Reports from Lake Erie Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions 2016
One Quaker alone is just that. Many together are a Society. Our faith together becomes the Religious Society that we are. As in a family, there is always necessary housework to do. Working alone may seem overwhelming. By working together accomplishment is possible. And the companionship is rewarding. So, periodically Friends from the area of Lake Erie renew relationships and form new ones in attending to our housekeeping. Our annual gathering is planned as a time together to work, worship, share, laugh, learn and listen. We find personal and collective satisfaction from the experience. Lake Erie Yearly Meeting 2016 was especially relevant in that Friends focused on current issues and events which challenge the values and testimonies of our Faith. The rhetorical theme What would John Woolman Do? invited our response to social and economic injustice, non-sustainable consumption, and personal accountability which may interfere with a loving world we envision. Indeed, we were challenged to examine the bias and exclusion within institutional Quakers. Ultimately, What Would John Woolman Do? becomes the Query, What Will I Do?
After a 2 hour drive (it used to take much longer) we were back at Bluffton (Have we come to take the Bluffton site for granted? We need to express our gratitude to Broadmead Meeting members that make the gathering possible.) It was good to reconnect with other Friends that we have learned to know for more than two decades. I will admit that after all these years there were lots of “spirits” that are no longer there and that are remembered. Meeting new attenders renews the importance of what Friends are about. Having worked in the Youth and Children’s Program for many years it is always soul-satisfying to see the babies that I cared for have grown into healthy young middle school personalities, and are still participating. This year’s message for me was about the racial injustices that fellow humans experience and the price that we all pay when, for whatever reason, we try to restrict the flowering of our neighbors. That message helps me reexamine my interactions with everyone.
Admittedly, I was a tad anxious to attend the Lake Eerie Yearly Meeting - purely because I had never done so before. However, my fears were dismissed almost instantaneously after I settled into our first Business Meeting Friday afternoon. Exemplified through the business meeting, I began to discover the powerful autonomy the Friends community has: with the ability to address large systematic issues within our society through holding accountability to their own organization as a Society of Friends. Additionally, throughout the weekend I was gobsmacked at the open and kind disposition complete strangers could have towards each other. Eventually it began to set in this was not an atypical approach Friends had when encountering strangers. Ultimately, my experience from the weekend retreat at Bluffton University uncovered both the autonomy and kindness the Society of Friends has when addressing business and faith. I am truly grateful for the experience to see this action first-hand and hope to attend future Friends' events.
As a first time attendee of Lake Erie Yearly Meeting, I approached it open to possibilities and with few expectations save the general observation of Friends. I discovered a somewhat diverse group of people whose primarily unifying features seem to be kind heartedness, liberal thinking, and reservations in verbally expressing their spirituality. The large Meetings for Worship with Attention to Business were of particular interest. As true to form whenever power is decentralized and disseminated to the masses, decision making was a bit tedious. Such is the small price for giving every individual a voice. There was clear opportunity for synergy in our discernment between the recording work of the clerks and the Silence. It could have been more fully embraced. The best part of the whole weekend was growing closer to and learning more of my own Monthly Meeting Friends. Overall, my experience was highly informative and very good.
Chatting with Ryan and Colleen about their impressions of the various activities at Yearly Meeting was probably the highlight of the weekend for me. I have been participating in the Friends' way of doing business so long that I take it for granted. Making decisions without creating winners and losers is a very precious part of our heritage as Friends. We also got to see how Friends avoid taking a stand on an issue when it is evident that unity cannot be achieved. Thus Friends as a body never take a stand on abortion. There are strongly held views too divergent to make unity possible. But of course that also means that the very important issue of access to reproductive health care for low-income women gets no nod at all from Friends because it is viewed as tied to the divisive issue of abortion. Friends always form a welcoming community and this weekend was no different. The children’s reports this year were delightful as always. The children form close friendships and want to return each year. We lucky adults get to see them grow up in the Light and in the love of the community. Also, to be perfectly honest, I was glad to be housed this year in a dorm where the children did not meet for activities, as the quiet evenings were very nice.
The highlight of yearly meeting for me was the workshop on Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). Emily Wirzbar, policy associate for climate change and renewable resources, said that she wanted to talk about the ways FCNL is developing bipartisan support on these issues. Several of us scoffed, perhaps laughed out loud, when she said this, but she went on to detail the ways FCNL has been developing coalitions and perhaps most importantly developing ways to provide cover for representatives who want to speak out, but feel constrained by the practical politics of doing so. (Almost all members, she says, acknowledge privately that climate change is real and critical, but they fear the district politics of speaking out.) The details of the work — and the success! — can be found on the FCNL website, http://fcnl.org/issues/energy/Bipartisan_Action_on... There are significant successes, not highly publicized, and the coalition continues to grow. One of the coalitions is dubbed the Noah’s Ark because people are only allowed to join if they bring with them a member from the other party. Another study group, slowly growing, is populated with some members and many legislative assistants from different offices. Apparently these are work/study sessions, not sessions focused on specific bills. The goal is to have these bipartisan groups producing bills and speaking out as a group, so that no specific representative takes the brunt of whatever criticism might develop. These are incredibly important issues to be working on, but even more important is the way FCNL is going about this work. They respond to the possibilities in people and explore how to work with those possibilities. Not easy, not quick, but beautiful to see. This is the best of Quakerism in action — political action.