This year’s SEYM Gathering was exciting, rejuvenating, and transformative. Held April 17-21 at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park, the Gathering brought 147 adults and 22 youth together for five days of retreats, workshops, worship sharing, lectures, business sessions, music, fellowship, and more. The SEYM 2019 Epistle captures the spirit of our time together.
Undoing Racism as Personal and Spiritual Practice was the theme of this year’s SEYM Gathering; and Friends were deeply affected by the lectures, retreats, and workshops on this theme.
Wednesday night, Joel Cook (Treasure Coast) was asked at the last minute to step in and present “Come and See How They Love One Another” a lecture he had given at FWCC’s Section of the Americas meeting in March; an audience that included Friends from all branches of Quakers—Evangelical, FUM, Conservative, and unprogrammed. He spoke of how the early Christians were known for their love for each other, and how he, as a gay man, had found love and acceptance with Friends. It was an inspiring opening for both our theme and our time together as a community. Read the lecture>
In the Committee for Ministry on Racism’s workshop on microaggressions in everyday life, we discussed how words and phrases that might seem common or insignificant to white people can be hurtful to people of color; we were all challenged to be mindful of how cultural biases can unconsciously creep into our interactions with others.
In the first retreat, Changing Systems, Changing Ourselves: Undoing Racism for Accompaniment & Resistance, Lucy Duncan told us about the Quaker Social Change Ministry, which takes Relationship as a fundamental principle. Friends were led in sharing what we need for Blessed Community, and how to practice ‘Companionship’ and ‘Accompaniment’ as a social change ministry.
Through participatory exercises and small group sharing in Noah White’s retreat Privilege Walk, Friends learned what privilege felt like on a personal level. Many were deeply affected by seeing and experiencing the separations caused by privilege, and how it is destructive of Blessed Community.
In the Saturday night Walton Lecture, Taking off the Masks: Undoing White Supremacy as Spiritual Practice, ’ Lucy and Noah took turns sharing stories. Noah spoke from his life experience of being bi-racial; the messages of exclusion he has received daily; how he had to work tirelessly to conform to white normative social expectations; and how oppression painfully reinforces the supremacist dynamics. Lucy told stories of the struggle for social change needed to undo white supremacy. Both she and Noah shared stories of their work with the Undoing Racism Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and of the resistance to change they had encountered among Friends. Both Noah and Lucy challenge us Quakers to do the deep emotional and spiritual work necessary to undo racism and reclaim our legacy on equality; the more we sit on our laurels, the more we allow systems of white supremacy to perpetuate. Noah asked, referring to our past identity as abolitionists, “What are you abolishing today?” In closing, Lucy asked: “What if we could offer a non-violent army in the Lamb’s War” against racism?
Youth had a great time—in their workshops, games, activities, and in just being together. Their theme, Looking In, Reaching Out, engaged young Friends in the important work of undoing racism through self-reflection and relationship-building. Mask-making was a fun, learning experience. In the workshop What Do Children Think About Climate Change?, Brad Stocker (Earthcare co-clerk) showed a Ted Talk by Greta Thunberg, and led a discussion among youth and adults; it seemed to make a significant impression. Noah White and Lucy Duncan led a workshop for the teens and juniors where they examined the role of social norms in dictating our behavior, and then drew a plan for a just community. The leaders of the microaggressions workshop (members of Committee for Ministry on Racism) led a discussion for the younger kids. Other activities included the low ropes course, intergenerational Capture the Flag, Animal Yoga, cooperative games, and much more.
Over 20 workshops—covering a range of topics from prayer and spiritual experience to peace and social justice topics — were offered in 6 sessions over Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We had time for relaxation and fun— with the Intergenerational Dance and ‘Faith & No Practice Band’ Friday night, singing after meals, fellowship over meals, snack time each evening, the Healing Center, and just hanging out.
Yearly Business Meeting
Our business began, in the first plenary, with the reading of a statement of Land Acknowledgment, recognizing the native peoples who had lived in the land we were meeting on: the Timucua, Seminole, Miccosukee, and Choctaw.
Some significant minutes were approved:
- SEYM endorsed the Wendy’s boycott, in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Our endorsement is being used for publicity; Visit the CIW site>
- A Testimony to Earthcare was approved. See the minute>
- We minuted our support of the American Friends Service Committee’s campaign to end child detention and to shut down the for-profit Homestead Detention Center. The minute is intended to be sent to US officials and other Yearly Meetings. Monthly Meetings are also encouraged to use it for advocacy. See the minute>
- We approved the hiring of Susan Wade (St. Petersburg MM) as our next Administrative Secretary, to begin June 1st.
The Worship & Ministry Committee announced that the 2020 Michener lecturer will be Brian Corr. The title of his lecture will be “From Fear and Scarcity to Hope and Abundance: Confronting and Transforming the Giant Triplets of Racism, Materialism and Militarism.”
SEYM Clerk, Bill Carlie (Orlando MM) simplified our business and agenda in order to make time in the Saturday plenary for a Monthly Meeting forum on the query, Where are we growing and celebrating success? We learned of a number of activities Meetings are engaged in, and of the concern to have more Regional Meetings. The experiment showed that we need to plan more time for Meetings to interact and connect.