2024 Yearly Meeting Epistle

May 1, 2024 | News

Dearest Friends,

Ninety-five of us, including nine youth and two wee Friends, gathered at the DaySpring Episcopal Conference Center in Parrish, Florida, while fourteen joined online. This was the 60th gathering of the Southeastern Yearly Meeting.

Over the next four days we worshiped, and workshopped, laughed, and loved and did the Meeting’s business. There was some heavy rain at first, but soon the skies cleared and the spring weather turned balmy. The trees were in full leaf, herons and swallowtail kites soared overhead; doves cooed in the mornings; the hospitality of the Conference Center staff was warm and welcoming. Minor challenges were overcome; representatives of Quaker organizations shared their materials; old acquaintances were lovingly renewed; new affinities were discovered, bold initiatives were undertaken—or at least referred for continuing, hopeful discernment. At the end of the gathering, we could all agree that the Southeastern Yearly Meeting will carry on speaking truth and faith through another year in these turbulent times.

The theme of this year was The Friends we are becoming: embracing our longings & leadings. We were joined by representatives from American Friends Service Committee, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends General Conference, Quaker House, Quaker Voluntary Service, and Right Sharing of World Resources. Members and visiting representatives led us through workshops on the spiritual journey, immigrant rights, supporting trans life, living our Quaker faith LOUDLY, individual spiritual discernment, right balance in our use of things, cultural differences and racism, and personal spiritual narratives. Morning worshipers greeted the sunrise in reverent silence. Evening activities combined dancing and talent shows with videos and lectures on Quaker concerns.

Retreat session

A Retreat with Hilary Burgin

The Meeting’s plenary sessions received reports and considered weighty topics. Of particular concern was the ongoing wars in Gaza, Israel, and Palestine, and Ukraine. Friends expressed concern for all victims of war. We were deeply affected by the violence in Gaza and heard reports from monthly meetings that made public statements calling for a permanent cease fire. Diminished attendance in monthly meetings is an abiding concern and Friends spoke urgently about the need for better coordination of youth programs and outreach to the wider community.

The SEYM Quaker Call Committee addressed pain SEYM Quakers are feeling from the brutal, heartless, and relentless assault upon our core values made by the current governmental administration in Florida and beyond. It is seeking a way of uniting SEYM Quakers behind a project or projects that will actively, but non-violently, respond to that assault by turning its own energy against itself, or by being a “pattern or example” of a better alternative than that which has been chosen by the State of Florida. We are urged to accept responsibility for getting ourselves into physical, mental, and spiritual shape, in order to engage effectively in what increasingly feels like a direct spiritual conflict; to discern, accept , and fulfill the urgent call of the Spirit to live our spirituality clearly, proudly, and loudly, in order that we can respond to the Spirit in others, and they can respond to the Spirit in us.

The Walton Lecture and Retreats came to us from Hilary Burgin of Quaker Voluntary Service. Hilary gave us the marvelous analogy of Truth as a fractal pattern. In times of trouble, it can be difficult to find the divine, but we can always access something of the truth and find way forward. Focus on process, she encouraged us, not on outcomes. “We create what we are by doing the next thing next.”

Amy Richards captured the spirit of our gathering with a poem:

Battle weary heart despairing
Grief clouds in war worn caring
Yet love remains
In laughter of Friends of old and jesting banter
Popcorn singing dancing mirth
Renew our soul in new spring birth
Another day
Another year
Hope remains amidst the fear
Fear the dance business
Bringing the steps well-known
It feels so good to finally be home.
The work continues while Grace abounds
A soft sweet voice that Joy has found.
It is not lost as once was found
Just in the arms of Friends so dear
Stand fast threshing motions passing
A budget balanced

We depart in loving fellowship, glad in each other and our Quaker faith.

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About 100 Friends gathered at Dayspring Conference Center in Parrish, Florida over Easter week, March 27 – 31 for our Yearly Meeting Gathering. We had a rejuvenating 5 days of community, with worship, worship sharing, workshops, All Ages Community Nights, the Walton Retreats & Lecture with Hilary Burgin, yearly business meeting, nature walks, and a great Youth Program!

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