Reimagining a Yearly Meeting

Indiana Yearly Meeting has recently split, and we’re in the early stages of setting up a new association of Friends. There are a lot of ideas floating around on various blogs and discussion groups. Here are some ideas for what I would really like.

I want worship to be the real center of activity and purpose for this new association. I want opportunities to worship with Friends from other meetings. I’d like these opportunities to happen several times a year, held at different locations so I can see their space and get a sense of their life together. I need to get out of my own meetinghouse and stop thinking that the world of Friends centers around where I worship every Sunday.

Too often, in the old Indiana Yearly Meeting, worship times became just another battleground, another place for us to disagree. I want a sense that when we come together to worship, that everyone truly is welcome. Whatever style of worship we have, whether programmed, semi-programmed, or unprogrammed, I want a sense each time that we are offering our best to God, and that no one there is judging the style of worship, the music, the speaker, or anything else that day.

I want lots of opportunities for Friends of similar interests to get together. Some of these may take the shape of ongoing committees (hopefully few) while other opportunities may take the shape of workshops or interest groups which meet for a season and can be continued or laid down without a lot of fuss.

Regardless of their job description or task, I want committees where the main purpose is to encourage and advise, rather than regulate and control.

We need to change the culture of committees. I like the idea of them being broadly representative, but I’m much more interested in having committees which are energizing and active. In my experience, smaller groups function better than larger ones—half a dozen people are often more effective than twenty if everyone on the committee works and contributes to the discussion.

I think that committees need their own life of worship and fellowship, and I think it’s well worth it for committees to spend plenty of time in prayer and getting to know each other at a deep level. The real “business” of a committee often isn’t what’s on its agenda.

I’m willing to experiment with alternative ways of holding committee meetings and interest groups. I’d rather use Skype than conference calls, so we can see each others’ faces as well as hear voices. But I’m also willing to experiment with holding retreats and weekend work/worship gatherings. We need to get away from the pointless, clueless, lifeless meetings I’ve attended for 20 years, sitting on tiny chairs in Sunday School rooms, where no one is excited about being there and no one has done the things they signed up to do last time.

We often bring concerns half-prepared to business sessions and expect other people to take over our concerns, fund them, publicize them, and make them happen. “Support” is a very cheap word, and I’d be happy to ban it from general use for a few years until we rediscover the reality of what it means.

I want to contribute to Quaker mission and service work, but I’d like to change what that means. I have spent more than 30 years on committees which sent money to Quaker organizations, and most of the time we simply sent whatever amount we sent the year before. It would be fun—and sobering—to be on a group responsible for promoting mission and service work which spent most of its time understanding what that work is about. And I’d like to see us emphasize sending our own people on mission and work trips to see with our own eyes, and worship there in person, before we send money.

I’d like us to do a few things really well, even if it means sacrificing a lot of things we’ve traditionally done. This is our golden opportunity to re-invent what a group of meetings can do together. I understand (and love) Quaker tradition, but if all we do is replicate the old yearly meeting, I’m not interested. Let’s do something new.

Joshua Brown

Joshua Brown has worked for Friends in New England, New York, and Indiana. He currently serves as pastoral minister at West Richmond (Ind.) Meeting. A version of this article originally appeared on his blog

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