Shortly after my family's visit, I headed to the annual sessions of Northern Yearly Meeting, held in north-central Wisconsin. While there, I provided a "warm-up workshop" on Quaker identity in preparation for the workshop I'm scheduled to offer at this summer's FGC Gathering.
All in all, the workshop and the annual session went well, meaning that I have gained new insights about the "state of the yearly meeting," about Friends within it, and about myself:
1. At the yearly meeting level, at least for Northern, the discipline of conducting meetings for worship for business has been so diluted or nearly lost among monthly meetings that the clerk spent much time and energy patiently reminding Friends of some basic practices:
A visiting Friend pointed out to me that such teaching and modeling is best done at the monthly meeting level, so that at annual sessions, business can be attended to without such interruptions.
Though I appreciated many of the explanations and much of the modeling carried out by the clerk, I wonder: Are meetings failing to convey our practice of conducting business, based on our faith, to those who who attend meetings for worship for business?
2. I was sad and disheartened to hear the skilled, caring clerk emphasize that the nature of our meetings for worship for business is one of "creating ever widening circles of love," rather than being one of listening together for the guidance of the Spirit and discerning together how we are led as a body.
Why do many of the clerks of our meetings and committees diverge from a Spirit-based practice of conducting business? What message is that sending to those new to Friends?
3. Friends are not just hungry for a rich, meaningful Quakerism. Many also thirst for having their Quaker faith articulated, words put to why we do what we do and how we do it.
What is the balance to be struck between explaining all that we do as Friends and allowing the short-term and long-term experience among Friends to speak for itself?
4. More Friends than I expected are wrestling with the (in)ability of their monthly meetings and worship groups to meet their spiritual needs. These Friends feel invisible within their meetings, despite their sometimes rigorous involvement through committee service, &c.
How do we articulate and lift up these needs within our meetings and worship groups so that these spiritual needs can be addressed in a Quaker context?
5. Friends have questions and confusion about how they are to know if they are ready to request membership: there are no dues to be paid, no membership forms to be filled out, no explicit guidelines for consideration of their relationship either to the meeting or to the Religious Society of Friends.
How might we make our infrastructure and "entrance points" into committee service and membership more visible, more accessible to those who are new(er) to Friends?
6. Friends in my workshop had questions related to how a meeting or worship group grows into and nurtures a Quaker identity as a corporate body.
What responsibility does the yearly meeting have to its constituent meetings and worship groups around modeling, teaching, and conveying Quaker faith and practice?
In addition to all this food for thought, I had a brief conversation with a Conservative Friend who still has connections to the yearly meeting. She listened patiently as I told her about my journey with my meeting and my continued concern for the spiritual condition of many individual Friends and their local faith communities. Through that Opportunity, I was given the helpful reframe that perhaps my monthly meeting has the gift of preparing to send Friends into the world who have a ministry that otherwise is "too big" for the meeting itself to hold, weigh, or even appreciate.
That reframe dovetails nicely with the idea of my meeting being a rest stop along the way and with my personal journey of releasing my meeting from certain expectations I have had.
Individual Friends affirmed me for the workshop I had created, the friendship I had offered, the care I had expressed, and the faithfulness I had demonstrated. Indeed, I came away from Northern Yearly Meeting with a sense of the Light reaching into me, calling me forward in a new way.
UPDATE, 3 Sixth Month 2005: Kiara has also written about her experience at NYM.