Thursday, October 7, 2010

Visitor Report II

Report from Northwest Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions 2010

Meeting for Worship for Business

As is the usual practice at Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM), Friends met for meeting for worship for business each morning.  The business sessions lasted about three and a half hours, with a half hour fellowship break at 10 a.m.  This year, Lorraine W, assistant clerk of NWYM, served as clerk of the business sessions because the clerk, Tom S, had a family concern that kept him from being able to clerk (though he did attend the annual session and continued to clerk the Administrative Council).  Lon F joined Lorraine as assistant clerk.  

At the start of the business session, Lorraine explained to everyone how business arises out of worship and is a way to worship God.  Throughout the business sessions, we took time to worship in silence, in song, and through vocal prayer.  I was struck this year by what a natural response vocal prayer is for Friends in NWYM, both when it is planned in advance and spontaneous.  I also appreciated the music in the business sessions; it was gentle and complemented the prayer and business.

Shortly before annual session, it came to light that a NWYM staff person had been involved with a minor several years ago while on the NWYM staff.  This was one of the first items addressed during the business session.  I appreciated Colin S’s efforts to make sure everyone had the same information, and I found the discussion about this topic very tender and sympathetic.  It also made me wonder where can we, as Friends, confess when we fail to live up to our measure of light?  How can we walk alongside each other when we make mistakes?

Most of the business sessions consisted of the boards describing their work.  Before annual session, each board writes a ministry plan, which is included in a document that is distributed to everyone attending the annual session.  Each ministry plan describes the work that the board feels God is calling them to do and a budget for the board, which is incorporated into the NWYM budget.  It was clear that the boards have been doing deep discernment to determine how to be faithful while living within the yearly meeting’s means.

A theme throughout the annual session was finding ways to support those who are experiencing a call to ministry.  A highlight for me was Darla S’s recording.  In NWYM, the recording process begins when the local church recognizes a person’s call to ministry and sends her name to the Board of Leadership Development.  Recording is a process that takes a few years, which is time for the yearly meeting to get to know that person’s heart and her call to ministry.  Darla, pastor of Rivers Way Community, shared her story of being faithful and struggling with accepting her call, even while she knew she was called.  After Darla gave her testimony, Lorraine prayed a blessing over her and NWYM recognized and recorded her call to ministry.

Many Friends expressed interest in intervisitation and appreciation for churches working together within the yearly meeting.  Friends noted that there are fewer released youth ministers than in the past, and suggested youth groups joining together are a way of supporting younger Friends.  The discussion about intervisitation included Friends of all ages and Friends shared their desire for connectedness across age, language, distance, and ideological differences.


On Monday afternoon, I co-led a workshop on Convergent Friends with Wess D, a friend of mine and pastor of Camas Friends Church.  Our intention was to have the workshop be a worship experience, so we began with about 15 minutes of unprogrammed worship.  Then we introduced ourselves and Convergent Friends.  I talked about the work I have done across the branches of Friends in the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference and in traveling to meetings and churches.  Wess described the Convergent Friends movement and how Friends from Camas Friends Church, Multnomah Monthly Meeting, and Bridge City Friends Meeting have been worshiping together.  

We opened up the discussion by asking Friends to share different words they use to describe God, and writing those words on the board.  After we had about 30 words on the board, we asked Friends to share why those words are meaningful to them.  The discussion was wonderful, and I think we could have used a second hour for everyone to tell their stories about the language they use and their experiences encountering different kinds of Friends.  For some in the room, this was the first time they had heard about the different branches of Friends, and the workshop started some ongoing conversations.

The other workshop I attended was Godly Play the Quaker Way, led by Caryl M.  This workshop lasted for two hours and was a wonderful experience.  Caryl began by describing some of the ideas behind Godly Play: recognizing that children have deep spiritual lives and helping them find language to talk about their spiritual lives.  In Godly Play, teachers tell stories that allow children to do work around loneliness, meaning, freedom and death―topics that adults are often afraid to talk about with children.  After hearing a story, children choose their own work, often using art supplies.  The teachers let each child know that they are seen and ask children honest questions about the stories they have heard.  Caryl told us three stories during the workshop: the sacred story of Abraham and Sarah’s journey, the parable of the good shepherd, and a Faith and Play story about how Friends experience God.  I loved hearing the stories and I hope to have a chance to learn more about Godly Play in the future.

Keynote Speaker: Colin Saxton

The theme of NWYM annual session this year was “Eyes Fixed, Running Free.”  In his keynote address, Colin began by describing the ostrich as an animal with amazing speed, but that runs in circles when afraid and can be easy to catch.  Colin talked about how a mother ostrich buries her egg in the ground when she goes to look for food, but has to keep an eye on the egg or she will lose her hope and treasure.  Colin asked, “Where are we fixing our eyes?”  He said that God has given us everything we need, but sometimes we choose to act in fear.  Colin encouraged Friends in NWYM to think of themselves as a team running together, sometimes having to carry others and helping each other find the path.  He said that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, cheering us on, and we are part of that cloud of witnesses.  He also reminded us that we are called to put aside extra baggage that is not helpful in the journey.  He asked if this could be an inventory week for NWYM, a time to allow the light of Christ to shine in and see if there are things to lay down.  Colin also asked, what does it mean to have our eyes fixed on Jesus?  He suggested it is about knowing him intimately and about the living God being active in our lives.

