Between October 24th and 27th, 2019 members of FGC's Central Committee met to share reports of our organization's accomplishments over the past 12 months, to approve the 2020 budget, and to discern our work together in the coming year. As we began to ground and open ourselves to the presence of Spirit, Presiding Clerk Frank Barch reminded us to hold the query, “How does this decision or work support FGC and the Religious Society of Friends in its goal to transform into an actively anti-racist faith community?” This year, members of the Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee encouraged attendees to add a new piece to their introductions to the body, by identifying the the indigenous peoples whose traditional land they live and worship on. Friends reading this update who want to bring this idea back to their meeting can use the map on this website to find out whose land they are living on today.
Here are highlights from presentations that were shared and discussions that took place with the body during the Central Committee meeting in Reisterstown, MD:
- In the General Secretary's report, Barry Crossno shared several important updates. He thanked thanked Friends for attending Central Committee and taking part in the care of the Religious Society of Friends. Barry shared that FGC's Committee for Discernment, Planning, and Priorities was laid down this year, with the hope that we can structure the work of discernment and planning in a way which provides greater transparency and opportunities for participation for members of Central Committee. He also acknowledged that, while the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020 does not meet the threshold we defined as “sustainable” in 2017, we are fortunately in a much more positive financial position than we were a few years ago. Our reserves are stronger, we met our fundraising goal for FY2019, and the extra expense in the budget reflects our values in improving benefits for part-time staff and supporting crucial work like implementing the recommendations of the Institutional Assessment. Barry expressed joy at welcoming Pacific Yearly Meeting to affiliation with FGC, and affirmed our commitment to transparency. FGC now has the last eight years of audited financials available on our website, a collection of annual reports for those same years, and a narrative that describes FGC's changing financial condition over roughly the past 15 years. We've also changed the presentation of our program impact in our last annual report to make it easier for Friends to see our impact at a glance.
- During the introduction of staff, Barry relayed a statement from Conference Coordinator Ruth Reber: "It is with very mixed feelings that I have decided to retire after the 2020 Gathering. The work is deeply satisfying and has offered me the chance to grow personally, professionally and spiritually. It is however, a huge job requiring wells of energy and commitment. I will turn 70 in the year 2020 and I think it is time for a new period in my life with more space for reflection and rest. I thank you all for your work, your support and your caring." As of this moment, FGC is the process of searching for the next Conference Coordinator, who we hope to hire in March so they can work alongside Ruth for a few months before she retires. (The job description and application process is available here).
- Members of the Development Committee led exercises that helped us model deep listening and spiritual conversation, and encouraged us to consider common needs of local meetings. Friends shared from their own spiritual experience and lifted up sometimes difficult questions. Many monthly meetings are historically white, middle-class spaces, and Friends noted that we need to embrace changing cultural expectations rooted in race and class privilege.
- Regina Renee Ward and Carolyn Lejuste, co-clerks of the Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee, led a small-group activity where Friends considered ten scenarios of racism (based on the lived experience of Friends of Color) and discussed how we would react in these situations, and how we would like to react. We were reminded that acting imperfectly is human, and that practicing disrupting racism whenever we can makes confronting each incident easier. A modified version of the query we hold during Central Committee was introduced for Friends to use in their daily lives - “How does this action support my goal to transform into an actively anti-racist person of faith?” Friends approved laying down the Institutional Assessment Working Group, with the understanding that the recently-approved standing Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee will carry the work forward long-term.
- 2020 Gathering co-clerks Patsy Arnold Martin and Tony Martin, invited Friends to the 2020 FGC Gathering in Radford, VA. Patsy and Tony shared their vison for the 2020 Gathering: Way Will Open: “We want the Gathering to be a nurturing place where all Friends, no matter where they are in their journeys, feel welcome, accepted, and loved so that they can be brave enough to be vulnerable, to take risks, and to trust that Spirit will be present to lead them in the next step, whatever that is. We envision this for each of us as individuals, and for us as a body.” Learn more about the 2020 Gathering, including information about the evening plenary presenters and workshops.
