Category Archives: Uncategorized

Inaction, Interrupted

I had not, as it were, dictated the words, I had simply followed them where they wanted to lead.

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)

I like the footstools in this meetinghouse. It’s not my first time worshipping here. It’s a comfortable place to visit mid-week. Not far from the train station, small group but reliably present, with footstools for short people—this is something I appreciate.

Also, the windows are pretty. And the benches. Very old benches. There’s a piano in the corner and a sign on the piano about how Quakers didn’t traditionally use pianos. There are Bibles and hymnals on the benches to flip through if that feels appropriate.

I wonder if I might be called to speak. There’s a bit of internal tugging, but I find I’m not sure what the message is. Also, there’s rarely spoken ministry at this meeting. Since I don’t have words, clearly I’m not—

I’m speaking. Without intent or processing of any kind, I’ve stood and kicked my little footstool upside down and opened my mouth and I’m halfway through a sentence before I’m conscious. I seem to be talking about releasing one’s material possessions. Fascinating. I’m making sense—that’s good, at least I’m not babbling—but I certainly have no idea where this is going. A moment later, I appear to be finished. I sit.

I’m feeling glad that I didn’t knock over any other furniture.

Or fall down.

That was interesting . . .

 

 

This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed.

 If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.

To participate in the Holy Experiments ministry, which is designed to knit together an international community of Friends who are following Spirit adventurously and building more culturally inclusive faith communities, go here.

Meet Friend

 

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This is Friend.

Friend came into being a little more than a year ago at a “creativity and spirituality” weekend at Powell House. The whole community worked together to design her, cut her out, stuff her body with cotton, tie on her hair, and make her clothes. We also gave her a travel minute when it became clear that she felt called to travel in the ministry.

This is what her travel minute says:

Dear Friends, This is Friend. She likes to hear all different kinds of music, likes opera, and loves to dance. She also likes hearing stories and is very creative and artistic. She doesn’t like getting dirty. Her gifts are giving hugs and being an exelent listener. She travels in the ministry because she wants to build friendships with all kinds of Quakers. 

Maddie S, Linnea K-C, Emily P, Mary B, Naomi P-G, Jillian S, Anne P, Bridget B, Ruth R, Cathy R, Maeve

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Friend has spent a little over a year now preparing to travel in the ministry. She made one trial journey with me last spring to Matinecock meeting on Long Island. That visit was super fun for Friend, and ever since, every time I’m leaving town, she tries to climb into my backpack, but she NEVER FITS.

She’s finding this very frustrating.

So a few days ago, Friend and I had a little chat about the post office. I explained that although she is perhaps a little too short to travel by bus or train unaccompanied, she might be able to travel by box, if she doesn’t mind being shaken up and turned upside down and so forth. She considered this very carefully and consented that she might be willing to try it, as long as I pack her a few crackers in case she gets hungry on the way.

Anyway, Friend is now looking for Quakers to visit! Later on, she thinks she might have particular destinations in mind, but for the first few trips, she’s up for anything—evangelical, pastoral, conservative unprogrammed, liberal unprogrammed, urban, rural, domestic, international, little meetings, big gatherings—whatever, as long as there’s a group of Friends waiting to greet her.

Is anyone willing to be Friend’s first host? All you have to do is take her along to whatever worship or other activities are already happening among Quakers where you are. Write a letter in response to her travel minute telling about what you did together, and if possible, take some pictures and post them online for everyone to see – #travelingFriend. Then, after a week or two, pack her up again (with a handful of crackers) and send her home.

Contact me if this sounds like something you’d like to do!

On Worship

Discoveries don’t come when you’re consciously looking for them. They come when for some reason you’ve let go conscious control. They come in a sudden flash, and you can receive that flash, or you can refuse to. But if you’re willing to receive it, then for that instantaneous moment of time you’re really you, but you’re not conscious in the same way you have to be later on when you look at what you saw in the flash, and then have to work out the equations to prove it.

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)

2009

In my first Quaker worship, I’m not evaluating the experience for itself as much as for what it can tell me about Quakers. The whole first hour, nobody talks and that annoys me because I don’t know anything more than I did before I came. I come again the next week and somebody says “there is that of God in everyone,” and I’m sold—I’ve found my spiritual home—but I’m not so sure about this worship thing. An hour’s a very long time for silence. I sit where I can see the clock, and I check it often.

2010

A friend of mine comes to worship with me. Afterwards she says that she liked the meditation, the group mediation, “because that’s basically what it is.” I feel like something’s wrong with that statement, but I can’t articulate it, so I let it go.

2011

I stand up in worship and say a thing. Afterward I’m pretty sure I did it wrong. There’s supposed to be huge feeling around speaking in worship, like you’re compelled to do so, right? I don’t think that’s what I experienced. I don’t have anybody to ask.

2012

More and more often, I stand up and say things, and over time I start to recognize what’s meant by “ministry.” I recognize it on a visceral level, when I’m speaking it and when I’m hearing it. By listening to others at yearly meeting I learn about things like “opening to Spirit” and “channeling energy,” which sounds like a lot of hooey at first but the people talking are people I respect so I take it seriously even when I don’t understand it. There’s a kind of openness that I can feel in my chest and throat, a manifestation in my body of a spiritual truth. I absolutely do not talk about this.

2013

At a yearly meeting function, at lunchtime over a buffet, somebody tells me I’m a prophet and I choke on my root beer. Nobody’s ever defined that word for me in the Quaker sense. This woman says this rather casually and then walks away while eating egg salad. Did she just compare me to Moses and Jeremiah? Because that’s just—I’m not—that doesn’t seem like a thing you say over a buffet.

2014

I’m studying neuroscience for no particular reason and come across a book about alpha waves. I learn that alpha waves are associated with creativity and sudden insight and that they’re induced by profound relaxation—the kind of state brought on by stillness, silence, maybe deep breathing. The more I read, the more I see how Quaker worship stimulates alpha waves. I feel like the neuroscience doesn’t explain away the spiritual experience but deepens my appreciation of it. Why shouldn’t God work with our physiology?

2015

Sometimes worship is boring. I kind of want the mountaintop experience every time, but it’s a discipline. Generally speaking, the less I want to be in worship, the more likely it is that I need to be. On one occasion, I have an experience in worship that manifests as a vision. I see something. It’s not a pleasant something. I post-game the experience with a couple of elders. They help me process. It’s kind of a big deal for me.

2016

The experience of deep, settled worship is the same wherever I am. Sitting with Friends with the intention of listening for God . . . even Friends from other traditions, the ones who sing and pray instead of sitting quietly. We share the intention of listening for God. We share this experience. It’s amazing to me.

2017

At least every week, and often, every day, quiet time—listening to God—and it can be boring or comforting or scary. Or joyful or funny or annoying or challenging. Or healing or exhausting or sad or surprising. And then I get up and write letters and answer emails and tie children’s shoes and ride the subway and, of course, the thing is, you can listen to God then, too.

2018

The Methodist Church a block from home has midweek worship every Wednesday. It’s small and informal and nourishing, so I go when I’m in town. The pastor says, “I’m grateful for the settled spirit you bring. It’s like you just bring in this groundedness, this peace that you carry with you. I guess that must come from being a contemplative for so long.” And I wonder when—how—I became a contemplative, me, who likes spreadsheets and half the time can’t sit still.

 

 

 

This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed.

If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.

To participate in the Holy Experiments ministry, which is designed to knit together an international community of Friends who are following Spirit adventurously and building more culturally inclusive faith communities, go here.

Joyful Wednesday

A good laugh heals a lot of hurts.

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)

It starts with six Friends in a circle on the floor. We’ve come together because our community’s in pain. The meeting is stuck in a decades-old conflict, with all kinds of old hurt and trauma, and everything is serious and everything is work and everything is eggshells all the time. We know we can’t fix the very real problems, and the last thing we should do is whisper behind closed doors. So we take everything that’s wrong and put it to one side and ask the question: how can we inject some joy and playfulness into this meeting?

From there comes Joyful Wednesdays. Everyone’s invited, but most of the meeting says, “I’m there for worship and committee meetings and business meetings and I’m not coming in an extra evening for fun.” And that’s okay; the group that comes is simply the group that comes.

We alternate. One Wednesday, singing and worship sharing—the next Wednesday, games and discussion. Then back again.

Hymn singing’s completely new to some of us. We discover that “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” is the perfect theme song, not because it’s on topic (although it is) but because it’s Beethoven and everybody’s heard it before. We also love “Jubilate” and “I’ve Got the Joy Down in My Heart,” especially the part with “the wonderful love of my blessed Redeemer,” which is more Christocentric than most are on board with but comes so fast in the music that it’s lost in laughter anyway. A bunch of stodgy Quakers, dissolving into giggles…

For worship sharing, we use Britain Yearly Meeting’s little red book of queries and delight in asking newcomers to the group to “pick a number between one and forty-two.” This choose-a-random-query thing is delightful. Sometimes we accidentally choose one that’s boring. But that’s okay. We don’t have any rules against do-overs.

