Honesty and the Religious Society of Friends
My focus has been the non-transparent and paid Quaker elite which has been given total responsibility by an apathetic and dying Quaker body, complacent in the ability to go to a week long vacation of sorts, as its reason-to-be, at a nice destination. The body, or the grass roots, will have to wake up, as I explained in my first essay of this series or continue the long term decline.
Other Quaker Yearly Meetings are growing. What are they doing correctly?
Yours in the Eternal Life,
Honesty and the Religious Society of Friends
I recently visited my new Quaker home where I was raised, near Baltimore, Maryland, USA. I realized for the first time that the benches in the meeting room there are probably the most uncomfortable that I’ve ever experienced. I find this interesting because recently I visited over 20 Monthly meetings in New York Yearly Meeting in a period of one year before leaving that body. After leaving Maryland and driving Northeast on through Chester County, Pennsylvania where my Philadelphia Quaker ancestors lived, we stopped to see the historic Quaker farmhouse on display in the village of Chadds Ford. Finding the museum closed for the afternoon, we drove around to Meetinghouse Road and found the (functioning) Birmingham Meetinghouse, its Peace Garden, and its eight-sided schoolroom off to the sides. We peered in the old rippled windows since those buildings were also closed. All was quiet, and no one was around on that beautiful spring late-afternoon amongst the rolling hills and gentleman horse farms. The benches in that meeting room were made exactly the same as the ones in Maryland.
I think later I realized that there is a reason that benches in a Quaker meetinghouse were never designed to be comfortable. Both of these meetinghouses, my new Quaker home, and Birmingham Meetinghouse, have cushions on the seats, mind you. I think Quakers have always meant to challenge themselves with discomfort as a way of making sure they never forget the real faith - the honest, uncomfortable intersection between the Truth and our desires in this material world.
I’ve made my views about malfeasance of governance, and propaganda to cover it up, due to severe membership decline within NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING known over the last few months, in a series of commentary about my experience and observation there.
If I have to sum up what I’ve said in those writings succinctly -
Friends in NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING have stopped being honest.
NYYM has stopped living within the physical and spiritual means of their declining membership. New York constituents can no longer honestly oversee the wider body and its paid employees.
The disproportional use of money I’ve brought to light, is simply an outward expression, or possibly a painfully clear mirror, of the inner malfeasance, which infects NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING. (NYYM spends approx. 1.5x the annual expenditure of similar and nearby, growing Yearly Meetings, and NYYM has fewer employees than each) The more Friends in NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING, of the Religious Society of Friends turn their public attention to others in the world which live unfairly, disingenuously and unsustainably, they themselves are similar offenders - in their corporate life and possibly their private religious lives.
Can Friends (or anyone) have PEACE without Honesty, or INTEGRITY, or without SIMPLICITY or EQUITY?
And the hypocrisy that NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING Friends said they are peaceful or said they wanted peace without consideration of the other capitalized Testimonies noted above, was so offensive to me that I became like a good Quaker bench. I became a living pain in the back, and in the rear – asking Friends quite subtly to move forward, by re-integrating the core Friends Testimonies into their religious lives. I asked Friends to reverse their recent physical and moral decline, to make progress and grow.
Those Friends who want to be comfortable in their religious lives can continue to try and be comfortable, but I wonder if these are true Friends? Those Friends who allow themselves to suffer honesty - honestly - will continue to challenge themselves and grow – because they’re somehow uncomfortable.
This letter is written near the 2nd Annual Anniversary of the date of my letter of 5/17/2005, to all Monthly Meetings within NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING. Although that letter was well organized, used religious language and was polite, it all but guaranteed my shunning by NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING, by the elite who run it, and who were and are hereby offended by it.
Here are some suggestions your local Monthly Meeting, the basic unit of Friends Society, might consider:
- ask NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING to publish time and task specific job descriptions for its paid staff (as has Baltimore and New England Yearly Meetings, which are both growing)
- ask NYYM to make transparent its process and contacts in collecting and tabulating the annual membership number statements in the NYYM Yearbooks.
- ask the NYYM 'leadership' - committee clerks, paid employees and trustees - to give full disclosure, and sign legally binding annual conflict of interest statements which can be examined by any Friend. Here is an example of what one NYYM Monthly Meeting recently self-implemented.
- ask why NYYM spends $28,500 per year on a bookkeeping service when it probably records less than 50 transactions per month on average not including payroll. More to the point, ask how many transactions NYYM has in an average month
- ask why NYYM doesn't give nearly as much money annually as NEYM and Balt YM to the Wider Friends Organizations - FUM, FGC, and FWCC.
- ask why NYYM doesn't move its office to a less expensive and more central location
- ask why NYYM doesn't host its annual sessions at a more central and less expensive location. Ask which of the same old same-olds own property near or at the current annual sessions destination
- come to clearness whether your local Monthly Meeting wants to grow and replicate in the manner of Friends - outward - forming smaller neighborhood preparative meetings. Growth in the manner of Friends does not mean upward, by reinforcing a centralized hierarchy as has New York Yearly Meeting in the last 30 years. The choice is 1) growth - spreading outward - or 2) that your Monthly Meeting wants to die. Living organizations and organisms do one or the other, they do not stay the same – ever. Centralized organizations are not living, in the manner of Friends. A Monthly Meeting should not have more than 150 members, or it is too big.
- if the choice is to grow, Friends must take ownership of your local Quaker meeting’s life by apportioning the appropriate time, talent and money, in local affairs. And your Monthly Meeting must also apportion the correct oversight and support of Wider Bodies. No one will do it for you, and if they do, I wonder if this is true Quakerism?
- approve a third permanent or lifetime position at NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING. The body is dying. The leadership or the same old same-olds, would like to continue to be permanent, overweight, unresponsive and non-transparent (unaccountable) if Friends let them.
- give more than 1/3 of your Monthly Meeting’s living member contributions to NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING (or any Yearly Meeting)
- send resources of money, talent and time ‘up’ to wider bodies when there is a primary unfilled need in your local community
Some Friends have thanked me for openings of discomfort I’ve felt and shared.
Others disdain me.