(Walker Creek Ranch, photo from PYM website)
In returning to visit Pacific Yearly Meeting as the ESR representative after several years away, I was encouraged by the liveliness I felt during the Yearly Meeting. I became a member of Orange County Meeting which is part of Pacific YM, so have a fondness for the group that took me in!
There seemed to be several features to this annual session that had grown stronger since I last visited. Of course, there were the worries about what Quakers can do to stay connected to their young people so they do not leave Friends, questions about how to nurture spiritual growth in individual Meetings and also grow in numbers. However, I was happy to see the increasing focus on Bible Study and Quaker theology in this "unprogrammed" yearly meeting, the large number of young Friends attending the sessions, and the increase in worship groups to over one dozen (!).
In years past, I had worked with one of the active members in facilitating Bible Study during the annual sessions and we would have about 12-15 people attend. We were given the 7 am slot on the program, before coffee and breakfast. So, that number attending seemed pretty good to me. For this session, we were moved to the time right after breakfast, and now about 30 people showed up, most returning for the entire week. As the facilitator said, "Since we are given an after-breakfast time, we are now really a part of the program." I could feel the delight--and struggle--as we sought to take the text seriously in a Quaker fashion, in spite of all the more prevalent interpretations of the Bible that these Quakers would reject. We were invited into meditating on the biblical passages and then speak from the heart about what we found encouraging or what we struggled with in the text. Participants wanted to engage even the tough passages! At least, that is what I saw happening, and I enjoyed not only participating but seeing so many there invest themselves in the Bible study.
Another new program event was a week long presentation and discussion of significant Quaker figures, such as Barclay, Elias Hicks, and Joseph John Gurney. As a theologian, of course I was pleased to see Barclay being brought before the attenders (though of course, I would question some of the way he was interpreted). However, that these figures were being explored in my old Yearly Meeting made me proud!
Finally, I was encouraged to see that the outreach efforts of the yearly meeting were active and seemed to be well-supported. Since this YM is on the West Coast, there has been some long-standing and deepening relations with Meetings and Quaker work in Latin America. These Friends have supported Casa de los Amigos in Mexico City, established a scholarship support program for Friends in Guatemala, worked with co-partitives in Nicaragua, and supported AVP work in Bolivia, including in prisons. The reports from these efforts seemed to engage those attending. Finally, several of the members of PYM who had film-making experience, showed their film on the FWCC sessions in Kenya. This received rousing applause from the crowd, and I would like to how this film at ESR after the final editing is completed and would encourage other Friends to view this film. It will be posted on the FWCC web site in the near future.
I mentioned some of my positive impressions to one of the active yearly meeting participants that I have come to know over the years. He said he was encouraged to hear my perspective, since he often feels the Meetings and the Yearly Meeting is struggling with its identity and what it ought to do. I laughed since I felt that what I had seen during the sessions helped me feel invigorated about my work at ESR, since I often feel we at ESR need to do more as a school to work with Friends.