of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Epistle of New York Yearly Meeting, July 2005
To Friends everywhere—Greetings in the Holy Spirit.
We, 453 adults and 184 attenders at Junior Yearly Meeting, gathered at the Silver Bay Conference Center on Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains for our 310th session. We are a united yearly meeting where Friends from programmed and unprogrammed meetings interact in the Spirit. Our theme, "The Seed Cracked Open: Growing beyond Racism," has been an opportunity to hear a story rarely told: of membership denied to and respect withheld from those of African heritage, of prejudice, oppression, and racism experienced in a faith community which professes equality of all under God/the creator. Irma Guthrie, invited to bring us a message during our opening family worship, reminded us that we all have been hurt by racism and that we must work together to overcome it to be whole. Irma insisted that this work must be done by European American Friends because social power resides with them.
We received the ministry of Vanessa Julye, a minuted minister from Central Philadelphia Meeting traveling under a concern to enable the Religious Society of Friends to grow beyond racism. Using the African tradition of call and response, she described how racism developed, the Truth that racism denies, and the steps that Friends of European heritage need to take to end racism. She charted a path, part of which was presented almost 40 years ago by Friend Barrington Dunbar. His focus was on the wider society; Friend Vanessa put the focus on us: "Acknowledge and accept that we have prejudices no matter how painful this is."
Many Friends in New York Yearly Meeting find it very difficult to talk about racism. When we do, we experience feelings of rage, pain, awkwardness, confusion, guilt, and/or denial. Vanessa challenged us to examine ourselves and our meetings, listening deeply with compassion to one another's stories, and reminding us that the Spirit of God continues to move within Friends to heal the hurts that racism has instilled. Attention to this concern continued in worship sharing for racial healing, a study group, threshing sessions, and a panel and a movie about Bayard Rustin.
We were blessed in Bible study sessions to hear Trayce Peterson, director of Campus and Quaker Ministries at Earlham College, guide us in a reading of the Epistle of James. There was extensive sharing, and we were powerfully reminded of the futility of trying to separate faith from works, of the grievous sinfulness of honoring social distinctions, and that peace is the seedbed of righteousness.
In our business sessions we experienced a spirit-led tranquillity, acceptance, and deepening that allowed us to look at the ways we are working in the world. We continue pruning our structure, making room for revitalization. Friends laid down three committees (Disability Concerns, Women's Concerns, and Latin American Concerns). Our work in these areas continues by other means. Simplifying our structures and containing our costs allows the allocation of greater resources to our monthly meetings. The result is a projected balanced budget with only a tiny increase.
In his first year of service, our new general secretary, Christopher Sammond, visited all regional meetings and one third of local meetings and worship groups. He sees increased life in the spirit of God powerfully at work in this yearly meeting. He emphasized that it is the work of all Friends in our yearly meeting to support our numerous small meetings and worship groups, the best way being through visitation.
This year saw greater participation by young Friends. A panel of six young Friends and two adults spoke on being a Quaker in a non-Quaker world. Young Friends offered thoughtful insights describing Powell House, Junior Yearly Meeting, Friends General Conference's Junior Gathering, and their parents as sources for learning about their own gifts and how to take these gifts back into the non-Quaker world in socially positive ways. The high school group brought a testimony of witness to the equality of all people, which is appended to this epistle. Those present were inspired and responded with joy, thankfulness, and singing.
It was wonderful to hear how the leaders of Quaker organizations in the New York area have been meeting to renew themselves in the context of spiritual searching and to coordinate the witness of Friends.
We were moved by Friends whose inspired witness is supported by the yearly meeting. Each one who spoke to us was a pattern, an example, giving us testimonies of faith in action: addressing poverty, AIDS, and trauma in Africa; building adobe ovens in Honduras; developing pastoral leadership (including HIV/AIDS counseling and Alternatives to Violence Project skills) in Kaimosi, Kenya; nurturing the spirit of incarcerated young women; giving testimony against the death penalty in New York State; and ministering to persons with AIDS in Manhattan.
Friday's programmed worship lifted us up with deep messages about the divine love and forgiveness that surround us. May you know this presence of love, and may the spirit of God guide your steps and ours in the days ahead.
And, dear Friends everywhere, although the approval of the epistle has always been the end of our yearly meeting sessions, this year Vanessa Julye continued her ministry to us as she reflected that our struggle long into the night to approve this epistle to you was the beginning of the work that we need to do. We were brought low and found how accurate our words in the third paragraph of this epistle are: "Many Friends in New York Yearly Meeting find it very difficult to talk about racism. When we do, we experience feelings of rage, pain, awkwardness, confusion, guilt, and/or denial. Vanessa challenged us to examine ourselves and our meetings, listening deeply with compassion to one another's stories, and reminding us that the Spirit of God continues to move within Friends to heal the hurts that racism has instilled." We ask for your prayers.
Signed for and on behalf of New York Yearly Meeting Linda B. Chidsey, clerk