Thursday, June 23, 2011

Greetings from IMYM by Rob Pierson

Greetings from IMYM!  IMYM held its 37th Annual Gathering in early June at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. If you know Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings, you'd recognize Ghost Ranch as her old haunt, with its mesas of ochre, vermilion, yellow and gray rising above the valley cottonwoods.  This year smoke sometimes obscured the inspiring vistas – a reminder of raging wildfires to the West, threatening our clerk’s home in the wilderness near the New Mexico / Arizona border.

The Big Country: This year, 333 Quakers camped among sagebrush, bunked on the mesa and ate ribs and barbecued tempeh in the ranch dining hall. There were slightly under 100 Young Friends (up through high school) and over 100 OAFs (Older Adult Friends - a term of endearment chosen by the 60+ year old crowd). I'm in the residual third, neither YAF nor OAF, and this year, aside from representing Earlham & ESR, presenting one seminar on pilgrimage, and being nominated as representative to FWCC, I got to sit back and enjoy the gathering!

Our region spans the vast area from Wyoming south to El Paso and from Colorado and New Mexico west through Arizona and Utah. (That's an area 12 times the size of Indiana!) Many of the Meetings and small worship groups are separated by hundreds of miles.  So it is a great joy to gather and worship together. In fact, each afternoon during Early Days offered three hour extended worship sessions. It was also nice to sit over lunch talking with Friends from northern Mexico and Mexico City.

To Diversity & Beyond: One of my favorite activities at IMYM, worship sharing groups, comes in a variety of flavors: traditional, bible-based, intergenerational and Spanish. Although there's inherent diversity within the gathering, we are increasingly aware of issues of privilege based in our predominantly white middle-class roots. The keynote speaker, Niyonu Spann [link: ], a musician, former dean of Pendle Hill and creator of the Beyond Diversity workshops, led singing and spoke on "Confronting Racism."  She called us to connect, tell truth, let go of fears that block the Light and do the "heart work" needed to transform systems of discrimination at the individual, organizational, and societal levels.  

Immigration and Border Issues: Meetings within our region have decried the militarization of the U.S./Mexican border and the treatment of both legal and illegal aliens within this country.What are we led to do? For many here, immigration is the "Civil Rights of our time" driving them to take a stand and face prison time if necessary - for example by illegally placing water tanks out in the desert to reduce the number of dead from the border crossing. One Friend has recently published a book on the experience of four bright young women in a Denver high school whose fates are intertwined with their differing immigration status.

Yearly and Monthly: Many Friends were gladdened by the focus on immigration.  Others were alarmed by the lack of attention to the ongoing wars. The clerk reminded us that yearly meeting cannot offer simplicity. It is our responsibility to maintain simplicity and seek clarity among all the activities. A new Stewardship Proposal re-emphasizes that we find authority and responsibility for service arising at the Monthly Meeting level, with our Yearly Meeting remaining, deliberately, a small volunteer body with no paid staff, minimal budget, and little central authority.

However, I was glad to see, after almost forty years of remaining independent, that IMYM's recent association with FGC had borne fruit through the visits of traveling ministers who worked with us on issues of finances and service through ministry & oversight. Also, although a few Meetings in our region lament a lack of vigor, I was heartened to hear that some of our Meetings are struggling with issues of growth and expansion.

Quaker Art & Rampant Frivolity: Given my own ministry in writing and photography, I was happy to find a renewed emphasis on the arts within IMYM. A move is afoot to associate with the Fellowship of Quakers in the Arts (FQA).  There was a week-long track for Quakers expressing their gifts in music and dance, sculpting and painting. No longer a "frivolity," the arts are seen as another way of publishing Truth.

No account of the week at IMYM would be complete without mentioning the ultimate frivolity, the "Intergenerational Exchange of Colors." Picture four or five dozen Friends from tot to elder, all dressed in white (at least to start), some sporting goggles to protect the eyes, and clutching bottles of sprayable dye in vibrant blue, green, pink, yellow and red. What would George and Georgia say? (Fox & O'Keeffe, that is)

The ESR Connection: There are quite a few Earlham graduates scattered throughout IMYM, though only a very few ESR grads (for example Peter Anderson. As I try to represent ESR here, I find myself trying to explain again and again why anyone (myself included) would be crazy enough to go to a Quaker seminary in Indiana!

But I was pleased to find unexpected help from another ESR grad on the
Ghost Ranch staff. Susan Rench (ESR, late 1980s) works at Casa Del Sol (Philip Newell's retreat center) at Ghost Ranch, and she sends a shout-out inviting all of you to look into the programs at Casa Del Sol and come out to Ghost Ranch for a retreat!

With love & light from Rob, George F. & Georgia O.,
Rob Pierson

Rob Pierson is in the ESR Access M.Div. program with particular interest
in the relation of science and faith, Quaker readings of the Bible, and
the nature of pilgrimage as a practice of sacred time and sacred place. He
is a systems engineer and clerk of Oversight & Counsel at Albuquerque
Monthly Meeting.

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