Games are fun. We invent Quaker Pictionary and Quaker Charades and eventually Quaker Hangman. (We justify it as Quaker Hangman because, instead of hanging the man, we’re rescuing him, erasing his little body one part at a time.) Gary uses either “Jesus wept” or “Margaret Fell” every time it’s his turn.

The discussions are the best. We choose topics based on what people want to talk about. We start with death. It’s the best conversation about death I’ve ever had, maybe because we’re all giddy, because here we are, discussing this thing we’re usually silent about. We decide at the outset to just say things and not worry so much about whether we’re right or not. Other nights, we talk about addiction, sex, happiness, lying, power, marriage, family, and books. One night, we talk about life.

I learn that Hayden is an occasional smoker. Austin has crazy political theories. Robert hates that worship happens on Sunday mornings—he’d prefer afternoons—and Lucas loves chicken nuggets but feels morally conflicted about eating them. One night, quite by accident, we discover that every person in the room is afraid of the police. On another night, we share mystical experiences, we realize we’ve all had them, and yet, we’ve all hesitated to tell the stories for fear that we might be ridiculed.

Ava, who is new to Friends, starts to cry one night and can’t explain why. Lyle brings in a soft lamp because he’s bothered by institutional lighting. Renee comes only once and is annoyed to find us on the floor in a classroom and not in the meetinghouse; she didn’t expect the informality of some people in chairs, some people on the floor, and for her, Sunday morning worship is better, and that’s fine. Jonah lectures too much—but he’s learning to listen.

Oddly, we don’t call it “Joyful Wednesday” right away. It doesn’t have any name, really, in the beginning. When we settle on Joyful Wednesday—it sounds right to all of us after about six weeks—we start writing it down on the space request forms, and so JOYFUL WEDNESDAY is what’s written on the bulletin board and in the meeting’s newsletter. Every Wednesday for a year, I write JOYFUL WEDNESDAY in my planner.

It doesn’t last forever. The group begins to dwindle. Occasionally, no one shows up but me. I can hold the space for awhile, but I’m not going to push. I put out a message: “Is anyone else willing and able to host?” They’re not. So about fourteen months after acquiring its name, Joyful Wednesday dies.

This is not sad. We’ve proven something; we can gather together intending joy. We can make a space for vulnerability. We can set an intention and write it in our calendars. Singing and laughing and playing and talking can be part of this community, and that’s what we needed to know.

 

 

 

This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed.

If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.

To participate in the Holy Experiments ministry, which is designed to knit together an international community of Friends who are following Spirit adventurously and building more culturally inclusive faith communities, go here.

 

Three People I’ll Never Meet Again

If I’m confused, or upset, or angry, if I can go out and look at the stars I’ll almost always get back a sense of proportion. It’s not that they make me feel insignificant, it’s the very opposite, they make me feel that everything matters, be it ever so small, and that there’s meaning to life even when it seems most meaningless.

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)

“Travel in the ministry” covers the gamut, from the sublime to the ridiculous and often both. Sometimes you think you’re doing ministry and discover you’re receiving it, like the time a man in North Carolina pulled me aside to teach me about angels and to caution me—“don’t become the courtroom prophet.” Sometimes you think you’re just enjoying a cup of tea, and suddenly the woman next to you is talking about her daughter, who was nearly kidnapped yesterday. And sometimes you’re deep in the thick of things and the building closes and you wind up finishing the work in a parking lot.

I have trouble drawing a line between “ministry” and “not-ministry.” I’m not prepared to say that everything is ministry, because brushing my teeth, for example, most definitely is not, and also saying that everything is ministry seems to me to devalue actual ministry. But it certainly happens at unexpected times and not always in ways that we could have anticipated.

Here are three stories of moments that taught me—“everything matters, no matter how small.”

 

ONE

In Cairo after an overnight flight, I have a seven-hour layover. A video announces that those with a layover lasting more than four hours should report to the such-and-such desk, and so I do report to the such-and-such desk, where I’m informed I’ll be given a free stay in a hotel and a hot meal if I sit and wait for forty-five minutes. This does not appear to be a scam—the men behind the desk are in official airline uniform—but only I and one other passenger appear to qualify, and once we’ve waited our forty-five minutes, the employee who comes to escort us asks for our passports and starts to walk away without explanation.

I call him back over and ask him what’s happening. He offers a half-answer, and I follow up. Then I follow up again. He’s clearly annoyed, but I have no intention of being lost and stranded in Cairo, particularly without my passport. When I’m finally satisfied that I understand what’s happening, I follow him (as does my fellow passenger) through the airport and a bizarre series of queues; I’m asking questions all the while. “Which hotel? Will the shuttle bus bring us back? What time? Where do we check in for the next flight?” I have a feeling he’s going to repeat this story down the line, and I’ll be the “pesky American woman,” though I’m not at all sure he’ll use the word pesky.

Not until we board the shuttle bus do I get to know my traveling companion. He introduces himself as Samuel. He’s a Ugandan man who grew up in Rwanda who now works in Haiti while his family lives in Kenya. That’s where he’s going now—to spend a few weeks with his family. He speaks eight languages. He says, “Thank you for asking the questions you did. That man, he did not like you asking questions. But I also wanted to know the answers. And I did not dare ask. Perhaps we will find the returning shuttle bus together?”

 

TWO

I’m approached on a subway platform by a woman my age leading an old woman. The younger woman says, “Excuse me, but are you taking the A train uptown?”

As a matter of fact, that’s my plan, so I nod.

“I’m taking the E to Queens,” she says, “but this woman is going to 175th Street, to Columbia Presbyterian. I don’t know her. A police officer gave her to me. She’s a little confused. But that’s where she needs to go. Can you just make sure she gets on the right train?”

“Sure.” This falls into the category of things that have never happened to me before, but then, this is New York City, and I generally get at least one of those every day.

Young-Woman-to-Queens smiles and passes Old-Woman-to-Hospital along by the simple expediency of nodding and walking away. I don’t ask for her name because that’s not done here; we don’t trade names when we connect with strangers. But Old-Woman-to-Hospital needs no introduction to feel at ease and starts chattering to me. I can’t hear her very well—subways are loud, and this old woman isn’t—but she seems to be perfectly happy doing a monologue. Young-Woman-to-Queens disappears with the whoosh of an E train.

When the A train comes, Old-Woman-to-Hospital and I climb onboard, and she continues her soliloquy, completely undeterred by the fact that I’m seated across from her, six feet away, and the train is rumbling, and I wouldn’t even know she was talking except that I can watch her mouth move. She’s definitely talking to me and not to herself; she’s making eye contact.

It occurs to me that although my only job, in theory, was getting her on the right train, I’m not convinced that she’ll have the ability to get off. I’m not sure she’ll recognize her stop. If she does, I’m not sure she can move fast enough to disembark before the doors slam. And my stop is at 168th Street.

It’s mid-day, so the train isn’t very crowded. It’s me and Old Woman and four young men. We’re nearly to Washington Heights, so odds are that those four young men are Dominican—or if not, Puerto Rican—and I stand and approach them and ask, “Excuse me, but do any of you speak English?” (This is not a ridiculous question. Most of my neighbors don’t.)

Only one looks up and says, “Yeah,” rather suspiciously, and I can’t blame him.

I try explain Old-Woman-to-Hospital, who is watching me cheerfully. “She’s going to 175th Street, to Columbia Presbyterian. I’m not sure if she can get off the train fast enough. Will you just make sure that she gets off the train? Somebody else can probably get her to where she’s going.”

“Where’s she going to exactly?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know her.”

“…Really?” And I see on his face the same expression I probably wore back on the platform, the expression that says, I’m not going to act surprised, New Yorkers don’t, but this is weird.

“Really. A young woman gave her to me back at 42nd Street, and she said a police officer had her before that.”

“Well…” He smiles a little. “Okay. That’s my stop anyway. I’ll get off with her and—well, I’ll make sure she gets off, at least.”

“Thanks.” I lean over to Old Woman and say, “He’s going to make sure you get off at the right stop, okay?”

Old Woman nods her head unworriedly. “Okay, you have a good day, sweetie.”

Strangest game of Telephone I’ve ever played.

 

THREE

My friend Lisa and I worked together years ago, but today we’re getting reacquainted. We enjoy a light lunch and a walk at Columbus Circle and ultimately, inevitably, we sit down to talk about the old days. She mentions a man we both worked with once, back in my theatre days: “I don’t know what everybody had against Vic. He always seemed like such a great, funny guy.”

I’ve heard her express that opinion before. Back when we were working together, I tried to avoid gossiping, figuring that a stage manager’s job is to promote unity in the company, and Vic made enough trouble for himself without my help. But he could be charming, until he felt he’d been crossed, and clearly Lisa had never seen him in that mode. And it was no longer my job to protect members of the company.

