This fall I traveled as a visitor to FGC's Central Committee sessions as the final step in testing if I am to lay down my service to Friends General Conference for the time being.
After six years of having been appointed as a yearly meeting representative to its Central Committee, and another 18 months or so of serving as clerk of the Workshops Subcommittee for the 2007 Gathering, I was unclear if I was called to further service or not.
The only way to find out was to travel to this year's sessions and see for myself.
The plenary business sessions were wonderfully grounded and in some instances felt covered. I felt like I belonged and had a place.
But when subcommittees dispersed for their own time and planning, I felt lost. I visited one committee for a short while and that's when I became clear that, as much as I personally wish to continue being engaged with this body, Way is not open for me to do so.
Nevertheless, I'll share here some of the more interesting items that were reported and that seem to have Life in them.
Youth Ministries CommitteeThe newest committee for FGC, the Youth Ministries Committee, has much going for it. For one thing, the number of young Friends who are serving on Central Committee has been increasing.
This year, there were perhaps as many as 20-25 high school and young adult Friends in attendance, some of whom have been serving on the committee for more than four or five years. (Thanks in part to Martin Kelley.)
And I want to put in a plug for the CD of the amazing plenary that was given by Friends Kody Hersh and Joanna Hoyt at the Gathering this summer. They received spiritual support and nurture from the very capable Zachary Moon, also a young adult Friend.
By their example, it's clear that young Friends are not "the future" of Quakerism. They are already a vibrant part of our current condition, and there is much to be hopeful for as a result.
Here are some remarks made by the clerk of the Youth Ministries Committee, Robin Greenler:
Young Friends who have a place at "the FGC table" will change FGC's worldview, and we [older Friends] will be made uncomfortable as a result.
Young Friends deserve to have a living faith, and many of these Friends are clear that the schisms in Quakerism are part of another generation; not theirs. They hunger to know what it is that binds us together across the branches, not what it was that drove us apart.
Young Friends wish to look at where there is authentic Truth, where there is Power, including looking at Scripture. They also wish to look at where there is unity, including among Friends internationally.
There are other ways to look at the metaphor of "having a place at the table." What if we push the tables together? What if we table-hop? Is the work about providing a place at the table for these Friends, or is it about our connections to each other in God? Do we even need a table?
Report by the general secretary of FGCI have always found Bruce Birchard's reports to be a good, qualitative summary of significant events that have impacted FGC and unprogrammed North American Friends over the past year. I'd rather link directly to a webpage that has his report but there doesn't seem to be one (yet).
One of the recent developments is that FGC, with Bruce's help, has been among the group of Friends that has helped launch the Friends Mutual Health Group. This cooperative health insurance plan for Quaker employers, according to Bruce's report, currently includes 24 Quaker organizations, including FGC, FUM, yearly meetings, monthly meetings, Quaker retirement communities, and Quaker schools.
The impetus for setting up this health group was in response to escalating health care premiums and a desire to "balance affordable, high-quality health care with reasonable premiums." Not to mention, there's something to be said for self-determination and independence from a health care system that's gone haywire.
One of the largest sections of Bruce's remarks focused on his view of the state of the constituent meetings within FGC.
He expressed concern for the need for Friends to "go beyond being Sunday morning Quakers." Like some of us who blog about modern day Quakerism, Bruce spoke about the apparent lack of understanding of and lack of support for ministry carried out by Friends in our meetings.
He lifted up that there is a corporate role for meetings to undertake, including articulating how it is that God moves among us as a body (and I would add, how meetings provide care, nurture, and accountability to Friends who are pursuing leadings and who have come under the weight of a concern).
Bruce also pointed to what may be a growing lack of commitment among Friends to Quakerism; that the center of our life is no longer our house of worship and its communal activities. We are no longer carving out the time to come together as a spiritual family, and the lack of commitment, coupled with the lack of understanding, can be a real threat to the health of the Religious Society of Friends.
He closed this part of his remarks by reflecting on ways that FGC's work can impact these two concerns.
First, FGC can and will continue to recognize elements of our faith such as the role of elders in our meetings; supporting ministry that is undertaken by individuals and by committees or subgroups; and the discipline of the corporate body within our faith and practice.
Second, FGC must continue to conduct its outreach to isolated Friends, worship groups, meetings, and others with a sense of Divine Love and compassion for all, regardless of their degree of understanding and commitment.
And last, FGC must continue to discipline itself to keep Love at the center of its work and to offer a generosity of spirit in all that it does and hopes to do.
Other bits and piecesHere are a couple of final tidbits I'll mention. One is that as a past member of Central Committee, and as a Friend whose Quakerism was significantly and positively impacted by serving on the committee, I have made inquiries about creating a mechanism for "Central Committee alumni."
For Friends who have served on Central Committee and who would like to have access to news about program activities and events, such a mechanism would help with that, especially while a large number of affiliated monthly and yearly meetings are not getting the word out effectively to their own members and attenders. I like to think of it along the lines of how colleges and universities maintain contact with their graduates...
Lastly, I really liked the queries that were prepared for worship sharing this year:
Consider the following quote from 1 Peter 4:8-10:Blessings,
Above all keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.
How do I show hospitality of the Spirit in my meeting and in other places I serve?
How can I be a "good steward of God's varied grace?"
When asked to serve, do I discern where I can lovingly and freely employ my gifts?
How can we nurture good stewardship of gifts in our midst?