“Ihave no full definition to give of the word ‘Spiritual’ — which ranks high among the elusive words of the language… I hope myself that it will always escape capture and definition; we want some human-divine words, which belong both to earth and heaven; with meanings rooted in experience, but springing up into the regions where we walk by faith rather than by sight.”
—William Charles Braithwaite (1862-1922) Christian faith and practice in the experience of the Society of Friends
London Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, 1960. P 88.
As stated in the book of Faith and Practice of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (1985, p. 244) at the end of each calendar year, Ministry and Counsel of New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM) asks monthly (local) meetings to prepare a State of Society Report. The report should be a searching self-examination by the meeting and its members of their spiritual strengths and weaknesses and of the efforts made to foster growth in the spiritual life. Reports may cover the full range of interest and concerns but should emphasize those indicative of the spiritual health of the meeting.
“One vessel, but many lives / swirling around the boiled pot / ‘til they are poured / into our separate entities, / four cups reaching out / to accept their living grace.”
—Brianna Richardson, North Pacific Yearly Meeting
(from “Spirit Rising: Young Quaker Voices”, Quaker Press 2010)
An Epistle to the Meeting from the FMC Meeting on Ministry and Counsel, May 16, 2010
The following letter was written to summarize some challenges we face as a theologically diverse religious community, and how we have tried to deal with them.
The past several years have been difficult ones for our community. In our Meetings for Business in Worship, we have struggled with conflicts between concerns for safety and conscience, financial stresses, staffing for our Meeting, and balancing the views of society with our own leadings. Deep wounds have been caused to members of our community, and some long-time members have left.
In recent years some members of our community have articulated a sense that our worship during business meetings has not been deep enough to sustain us, and that our deliberations and decisions are often not coming from a Spirit-led place. Underlying these worries and sense of disconnectedness has been an undercurrent of concern, suspicion, and even resentment that we are not all unified by a common assumption of the central importance of the Divine, and its place at the center of our Meeting and our decision-making. Certainly, Friends before us have known difficult times and have met them in the strength of a gathered community.
It is not easy to name the experiences that bring us to Meeting and arise out of worship. Yet, we wish to be part of that venerable tradition of speaking of that which is beyond names but about which we long to speak. Because of our diverse theological backgrounds, we may use very different language to express our experience of Meeting for Worship and the Light Within. Those who use the word God may know it as the name for a life-giving or saving reality they have experienced. Others choose not to use that word because they are aware that it may be used to refer to an objectified, reified being, and often results in inadequate and narrow meanings. Still other Friends may not conceive of God as a “being,” but still reject the negation implicit in the term Non-Theist. Some Friends have silenced themselves, simply not wishing to offend others by the names they use for the Divine.
Although we treasure our diversity, we may be dismayed if we do not hear the traditional Quaker language that nourishes our spirit in Meeting, or we may hear language that we struggle against in the very place where we come for nurture and support. These differences have sometimes led to the all-too-human tendency to create the “other” when we feel that our own identity is challenged or neglected. Our ability to communicate tenderly with each other is truly compromised when we label and categorize others. Our individual and collective responsibility is to seek the Divine within each other as brothers and sisters in the Religious Society of Friends, regardless of how we may each choose to name that experience.
There are many ways in which the Meeting community has sought to open channels of communication so that we can listen beyond the words to the meaning and Light that each of us brings to Meeting. Ministry and Counsel believes that the Meeting has been and will continue to be enriched by our search for a foundation of unity. Without an assumption of a Generative Ground of Being or Light Within as a basis of our unity, the diversity which we celebrate is at risk of leading to fragmentation and an ungrounded individualism. We believe that our diversity can be enriched by unity or integral wholeness, and that our unity can be enriched by our diversity of knowing and leadings. Quaker tradition has consistently spoken of the Light Within to refer to the vital, living experience of Divine guidance and this tradition has been the basis of Quaker unity.
Over the course of the past year, Ministry and Counsel has sponsored a number of events with the express goal of moving beyond outward words and labels to find the center that unites us, informs us and guides us. Through the three recent retreats we find there has been movement within the Meeting.
The retreats began by providing an opportunity for friends to speak their inner rumblings aloud to the community. We heard the pain of feeling excluded as a Non-Theist, and the pain of feeling one’s religious identity as a Christian maligned in anger by someone who had been hurt by Christianity. We heard bitterness about assumptions that others held about our individual beliefs; frustration with how others define Quakerism. We heard the angst in the question “How can you be a Quaker if you don’t believe in God?’ We heard anger at the role Christianity has played, and is playing, in our culture. We developed an understanding of how these emotions have been repeatedly provoked by “hot button” words.