- Barry Crossno discussed the feasibility study for a proposed campaign. The campaign under consideration now is more focused on long-term goals and endowing priority projects. The focus of the campaign will mirror our approved priorities:
- The FGC Gathering
- Ministry on Racism
- Religious Education and Spiritual Deepening
- Youth and Young Adult Ministries
- Connecting and Communicating
FGC has begun work with David Hoeksema, an FUM Friend and professional fundraising consultant, who has recently worked on a campaign with Friends Journal and comes highly recommended. A working group of major donors and others close to FGC met recently before Central Committee sessions to consider draft campaign materials, which will be refined for use in presentations to meetings and individual Friends over the next few months. Although the working group had copious questions and feedback about the materials, Barry was heartened by their support and interest in FGC and the campaign’s goals, and he and Faith Josephs, FGC's Associate Secretary for Development, are excited to move forward with presentations and interviews over the next few months.
- Outgoing Committee for Nurturing Ministries (CNM) Clerk Jean-Marie Prestwich Barch described an opportunity around expanding the impact of the Bayard Rustin Fund, which supports travel for Friends of Color to FGC events, in a minute from the committee:
"The CNM unites in support of testing support for the establishment of a new endowment, to benefit our Ministry on Racism. Such an endowment would provide broad support for anti- racism work, including, but not limited to, program development and staffing. Although we recognize the need for considerable education about her history and significance, Friends approved the possibility of calling this endowment the Mahala Ashley Dickerson Fund. This endowment could be funded through legacy gifts or immediate donations. The Mahala Ashley Dickerson Fund would serve as a companion and complement to the currently existing Bayard Rustin Fund, for which we would continue to raise money, both during the campaign and beyond." Friends approved the establishment of the Mahala Ashley Dickerson Fund.
In addition to these presentation and discussions, there were moments when we were challenged to sit with spiritual challenges exprienced as uncomfortable situations:
- On Saturday, there were heated requests from the body for revisions to a minute lifted up by the Insitutitional Assessment Implementation Committeeduring the course of sessions. As Regina Renee Ward lovingly expressed concern that these instances of wordsmithing were reminiscent of the reactions from members of the body last year (when the initial minute by the Institutional Assessment Working Group with the query was heavily dissected), some members in the room responded with what felt like a mix of confusion, disbelief, and/or anger. The wordsmithing and reactions were a distraction, which meant that the minute was not approved. On Sunday, the Insitutitional Assessment Implementation Committee reminded the body that worship of the written word is used to enforce white supremacy. The committee shared the folllowing statement:
The Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee met to consider Central Committee’s request that the wording of the query “How does this decision support FGC in its goal to transform into an actively anti-racist faith community?” be reworded to include the phrase “and work”. The Committee met, discussed, and came to a decision that we will not be offering up new or different wording for this query. The word choice is deliberate and, aside from the time frame, was crafted with great care by the Task Force. To clarify, we feel that the use of the phrase “and work” is far less specific and therefore allows room for us to look away from the discomfort that naturally occurs when doing anti-racism work.
Friends approved the minute outling the revised query, and they approved a minute that asks monthly and yearly meetings to collect demographic information:
Central Committee resolves to ask Monthly Meetings and Yearly Meetings to collect age and race demographics of Friends. This information will assist meetings in assessing their progress in becoming anti-racist faith organizations. Similarly, FGC will use this information in their nomination process to identify, welcome, and support friends of color as full participants in FGC, its governing body, and structures.
- Also on Sunday, Communications Manager Marta Rusek shared with the body that, as an autistic person, the weekend's proceedings had been especially taxing on her. She expressed concern over the structure of the Central Committee sessions, where the agenda is filled with meetings from early in the morning until late in the evening, and there are few opportunities to process information and recover from nonstop interactions during the proceedings. Other Friends have expressed similar concerns that Central Committee the past few years has left out opportunities for fellowship and community-building in the midst of business meeting discussions. Committee members are now considering ways to incorporate more time for Friends to bond and enjoy one another's company during these tense but important meetings. Marta wishes to express her thanks to Friends who shared words of support and hugs with her at the close of sessions.
The General Secretary and Presiding Clerk both feel a commitment to find more ways to both successfully conduct the large amount of Central Committee business, while leaving more room for fellowship and joy. After all, we wish this not only for FGC - we wish it for all the Monthly Meetings we serve, and so we are called to live into that. As George Fox enjoined us, during an era of intense strife and change:
"walk cheerfully over our world, answering that of God in everyone, whereby in them you might be a blessing..."