By Sarah Sprogell
For those who are not familiar with Summer Sessions, it is a time of year that Friends from across New England gather to attend to business, learn from each other in workshops, share meals, art, music and community; to meet new people, see old friends, have meaningful conversations, and much more. Opportunities abound for conversation, prayer and friendships to flourish. Quoted sections in the article below are taken from the Epistle written, as is our custom, at the close of Sessions. (See the October Newsletter for the complete Epistle.)
The theme for this year’s NEYM Sessions was “In Fear and Trembling Be Bold in God’s Service”. We gathered “on lands once cared for by Abenaki ancestors and appropriated by European settlers centuries ago….dedicated to our use for five days” from August 4 – 9, 2018 by Castleton University in Vermont. Over 600 Friends were gathered, including over 100 children, youth and their families. We gathered as “queer and straight, physically challenged and able-bodied, trans- and cis-gender, descended from the peoples of most continents of our globe, and of various income levels.” We were grateful for the opportunity to be present together in such a beautiful and gracious place.
This was my seventh year attending New England Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions. I arrived on Sunday in time to hear the plenary presentation by three Quaker women who have been courageously and faithfully working on social justice issues for a number of years. Each spoke movingly of their personal experiences and deep commitment to work that resonated clearly with our theme of being bold in God’s service. The Bible Half Hour sessions, presented by Diane Randall, Executive Secretary of Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), also echoed our theme, as she spoke of how her faith plays a role in her work in the political sphere.
In the spring before Sessions, NEYM Ministry and Council had asked if I would be among a few Friends to hold the gathered body in prayer during our business meetings throughout the week, sitting as an elder in front of the clerk’s table. I was honored to be of service in this way and found it to be a unique way to experience Sessions. I have always found Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business at annual Sessions to be a profound experience in a number of ways, presenting opportunities for deep listening, careful discernment, and unexpected openings that reveal our unified truth. While fulfilling my role as a prayerful elder this year, I was able to let go of my usual practice of taking notes and following the agenda items closely. My practice this year allowed me to ride the waves of the spirit, which could range from challenging to frustrating, heart-breaking to heart-warming, energizing and uplifting to occasionally exhausting and sometimes entertaining.
This year the work of challenging white supremacy became a central feature, as patterns and language were called out and named throughout many items of business. During business sessions we witnessed our work with social justice issues, approving the formation of an Immigration Justice Working Group; endorsing the Poor People’s Campaign; affirming a minute on Criminal Justice Reform; and approving a minute supporting the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Earthcare Ministries brought forward a Carbon Calculator to determine carbon footprints, which we gratefully received. We honored our spiritual practices by receiving the work of the Faith and Practice Revision Committee’s draft chapters on Death, Dying and Bereavement, and Pastoral Care. We witnessed the movement of the spirit throughout New England, made possible by projects generously supported by our own Legacy Fund.
As always, the week was full and rich with the Life of the Spirit. Once again, I left Sessions feeling moved by the power of Quaker testimonies and actions in both the temporal and spiritual worlds.