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JUNE 2019

Toward Invitation

Dear Friends,

I'm wrestling with "Quaker identity". And with "perfection."    "

Growing up in a Quaker family and in Quaker meetings, I often heard the message that there was something different about "us"—that is, Friends—that set us apart from other people. This sense of Friends having a distinct and particular identity has been a blessing in my life. In many ways, my understanding of myself "as a Friend" has shaped my life, though like so many of us I've needed to rediscover and reclaim what this has meant to me again and again.

But I also think there's a way that an unexamined sense of Quaker identity—based on culturally similar markers rather than practices of our faith—can be dangerous and unwelcoming. Beneath the stories and experiences through which Friends celebrate and transmit our tradition, it's easy to receive an underlying message that those who call ourselves Quakers are in some sense "better" than others.  

I believe the effects of this distortion have profound implications for our spiritual life and the testimony of Friends in the world. 

Quakers—at least in some of the ways the stories are told—have a compelling shared story and a history of meaningful witness. Sometimes we articulate principles and embrace causes that resonate with many newcomers' vision for a better world.

But when painful conflicts or difficulties arise, people whose belonging is grounded in this kind of identity often express a sense of disillusionment. "I thought Quakers were supposed to be better than this..." is a common refrain I've heard in these moments. Many of us come to Friends because of wounds we've experienced in other traditions, and when we hear the stories some people—including some Quakers ourselves—tell about Quakers, we can understandably think we've found a community that will be free from these kinds of struggles and imperfections.  

This sets us up for disappointment and disillusionment. We discover that Quakers are often just as imperfect, just as prone to make mistakes, to hurt one another, to be selfish or ignorant or petty or prejudiced as other human beings. Researchers have reported that the rates of domestic violence in families with a Quaker affiliation showed no overall difference from the surrounding population. Simply calling ourselves Quakers doesn't change our capacity for evil, abuse, and injustice.   

I know people whose experience of this disillusionment has led them to leave Quaker communities for good. They feel they've been sold something that doesn't add up to the reality. And I understand, because there have been times in my own life when I've found myself in a similar place of disillusionment. 

But I believe there's another way to understand ourselves, and to present the possibility of Quaker faith community to others: a way of invitation.

"Welcome. We're so glad you're here. How was the experience of worship for you today? We're not perfect. We don't have all the answers. We will certainly disappoint you—and each other—at times. We've got a lot of growing to do. But we're here together, committed to helping each other grow in Love, in grace, in humility, in compassion, in joy. We're supported in doing this by a tradition of shared spiritual practice that has helped generations before us to Love more deeply, to serve more boldy, and to live more fully. And we have learned to trust that as we walk together on this journey, we are not alone. We're learning to be led in a way that leads home. Would you like to join us?" 

I'm more and more convinced that enforcing the expectation of being perfect is deadly.

Tema Okun (building on the work of Daniel Buford and Kenneth Jones) describes perfectionism as one of the key factors supporting a culture of white supremacy in institutions. We can become trapped, investing energy in maintaining the rigid illusion of purity and principle, rather than seeing our condition clearly in a way that allows greater healing, justice, mercy, and compassion to emerge. 

Brene Brown's work and research affirms that perfectionism is an obstacle to growth. Trying to maintain the appearance of being perfect is a defense mechanism against shame, not a commitment to improvement. It actually keeps us from learning and growing. It leaves us imprisoned.

But when we can let go of needing to be perfect, right, and (even) holy, when we can see ourselves clearly, then (as George Fox wrote in 1656) "...the planting, and the watering, and the increase from God comes."

This frees us to grow toward the Invitation to love, to live, and to serve. There's a place for identity here, but it's not a rigid, static one. It's a dynamic identity grounded in a commitment to the unfolding journey, in the practice, and in the covenant with one another and the Spirit. It's an identity grounded in responding to the Invitation.  

According to many who've walked this path before us, this is one of the powerful paradoxes at the heart of our tradition:

When we can allow the Light to show us the places—in us, in our spiritual communities, and in our wider society and world—that are out of harmony with the song God is singing, we can begin again. When we can honestly acknowledge these places of brokenness or unfaithfulness—even as we know that we are infinitely and unchangeably beloved—it's then that we can receive power to grow, to heal, to help our world live into a new possibility of justice and wholeness. 

