Friday, January 22, 2016

ponderings on Peru and possibilities

A big diversion for me this week is reading the many updates of f/Friends who have headed to Pisac in Peru for the World Plenary of FWCC. I did a quick tot up of names and got to at least 35 Friends there that I know, and there are no doubt many others that I just haven't discovered are there yet!

I was reading Rachel's blog post about the event and was struck by how similar the four consultations are to the four themes that have emerged in our Yearly Meeting's structure review so far. I commented on this in an email to the nine Friends from our YM heading there and got this reply from Elizabeth Duke "Your perception of the similarities between the themes being considered here and those in our YM is spot-on. I'm co-clerking the consultation on 'Equipping FWCC', along with Michael Eccles, and our planned movement through our four sessions owes more than a little to my experience on the YM working group." Part of me was surprised at the co-incidence, but the rest of me remembers reading a Quaker blog post (sorry I've long since forgotten who wrote it!) that spoke of god-incidences instead, and I figure that it makes perfect sense that a process of discernment as to why both FWCC and our YM exist comes up with similar answers!

It is exciting to think that the experience of those attending the World Plenary are going to be so timely for our ongoing discernment here. I came back from the 2012 World Conference of Friends in Kenya with a renewed enthusiasm for Outreach after the message of not hiding our light under a bushel came through loud and clear. There has indeed been a stirring of enthusiasm for outreach across the YM, but there has also been a distinct lack of direction. How do we reach out to those who may be looking for us if we don't really have a clear vision of who we are, and the structure we have clearly needs overhauled? 

So we've muddled along in the background with vague ideas but lacking content. In some ways it has felt like putting the cart before the horse, even more so seeing that the Handbook Revision Committee has been updating our equivalent of Church Government when the status quo is under review. However Quaker process isn't renown for its speed so we'll no doubt get a good few years worth out of their labours before much changes! Similarly there is plenty for the MM Outreach Committees to be picking up on meanwhile now we have at least got the outreach conversation going on a national level at our recent Summer Gathering.

One of the perks of the job I have helping put together the Documents in Advance for Yearly Meeting is not only getting to read all the contributions early, but being immersed in them for several weeks. Much better preparation than the hasty skim read prior to and during scheduled discussion of them that has been far more common for me over the years. I'm keen to see where the review process takes us this year and what impact it has had already on the Meetings around the country. The view has been put forward already that the issue before us is a spiritual one as much as a structural one, and if we revitalize the spiritual the rest will follow. I agree that spiritual nourishment and renewal is vital, and will indeed lead to more Friends being willing to 'live the transformation', but we still need to figure out how to underpin that work with a better functioning structure. I've often heard it said that the reason Quakers survived well beyond the other dissenting churches that started around the same time was due to the organizational structure and skills of the likes of Margaret Fell. This was repeatedly used as a reason for not changing things when Britain YM reviewed its own structure about a decade ago - it had worked for 350yrs why change it?! Well, actually it wasn't working all that great and from what I can tell from here (having emigrated as it was in the middle of happening) the changes have led to a revitalized Yearly Meeting. So whilst I took some persuading initially in Britain, I'm all for reorganizing things here.

Admittedly I have a vested interest in putting forward the view that it makes sense to pay someone to do more of the administrative tasks to free up Friends to work on building our spiritual communities, work on our social testimonies, strengthen our Meetings and do outreach, as I'd love to be doing that work for more than the current 100 hours a year. But it makes sense to me as a model anyway. Having grown up with the resources of Friends House in London on tap, and on a much smaller scale the Scotland General Meeting administrator role I suppose that is no surprise. Additionally I don't have as many decades of attachment to the local system to shed as others do, and I do have the benefit of an international perspective. Not only have I been part of more than one Yearly Meeting, my involvement with FWCC over the years, first with the Europe & Middle East Section and now the Asia West Pacific Section, as well as global events like the 2004 Triennial, WGYF 2005 and the 2012 World Conference, means I've come across a wide range of Quaker experience and practices.

So we'll see how the year unfolds, but first there is the rest of the World Plenary to follow! Here's hoping the wifi holds out and Friends continue to find the time and energy to share their experiences with us as they happen.

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