“Y’know, Lisa,” I say slowly, “I know you always saw him at his best. The thing is…well, one time, we had a daytime rehearsal, because the choreography wasn’t working for one of the numbers, so we called him and a couple of the other men in around noon. It was a small group, just the men and their understudies and the choreographer and me. But Vic was mad. He was mad that he’d been called in. He needed the rehearsal, but he was angry.

“You know how tall he was. A foot taller than me. Well, after that rehearsal, he got right up in my face. He screamed at me. And he swore at me. And he told me I didn’t care about anybody, that I was selfish and totally incompetent at my job, that I had no consideration for him. And he demanded an explanation for why he was called into that rehearsal—which wasn’t my decision, by the way—and then kept screaming at me and demanding an explanation but not giving me the opportunity to talk.

“So I told him the conversation was over, that I could not possibly give him an explanation that would satisfy him, and that if he had a problem with me he was welcome to take it to my boss. He’s not a good guy, Lisa. He used his size intentionally to terrify me. He scared me. And that was what he meant to do.”

“I’m so sorry,” she says immediately. “You’re right, he’s not. I had no idea he did that. That is not okay.”

It surprises me a bit how quickly she believes me, how quickly she turns her opinion around, how she doesn’t even try to justify his actions. I’m impressed by her faith in me, that she never doubts my experience, that she’s prepared to alter her own evaluation of this man based on my word. And I’m grateful.

We’re in a public place, and a man has sat down beside us; we’re sharing a bench. He has seemed to be absorbed in his phone, but he looks up at this point and says, “Listen, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I gotta tell you, I just have to say—that man is an asshole. I’m so sorry that he did that to you. Nobody should ever do that to you.”

I smile. “I know. But I appreciate your saying so.”

 

 

 

This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed.

If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.

To participate in the Holy Experiments ministry, which is designed to knit together an international community of Friends who are following Spirit adventurously and building more culturally inclusive faith communities, go here.

On Identity

If we aren’t capable of being hurt we aren’t capable of feeling joy.

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)

I find myself in the library reading Ecclesiastes and wondering how on earth I got here. I’m at a conference—a relatively small one—with a bunch of Quakers I don’t know very well, and it’s already been a strange few days. It’s late. I know some people are snacking in the common room, but I don’t dare go down there because they’re all the sociable types and I’m just—not. Normally I’d be in bed at this hour, but something tells me not to be, so with nowhere else in particular to go, I’ve wandered into the library. This place used to be a monastery, so Ecclesiastes turns out to be the best thing I can find.

I like Ecclesiastes. The end of all man’s toil is but to fill his belly, yet his appetite is never satisfied. What advantage then in facing life has the wise man over the fool, or what advantage has the pauper for all his experience? It is better to be satisfied with what is before your eyes than to give rein to desire; this too is futility and a chasing of the wind.

The author of Ecclesiastes pretty much thinks everything is futility and a chasing of the wind. You could call him a pessimist, but I find him comforting for reasons I’ve never been able to articulate.

There’s a man wandering up and down the halls whisper-yelling for Melanie. “Melanie? MELANIE? We’re going out for ice cream . . . MELANIE!!!” This continues for nearly twenty minutes, by which time he’s absolutely awakened anybody who might have been asleep in the first place—except maybe Melanie.

Around the time he gives up, I finish Ecclesiastes for the second time and snap closed the Bible. This is ridiculous. I’m going to bed; there’s no logical reason not to, and it’s been a long and exhausting day.

I get nine steps down the hallway and nearly crash into Jolene, who’s emerging from a bedroom. I know she’s Jolene because she’s wearing a nametag. I’m not. I’m already in my pajamas.

Jolene looks straight at me and says, “Great! Exactly the person I was looking for.” And she pulls me back into the bedroom behind her.

There’s another woman sitting on the bed. Jolene says, “This is Maggie.”

(I’m not Maggie, so I assume the woman on the bed must be Maggie.)

“Maggie,” Jolene continues, “this is Emily.”

She remembered my name?

“Emily, Maggie’s had a rough day. She needs somebody to talk to. Maggie, you can trust Emily. Tell her everything. Excuse me—I have to go to a meeting.”

And just like that, it’s Maggie and me in our pajamas staring at one another across the room. Maggie does not find this as disconcerting as I do, and she starts describing a vision she’s had that day. Of angels.

I feel like this is a case of mistaken identity. There are Quakers who do the whole mystical thing, but I’m not one of them! I know and love and trust enough mystics to believe that the realm they describe is real, and I’m even begrudgingly willing to admit that I’ve brushed up against the mystical myself from time to time, but I’m not comfortable engaging with it and don’t especially want to be. I like spreadsheets. And systems analysis. And logic puzzles.

Nevertheless, I listen intently to Maggie, for several reasons. First, Jolene told her that she could trust me, and I desperately want to live up to that endorsement. Second, Maggie seems to be in some level of genuine distress. And third, as long as I’m listening, I’m not required to speak.

She finishes by saying that she really needs someone to lay hands on her—“just to channel in some clean energy.”

Okay. Well, again, this is a case of mistaken identity. I don’t do this. Except—I kind of do know how to do this. I’ve known enough healers to know how it works. I mean, to know the theory. Lay hands on the person, open to the flow of Spirit, channel love. Right. So she moves into the chair, and I place my hands on her shoulders and get started.

This is the part where you’re supposed to turn your brain off, I think, but my brain doesn’t work that way, so I’m acutely aware that this is maybe the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me, weirder even than the time I was still working in theatre and found myself pushing a shopping cart full of roller skates through an abandoned high school at midnight, and then the thought occurs to me that nobody ever told me how you know when you’re done, and oh, this is a problem, how am I supposed to know when to stop?

That thought keeps me occupied for several minutes, and I’m sort of grateful for it because it gives me something to focus on, and in the end it doesn’t matter because Maggie knows when to stop. She just stands up and says thank you and good night and I leave and brush my teeth.

When I finally get to bed, I reflect on vulnerability. On why I sat in that library reading Ecclesiastes well past my usual bedtime even though it was a thoroughly illogical thing to do. On why I didn’t pop my head out and ask if I could join the group making a run for ice cream. On why Jolene remembered my name and dragged me into that bedroom. On how she knew Maggie could trust me. On why several healers had talked me through this kind of thing, even though I’d never asked because I’d never planned on trying it.

I reflect on being open to God, and how there’s no such thing as being conditionally open.

And how I think I actually did help Maggie.

Well—okay.

 

 

This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed.

 If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.

To participate in the Holy Experiments ministry, which is designed to knit together an international community of Friends who are following Spirit adventurously and building more culturally inclusive faith communities, go here.

 

 

Our People, 1995

Without writing, writing down words on stone or papyrus or parchment or paper or microfilm so they can be kept, we wouldn’t have any history. And without history there isn’t any future.

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)

In the summer of 1995, Friends of New York Yearly Meeting gathered for their three hundredth summer session. They anticipated a week of celebration.

What followed was grief (after a bus accident that affected many Friends); a surge of love and support (in response to that accident); loss (at the withdrawal of one monthly meeting from New York Yearly Meeting); rejoicing (at the long-worked-for approval of Faith and Practice); and, yes, celebration and remembrance.

It is a true story of our people. It seems worth remembering. Here are the minutes—unedited, exactly as they were published in our yearbook. 

 

NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING MINUTES 1995

Sunday, July 23, 1995, 7:00pm

  1. Clerk Steven Ross opened the 300th session of New York Yearly Meeting with a call for quiet worship.
  2. After meeting for worship, the Clerk introduced Harold Risler, Clerk of the Sessions Committee, who explained the logistics of dining together.
  3. Diana DeBlois, Clerk of Junior Yearly Meeting Committee, described a Junior Yearly Meeting project for commemorative candle-boats. She then introduced Junior Yearly Meeting coordinators John Cooley and Judith Inskeep, who welcomed the children of the Yearly Meting. After introductions of the Junior Yearly Meeting staff, the children left with their group leaders to begin their program.
  4. The Coordinating Committee for Ministry and Counsel led a period of extended worship that focused on the tragic crash of a bus carrying the Farmington Friends Church choirs that same day, as they traveled to offer their ministry of music to the Yearly Meeting at Silver Bay. In word and song, Friends spoke of grief, pain, the hope of understanding, and God’s enduring presence.
  5. The minutes of the session were read and approved.

 

Monday, July 24, 1995, 10:15am

  1. Friends gathered in quiet worship.
  2. An epistle was read from the Evangelical Friends Church in Burundi reporting on their first yearly meeting since tragedy engulfed their nation in 1993. Despite the heartbreak and horror of their recent past, and despite continuing crises in the present, Friends in Burundi are reaching toward hope, reconciliation, and peace.
  3. Clerk Steven Ross described the ministry and hospitality under way to support the injured and their families from yesterday’s bus accident.
  4. In honor of New York Yearly Meeting’s tercentenary, William Kriebel, past Clerk of New England Yearly Meeting, read the original minute approved in 1695 by New England Yearly Meeting establishing New York Yearly Meeting:

“At a general Yearly Meeting at the house of Walter Newberry’s in Rhode Island, the 14th day of the 4th month of 1695 . . . the meeting continuing the 15th day . . . the next morning following: it is . . . agreed that the meeting at Long Island shall be from this time a Yearly Meeting, and that John Bowne and John Rodman shall take care to receive all such papers as shall come to the Yearly Meeting at Long Island, and correspond with Friends appointed in London.”

