On Friday, fifth day of the 59th annual sessions of Pacific Yearly Meeting (PYM), after some people left to attend an observance of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and the rest of us considered our own experience of religious education as children and held a discussion of the PYM response to the discriminatory hiring practices of Friends United Meeting, our Ministry and Oversight committee (M&O) made, in my opinion, a brilliant proposal.
They proposed that starting now, the M&O committee will convene a series of Right Holding of PYM discussions. All Friends and especially all PYM committees will take this year as a planning period for a sabbath year, a year of jubilee starting with next year’s annual sessions.
The clerk of M&O referred to a Friends Journal article from February 2004 relating the experiences of Central Philadelphia, 57th Street and Beacon Hill Monthly Meetings and New York Yearly Meeting in having their own jubilee or sabbath years.
The original concept of a sabbath or jubilee year is from the Bible, Leviticus 25:1-55. The idea is that every seventh year, as a sabbath, the land will be allowed to lie fallow, and the people and all their animals will eat just what the land produces by itself. After 7 cycles, or every 50 years, a jubilee would be declared and all the people would return to their home and family. Slaves would be released from service, debts will be forgiven, leases of land and other property will expire. This is to acknowledge that humans are ultimately free except in their duty to God, and that land belongs only to God thus we hold it as tenants.
M&O offered these models of a sabbath year for our yearly meeting:
1. No work, just community building and re-creation activities
2. Deep spiritual formation, study groups, etc.
3. Threshing large community issues (race, money, children’s education)
4. Restructuring work and committee models
The reality of my week is that I had to leave to pick up my children from their programs after the first response, but I heard later that Friends went on and on. And at least one member of M&O was surprised at the degree of opposition to the idea. I suspect there were four main themes of opposition:
1. “But we already started planning for next year! Friday morning is too late to start this.”
2. Related to that is the concern that this was a coup, a power grab by M&O
3. I didn’t actuallly hear this but I expect it was said: “We’re already not doing enough and now we’re going to do less?”
4. Objections are also related to people who have staked their identity on the current structure: “What will happen to people who worked hard to get to be Clerk of a committee that may not exist next year?” No one will actually say this out loud, but I believe it is a strong factor.
It was clear to me that this was a proposal for consideration by the yearly meeting. That it is the intention of M&O to have a different kind of annual session next year, but they are not planning to dictate just how it will be, hence the year of discussions and planning.
This project appeals to me on two levels.
First, PYM needs a new vision of itself.
We were reminded at some point that Pacific Yearly Meeting started out with Anna Brinton’s vision of a Pacific Rim association of Friends, including the western United States and Canada, Latin America, China, Japan, Korea, etc. At one time, PYM included meetings in all of these places. But the communication has proved unwieldy over such a wide area, and now there are at least five yearly meetings in that area. (I’m not sure of the actual number) There are even hints that PYM might split again into North and South, basically along the lines of the two Quarterly Meetings. In any case, it is high time we acknowledged that we have changed.
For years, PYM has prided itself on being an Independent Yearly Meeting, and many (some?) have cherished the idea that by being unaffiliated with any of the larger bodies of Friends (FGC, FUM, EFI) we might serve as a bridge between branches of Friends. Ha! On any number of issues, we are so far from being a bridge, we might even be the far extreme among yearly meetings. So many of our Friends are already involved in the work of FGC, it is time for PYM to acknowledge this relationship. We’re like a long time attender that hasn’t come to clearness on membership, for a whole variety of reasons, none of which are valid anymore.
We need to consider what relationship the Yearly Meeting should have with its constituent Monthly Meetings. Does PYM provide any service to the monthly meetings in exchange for their assessments? Does PYM have any authority over the monthly meetings? Does PYM carry out the greater will of the monthly meetings?
We need to take the idea of forgiveness of debts and restructuring of resources seriously. I’d throw out the whole committee structure until we have some better sense of what work we are called to do. Then we could figure out what needs to have a committee and what resources would they need. I was VERY inspired by Johan Maurer’s proposal of an ideal yearly meeting, available here.
Secondly, this concept speaks to me on a very personal level.
At this point in my life, I am ready for a serious vision process. From a traditional standpoint, I have achieved the expected milestones: happy marriage, two cute kids, meaningful and well remunerated work. This is a good point for me to take stock of my life. What do I want to achieve in my life? What work is God calling me to? How do I avoid uber-Quaker burnout (to quote Evan Welkin and beppeblog)? It is good for me to remember that this process might take two years, which would conveniently overlap with the two years to go before my youngest child is in kindergarten.
It is important for me to remember that this process was not conceived and will not be designed specifically with me in mind. It will not meet all my needs, and I should not be too disappointed when it doesn’t. (Darn.)
Anyhow, my deep gratitude and admiration for the Ministry and Oversight Committee that both perceived this need in the yearly meeting and had the courage to lead the way out of it.
I wonder if any readers of this new blog have any experience with a Meeting Sabbath or Jubilee year? Would you like to?
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