This month, I'm practicing welcoming imperfection in a way that opens me to invitation. I'm praying to let go of protecting who I think I'm supposed to be, in order to allow space to be who I am invited to become.

Maybe we can practice together. 

in blessed imperfection,

Noah Merrill
Secretary
New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers)
 

QuakerSpring at Woolman Hill

Each year Friends from different branches of Friends gather in a radically unstructured five day gathering to worship, do Bible study, meet in small groups, and hold threshing meetings on subjects on the hearts of those present at the time. There are no advance agendas. Many Friends have found these gatherings to be moving, refreshing, and filled with Spirit.

This year the gathering will be held at Woolman Hill—a lovely Quaker retreat center located in rural Deerfield, MA—from Friday, June 21 to Wed, June 26. All fees are on a “pay as led” basis. Children and part-time attenders welcome. Registration is now open here.

Registration is Open for Annual Sessions!

photo: Diane Weinholtz

Join Friends from all over New England—and beyond—at our annual gathering. Worship, play, explore Quaker spirituality, make new friends, and help discern God's will for our Yearly Meeting. Find out more and register.

Called to Nurture Faithfulness?

Nurturing Faithfulness, a program of Woolman Hill and New England Yearly Meeting, is being offered August 2019 through May 2020, and we'd like to invite you to an online Info Session to learn more on June 25, at 7 p.m. Nurturing Faithfulness is a multi-generational faith and leadership program designed to help Friends explore ways to meet God more deeply, hone methods of discernment, reach for fuller faithfulness, and ultimately bring these gifts and strengthened abilities home to their local meetings and beyond. For more information take a look at our video or the Woolman Hill website. Applications are being accepted on a rolling basis. To be in touch with Marcelle or Hilary you can email NF@WoolmanHill.org.

Click here for more information, and decide if this is the program for you or someone you know.  

Events coming soon 

Upcoming Quarterly Meetings

View More Events

Annual Sessions is Coming!

(Photo: (c) Skip Schiel 
 

Support Families with Young Children
 

Are you led to support families with young children at Sessions? Volunteers sought for the Family Neighborhood


The Family Neighborhood is a residential & social area at Sessions designed to help meet the particular needs of families with young children. Through a mixture of structured opportunities and informal connection, the Family Neighborhood creates a warm space for caregivers and their families to form peer circles and establish mutually supportive relationships. 

Do you carry a concern for the needs of parents with young children? Do you yearn to make Sessions a more joyful & growthful experience for families? We are seeking Friends who are led to help make the Family Neighborhood a safe, welcoming & nurturing space. If you are interested in contributing in this way, please contact Nia Thomas.
 

Join the Virtual Plenary Experiment


In previous newsletters we've shared videos by Lisa Graustein (Beacon Hill, MA, Friends Meeting) for  a "Virtual Plenary" to deepen engagement with the theme for 2019 Annual Sessions, "Provoke One Another to Love." This is an opportunity for meetings and individual Friends—whether or not they are planning to attend Annual Sessions—to take part in exploring these important issues that we face as Friends today. All of the videos and related resources are posted here.

These videos were designed to be viewed on your own and can also be used to shape an adult religious education session, using the reflection questions for discussion. If you want support or ideas for how to use them in First Day School or for adult programming, contact Lisa.

RSEJ Launches Book Discussion Project


The NEYM Racial, Social, and Economic Justice Committee (RSEJ) will be introducing a book-discussion project at Annual Sessions featuring the novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The committee will distribute (to each quarterly meeting) kits consisting of six books and a list of suggested discussion questions. Meetings or groups wishing to discuss the book may keep the kit for two to three months before sending it to the next meeting that requests it. RSEJ invites Friends to use the novel as a way to spark discussion on police-involved shootings, on how people can be allies, as well as how people can speak truth to power. 

Read more

Legacy Grant Awards

The Legacy Gift Committee of New England Yearly Meeting has announced the spring 2019 grants for the NEYM Future Fund and the NEYM Witness and Ministry Fund. Grants will fund travel in the ministry, digital projects, exhibits, workshops, renovations, and more. Read the details.