(Note: 4th month in 1695 would correspond with June.)

  1. Harold Risler, Clerk of the Sessions Committee, introduced Mark Johnson, Director of Silver Bay Association, who warmly welcomed Friends to Silver Bay.
  1. The Reading Clerk read a series from the Nine Partners Quarterly Meeting reporting on Clintondale Meeting’s withdrawal from New York Yearly Meeting. Nine Partners Quarterly Meeting has released Clintondale Meeting from membership in New York Yearly Meeting. In so doing, provisions were made for the preservation of records, for transfer of membership by individual Clintondale members to another meeting of New York Yearly Meeting, for prorating of Clintondale’s 1995 budget allotment, and for release of any potential Yearly Meeting claims on Clintondale’s property.

 

Friends received this report and expect to explore it more fully at a later time.

  1. The Reading Clerk read the roll call by Regional Meeting and Friends stood in response.
  2. Guests were asked to rise and give their names and affiliations: Gretta Stone, Friends General Conference; Christopher Haines, Adelaide, Australia; Thomas Bassett, Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas; Bobbi Kelly, Pendle Hill; Arthur Berk, Middletown Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting; Eva Leibman, German Yearly Meeting; Cliff Harrison, Friends United Meeting; Roger Sturge, World Office of Friends World Committee for Consultation; Gloria Kershner, Grass Valley Meeting, Pacific Yearly Meeting; Christina Smith, Friends Meeting at Cambridge, New England Yearly Meeting; William and Anne Kriebel, Friends Meeting at Cambridge, New England Yearly Meeting; Andrew Grinnel, Dean, Earlham School of Religion; Mary Hopkins, Friends General Conference; Hope Wallis, American Friends Service Committee, Syracuse Office; Marge Schlitt, Friends Committee on National Legislation.
  3. Mary Foster Cadbury, Clerk of the Coordinating Committee for Ministry and Counsel, introduced Steven Davison, who read the summary of monthly meeting reports that forms the State of Society Report. Friends responded in worship.
  1. The minutes for this session were read and approved.

 

Tuesday, July 25, 1995, 10:00am

  1. Friends began the meeting with a period of silent worship.
  2. Mary Ann Percy, of the Epistle Committee, read the epistle from the London Yearly Meeting held on April 29 through May 2 and July 29 to August 2, 1994. The epistle reported that Friends there have been doing a revision of their Book of Discipline and that in the process of doing so “our Quaker business method has been tested to its limits.” They also reported that the new name of the London Yearly Meeting will be “The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain.”
  3. The Reading Clerk read a travel minute for Arthur Berk, of Middleton Monthly Meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting. Friends approved endorsement of the minute by our Clerk.
  4. The Reading Clerk read a letter of introduction from South Australia Representative Meeting for Christopher Haines and Dimity Haines. Friends approved endorsement of this letter by our Clerk.
  5. The Reading Clerk read a letter of introduction from Grass Valley Monthly Meeting, Pacific Yearly Meeting, for Gloria Kershner. Friends approved endorsement of this letter by our Clerk.
  6. Mary Foster Cadbury, Clerk of the Coordinating Committee for Ministry and Counsel, read the following minute of Clintondale Monthly Meeting as well as a brief statement explaining some of the thinking of Clintondale Friends.

“In the light of our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Clintondale Friends Church has come to a crossroad. In order for our fellowship to grow and bear fruit we must remain in the vine who is Jesus Christ. We therefore have chosen to step out in faith. We find it necessary at this time to end our official relationship with New York Yearly Meeting. We take this step with the pain at our failed relationship with Yearly Meeting. Our hope is in the sustaining promises of God.”

She urged concerned Friends to read the state of the meeting report from Clintondale Meeting and to seek out Daniel Whitley or Cheryl Whitley when they arrive at Silver Bay.

  1. Mary Foster Cadbury reported on opportunities to minister to those injured in the bus accident Sunday and to their families and loved ones. She stated that Friends will also have an opportunity to make contributions to the voluntary ambulance companies who responded to the emergency. In addition, she reported the sense of those who have been close to the accident victims that they are conscious of the love and care of Friends and of the help of God in this time of trouble.
  2. Walter Haines reported for the Committee to Revise Faith and Practice. He asked for second and final approval of the chapter called “Outreach – Publishing the Truth.” Friends approved.
  3. Walter Haines went on to report that some changes have been made in the section now called “Children in Our Families and Meetings,” and asked for second and final approval of that section. Several Friends suggested other changes that they felt would improve the document. Others urged that the chapter as written be approved as having our substantial agreement. The Meeting approved the chapter as written. This was done with the expressed understanding that we are in need of (and will have the opportunity for) further searching about our responsibilities to children and young people among us, and about the respect and attention they need from us. Joan Nicholson asked to be recorded as standing aside.
  4. The Reading Clerk read the section on Covenant Relationships. Friends considered it at some length. Some Friends who expressed satisfaction with the text emphasized that it does not settle for monthly meetings the question of whether they should celebrate same-gender relationships. Friends approved this section. Joan Nicholson asked to be recorded as standing aside.
  5. The minutes were read and approved.

 

Tuesday, July 25, 1995, 1:30pm

  1. Friends gathered in a Meeting for Memorials to remember and celebrate the lives of 48 Friends who died in the past year. Thaddeus Dziekonski, along with Kenneth Davidson and Maurice Coleman, read from memorial minutes for Jerome R. Hurd, Mary Smedley Kimball, William Harold Walker, Winifred Fisk Courtney, Marion Jenkins, Mary Louise Kelly Edmonds, Melvin D. Carey, Winifred Matthews Holt, Ruby Ross, Susan Marie Whealdon, and Ruth Trimble Cope. The complete memorial minutes will be filed in the Haviland Records Room.

As we spoke of these and others, we made discoveries along with our reminiscences, telling stories of dedication, adversity, originality, great good humor, and the lively embodiment of Quaker principles. Whether they served their lives in local meetings or on intentional projects, these Friends taught us what it is to be Quakers.

 

Tuesday, July 25, 1995, 8:15pm

  1. Friends settled in silent worship.
  2. A minute of the Meeting for Memorials held earlier in the day was read and approved.
  3. A letter of introduction for Angus Winchester was presented from Lancaster Monthly Meeting, Britain Yearly Meeting. Friends approved the Clerk’s endorsement of this letter of introduction.
  4. Letters of greeting were read from the following organizations: Baltimore Yearly Meeting, Britain Yearly Meeting, Friends General Conference, Friends United Meeting, Friends World Committee for Consultation, and American Friends Service Committee.
  5. The Clerk read a letter from Junior Yearly Meeting noting that on the front of the stage there was a timeline consisting of Quaker “action figures” representing 300 years of New York Yearly Meeting Friends. Friends were asked to help produce the rest of the figures needed to complete the display.
  6. A minute from Cornwall Monthly Meeting in support of Nadya Spassenko was read. She is beginning a mission to Friends in Eastern Europe. Friends approved the Clerk’s endorsement of this minute.
  7. Linda S. Houser, Acting Clerk of Nurture Coordinating Committee, introduced Alan W. Pike, who reported for the Task Group of Friends United Meeting and memberships in the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. Yearly meetings had been asked to consider whether the membership in these councils should be continued. Twenty-four monthly meetings have responded to the questions posed by the Task Group. Thirteen monthly meetings minuted support for reestablishing membership. One monthly meeting considered that there was not enough participation or benefit to the New York Yearly Meeting to be part of these groups. Two meetings could not come to unity. The rest of the meetings who responded either did not actually discuss the matter or did not report to the task group on their discussions. Friends approved asking the Clerk to send the task group’s report to Friends United Meeting along with a report of the discussion on the floor this evening.
  8. Linda S. Houser introduced Stephen L. Angell, who asked New York Yearly Meeting to approve the hosting of the 1997 Annual Meeting of the Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas. Friends approved.
  9. A report of the 18th Triennial of the Friends World Committee for Consultation held at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, August 15-24, 1994, was given by Friends who attended. The details of this enriching and inspiring experience were shared with us by these Friends, who described the business sessions, the worship, the communication among Friends of different ages and cultural traditions.
  10. Philip F. Gilbert, Clerk of the Advancement Committee, asked for approval of the granting by the Trustees of $750 from the Lockport-Brinkerhoff Fund to help with renovations to the Orchard Park Meeting House. Friends approved. Philip Gilbert also drew the Yearly Meeting’s attention to money available from the Lafayette Avenue Meeting Fund to help individuals prepare for service among Friends.
  1. Resignations were accepted as follows: William Hendricks, Family Life and Human Relationships Committee and Advancement Committee; Kathryn Much, Family Life and Human Relationships Committee; Elizabeth Hurd and Nadya Spassenko, Committee on Sufferings; Marjorie Weisel, General Services Coordinating Committee and Personnel Committee; Loren Fay, Records Committee; Roseanne Harris, Sessions Committee; Merrill Skaggs, Friends Council on Education; Jon David Katz, Powell House Committee; Amy Lomele, Religious Education Committee; Cheshire Frager, Tercentenary Committee; Charlotte Frantz, Friends Committee on National Legislation; Tom Orr, Friends Committee on National Legislation; Becki Cramer, Indian Affairs Committee; James Cramer, Indian Affairs Committee; Edwin Pell, Peace Concerns Committee; Melvin Hurd, Wider Ministries Committee.
  2. The nominations to the following committees were approved: Coordinating Committee for Ministry and Counsel, Epistle Committee, Committee to Revise Faith and Practice, Council of Ministerial Advisors – NY State Department of Corrections, Committee for the Fund of Sufferings.
  3. The minutes were read and accepted as corrected.