Videos of Colin’s keynote and the other evening programs are available online here:

Guest Speaker: Scott Daniels

The guest speaker this year was Scott Daniels, pastor of Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene.  The focus of his talk was on two questions: “What is God doing in the world?” and “What does a church look like that understands what God is doing in the world?”  Scott used the story of Jonah to talk about responding to God’s call.  He explained that a word that dominates in the story of Jonah is “godol,” which means big, great, or weighty.  He said that like God’s call to Jonah, the call on our lives is great.  Scott encouraged us to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.  He said that as a church, we need an eschatology of hope―faith that God can redeem all things.  I enjoyed many of the things that Scott had to say, but his joking style was a little hard to listen to.  Also, because I know there are many gifted speakers within NWYM, I have been disappointed that at both of the annual sessions I have attended, the main plenary speakers have been from outside the yearly meeting.

Youth Yearly Meeting

On Wednesday evening, the high school Friends led worship before Scott Daniels spoke.  They read the story of Pentecost in several languages with a screen behind them that asked, “In what ways does God speak your language?”  The young Friends painted images of flames, wrote words on paper on the walls, did cartwheels, and juggled as the screen changed to “In what ways do you best hear from God?” and “In what ways do you most beautifully worship God?”  They then led singing, prayer, and a time of open worship.  The energy that they brought to worship was wonderful and I was glad that the yearly meeting gave them an opportunity to share their passion with everyone.

Silent Worship

One aspect of the annual session that could use some attention is unprogrammed worship.  It is held each evening at 6, which is a difficult time because dinner begins at 5:30.  The schedule has listed the wrong room number for unprogrammed worship both years I have attended NWYM, and the room it is held in is a front-facing lecture room, which is not the best set up for unprogrammed worship.  I attended unprogrammed worship on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.  The first evening I attended, there were many high school-aged Friends there, but they were mostly reading Bibles and did not seem to have a shared understanding of unprogrammed worship.  The second night, a family visiting from Ohio Yearly Meeting Conservative and I were the only ones attending unprogrammed worship.  Afterward, when I described this worship to some weighty Friends from NWYM, they suggested that Friends at the unprogrammed worship need some education.  I agree.

Observations and Suggestions

I was very glad to have an opportunity to visit NWYM as the North Pacific Yearly Meeting visitor for two years in a row.  I felt a lot more comfortable during annual session this year because I knew more of what to expect.  It was good to see friends and I enjoyed getting to know people better that I met at annual session last year.

NWYM is doing an excellent job using technology and social media.  They have posted several videos on their website about annual session and they update frequently on Facebook and Twitter.  I recommend that visitors to NWYM explore their website ( before attending annual session.

I was blessed to have Julie P and Leann W as my elders during my time at NWYM.  I am grateful to them for holding me in prayer while I led the workshop, for checking in with me and listening when I needed an ear, and for taking me out for a much needed ice cream cone.

Thank you for the opportunity to visit NWYM on behalf of NPYM again.  I enjoyed my time at NWYM annual session and I felt well used while I was there.  I am glad that NPYM and NWYM have such a good relationship and I hope that the yearly meetings will continue to send visitors so that Friends in the Northwest can get to know each other better.

Related post: Visitor Report from 2009


  1. Thanks for the detailed report about what went on at NWYM this year. I was so sad that I didn't get to return this year, but your careful insights and reporting allow me to continue to feel connect to Friends there. It is good to hear that God continues to move there and Friends continue to try and be faithful.

  2. Thank you!

    I really appreciate the details and also the use of web archiving and links for that.

    I especially enjoyed the account of the children's program and how the queries evolved for that.

  3. Excellent report. I also have wondered about speakers not only being outside of the yearly meetings, but outside of Quakers. What does this say about us?
    Re: Unprogammed worship - I have been visiting Quaker churches the past 6 months and find that most have a period of "open worship", but it is usually just a 5 to 10 minute nod to unprogrammed worship, not even enough time to reach the deeper levels. Brent Bills' book, Holy Silence, would be a good resource for education about this form of worship.

  4. Faith - I missed seeing you at NWYM this year, and I hope to see you when I visit DC in May. I am glad to hear that this report helps you feel connected to the yearly meeting. It has been wonderful for me to be able to observe God at work through all the branches of Friends in the Pacific Northwest over the past few years.

    Rantwoman - The leadership from the Youth Yearly Meeting at NWYM made me wonder whether it would be possible to have something similar from the Junior Friends at NPYM. I think it would be great for older Friends, and maybe it would make younger Friends feel more connected to the yearly meeting.

    Jami - Thanks! I haven't read Holy Silence, though I have enjoyed other writing by Brent Bill. We should compare notes sometime about visiting Quaker churches!


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