Friday, August 5, 2011

Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions: July 28-31

I had the joy of “traveling” to Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting annual sessions this past weekend.  (By “traveling”, I mean I walked across Earlham’s campus to the Landrum Bolling Center to join Friends for business sessions, meals, and workshops.)  Ohio Valley YM is an unprogrammed yearly meeting with monthly meetings in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, including Richmond’s own Clear Creek Meeting.  OVYM is a part of Friends General Conference.

Business sessions began with silent worship and readings of quotes from the Journal of Elias Hicks.  There were the usual committee and Quaker organization reports, and among those issues discussed a few things rose to the surface for me.  OVYM Advancement and Nurture Committee did a broad survey of members on YM work this year and presented the results.  There is discussion of doing a broader visioning process for OVYM.  After seeing Wilmington YM do this in April, I agree that threshing sessions focused on vision are essential and encourage OVYM to do this.  OVYM also discussed the formation of a standing committee on Earthcare (they currently have a more ad hoc committee), Earthcare being a particular concern of the yearly meeting.  I was reminded of Micah’s blog post about Great Plains Yearly Meeting when I heard the report of OVYM youth traveling to visit Friends from the Osage Nation in Oklahoma.  I also heard some rumblings of unhappiness about how the Quarterly meeting structure operates.  This complaint seems to be one endemic across Yearly Meetings, and I invited anyone who feels strongly their YM’s Quarterly Meeting structure works well and is effective to share their secret.

I attended a workshop by Mark Rembert, a Haverford alum from Wilmington, OH.  He has an interest in International economic development, but came back to Wilmington to found Energize Clinton County.  This non-profit does economic development work in Wilmington and the surrounding area.  Mark is concerned with the questions of how our everyday consumer decisions are a ministry.  This message is typically perceived as “liberal" one: buy local, etc.  Mark, however, has re-cast this message as one of keeping wealth in the community and gaining more control over how your money is used.  He is running a campaign to weatherize houses in Clinton County for this winter and arguing that unnecessary energy costs caused by insufficient insulation and inefficient furnaces are an added “tax” by energy companies that consumers can choose not to pay.  Weatherizing can “free up money that’s going to things you don’t really care about to spend it on things that you do.”

I also attended a workshop by Noah Baker Merril, who was visiting from New England Yearly Meeting to give the Plenary talks.  He divided up the participants into four groups: the voices of Quaker past, Quaker present, and Quaker future, and a smaller group of “inquisitors”.  The inquisitors questioned each of these voices about various aspects of Quakerism.  This is an instructive (and funny) exercise.

In visiting many different Quaker communities, one begins to notice language differences between the two.  Whereas last week when I was attending Indiana YM the language was very (and primarily) Christ-centered, OVYM members spoke more about “the presence”, “the divine.”  Some did use “Lord” and biblical passages read referenced “Our Lord”, but the shift in language was noticeable.  I say this not as a comment on these two particular yearly meetings, but rather an acknowledgment that anyone who travels among Friends notices these language shifts and contend with the extent to which they can be flexible about the language they use.

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

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