Report of the General Secretary, Fall Sessions 2013 (Oral)

Oral Report to Fall Sessions

November 16, 2013

The following is a rendering after the fact of the message that was given to me to share with Fall Sessions. I have tried as best I could to capture not just the words, but the spirit in which the words were given.


Good morning Friends. I had prepared a written report for you all, and copies of that will be available after the rise of this meeting. But I was up much of last night, with Spirit wrestling with me, and I was given a different report to share with you today. It will contain some of what is in the written report, but not all, so I would encourage you to read that report, as well.

What I heard over and over again in the night was the adage “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.”

For many, many years we have had dropping membership, an eroding of our capacity for renewal, and the cutting of our budgets. Throughout my time here, I have given reports naming our condition and gently admonishing Friends towards greater faithfulness, without specific actions recommended as to what greater faithfulness might mean. These have been received with thanks and affirmation.

“If you always do as you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.” I include myself in that pattern of what we have been doing, so it is my intent to do my part of this process a little differently today.

Our yearly meeting organization is understaffed, underfunded, and lacking in sufficient vision to inspire support.

Four years ago at our Fall Sessions, also in All Friends Regional Meeting, we wrestled for four sessions with a $4,000 deficit in our budget. What we recognized and were able to name as a result of that process was a dysfunction in our priority setting. To address that we created the Priorities Working Group, which has been at work since then. What we did not see as clearly at that time were the other implications from our inability to find unity on a budget. We didn’t see that first, we were not led to cut the budget any further, and second, that our vision did not inspire the support needed to accomplish the work in that budget.

  • The $34,000 the Development Committee is charged with raising amounts to only $10 per active member or attender, or the cost of two latte`s.
  • A number of years ago I did some rough calculating of what we, in all of NYYM, give to our monthly meetings, the yearly meeting, and to the wider Quaker organizations such as FGC, FUM, AFSC, FWCC, and FCNL. The rough guestimate I came up with was $1.5 million. This comes down to an average of less than $500 per member. Is this all our Society is worth to us?
  • In talking with monthly meeting treasurers, I have heard that between 20-30% of active members and attenders give nothing at all. Many give between 0 and $50 per year.
  • Some meetings don’t mention money at all. This has gotten somewhat better in the past few years, but as a whole, we don’t communicate a need for funds to those attending worship.

We are out of alignment, out of integrity, as to how we do money.

In spite of the serious challenges which face us, which are more fully outlined in my written report, I retain great hope for the renewal we have been seeking for more than forty-five years. I do so because I see the potential realized every day as to what one inspired individual can do. What I see is that the renewal we hope for is SO EASY, if we just try some different behaviors.

  • I heard this morning of a Friend who goes to Friends who are already more than maxed out, to enlist them in what she is doing. They find what she is doing so inspiring, that they say that they have to join in it.
  • I heard last night from a Friend who started walking up to newcomers after meeting, and just saying “hi’ to them. Now, instead of them leaving and not coming back, they are returning.
  • This is the largest Spring or Fall session in years, quite possibly because we have added a youth program, welcoming all Friends to participate.
  • We have greatly increased our capacities in our practice as Friends, reclaiming the positive role that those with gifts as elders can play. This has deepened and enriched our worship and our business.
  • We just celebrated the opening of a new meetinghouse, the second in as many years.
  • Attendance has increased in sixteen of our meetings, and stayed the same in twenty-two.
  • In each of the last three years we have added new worship groups.
  • The two (count ‘em, two) young adult Friends active at 15th Street Monthly Meeting decided to hold a brunch once a month for other young adults. The group is now up to forty-five, and is a significant presence in the meeting.
  • Many of our meetings report a depth of worship which is vital and nourishing.
  • Some meetings which had been concerned about their shrinking numbers are now glad to be welcoming newcomers who are staying.

When I look at all of this, and the changes that are happening, I don’t really know if we are still in decline, or if these are the first indicators of the renewal we have sought for so long.

We will be hearing the results of the Priorities Working Group at Spring and Summer sessions, and I am not clear as to the vision that they will lay before us. But I want at this time to lift up a vision of what I feel we are called to be. I believe we are called to be one integral yearly meeting, not a yearly meeting organization as distinct from the monthly meetings which pay for it. We are called to be one integral yearly meeting, not witness-focused yearly meeting over and against a ministry-focused yearly meeting. Not a yearly meeting devoted to community over and against one invested in deepening our mystical practice. One integral yearly meeting, led by the Spirit. One body, faithful, discerning, well led, empowered.

What we need for the staffing support to help us to get there, to address the needs we encounter every day, is a ¾ time Young Adult Field Secretary, not a half-time one. And we need a Field Secretary for Children and Youth at the same staffing level. And we need a Communications Director at full-time instead of .8 time. That’s just the baseline, just barely meeting the needs we encounter. A half-time Field Secretary for Advancement would also be important, but is beyond that bare baseline level of support.

We are heading for a lot of change. Some is already happening, and the Priorities Working Group report will bring more. As we leave the shore of what’s familiar, and launch ourselves into the unknown, there will come a time when the shore we’ve left behind is no longer visible, and the shore we are approaching is not yet in sight. Without familiar landmarks, it will be sorely tempting for us to go back to what is familiar to escape the feelings of fear and anxiety over the unknown. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is in Exodus, when the Hebrew people, who had been in crushing, oppressive slavery for generations finally escape and wander in the wilderness. After a time, sick of the uncertainty, the people start complaining, saying “Maybe we should go back to Egypt. Making all those bricks wasn’t that hard, really. Maybe we’d be better off going back.” It’s a temptation, one we’re better off not giving in to.

I have three specific things I would ask of you as we prepare to meet the changes already afoot, actions which may help us not act on that very human capacity to want to go back to the familiar, the “old normal.”

  • Engage in a daily practice. Whatever you do that centers you, helps you to connect to the Divine, and refreshes your spirit, do that for at least twenty minutes each day. And if you don’t make time to do so, notice, without any judgment or self-recrimination, what seemed to be a greater priority that day.
  • When in business here or in your monthly meeting, test and double test your leading to speak. Does it come from the tender heart led by the Spirit? Or does the urge to speak come from some other place, such as our attachment to the way things have been, our perception of “our turf,” “our money,” “my committee,” etc. Can we hold ourselves to the same discipline of the Spirit to speak in our business meetings as we do in our Meetings for Worship? Can we only rise to speak if we are clearly and powerfully compelled to do so? After all, that is our practice, though I often witness us fudging it in our business.
  • When you get the request for funds from the Development Committee, please give something. Even if it’s just $5- give something- the cost of a latte. Our goal is for everyone to give something, no matter how small. It is my hope that we would each give something to our monthly meeting, the yearly meeting, and to the wider Quaker organizations. This is as much about participation and relationship as it is about raising money to support our work. It is our interrelationship which builds the fabric of community, and money is one aspect of being in relationship.

If we do these things, I believe we will be stepping into the kind of yearly meeting we are called to be. We will be preparing ourselves and our community to live into the changes being asked of us.

Thank you.

Christopher Sammond

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