Comments on PYM Annual Sessions
August 3, 2011 § 7 Comments
Part Two — Budget Cuts, Reactions and the Future of PYM
In a period of open worship after Philadelphia Yearly Meeting approved the budget for the fiscal year ending 2012 on Friday morning, Sadie Forsythe, the coordinator for the Young Adult Friends program of the Yearly Meeting spoke passionately about the budget process and how she and staff in general were treated in its course. If I remember correctly, she called that process “abusive”, among other things. Her epistle, published yesterday (Tuesday, August 2) on the PYM site, expresses some of the feelings and the message she brought to us that morning. Add a voice broken up by grief and maybe some rage in your mind, and you have some idea of the moment. Several YAFers also expressed their grief and woundedness, their love for Quakerism and even for the Yearly Meeting, and some prophetic words about their place in the community.
The thing Sadie said that made it into my notebook was that, throughout the discussion of the budget in the annual sessions (an hour and a half or more during two separate sessions), Friends had not once expressed regret about letting faithful staff go or thanks for their service. The Light of her witness exposed a dark shadow among and within us and I felt truly convicted. She was right and I was guilty. Like everyone else, I was all about those numbers, those issues, and never thought about the people involved.
It reminded me of the conservative Republicans in Congress: obsessed with the government’s books and oblivious of the pain their cuts would deliver to the human flesh and the human spirits their pens had targeted. Yes, the cuts have to be made. Apparently, the Yearly Meeting occasionally forgot its compassion. Certainly, we did in those sessions.
I understand that some Friends engaged in outright lobbying on behalf of programs and staff that served their constituencies. I don’t know the details, how far this went or whether Young Adult Friends pursued this course. Some YAFers who spoke that morning, including Sadie, specifically said that they had not, which suggests that others had. Some of this lobbying worked, too, I guess, since the interim budget discussed in April was in fact changed; notably, Burlington Conference Center was saved.
The Yearly Meeting is reducing staff from 40 full-time equivalents (FTEs) to 32. The YM estimates that a staff level of 24 is sustainable, and more staff will almost certainly be let go next year. I suspect that eliminating the YAF coordinator position makes sense from the purely financial perspective. The Yearly Meeting has been forced into triage and they don’t have a lot of room to maneuver.
Several times, Jack Mahon, who brought the budget to the session on behalf of Financial Stewardship Committee, said that just because we were letting staff go in some areas didn’t necessarily mean that the ministry in those areas would end. I suppose. Theoretically, Young Adult Friends can carry the ball themselves. My sense, though, is that they do need an anchor, something at the center to root them to their Quakerism in the reality of their unsettled lives. And right now they feel like the center just cast them adrift.
These sessions delivered a hefty kick to the flywheel connected to the forces of decline in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting as an organization. Morale is terrible. Membership and financial support are declining, staff and programs in the organization are disappearing, and the financial/organizational crisis is nearly apocalyptic. Nominations can’t fill the committees. The structural issues at work are very hard to understand, let alone deal with. And these problems are hardly confined to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
We need a prophetic inbreaking of the Spirit. I fear that nothing less will save us in the long run. We will hobble along for a while. But at some point, without some revolutionary, systemic change, the system will collapse. A spreadsheet depicting the curves for rising costs and declining income could reasonably predict the date for that collapse (something I plan to do, actually). At that point, PYM will have to figure out how to divest itself of some of the most historically significant buildings in North America, let alone in Quakerism.
I invite Young Adult Friends—and all the other aggrieved constituencies in the Yearly Meeting—to work through their grief for what they have lost and turn toward the Spirit with courage and some faith. Use the heat of the pain to transform yourselves. Turn the impulse to whine or complain into determination. Pray, as individuals—or whatever you do to reclaim your center. Worship, as a group—or whatever you do to reclaim your power to act creatively, prophetically. Turn away from old forms that no longer have that power and wait to see what love will do.
George Fox was in his early twenties when he had his first visions. The programmed, pastoral tradition of Friends began as a movement of young adult Friends. So, largely, did the liberalizing movement at the turn of the 20th century. Young adult Friends brought Right Sharing of World Resources to the Friends World Gathering in Guilford in the 1960s.
Friends have been bandying around the cliche that you are the future of Quakerism. Well, maybe . . .