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Reflections on YM 2016 from Wellington Resident Friend

Knowing Each Other in the Spirit

Attending Yearly Meeting in Aotearoa New Zealand, in Auckland 15th to 18th July 2016, was both a privilege and a precious personal experience, enabling me to meet with Friends from further afield in the North, the South Island, America, Australia, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.

I had been fortunate enough to participate in the Preparation Day at Mt Eden’s Friends Centre, the previous day, joining with about 25 other Friends from assorted Meetings. We spent our time quietly reflecting, holding a space for those still travelling towards Auckland, and celebrating and connecting with the lives of earlier Friends who have walked ourway and provided a guide that strengthens our faith and purpose. 

Once at St Cuthbert’s College, there was the joyful hubbub of Friends meeting and greeting and sharing a meal together, but come the evening and our first gathering the bustle settled and, despite the gentle whirring of the data-projector, the silence thickened and the air trilled with anticipation and expectancy. There followed a beautiful Maori greeting, a song and the enunciation of those who had passed away during the year. A greeting in a language I didn’t understand, but I felt the heart in the welcome. A song that I didn’t know the words to, but I recognised the tune. A list of names of people I hadn’t met, but came to know in the Spirit. For here was the sharing of something much ‘greater than the sum of its parts’.

Our overseas visitors, in telling us about themselves and their Meetings, developed the thread of ‘connectedness’ in discussing our common concerns: care for the environment, working for peace, the plight of refugees and coming together to overcome divisions and provide nurture for each other.     

It was particularly interesting and humbling to hear the report from representatives of Christchurch’s Meeting, who have recently moved into their new Meeting House after years of dealing with the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. In re-building the building, they have rebuilt the Meeting and found a new energy and an appetite to be involved in things other, for example the Wahakura Project. Another connection came through Wellington Meeting’s progress report with their seismic strengthening; the practical difficulties of strengthening the physical building, has inevitably called for, and is developing, a collective spiritual strengthening of Friends.

Murray Short, YM Clerk, in outlining YM’s business and the review of future, structure and options for change, had highlighted the need to talk more about spirituality and the necessity for us all to be ‘ministers.’ On Saturday Marge Abbott, travelling in the ministry from America, addressed these themes in: Attending to the Drawings of the Spirit: Reflections on Nurturing the Spirit Among Us. Marge reminded us of how the early Quakers had been called upon to nurture each other in the Spirit and also gave an engaging account of how she had found herself nurtured by her own Meeting. Making the point that a nurturing community is led by the Spirit working in its member’s lives, she said that we never know the consequences of simple actions, but we keep our hearts open to surprising opportunities.

Esther Cowley (recipient of the Loxley Award) followed on, explaining that when you plant a seed you never know who it will reach. The effective app. she has developed calledPlay Kindly came from her need to put her Phd results into action. Designed to help parents improve their parenting skills it had a significant impact, but now it is also building capacity for members of the Pacific Islands community to be involved in carrying out related research.

The Quaker Lecture,A Peaceful World: How Can We Make it so? delivered byMarian Hobbs and the reports from the Friends World Committee for Consultation returned us to the concerns highlighted at the beginning by the overseas visitors. It was worthy of note that the young people on the FWCC, in particular, felt so strongly about the carbon footprint of so many Friends meeting up from around the world that they have agreed to hold meetings less frequently.

In the open session relating to the Review of YM a question was posed, to determine the difference between a ‘joyful mission’ and a ‘burden’. This was particularly in relation to one of the concerns raised in the process of review, about the difficulty of finding Friends to serve. The resulting discussion around ‘knowing what we stand for and what we want to be known for’ was both thought-provoking and timely.

A precious personal experience? A bit like the analogy of a stone being dropped in a pond of water and the resulting ripple effect – we none of us know how one thing will lead on to another or how one’s initial action will affect others further down the line. I certainly wouldn’t have anticipated a few years ago that a prayer for purpose would lead me to the other side of the world to serve as Resident Friend to Wellington Monthly Meeting. However, I can certainly endorse the contribution of a Friend during YM: this service has been a joyful mission and certainly not a burden!

Sue Jenkins: Resident Friend Wellington

Britain Yearly Meeting