The Legacy Gift Committee has awarded a total of $517,000 over four years to support New England Friends' work in the world. 

In fall 2019, the Committee will take a break from reviewing applications to consider management of the remaining balance in the Future Fund, which is approximately $50,000, and to review key policies. The next deadline for the Witness and Ministry Fund will be March 1, 2020. 

If you have questions about any part of the Legacy grant program, please contact the co-clerks at legacy@neym.org
 

Sharing, Supporting and Finding Ministry


The Releasing Ministry Alliance connects individuals with a call to ministry with those who want to support ministry and those who seek ministry. The Alliance is beginning a series of online conversations about topics in ministry, such as what it means to be under the care of a meeting.

Suzanna Schell (Beacon Hill, MA, Friends Meeting) and other members of our own Legacy Gift Committee will be sharing their experience of "holy abundance" throughout the grant-making process from meeting with applicants, helping meetings provide spiritual and financial oversight, and sharing the work of the grantees.

Find out more

Thoughts on "Beloved Community"


Katharine Barnard (Worcester, MA, Friends Meeting) muses on living one's faith and on being a Quaker physician, and anticipates the theme for Annual Sessions this year, "Provoke one another to love," in this essay.

A Taste of Abundance

Emily Provance (New York YM) and Nia Thomas (Northampton, MA, Friends Meeting) write in the current Friends Journal about building community among young adult Friends through shared meals:

"Throughout the Vital Meetings Project, we’ve repeatedly seen that the aspects of our faith that are most compelling to young adults are an extension of our enduring trust in God’s bounty. When food and connection are at the center ('Just join us and eat!') rather than to‐do list items, the warmth shines through and saying 'yes' is a joy."

Read more in Friends Journal.

Joy and Laughter with the Interim Committee

Constance Kincaid-Brown explains the history and the work of the Interim Committee of Northwest Quarter and shares about the joy and fulfillment of her service in this essay.

Loving Life on the Margins


New England Friends Paul Hood, Dinah Starr and Skip Schiel all play a major role in this book.

Loving Life on the Margins
 tells the story of 40 years of community, resistance, nonviolence, and sustainability at the Agape Community of Hardwick, Massachusetts.

FWCC Section of the Americas Seeks
Advancement Manager

Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas seeks a creative Advancement Manager to join their small, friendly and successful team nurturing faith, hope and resilience. This is a new full-time position based in Philadelphia.  

The work will require excellent communication skills, including written and in-person solicitation of donors, and hands-on database skills. You will be engaged in all aspects of the FWCC fundraising program.

Find out more

AFSC Eager to Engage with Local Meetings

In the second year of its centennial, the American Friends Service Committee is embarking on a strategic planning process to set the course for the organization following the difficult program cuts made last year. At the annual Corporation meeting, we heard a powerful call to address the painful challenge of being a person of color and a Quaker.

Yearly Meetings were challenged to consider diversity in their appointment of representatives to the Corporation and white Friends were challenged to put aside fears and engage with Friends of color. We were reminded of the importance of making explicit in all reports the fundamental organizational commitment to anti-racist work, putting it front and center. Reflecting the theme of this year’s corporation meeting, “Reclaiming Radical Faith in Action,” Lucy Duncan, Friends Relations staff, shared her vision of all Quakers putting our bodies on the line for a just society.

AFSC is eager to engage with monthly meetings and offers directly applicable resources through its Friends Relations program (https://www.afsc.org/friends-engage). 

~ Melissa Foster, Framingham, MA, Friends Meeting; Yearly Meeting Representative to AFSC
Benigno Sanchez-Eppler (Northampton, MA, Friends Meeting) spoke to Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting gathered in Canby, Oregon, in May. (Photo: Stanley Muhr)
Noah Merrill (Putney, VT, Friends Meeting) shown here with Siobhan Walshe [l] and Rachel Bewley-Bateman [r], offered the public lecture at Ireland Yearly Meeting

News of New England Friends sharing and acting from their faith:

Are you aware of Friends or Friends Meetings featured in the media? Email us so that we can share the news!
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