 

Wednesday, July 26, 1995, 10:00am

  1. Friends gathered for business with a period of silent worship.
  1. Glenn Mallison, of the Epistle Committee, read the epistle from Central and South Africa Yearly Meeting, gathered from December 10 to 15, 1994. The epistle noted that at “Yearly Meeting we all rejoiced together in the birth of the new South Africa.” It also stated that “Frriends find their peacemaking skills are more in demand than ever in the new South Africa.”
  2. Richard Goodman rose to thank Friends for the prayers and the support given to him during his illnesses at the time of Yearly Meeting in 1994.
  3. Mary Foster Cadbury, Clerk of the Coordinating Committee for Ministry and Counsel, reported that Friends in the hospital as a result of Sunday’s accident are in good spirits. Many have expressed concern for the bus driver and have stated that they do not blame him for the accident.

Rochester Monthly Meeting is coordinating visits by Friends to Farmington Meeting. Harry Lloyd, Clerk of Farmington Meeting, and Cynthia Nado, plan to visit the bus driver. Others may do so as well.

Harry Lloyd and Ruth Kinsey, Clerk and Pastor respectively of Farmington Meeting, are preparing a letter of thanks to all in the community who have given help and support to the injured.

Friends have an opportunity to donate blood to hospitals in the region, thus helping meeting an acute local need.

  1. Alice Gilbert, Clerk of General Services Coordinating Committee, introduced Treasurer, Paula McClure, who presented a “Comparative Statement of Operations” for June 30, 1995 and 1994. Year-to-date expenditures exceed income by $8,430.32 as compared to a shortfall of $58,156.78 at the same time last year. Regional and quarterly meetings have so far contributed 41% of their expected 1995 contribution, in contrast with the 29% which was contributed as of this point last year. The report was accepted.
  2. John Bishop, Clerk of the Financial Services Committee, reported that the Committee is exploring ways to be in touch with monthly meetings and to answer questions about how Yearly Meeting makes use of the funds that Friends contribute. He reminded Friends that the Financial Services Budget Weekend is an opportunity for all Friends to express any concerns about the Yearly Meeting budget.
  3. The Yearly meeting approved a request that regional, quarterly and half yearly meeting treasurers be named ex officio to the Yearly Meeting Financial Services Committee. A regional, quarterly, or half yearly meeting may, at its option, name another Friend to serve in the treasurer’s place. The Clerk of the Yearly Meeting will extend this invitation by letter to the clerks of these bodies at the close of Yearly Meeting sessions.
  4. Hazel Haines presented a report on the work of the Nominating Committee, reminding Friends that being asked about willingness to serve is not the same as being nominated. She stated that it is appropriate for Friends to let Nominating Committee know of interests they may have in particular appointments. She also requested that Friends who request release from committee service notify the Yearly meeting as soon as possible after Representative Meeting, rather than wait for Yearly Meeting sessions.
  5. Kathleen Lawson reported for the General Services Coordinating Committee. She summarized the history of the Task Group on New York Yearly meeting Staff Structures, its original charge, the work it has done, and the recommendations it developed. She then presented a proposal, on behalf of General Services, that the Yearly Meeting direct the General Services Coordinating Committee to form a search committee to find a second field secretary, intending to have this position filled by July 1996.

In the course of deliberations about this proposal, several concerns were expressed by individual Friends and by Friends reporting the concerns of their Meetings. One concern was the need to make Yearly Meeting services more available throughout the large geographical area of the Yearly Meeting. Another concern was that the activities envisioned for a field secretary should be coordinated with the work of Powell House. Still another concern was that the size of the Yearly Meeting budget should not be limited. Notice was taken that employing a second field secretary will not increase the 1996 or 1997 budget. Some Friends also felt that more clarity is needed on the overall proposal for a new structure before the Yearly Meeting can act on the matter of searching for a field secretary.

After considerable searching by the Meeting, the Clerk discerned that the meeting was not yet ready to act on the proposal. The matter was accordingly held over for a later session.

  1. The minutes were read and approved.

 

Wednesday, July 26, 1995, 1:30pm

  1. Friends gathered in quiet worship.
  1. Margaret Carlough, of the Epistle Committee, brought us greetings from the 1994 yearly meeting of Switzerland Yearly Meeting, which focused on the theme “To Be a Refugee.” In the serenity overlooking Lake Geneva, Swiss Friends Considered how to respond as Quakers to the plight of the world’s refugees, always mindful of “the spirit of God which never lets us go.”
  2. The Reading Clerk read letters of introduction for Eva Liebman, a member of Cologne Monthly Meeting in German Yearly Meeting. Friends approved the Clerk’s endorsement of the letters.
  1. Deborah Wood, Clerk of Witness Coordinating Committee, presented the travel minute from Stephen L. Angell of Bulls Head-Oswego Monthly Meeting originally approved in 1993 and now bearing 42 signatures from Friends’ groups around the world. Friends accepted the return of the minute.

Steven Angell spoke of hope and global community that can be encouraged through such ministry.

  1. Deborah Wood introduced Phineke Brugman, of Quaker Street Friends Meeting, who has been working for three years with children in an orphanage in Romania.

Phineke Brugman spoke of her initial response three years ago to a call to serve in a three-week work camp in Romania, and how those weeks changed her life. When she discovered the harshness of the conditions in an orphanage of 300 neglected children, she organized a response that grew into a series of miracles. As the scope of the project expanded, so did the support in Romania and in the United States. Yet the need remains great.

Deborah Wood reported that over the past three years Phineke Brugman called on members of her monthly and regional meetings for support as she became more deeply involved in this leading. At Representative Meeting in December 1994, Phineke asked Witness Coordinating Committee for assistance. An oversight committee was formed that met with Phineke several times during the first part of 1995 and determined that Phineke’s leading has strong spiritual grounding. At its final meeting in May, the oversight committee laid itself down and asked Witness Coordinating Committee to find another organization to take on responsibility for this work.

Witness Coordinating Committee requested that New York Yearly Meeting commend to the care of Friends United Meeting Phineke Brugman’s project to provide improved living conditions for orphans in Romania, and further requested that a minute of commendation be forwarded to that body by New York Yearly Meeting’s representatives to Friends United Meeting’s World Ministries Commission. Friends approved.

  1. The Reading Clerk read a travel minute for Phineke Brugman from Quaker Street Friends Meeting. Friends approved the Clerk’s endorsement of the minute.
  1. Mary Way, Clerk of the Latin American Concerns Committee, introduced

Elaine Chamberlain, of Buffalo Monthly Meeting, who spoke movingly of the suffering of poor Indian people in Chiapas, Mexico, and of the importance of the Hospital San Carlos that serves those people. As a result of increased repression of the Indian people, conditions have worsened to a heartbreaking degree. Elaine Chamberlain, a nurse who has spent her last 8 summer vacations working at Hospital San Carlos, read a letter from the hospital expressing gratitude for support and appealing for prayers and help so they can continue to minister to the poor with “a living faith, a solid faith, and an ardent charity.”

Friends were moved by these words and suggested that the story of the hospital and opportunities to help be described in Spark, and be communicated to other yearly meetings. The Latin American Concerns Committee agreed to act on those suggestions.

  1. Madeline McClure, Clerk of the Sharing Fund Committee, reported that contributions are up slightly from this time last year, but that the number of donors is only half of what it was in 1991. She described several upcoming opportunities for Friends to participate in the Sharing Fund, which supports a wide range of Friends projects, including the Hospital San Carlos in Chiapas. We then heard a remarkable musical invitation to become Sharing Fund donors, with Friendly thanks to Gilbert and Sullivan.
  2. Nominations for the following committees were read and approved: General Services Coordinating Committee (at Large); Audit Committee; Financial Services Committee, Publications Committee, Records Committee, Sessions Committee (at large), Trees of the Lindley Murray Fund, New York Yearly Meeting Trustees, the Personnel Committee, Junior Yearly Meeting Committee, and New York Yearly Meeting officers for 1996.
  3. Minutes of the session were read and approved.

