Quaker Life, April 1997: Commitments, by Johan Maurer

My Ideal Yearly Meeting

Wes Granberg-Michaelson, the Reformed Church leader, recently spoke about Mark's model of a meeting of church leaders. After going about preaching, exorcising and healing in pairs, "The apostles now rejoined Jesus and reported to him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, 'Come with me, by yourselves, to some lonely place where you can rest quietly.' (For they had no leisure even to eat, so many were coming and going.) Accordingly, they set off privately by boat for a lonely place." (Mark 6:30-32.)

My ideal yearly meeting would resemble that meeting of apostles. After a year of ministering in the name and authority of Jesus, preaching, healing wounded people, and confronting evil, we would be eager to reunite and report on how it had gone in a setting of leisure and refreshment.

How is this different from the yearly meetings we currently enjoy? We already have good food and inspiring speakers. Some of our yearly meetings are genuine vacation opportunities (New England and New York are two of the best for sheer family fun). I think the biggest gap between Mark 6:30-32 and my experience is that we do not emphasize reuniting in Jesus' presence to tell what we have been doing.

We don't lack reports--..in fact, most of our energy is taken up by reports. In some cases, reports are distributed in writing and then are read aloud, word for word. Sometimes reports are dissected for doctrinal or political correctness, or to see what faction is winning. Too many reports are inventories of bureaucratic obligations--they are important for accountability, but they should not take up precious plenary time. Some reports are symbolic presentations by affiliated groups without any new business to present.

A few years ago, my yearly meeting's agenda included the planting of a meeting in Fort Wayne and the exploration of a relationship with a Spanish-speaking meeting in Toronto. To me, these items begged for careful consideration, much prayer, and even a concentrated mobilization of resources. Instead, the business marched on. Was this because nobody else felt a call to go beyond business as usual? Or did the clerk feel that Friends are so habitually argumentative that an open time of deliberation was as likely to lead to division as to fervent prayer?

At Iowa Yearly Meeting last summer, I saw how Friends could organize to focus on a major issue, their relationship with FUM. Almost all routine business--normally a whole annual session's worth--was packed into one morning. I hope that, this year, routine business in all our yearly meetings will get the one morning it deserves (more or less!), and that the rest of the time is devoted to telling Jesus--and each other--in very personal terms what we have taught and whom we have healed. Then let's wait for God to tell us what to do in the coming year.

As leadings are confirmed, we can consider the resources we will need. Which leadings will we take up an immediate collection for? Which will we refer to committees, or to Friends United Meeting? Will we need smaller groups to focus on different facets of the vision? What roles will be recommended for the United Society of Friends Women, our meetinghouses and schools, FUM or yearly meeting staff? For once, will we take a deliberate financial risk to confront spiritual or social oppression? Might civil disobedience be involved?

If we are faithful, we may find things are not as restful as Mark's weary apostles had hoped. The public caught wind of their plans (Mark 6:33) and actually got to their retreat site before they did! If only the hungry seekers of our world saw so much hope in us that they were waiting for our yearly meet- ings to assemble so that they, too, could be fed by our Shepherd.