Monday, September 11, 2006

Last P(acific) Yearly Meeting, what happened and what didn't happen and why it matters.

This is obviously not an official report. I wrote it up mainly for quaker-L, sent a copy to appropriate people & committees, and hope others will find it useful.
Although I've never been able to attend an FGC gathering, I think I use my yearly meeting as that kind of event. I find myself overwhelmed by the critical spiritual mass gathered together; I wax ecstatic, burble to myself and others, go about loving people whether harshly, admiringly, or simply with great affection. I come home, hoping to "keep" what I find there, but of course "it" is not that kind of "thing." "A city may be moved, but not a well." Still, the Spirit is here as well, and what I really need is openness to what it may look like here.

This year was special, in that Ministry and Oversight decided we should treat it as a "Jubilee" year, dedicated to stopping our heedless rush and continually examining: "Is [this] really necessary?"

Tony Prete, [from Philadelphia) gave an introductory talk, on the meanings of Sabbath and Jubilee. Which are akin. The Hebrew words were not based on the word for rest," but for "stop." Sabbath is, precisely, a day for discerning God's will from ours, valuable tradition from mere "habit." By implication, Sabbath was what a person under foreign masters would (by the normal ways of the ancient world) have been forbidden to do--stop the work required by his masters, in obedience to his own God and in limited, but firm, defiance of their gods and coercive power.

Business was not abandoned this year, but significantly curtailed in favor of worshipful "discernment." There was at first much grumbling and yearning for the fleshpots of Egypt, fear that we had all been led out to die in the desert. But the worship was deep and emotionally moving, so that by the end of the second day people were coming to agree that something similar in our monthly meetings could well prove worthwhile.

Toward the end of the third day, the worship had become so deep that one of us called for it to continue on into the period scheduled for worship-sharing. I was personally content with whatever we might do at that point, but another person vehemently disagreed, and so the Clerk suggested that those who wanted to continue might remain, while another member objected that this would occupy space needed by several
worship-sharing groups. I went to join and comfort the first speaker, to tell her that what actually happens does exceed whatever we first yearned for, but this was not what she'd wanted at all, at all. I was left alone with another concerned woman, not so charismatic but equally upset that we had unduly limited the Spirit. And then went on to worship sharing, where I remained utterly blown out, babbling poetically to what I hope was someone's benefit. (& was likewise touched by what the others had to say.)

Friday night someone was running a tv nearby, and instead of beating down their door, screaming, I stayed up awhile later, writing the following:

The gospel, we are told, is the saving power of God.

This is not to say that the saving power of God is dependent on our belief in some doctrine called "the gospel," rather that the gospel that must be announced is that God can and will save us. This gospel needs to be announced, not because God needs it to save us, but because we need to believe in God's power rather than in false remedies that can only worsen our condition.

Faith saves us because it enables us to act in accord with God's will.

So far as we lack faith, we know of no choice but to conform ourselves to the ways of the world, and hence to struggle futilely with false hopes and fears.

We can turn to faith, it appears, only when we recognize that our misplaced trust in the world and our false selves threatens not only our own lives but all we hold dear.

We who know somewhat of the state of the world recognize God at work when we see our fellow Quakers honestly facing it. And so we rejoice. But when we let the process stop there, it becomes a self-indulgent exercise in despair.

We have had several hints, this week, of what we need to do better.

We need to devote our time and effort first to the most important task--leaving the Spirit free to act among us. We say that our meetings for business are exercises in worship, but so far as we treat business as a matter of higher priority than worship for its own sake, we should expect to find our business badly ordered, fixated on minutiae and productive of strife.

This year we made a laudable effort to return to God's priorities. As a result, we have experienced many powerful meetings, but fell short, so far, of what we may have hoped for.

The man who introduced JYM this year spoke of a tradition of early Friends I hadn't understood, that they would meet until they felt the Spirit breaking forth among them, and not stop before that.

When we return to our home meetings, should we strive to set up occasional meetings scheduled on that principle? Shorter periods may be all God needs, but if they are all we are willing to devote to this, we may not be giving God sufficient attention for our own progress.