 

Thursday, July 27, 1995, 10:00am

  1. Meeting began with a period of silent worship.
  2. Julia Giordano read the epistle from Ohio Yearly Meeting which reported that members have been participating in the New Call to Peacemaking and have been traveling in the ministry to seek reconciliation and healing. The epistle reminded us that we must avoid surrendering to the temptation to admonish people in our own power. Rather we need to seek guidance in prayer that is open to the tendering spirit of Christ.
  3. A letter from David Herendeen, pastor of Adirondack Meeting, was read expressing his deep gratitude for the outpouring of love that his family and all the other Farmington Friends have received from New York Yearly Meeting Friends in the wake of their terrible accident. He reported with gratitude on the care they have received from Friends and neighbors in the Farmington area. He asked us for our continued prayers for his mother and their family as they try to make sense of this tragedy.
  4. Mary Foster Cadbury, Clerk of the Coordinating Committee for Ministry and Counsel, reported on the present condition of injured Friends, and on the visit of Friends to the bus driver in jail, and on the care given to him as a direct result of their visit.
  5. Linda Houser, Acting Clerk of Nurture Coordinating Committee, introduced Janice M. Greene, who presented Carlos Smith, Tanya Robie, Bruce Adcock, and David Perry, all of whom were participants in YouthQuake, 1994. These Friends reported on their experiences at that gathering. They spoke of the diversity of the group of young Friends they had met and the ways in which their beliefs were shared and challenged by this experience. A number of New York Yearly Meeting participants asked why Friends who worshipped in a manner different from theirs also called themselves “Quakers.” Their question was not always answered completely for them, but Friends of different traditions were able to become good friends on a personal basis. Young Friends had to think deeply about their beliefs.
  6. Linda Houser introduced Margallen Fichter, Clerk of the Powell House Committee, who described the staff changes occurring at Powell House. Terry Dix, Assistant Director, will be leaving, and Rebecca MacKenzie and Kenneth Davidson, who have served as interim youth directors, have also completed their formal service to Powell House. Appreciation was expressed for the many contributions of these staff members. A search committee for new Youth Directors was not able to find permanent directors, so an exciting plan to have three teams of two leaders for each of the age groups served by the Youth program will be implemented in the year beginning in September. The new leaders will be Kathryn Wood and Christopher Parker for the 5th and 6th grades, Christine Koster and Kevin Day for the Junior High, and David Keiser and Erin Clark for the Senior High. A new search committee is being appointed to seek permanent Youth Directors.
  7. David Swartz, President of the Board of Managers of Oakwood School, introduced Lila Gordon, head of School at Oakwood, who presented Cindy Pope, new director of admissions, and told of two new scholarship programs that have been established. She described the successes and difficulties of the two-year-old middle school, pointing out that the stability of such a small program required that at-risk students not be admitted. She reported on the necessity of reducing the size of staff to keep the budget in check without reducing programs. The name of the school has been changed to Oakwood Friends School. A new Quaker in Residence program is being implemented and the first person to be on campus for this program will be Paul Lacey, professor at Earlham College.
  8. George Rubin Clerk of Personnel Committee, presented the committee’s recommendation of the following New York Yearly Meeting staff appointments for calendar year 1996:

General Secretary, Joseph Vlaskamp;

Field Secretary, Janice M. Green;

Asst. to the General Secretary, Helen Garay Toppins;

Keeper of the Records, Elizabeth H. Moger.

This was approved.

  1. The nominations for the following committees and representatives were presented for approval: Nurture Coordinating Committee, Advancement Committee, Disability Concerns Committee, Friends Council on Education, Friends General Conference Representatives, Friends United Meeting Representatives, Representatives to Friends United Meeting Triennial, Alternates to Representatives to Friends United Meeting Triennial, Committee on Expenditure of the H.H. Mosher Fund, Oakwood School Board of Managers, Powell House Committee, Religious Education Committee, Tercentenary Committee, Women’s Rights Committee, Witness Coordinating Committee, Alternatives to Violence Project, Inc., American Friends Service Committee Corporation, Barrington Dunbar Fund for Black Development, Friends Committee for Black Concerns, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Indian Affairs Committee, Latin American Concerns Committee, Prisons Committee, Right Sharing of the World’s Resources Committee, Sharing Fund Committee, William Penn House Representative, Committee on World Ministries, New York Yearly Meeting Representatives at Large.

Friends approved these appointments.

  1. Adrienne Ochis, of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, was specifically approved for service on the Religious Education Committee.
  2. Friends accepted the appointments to the corporation of the McCutchen-Yearly Meeting Friends Home.
  3. The meeting was reminded, in a message from the floor, that the Ad Hoc Committee on Renewal had urged us to look at the size and function of each of our Yearly Meeting committees and to appoint only as many members as were truly necessary for the work of the committees.
  4. The Clerk reviewed the history of the considerations on staff structure and summarized the present situation before the body of New York Yearly Meeting. He noted that the General Services Coordinating Committee has requested permission to continue the work of planning a new staff structure and to begin a search for a new field secretary. He also pointed out that initiating a search did not necessarily commit the Yearly Meeting to any new course of action, and that giving permission to begin a search now would give sufficient time for a process to identify a candidate who could begin serving in mid-1996.

Following discussion, the Yearly Meeting approved the establishment of a search process in the expectation of hiring a second field secretary. It requested that the General Services Coordinating Committee continue working with the proposed staffing model and that it explore the financial implications of the direction being proposed, as well as of alternative models.

Friends continued to offer ministry on this concern.

  1. Ruth Kinsey, Pastor of Farmington Meeting, addressed the Yearly Meeting to bring the thanks of Farmington Friends for the prayers and concern of Friends in this body. She recounted for us the many miracles that have happened and the wonders God has wrought out of this terrible event. She left us with the observation that Farmington Meeting, after much struggle, had recently created a handicapped ramp for the Meeting House, which would receive considerable use.
  2. Friends approved these minutes as read.

Friday, July 28, 1995, 10:00am

  1. Friends settled in silent worship.
  2. Mary Anne Percy read the epistle from Ireland Yearly Meeting. The theme of their Yearly Meeting was service. Speaking of Spirituality and service, they said that without the Spirit there can be no service. The words that bind them together are love and caring (Galatians 5, verse 14, “Love your neighbor as yourself”). They have been greatly encouraged by the cessation of violence in their land and by the beginnings of peace and reconciliation. After 25 years of conflict, death and destruction, they can hope and pray that there will be a continuation of the building of peace.
  3. The following Friends were released from appointments to service in the Yearly Meeting at their request: Madeline S. Clure, Sharing Fund Committee (at large); Karen Reixach, Junior Yearly Meeting Committee.
  4. The following appointments were approved: Board of Managers of Oakwood School, Religious Education Committee, Young Adult Concerns Committee, Latin American Concerns Committee, Financial Services Committee, Advancement Committee, Friends General Conference Representative, Representative to the Meeting Ministries Commission of Friends United Meeting, Friends World Committee for Consultation Representative, Friends World Committee for Consultation Section of the Americas.

The appointment of Christopher Parker of New England Yearly Meeting to Young Adult Concerns Committee was approved.

  1. Claire Simon, of the Epistle Committee, read the first draft of the New York Yearly Meeting Epistle for 1995. Friends made suggestions for the committee’s consideration.
  2. A letter of introduction from Schenectady Monthly Meeting for Dorothy and Carroll Garner for their travels to Costa Rica and particularly to the Monteverde Friends community was presented. This has already been endorsed by Northeastern Regional Meeting. Friends approved the Clerk’s endorsement of this minute.
  3. Walter Haines, of the Committee to Revise Faith and Practice, presented two matters for the Meeting’s approval.
  4. A) The Yearly Meeting gave final approval to the text of “Acceptance of Death” and the second paragraph of page 58 of the “Proposal for Faith.” These passages were given first reading approval in 1993 (minute #88) and included in the text prepared for 1994 Yearly Meeting.
  5. B) The Yearly Meeting recognized that it has now given final approval to all material for a 1995 edition of Faith and Practice as follows:
  • Advices and Queries (31 July 1987)
  • Practices and Procedures (31 July 1987)
  • The entire text of Faith and three pages of revision to Practice and Procedure as written in the “The Proposal for Faith…prepared for…26 July 1994” (minute #32) with the following exceptions, which were approved subsequently, as noted:
  • Glossary (29 July 1994, minute #76)
  • “Covenant Relationships” and “Children in Our Families and Meetings” from the proposals submitted by the Committee to Revise Faith and Practice to the Yearly Meeting in a separate document dated 1st May 1995 (approved 25 July 1995, minutes#24 and #25).
  • “Acceptance of Death” and the revised second paragraph on page 58 of “The Proposal for Faith…..” prepared for 26 July, 1994 (approved 28 July 1995, minute #82).

The Yearly Meeting authorizes the Committee to Revise Faith and Practice to gather all of these changes and publish them in a 1995 edition of Faith and Practice. With expressions of reverence and joy from many Friends, this minute was approved.

