released by the meeting I was interning at. It was great to be there, be part of the business meetings, worship with Friends, and see so many people I've grown to love. Our YM sessions go from Saturday through the next Friday. The weekend is mainly just "hang out and see everyone" time, although the representatives have a meeting on Saturday (I've never been a rep yet). I didn't get to be there on Saturday because my cousin got married, but it's OK because it was insanely hot so I think everyone just kind of laid around wherever they were and tried not to move.

In the evenings starting Sunday and going through Thursday there's evening worship, where mainly we sing and listen to a speaker. This year we had 4 speakers (plus the keynote by our YM superintendent) from our own YM. I was a little skeptical about the theme "Celebrate Jesus" because it sounds incredibly cheesy. But the speakers did an excellent job for the most part of bringing that theme down to earth, making it accessible, not just generic-evangelical-praise-Jesus-because-we-have-life-so-easy kind of "celebration." My favorite was Mary Kate Morse, who shared about challenging people, as Jesus did, to see things in a new way. She also talked a lot about our own fears to be different and to really live the radical call of Christ.

The major business for the week focused on two topics: a decision about changing the structure of our YM, and then deciding whether to stay affiliated with FWCC (Friends World Committee for Consultation). Both of these were interesting discussions and processes.

We've been working on a change in our organizational structure for a couple years, and Colin Saxton, our superintendent, was authorized to form a group to work on this and make a proposal to the Yearly Meeting. So they met together, got input from anyone in the YM who would share, and had meetings in various areas to get ideas and then later to share their idea for the new structure. I think this group did an excellent job of communicating what they were working on, accepting input and critique, and working to keep the vision of NWYM firmly in mind as they sought to make the structure more effective. They worked to balance some of the financial stuff that has become somewhat unfairly skewed toward various groups, leaving other ministries with very small financial resources. And they worked to bring people together to work on common goals rather than getting stuck in the more limited perspective of their own board.

This proposal was accepted with very little resistance, which I think means the group did amazing work ahead of time, listening to God and NWYM people, tweaking their plan, and thinking well about the needs of the YM. The only problem I see is that the Board of Peace & Social Concerns--which is dear to my heart because I was on it for a couple years then was employed by it as Peace Education Coordinator--is being spread out amongst the new boards with the goal that all boards will think about how they can live out peace and social concerns at home and abroad, instead of having one little board with meager financial resources try to keep this vision alive in our YM and world. This is a great idea, but it's also a little risky to have no one whose specific job it is to think about and work on peace and social justice issues. Also, it was decided that boards shouldn't be able to hire people by themselves, but only after the consensus of the whole YM. This is also a great idea, except that it means the Peace Education Coordinator position (and no other YM staff position, I might add) is being cut in January, with the idea that if there's a general sense in the YM that we need that position, it will be decided upon as a group rather than by a specific board. That's fine, but other positions in the YM were created by boards as well, and this feels a little frustrating. But it's the newest and most contested position so that's probably the right thing to do.

Then there was the FWCC discussion. Four years ago we decided to affiliate with FWCC for the first time, although people from our YM have always been involved in it. We said we'd look at that decision in 3 years to reevaluate. We had some reps, although they had to come up with their own money to get to FWCC events. Last year the decision came up for discussion, and people were split over whether we should stay affiliated or not. It was decided that we didn't have enough information, because some people said one thing and others said another. So a study group was put together, with people from each "side" of the issue. They came back this year saying that we should not be affiliated but should stay connected, sending representatives and supporting (with prayer, not necessarily money...) those who felt called to be part of FWCC.

So we had some meetings which would probably be described as threshing meetings at YM, then had two days of business meetings where FWCC was the main topic. People didn't want to be affiliated because they felt like FWCC isn't what it says, which is a group that doesn't further any specific theology but just brings Friends together for discussion. Some Friends felt that FWCC actually releases statements about what Friends believe that aren't consistent with what we believe, so we shouldn't be affiliated. I think that's a bit silly because if we're not affiliated, we can't have any say in what FWCC says about Friends. Others thought that it's great that we're involved in FWCC, sharing what we believe, but we shouldn't be affiliated because it's "yoking ourselves with unbelievers." Something that never got brought up in business meeting but was thrown around outside quite a bit, was that we're affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals (through Evangelical Friends International), who talk about their support of the death penalty on their website. So part of the discussion was, what does it mean to be affiliated? What are we saying when we attach our name to something?