I wasn't able to do anything with that writing, the last day of the meeting. The business meeting was scheduled first, and as usual ran way overtime into the period allotted to worship. When I finally, gratefully was able to settle into worship, I could not object to--nor add to--the many messages of warm fuzzy solidarity in this brief remaining time.

But I will, of course, forward this post to Ministry for anything
worthwhile they might find in it.

Further musings. The trouble with "Quaker process" may well be what a young woman I'd asked told me: "We aren't doing it right; the kind of order we are following is not the right order." One difficulty may be that our clerks are inevitably selected from people drawn to the kind of Quaker business we normally do. They are trained to discern the spirit of what the whole group assembled is willing, at it's best, to agree on. And so we achieve a kind of least-common-denominator unity, and since we
are good people, and since we are all spirit-led despite ourselves, this is generally
a good decision that everyone can live with.

What bothers those of us anguishing at the margins is that the resulting decision is often not the best we could achieve, merely the best we can do without putting too much strain on our most faint-hearted members.

The "answer?" Worship, worship, and more worship. Worship. "With all our heart and all our mind and all our strength."


Robin M. said...

Oh Forrest, this is great.

I don't think we've actually been introduced but I certainly know who you are, and I hope you might have an idea of who I am, from seeing each other at PYM. I'm from San Francisco Monthly Meeting.

I'm so glad to have found your blog and I invite you to read mine, quiet though it has been the last month or so. What Canst Thou Say?

forrest said...

Welcome, of course! I think I know who you are but your photo isn't much more help in that than the painting I've been using. I have looked at your blog and will certainly be reading it more often.

So, was your PYM like my PYM this year? I'm finding a lot of Friends who seem to have been in an alternate universe at the time.

quakerboy said...

Wow Forrest...awesome post! Worship is the heartbeat of our Society. We, I, often forget that. Everything we do as Quakers, be it marching for peace or feeding the hungry must be born out of our experience of worship.

You speak my mind, Friend.

cherice said...

It's so encouraging to hear what people in Pacific YM were experiencing this year! I'm from just to the north, in Northwest YM. It's great to hear abut the Spirit moving among you all, to hear your joys and concerns about business and worship and how they are done together. I appreciated your comment about clerks who are trained to find the consensus that everyone can agree on, without pushing the boundaries of everyone's comfort levels too much. I find this in our YM as well, and on committees and at the local level and everywhere, it seems. We struggled with this some this year as well--I wrote about it a little bit on a post on my blog a couple days ago. How do you move forward with a decision that is Spirit-led when some aren't ready for it? Is consensus really the way to go, when we think of consensus as everyone present agreeing? No! Consensus should be coming to know the will of God, and being in a space of worship that allows us to recognize that will even when we don't agree with it. But this is so hard, so hard. Instead we often end up doing the lowest common denominator thing, too--what will move us forward a little bit without offending too many people. But is that really living in the Spirit? Is that really living in the "life and power" George Fox spoke of? What if he'd waited till everyone he knew agreed he should preach in a certain place where he'd get beaten up? Or what if John Woolman hadn't preached his message against slavery because it would offend people? How do we as a Society of Friends discern well during business, learn to trust those we worship with, and break out of what we are comfortable with in order to truly follow the Spirit? I think you're right--worship, worship, worship!

Chris M. said...


I'm glad Robin M. found your blog! You wrote: "There was at first much grumbling and yearning for the fleshpots of Egypt, fear that we had all been led out to die in the desert. But the worship was deep and emotionally moving..."

Yes, yes, oh yes! If it was an alternate universe, I was in the same one. :)

I've written some reflections on my experience as clerk of the children's program committee on my blog at (Actually a series of four posts.)

It was a privilege for me to help with the children at the start of meeting for worship. Though I left each morning with the children after about 15 minutes, I usually came back a while later, and experienced a sense of deep, gathered worship.

I was so grateful the morning that Anne and Emelyn both sang while the children were still present.

-- Chris M.