  1. The minutes of this session were approved.

 

Friday, July 28, 1995, 1:30pm

  1. The meeting began with silent worship.
  2. Walter Haines read the 1994 epistle from the 8-12 year-olds of Canadian Yearly Meeting. Their theme was non-violence and community They changed the ending of traditional fairy tales such as “The Three Little Pigs” and “Little Red Riding Hood” so that at the end the wolf was accepted and felt part of the community.
  3. Karen Way read an epistle from the adults of Yearly Meeting to Junior Yearly Meeting.

Dearest Young Friends,

We came here to celebrate our 300th year as a yearly meeting, thinking that’s how we’ll make this week special – we’ll remember the other 299 times we met. But this turned out to be a week that would stand out in any 300 – a week too full of things terrible and wonderful ever to be forgotten.

We started with tragedy. Quakers from Farmington Meeting were coming to share their ministry of music with us, when their bus jumped off the road and down a steep hill. One man was killed and everyone on the bus was hurt. It was terrifying and sad, and the grownups have been worrying and praying about it all week. But you can also hear them talk about how quickly help came, how the neighbors ran to the scene, how 15 ambulances and 2 helicopters rushed the injured to hospitals where doctors were waiting. And they’ll tell you how cheerful and strong the Quakers were at the hospital, and how they are getting better.

And then on Monday night, as a rainbow faded from the sky, the grownups gathered in the Auditorium to remember another tragedy – the pain and courage and heartbreak of World War II, 50 years ago. And while we drew closer in grief and sharing, you sailed boats of peace and light onto the dark lake. After most of you had gone to bed we sat on the shore and watched the boats – little candles afloat, glimmering behind carefully drawn messages of hope.

Was it a coincidence? The next morning we finished writing a book we’ve been working on for 18 years – Faith and Practice. None of you were born when this book was started. The next one you will write, with us.

It was after we finished writing the book that the 300 Quaker Action Figures appeared around the edge of the stage in the Auditorium. Maybe we earned them. They guarded and encouraged us as we heard Phiney Brugman talk about rescuing orphans in Romania and Elaine Chamberlain describe the desperate needs and amazing bravery of a hospital in Chiapas, Mexico. The action figures and the grownups also listened carefully as four of you explained the surprising opportunity and religious challenge of YouthQuake.

We have so many things to do. We have money to raise and people to hire and reports to write, and 3 centuries of Quaker history to live up to. Proud of our past and so busy in our present, we might seem to forget at times that you are our future.

So, if we seem not to be paying attention to the joy of Silver Bay, too entranced by our meetings and worries to join in the life you bring here and find here, remember what the Junior High kids taught us at Café Night: that even a Quaker asleep for 300 years can be wakened with a kiss . . .

So, give us a kiss, and have a great year. We love you. See you next summer.

  1. Judith Inskeep reported for the Junior Yearly Meeting staff and led Friends in singing a song about elephants who sit on clerks.
  2. John Cooley introduced the senior high young Friends, who read us their epistle.
  3. John Cooley introduced Junior High participants in JYM, who read us an epistle and demonstrated a “trust exercise,” which they used among themselves. In the trust exercise, individual JYMers allowed themselves, one at a time, to fall trustingly from a height into the arms of the other waiting JYMers.
  4. The fourth to sixth grade group read their epistle, broken down into the form of short individual messages from each child. One of them appeared to consider doing the trust exercise, using the clerks as “catchers,” but then thought better of it.
  5. Margaret N. Keiser reported on the activities of the second to third grade group.
  • They spent some time making Quaker action figures representing 300 years of Quakerism and also making bumper stickers for the Fund Fair.
  • They were visited by “Lucretia Coffin Mott.”
  • Asa Watkins visited and talked about his experience as a conscientious objector working in a mental hospital. He showed some of his drawings.
  • Carol Mallison showed the second and third graders the prosthesis in her arm and answered a lot of questions.
  • The first and second graders worked in small groups to solve problems without needing adults to do it for them.
  • They also enjoyed many stories and games and all-around fun times.
  • A poem by Marissa Badgley was read.
  1. The kindergarten and first grade children showed us outlines of their soles (pun on souls) made by tracing around their feet.
  2. Claire Simon of the Epistle Committee read the following epistle from New York Yearly Meeting:

 

To Friends Everywhere:

As we arrived at Silver Bay on Lake George to celebrate New York Yearly Meeting’s tercentenary year, we were stunned by the news that a bus carrying the choirs of Farmington Friends Church had overturned on the highway nearby. Many Friends began immediately to minister to the injured, their families, and the caregivers. We heard about serious injuries and the death of one Friend. Instead of listening that night to Farmington’s ministry of music, we gathered in worship to pray for our friends and to struggle with this terrible event. We cried out to the Lord, and we did not understand. Throughout the week, we heard more about the accident and its aftermath. “It has been a tragedy,” Farmington’s pastor told us, “but God has truly worked wonders among us, providing miracle after miracle after miracle.”

We heard suffering in other places, too. One friend informed us of the Indians’ struggle for survival in Chiapas, Mexico. Another told us about the plight of orphans in Romania. She was filled with wonder that she, “just an ordinary woman, no one particularly special, could make a difference.”

In a commemorative ceremony, we listened to personal stories reminding us of all those who suffered in the violence that marked World War II. Then those in the auditorium joined the children in launching small memorial candle boats on Lake George.

One evening after rain, a beautiful double rainbow reminded us of God’s covenant with Noah and all the creatures of the earth. It was for us a sign of reconciliation and peace.

The tenderness we felt for the suffering of others put into perspective the need for peaceful resolution in revising the remaining sections of Faith and Practice. After eighteen years, with expressions of reverence and joy by many Friends, we approved it, and we will publish the new edition during this tercentennial year. In our deliberations, we were reminded that every arrival is also a point of departure, and we need to continue to attend to issues involving marriage, families, and the importance of children in our lives. We hope that we can bring to the discernment process around these issues compassion for each other in our differences as well as mutual love in the Light.

Several young people spoke of the importance of such love in the midst of differences when they reported on the spiritual impact they felt as they met Friends from other traditions during the last Youthquake. The participation of so many younger people throughout Yearly Meeting contributed to our sense of renewal.

Our tercentenary Yearly Meeting, with 688 attenders, including 155 in Junior Yearly Meeting, celebrated the history of New York Yearly Meeting’s three hundred years by welcoming the publication of Quaker Crosscurrents, the first comprehensive account of the Yearly Meeting, and by an intergenerational pageant involving more than seventy Friends who rehearsed all week.

In the Bible study, Daniel Smith-Christopher had presented two Hebrew responses to the Babylonian exile: exile is punishment and suffering has transformative power. He challenged us to consider how these models inform our faith. As we move forward, we pray that each day we may renew our faith and our practice by asking the question the prophet Micah posed: “…what does the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

After a solemn and weighty hush, the epistle was approved without any amendment.

  1. Harold Risler reported for the Sessions Committee.

Attendance at Silver Bay was 688, including 155 in Junior Yearly Meeting. The gift to Silver Bay library was Quaker Crosscurrents: Three Hundred Years of Friends in the New York Yearly Meetings, and a children’s book, Luke’s Summer Secret, by Randall Wisehart.

Representative Meeting will be hosted by Purchase Quarterly Meeting on December 2 & 3, 1995 at a place to be announced and by Long Island Quarterly Meeting on April 13 and 14, 1996, at Friends Academy.

The next Yearly Meeting sessions will be held from July 21 through July 27, 1996, at Silver Bay.

Sessions Committee has started planning for Yearly Meeting 1996 as well as future Representative Meetings and Yearly Meetings. Margaret Hope Bacon will be our speaker at 1996 Yearly Meeting.

Sessions Committee will meet on September 30, 1995, to evaluate this Yearly Meeting in preparation for Representative Meeting and Yearly Meeting sessions. At our January 20, 1996, meeting the week “at-a-glance” and program will be approved.

Approximately $3300 thus far has been collected for volunteer ambulance/emergency groups which responded to the bus accident. (Note: The final amount was $3500.) 38 people are giving blood this afternoon.

  1. The Clerk remarked that he would not attempt to summarize for Friends the meaning of the week we have spent together. Rather, it will be the results of our work here when we leave which will reveal its meaning.
  2. The minutes of the session were read and approved.
  3. Then, after a period of silent worship with vocal ministry, the Meeting was adjourned.

Steven W. Ross, Clerk

Cynthia Anne Nado, Assistant Clerk

Richard Accetta-Evans, Recording Clerk

Joan Oltman, Recording Clerk

Karen G. Way, Recording Clerk

That Smile

Wherever there is laughter, there is heaven.

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)

My little cousin spends her first weeks in a NICU. Nobody knows why her body is malfunctioning. They understand what is happening—a build-up of certain minerals in her organs—but they never understand why.

