"The purpose of the FGC Gathering is to help Friends know and deepen their relationship with the Spirit and with each other; to strengthen their identification as Friends among other Friends; and to testify to the continued presence of unprogrammed Friends as a vital and unique faith community."
--FGC Long Range Conference Planning Committee, 2002
Being behind the scenes for a massive project like helping pull off the annual summer Gathering for Friends General Conference is an eye-opening experience.
The phrase "Ignorance is bliss" comes to mind.
Many readers know that I served as clerk of the Workshops Committee for the 2007 Gathering Committee. Now that preparation for the 2008 Gathering is underway, this is a good time to put a call out to readers to encourage one another to submit a workshop proposal.
The deadline is October 29, 2007!*This is also as good a time as any to explain a bit about the workshop selection process, even though the selection process probably differs slightly from year to year. Making the process more transparent might help us understand how to navigate the system, especially as we come into new leadings and openings, corporately and individually.
What guides the work?First of all, as future Gathering Committees and their subcommittees consider the approved statement about the Purpose of the Gathering (above), more committees will be able to connect their own piece of the work to the overall work and vision of FGC as it relates to the Gathering.
Beyond that, and until FGC's Long Term Plan becomes more visible to FGC-affiliated meetings, there doesn't appear to be any tried-and-true way to sort through the proposals. The recent introduction of a handbook to be passed along from year to year might help Workshops Committees engage in their selection process, though.
Some of what we did for the 2007 Gathering included having the committee discern out of the silence a list of items or attributes that would be given weight when considering workshop proposals. The list included things like a workshop's sense of ministry and the capacity to transform participants and/or Quakerism in general. Lifting up that list ahead of time seemed to help us stay grounded when narrowing the selections got dicey.
Other factors might be popularity and past success of the workshop leader; interweaving of the Gathering theme, plenary speakers' focus, and workshop activities; or a workshop that seems to fill a gap in some way--whether it's about our faith, current events, or a potentially marginalized subset of Friends.
How big is the workshop pool?Towards the start of my service as clerk of the Workshops Committee, I found out that in a typical year, there are usually not many more proposals turned in than there are actual slots for workshops to be offered.
(The exception is when Gathering was held in Tacoma, Washington: there were twice as many proposals as there were slots.)
That fact alone has helped me understand how it is that such a wide variety of offerings (e.g. from the seemingly recreational to the scholarly), and a high number of "repeat" workshops, occur during the Gathering.
How might the workshop offerings change?Here are some of the questions I have been holding now that I've gone through this process as part of the Gathering Committee:
Would the nature of proposals change if Friends knew more widely what the purpose of FGC's Gathering is? Would the nature of proposals change if experienced Gathering workshop leaders stepped back and provided eldering to less experienced Friends who clearly have a ministry to share? Would the submissions and workshop offerings change if the Nominating Committees and Committees of Ministry & Counsel from all FGC-affiliated monthly meetings--and other monthly meeting "cousins"--received a request that THEY identify 1-4 Friends from their meeting who may have a ministry that should be brought forward through the Gathering? Certainly the Workshops Committee would see some fresh names and new topics reach their notebooks as a result.
What might be next?I'm sure there are other ways to increase the pool of workshop proposals and shift the overall direction or scope of what the workshops, as a whole, would present.
I'm also sure that a large number of Friends who are accustomed to seeing a wide variety of workshop topics would rebel and be upset to see that scope and variety narrowed, especially if that variety were narrowed too quickly.
What I'm less sure about is if a more focused scope of workshops (i.e. more workshops that are explicitly Quaker) would appeal to a different set of Friends who have been staying away, because they perhaps have been feeling as though the Gathering hasn't been "strengthening their identification as Friends," or "helping them know and deepen their relationship with the Spirit."
So, blog readers and blog writers:
If you know of someone who has been given a ministry from which other Friends might benefit in a setting like FGC's Gathering, I hope you'll encourage them to test if Way is open for them to submit a proposal by the end of the month.
Or, if you feel that push or pull yourself, please consider submitting a proposal.
Our faith remains vibrant and sustainable as long as we live into and bring forward the new Life we ourselves are experiencing.
*The link to the proposal form will likely be invalid after that deadline, fyi.