The long and short of it is, the sense of the meeting ended up being that we should stay affiliated. I was really glad about the decision, but at the same time, there were a lot of people who weren't ready for it. They could see it was the sense of the meeting, but I don't know that they believed in was God's will. It was sad to know that some people were going home feeling like they'd "lost." I kept trying to say throughout the week, and others did too, that we shouldn't be looking at it from sides, we shouldn't be seeing who's going to "win," but we should be listening for the voice of God, and do what God says regardless of what our own opinion is. It seems to me like we did that, but that's easy for me to say, since God was apparently of the same opinion as me....Did I just think it was God's will because it was my will? Who knows. It felt like God, but not to everyone. There was consensus, but I think quite a few people stood aside from the decision. That was hard, because I love the consensus process and believe in it, but what do we do when we run out of time? How do we as Westerners wait and hear the Spirit together, over our fears of missed flights, people needing to clean buildings, keys getting returned before everyone gets fined, and the cafeteria not getting angry that we're late for lunch? How do we listen to the Spirit when we're tired and angry and hurt?

And especially, how do we listen to the Spirit through people we've already decided we don't trust?

So YM was bittersweet. I think we did good work, and worshiping together was great. Youth Yearly Meeting sounds like it was awesome, and the youth learned a lot and got excited about Quaker process. But it was hard to leaveon that note of sadness, knowing some were hurt by decisions made that week. Therew as a lot of healing throughout the week, but a lot of pain for some as well.

It's hard being Quaker! It's hard to know what to do when we've reached an impasse, and it seems clear what God wants but some aren't getting it and we can't put it off for ANOTHER year. But it's also exciting, because as we came to the sense of the meeting it was so cool to hear how God had changed some people's hearts, and opened people to one another and to other Friends around the world. Those are the times at Yearly Meeting that I live for!


Alivia said...

Thanks for your post. I was on
Exec council a few years ago when we began discussing the issue of boards hiring their "own" people. This was problematic because of the lack of
the YM's ability to oversee and be responsible for what an individual was doing and spending money on. There was the problem of an individual feeling responsible to the board and not the whole YM. Also, the whole YM had not signed on for spending so much money in a particular way, and thus the whole work suffered because everyone was not on the same page.
I understand your frustration, yet you are one of the "team" players. When someone comes in (is hired) who is not a team player, the damage is phenomenal. when the damage happens, those who supported the individual feel as though they have to still support/cover up/spin the story-- or they flat out don't believe it. Everyone becomes embarrassed by the whole thing and nothing gets done about it very fast because folks are dealing with shame & embarrassment, instead of the reality and protecting the individual and the other people that the individual effects.

That is a very "general" and long-winded way of saying even though the new process seems cumbersome and slow, and has risks of it's own-- it is an inherently healthier system. I applaud NWYM for moving toward more transparency, as what was unhealthy about YM and ANY organization are the areas that are hidden, "ignored", not spoken about.

This new system doesn't mean you would not have been hired as Peace Ed. Coordinator, but that more people would have known what you were up to and had an investment in what you were doing. I know it is frustrating and a bit worrisome in the meantime-- while we wait out the process. It isn't the first position that has been cut and come back later. If we look at the whole picture-- is one area of health really healthy if the whole system is not healthy?

I applaud all of you and thank you from the bottom of my heart for bing in process and listening intently for the voice of God.


cherice said...

Hey Alivia,

Thanks for your comments. I too think it's great that bords won't be able to hire people themselves anymore--I think it's great for better accountability and for unity in the YM. But It's too bad the PEC position is being cut and none of the other ones (who have mostly been originally hired by boards) are being questioned. I know it could be brought back later, but it will be a while at this point, and it's frustrating that a lot of work and momentum has been put into it (by myself, the board, and Kayla who's in the position now, as well as many at the local level), and now it will be cut off for an indefinite amount of time.

Hopefully it will all work out well in the end, and this work will be done more effectively through various boards taking different pieces, therefore educating more people. Hopefully!