At first, the what turns out to be enough, and with sufficient interventions, she gets to go home. We live in different states, so I don’t meet her until she’s three years old. On a Wednesday afternoon, we sit around at Grandma’s house, and I teach her and her two older sisters and assorted other family members how to play a semi-violent card game. Not violent in the sense of hitting people, nor violent in the sense of bloody images on the cards, but violent in the sense that the game involves fast movements and snatching of silverware (yes, silverware), and almost inevitably this leads to shrieking and falling out of chairs.

It wouldn’t be very much fun if it didn’t.

This littlest one, at the age of three, can’t tell the difference between a two and an eight and a queen and an ace, so she’s on my “team,” and her job is to hide our cards. She does this very effectively. Sometimes she even hides them from me. She’s a little darling, all smiles and sparkles, though without much speech. Grandma says they’re testing her hearing next week. She probably throws the occasional tantrum—what three-year-old doesn’t?—but what sticks in my memory later is her charm, the way her smile’s like a little sunny day.

Turns out she hears fine, and I’m away and working and traveling and not with that side of the family through the doctor’s visits, the therapy, the warning signs. The next time I see her, she still has little speech, and she’s small—and her legs are in braces. Her gait’s unsteady. She’ll need a wheelchair eventually.

But that smile! She’s six years old, and she’s as beautiful as she was at three. This kid is special. She makes me happy. She makes everybody happy.

Eventually, the diagnosis comes, and it’s a relief to know, though it also means we know she’ll never live to see adulthood. It’s a miracle when she lives to see eight…then nine, then ten…and eleven and twelve. She loses control of her muscles. She can’t speak. Eventually, she can’t eat, and she’s given a G-tube.

But she can smile.

With her mom and her dad and her two older sisters, she lives her life like a twelve-year-old does: she goes to school, to church, to the park, to the pizza place. Every person in that little town knows her. She gives her smile to everyone she sees!

And then she dies. I get the phone call in New York, while I’m crossing the street. I can’t go to the funeral. I’m committed to facilitating a gathering that weekend, one that’s been in the works for nearly a year. (It’s the first funeral I’ll miss for this reason, but not the last.)

But I hear stories. I hear stories of all the people who show up to honor her. I hear stories of the local fast food place that puts her name up on their highway sign and adds WE WILL MISS YOU. I remember her for her, for who she was, but I also remember her as a model of ministry, of somebody who took the gift she’d been given and gave it and gave it, literally everything she had to give, and in doing so offered us all a taste of heaven.

 

 

 

 

This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed. 

If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.

To participate in the Holy Experiments ministry, which is designed to knit together an international community of Friends who are following Spirit adventurously and building more culturally inclusive faith communities, go here.

 

Connecting

You listened to him, didn’t you? That’s ministering, and it takes an enormous amount of energy.

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)

I can’t figure out what the noise might be. It’s loud, it’s right by my ear, but it’s not my alarm, instead my phone is—

Ringing? Yes, it’s ringing. Why?

In years past, when I worked as a stage manager, I kept my phone on at night. With traveling theatre companies, I had to be reachable in case of car accidents, in case of sickness, in case of fire, in case of whatever I couldn’t predict. Not that I could actually do anything about car accidents or sickness or fire at three in the morning, but I was the “first contact,” and often in emergency and semi-emergency situations, I got phone calls from actors or crew members who really just needed somebody with a stable, calming presence to reassure them, logically, that everything would be fine, even if the toilet really did overflow.

But then I moved from theatre into education, and I realized that from then on, there would be no middle-of-the-night emergencies. For one thing, my clientele was six years old and never called me. So I started silencing my phone at bedtime.

Isn’t it night right now? It’s dark outside…

The phone is still ringing. My hand reaches for it and I do what I never, ever do—answer it, without even checking to see who’s calling.

“Hello?”

“Don’t hang up! Please don’t hang up. I just want to know what happened.”

I pause. I haven’t completely gathered myself. It’s late, and on top of everything else, I’m not even at home; I’m traveling this weekend, shadowing a pastor, so the bed I’m in is unfamiliar, as is the darkened room, not to mention the circumstances of this call.

“I’m sorry?”

“Please, please, just don’t hang up on me.”

“I won’t, I promise, just—who is this?”

“It’s Judy. It’s Judy, Robert’s wife.”

Scrambling, I wrack my brain, trying to find a Robert or a Judy in my memory. But there’s nothing, certainly nothing that would induce this level of panic, of desperation, of hauntedness.

“I’m so sorry, but I think you have the wrong number.”

“. . . I do?”

She’s crying.

“My name is Emily. I live in New York City.”

What an odd thing to say. My name, that makes sense, but why did I tell her that I live in New York City? What significance could that possibly have right now?

“Oh.”

There’s silence at both ends of the call. What you do, when you’ve established that you’ve called the wrong number, is you apologize quickly and then disconnect. But it’s too late for us to disconnect, and besides, I promised I wouldn’t hang up on her.

“Listen,” I say slowly, “whatever’s happening tonight…whatever you’re going through…I hope you’re going to be okay.”

“Thank you.” That voice. Still choked with tears, but I listen while she takes a deep, steadying breath. Then two.

“Okay,” she says. “Okay…okay. Good night.”

“Good night, Judy.”

She ends the call, and then I do the same. I don’t really have the words to pray for her, but I hold her in my heart for a minute before I go back to sleep.

(In the morning, I wish I’d thought to say, “Wait—do you want to talk some more?” But I didn’t. So I promise myself: I’ll remember her.)

 

 

 

 

This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed.

If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.

To participate in the Holy Experiments ministry, which is designed to knit together an international community of Friends who are following Spirit adventurously and building more culturally inclusive faith communities, go here.

 

Chesed by Pizza

The obligations of normal human kindness—chesed, as the Hebrew has it—that, we all owe.

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)

Each mode of travel—bus, train, plane, automobile—has its own character. I find buses to be the most strange. They’re always cold, except when they’re hot. Transfers come disproportionately in the middle of the night. And even if you’re promised wifi and electricity, your chances are fifty-fifty of receiving either. Something about the combination of continual jostling, sleep deprivation, and the inability to fidget in your seat evokes a sort of twilight state that I don’t entirely dislike. The rules of the world change. You slip into magical realism.

By two-thirty Tuesday afternoon, I’m halfway between nowhere and North Carolina. Home is at least fourteen hours behind me. So, too, I’ve left behind the coffee shop that took forty-five minutes to bring me a bagel and the woman with the duffel bag who was arrested and dragged off the bus three stops back.

We pull over on the side of the highway. This is sometimes an indication of calamity and sometimes an indication that the driver needs to pee. He disembarks—not a promising sign—and reboards barking orders: EVERYONE OFF, IMMEDIATELY!

Backpack and I rush to comply. When all of us are off and well clear, a few minutes pass, and then the driver makes an announcement only audible to the six people nearest him, but through the crowd like a game of telephone, we learn that our fuel is leaking. We’ll be here for awhile. It’s not a bad side of the road, as roadsides go, wide and well back from traffic and reasonably clean. So, once I’m sure an explosion’s unlikely, I lay down and go to sleep. Many others do the same.

An hour later, I’ve finished my nap and have stretched out on my back to watch the sky. Two passengers hitchhike. The police appear, and I watch them curiously, wondering how they intend to be helpful; they firmly request that we not litter, then get back in their cars and drive away. Our driver keeps himself apart from his passengers, but he’s sitting and waiting as powerlessly as we. Another hour passes by. It’s now four-thirty.

It’s also getting hot. At first, this experience was odd but not unpleasant. Now, it’s becoming uncomfortable, and our spirits are not lifted when the driver announces that the company won’t send a new bus until they’re sure they can’t fix this one, but the mechanic has not yet appeared, and when he does appear, if he can’t fix the bus, it will take at least an hour after that to get a new one. Among us are a toddler and two women who are fairly elderly. They’re being good sports, but there’s an end to their physical capacity.

That’s when Lucy pulls over.

At first I’m confused. Who is this person? She pulls over, and she opens up her backseat, and she’s unloading granola bars and bags of chips and two dozen bottles of water. Did she happen to be coming from a grocery store? No—she passed us, took the next exit, went shopping, and then returned to make her delivery. We thank her in at least three languages. She disappears as suddenly as she came.

After Lucy leaves, the mechanic arrives. He can fix the bus but didn’t bring the parts he needs. Which means the bus is “fixable” and the company won’t be sending a new one. The granola bars have taken off the edge, but it’s a whole new thing when Lucy comes back, this time with two dozen pepperoni pizzas!

We spread out across the grass and feast, plumbers and computer programmers, toddlers and grandfathers, Puerto Rican and Korean, hip hop and jazz.  We don’t leave behind a single box or napkin.  (The police will be gratified to know this.)

I take Lucy aside.  Who is she?  Why is she buying pizza for strangers?

“I believe that when people don’t get enough kindness, what they’re left with is fear, and fear becomes hate. So when I get the chance, I put kindness in the world.”

I recognize a sister in the ministry.

 

 

 

 

This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed. 

If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.

To participate in the Holy Experiments ministry, which is designed to knit together an international community of Friends who are following Spirit adventurously and building more culturally inclusive faith communities, go here.