October 8, 2007

The Gathering's workshop selection process

"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.


    Robin M. said...

    Thank you Liz, for adding to the transparency of this process. I also recommend reading an old post from Martin Kelley's blog with additional insight on this topic, FGC Gathering Program is Up, not so much for what Martin wrote, but for the comments from a variety of Friends on the workshop selection process.

    I am personally in a discernment process about whether or not to submit a proposal this year. It's hard. Is this the right time for the ministry I am called to? Do I have a plan for a workshop that other people would want to be in? The not-so-spiritual factors also include whether my whole family wants to or can afford to go to Pennsylvania next summer.

    Thanks for holding all of us who are considering this process in the Light.

    Tania said...

    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?

    I think this is an excellent idea. Not only could it be the "way opening" someone has been waiting for or the nudge, but it could also invite Meetings to help finance travel for those who otherwise wouldn't be able to do a workshop.

    Anonymous said...

    In recent years about 10% of the workshop leaders have come from Pacific YM which is not a member of FGC.

    I have led workshops 2 times and Sandy has 4 times, only once together, but always with a partner. We've had three different combinations of storytellers lead the Becoming a Storyteller workshop. I am part of a fourth combination proposing it this year. Sandy is proposing a workshop on implementing our revised Earthcare for Children curriculum and would be glad to have a partner.

    Last year when our proposal did not make the cut and nothing on the list grabbed our attention, we served as coordinators of a 5th/6th grade morning workshop on the theme of community. We had a great support staff and a good experience.


    Liz Opp said...

    Hello everyone.

    There is, of course, much more I could write. The original draft of this post was 2-3 times as long as what's here.

    For example: the Gathering Committee is under the care of FGC's Long Rance Conference Planning Committee (LRCP), which in turn is under the care of FGC's Central Committee.

    Think of it this way:

    - FGC's Central Committee (CC) is like a yearly meeting, gathering once a year to address the business of the organization;

    - LRCP is an important and very large committee within Central Committee;

    - and the Gathering Committee is like an ad hoc committee that gets reconstituted each year--with continuity provided by LRCP connections and by FGC's Conference Coordinator and one or two other staff people.

    My point is: any change to the process will take some time! Testing the possibilities; threshing them with all sorts of folks; seasoning them...

    Tom --

    I wanted to address you in particular, given your experiences. Of the many proposals that the Workshops Committee had to decline, I heard from a good many of those Friends that they were unexpectedly freed to be available to do other things as a result.

    In your case, it was to help with Junior Gathering. For another Friend, she was able to travel to a conference she had been wanting to attend. For a third Friend, she fell ill during the week of Gathering and would not have been able to carry out a workshop had it gone forward.

    One thing that was very important to me to include in the letters that were sent to Friends whose proposals were declined, was to remind Friends that the testing of leadings and right-sharing of gifts continues to rest with the monthly meeting; and that the Workshops Committee's decision was not intended to reflect on that discernment process.

    It was an eye-opener for me to be "on the other side" of that process for the 2007 Gathering, since in an earlier year, my own workshop proposal had been declined.

    It hurt like hell, being the human that I am, but I understand better the context out of which the workshop selections are made.