This summer was the third consecutive year I attended the annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Though my membership is at a monthly meeting where I am still active and which is a part of Northern Yearly Meeting, and though the worship group where I also worship remains unaffiliated currently, my spiritual affinity continues among Conservative Friends.
Whether it is because I am that much more familiar with how things are done at IYM(C), or because I have had a particularly busy summer, or because of something else entirely, I found this year's sessions to be even-keeled. I had no "Wow, cool!" moments as I have had the other two years, but neither have I had any disillusioning "Eew, yuck!" moments. Maybe that accounts for my slowness to blog about my experiences, and for having a series of "tidbits" to offer.
TIDBITSAn invitation. The evening I had arrived, I sat underneath the large tree around which a circular bench was built any number of years ago. I was chatting with a Friend who I had seen at sessions the other two years and whose parents were long-time attenders of the yearly meeting. One of the Friends who helps arrange for and carry out the sessions this year approached the two of us from behind, put a hand on our shoulders, and said, "How would you both like to serve on the Exercise Committee?"
Here's Iowa's practice: Every year during annual sessions, the Yearly Meeting appoints an Exercise Committee to record the vocal ministry that arises during times of waiting worship as well as during Meetings for Worship with attention to Business--should something arise during business session that feels like spiritual counsel to the body. The committee gathers from time to time during sessions to compare notes on what was said and what the sense was of what the Spirit was intending for the body--how the body is exercised by the Spirit. Or such is my understanding, anyway.
Jeff and I looked at each other and shrugged. Jeff was quick to say, "Sure, I can do that." At first I added my own, "Sure." Then a half-beat later, before the Friend released her hand from our shoulders, I asked, "Is there any concern that I'm not affiliated with the yearly meeting?"
The Friend stood upright and said with a smile, "Liz, anyone can hear the Voice of God!"
It was just the right sort of committee to start to get involved in the life of the yearly meeting: I got to know a handful of Friends a bit better through the committee service, and I knew the work was completely done by the time yearly meeting ended!
Reminders of our roots. As we moved from our opening worship on Fourth Day and moved into the taking up of the business of the yearly meeting, the assistant clerk read this quote from William Penn's Primitive Christianity Revived:
That which the people called Quakers lay down as a main fundamental in religion is this— That God, through Christ, hath placed a principle in every man, to inform him of his duty, and to enable him to do it; and that those that live up to this principle are the people of God, and those that live in disobedience to it, are not God's people, whatever name they may bear, or profession they may make of religion. This is their ancient, first, and standing testimony: with this they began, and this they bore, and do bear to the world.I was struck to hear that the "main fundamental" is that God "[has] placed a principle in [us]" which we strive to to live up to--and that this is in fact the "ancient, first, and standing testimony" from which the Quaker faith and the other testimonies among Friends emerge.
Hearing these words was one of those times when I realized that I knew something experientially, intuitively, and viscerally--that the basis of all Friends' testimonies are an outgrowth of this single one--before I understood that there were already words out there that described my own understanding.
Then there was this additional quote, lifted up another time during MfWfB, and also by William Penn:
"A good End cannot sanctify evil Means; nor must we ever do Evil, that Good may come of it.”We were reminded of this quote when the yearly meeting considered approving a minute that supported the work of the Quaker Initiative to End Torture (QUIT), when Friends were wrestling with the intention of the minute, which in part to say that it is never right to use torture, regardless of the end result (e.g. acquiring information that is deemed "necessary").
A third time when I was struck by the call to remember some of our early roots was when the yearly meeting again took up the question of responding to immigration in the U.S. (see my 2006 IYMC post, about halfway down).
This year's report from the Peace and Social Concerns Committee--which meets everyday during sessions--lifted up as example how John Woolman stepped out of the existing paradigm of slavery in order to call Friends to work towards abolition. The committee called on the yearly meeting to step outside of the existing paradigm of whether to regulate or legalize immigration and work towards fulfilling a vision in which all people live into a decent life, and all nations have trade policies that would in effect help bring that vision to fruition.
Of course, words remain words unless and until the actions of the individual and of the body come into play. Still, I consider important and relevant the step of finding the words that clearly express the burden we carry, the vision we hold, the yearnings we feel.
And I won't be surprised at all if in 2008 the yearly meeting hears again from the Peace and Social Concerns Committee on this or related issues.
NEXT UP: Impact of epistles; a summary of Marshall Massey's accounting to the yearly meeting; a few other things, perhaps.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
Iowa Conservative Sessions 2007: Part II and Part III: Marshall Massey
Learning the game Telephone Pictionary at 2007 sessions of IYM(C)