Through sharing in small groups and large, we began to understand that there are no homogeneous groups of Theists and Non-Theists, Christian and Non-Christian. Instead, there is a spectrum of ever-evolving interpretations of the nature of transcendence and the role of Jesus and his teachings in our lives. We agreed that we could now try to hear each other’s words of faith as individual expressions of Spirituality, and not to cringe with resentment at the language. In vocal ministry we are now hearing freer use of language that reflects the speaker’s own unique experience of Spirit. Some who had been silent are once again using the words that hold meaning for them.
Our attempts to discern whether FMC needed a shared identity, and what that shared identity might be, led to a swirling confluence of ideas about what we shared. No common definition of Quakerism emerged; instead, there was a realization that the very unnamable and experiential mystery of Meeting for Worship holds us together and from this flows the love, community, and service which sustains us.
Even if we cannot specifically name the center of our Meeting, we must nurture it. In these critical times, there is an urgency to make the journey into the Light as individuals and as a Meeting community. The need for witness and action seems unprecedented. We believe that our tradition, with its powerful center, offers unique guidance for meeting the challenges that have arisen and no doubt will arise within our own community in the future. This powerful tradition can also provide the foundation through which we pursue the changes in human consciousness so greatly needed to address ongoing conflict and the despoiling of the earth. We must continue to try to name and affirm those things that unite us. Perhaps it is through our continued commitment to explore the question “how much shared identity do we need?” that we indeed create our shared identity.
May we continue to seek our ground of unity through our Quaker traditions, world spiritual traditions, and new revelations on the nature of the universe. With humility and dedication, perhaps we will find new words and images, or reclaim old images and words, that awaken our hearts to greater connection with each other and Spirit.
It’s as if each of us brings a thread of silence to meeting, and it is only through our faithful worship that these threads are woven into a tight and beautiful tapestry through which we hear the Divine Presence. [Thomas Sander]
In our interactions with one another, what weaves us together? How does each of us contribute to an inviting, safe and loving community? In setting forth the following affirmations regarding individual interactions, Friends Meeting at Cambridge recognizes the central importance of making our community norms explicit. [Further guidance may be found in New England Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice, 1985, The Queries, pp. 211-213]
We believe in, we celebrate, and are asked to nurture the best in one another; i.e. “to answer that of God in everyone.”
We believe that our community is built upon the richness and depth of our relationships with one another.
We believe that trust is foundational:
We trust that each of us will act with integrity. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes,’ or ‘No, No.’ [Matthew 5: 37]
We trust that we will be tender with one another, especially in times of vulnerability.
We “trust the process.” [Anne Kriebel.] See #4.
We believe that transcendence is possible when individuals participate in meeting for worship with attention to business or a standing, clearness, or a support committee. We believe that the whole can be greater than its parts. We believe that when participants in such gatherings listen with an open heart, ask questions, carefully discern, pray, and allow the time and attention each consideration requires, way will open.
We believe that the needs of the individual and the needs of our community must be taken in consideration. We believe that when called to consider these sometimes-oppositional needs, much prayer and collective wisdom is called for.
Friends Meeting at Cambridge aspires to be an inviting, safe, and loving community where all can be spiritually nourished, enjoy fellowship, and engage in an honest exchange of ideas. We have all experienced painful circumstances, physical and/or emotional harm. Our race, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic, or religious background may mean that what one person might consider an innocent comment or behavior could actually be hurtful or threatening or experienced as harassment by another person. Although these hurtful or painful or feeling-unsafe interactions may be unintentional—one person’s sense of personal space may differ greatly from another’s, for example—FMC recognizes that the individual impacted can best communicate their sense of hurt or violation of trust.
We recognize that there is a distinction between conflict that arises out of miscommunication between two or more individuals and a breach of our community norms. The latter is likely to include sexual, emotional or physical harassment or abuse. These guidelines, which apply to individuals eighteen years and older. Acknowledge that every violation of trust is unique but some require specific and concrete responses.
A word about time: Given that any violation of trust is a violation of another’s spiritual condition, which impacts all of us, our beloved community is best served by the timely resolution of differences between us. Seeking Truth, listening to that of Spirit in one another, and prayer require time, however. May we, with Divine guidance, rise to the challenge of being both mindful of the urgency when addressing a violation of trust within our community and to take whatever time is needed to help one another up with a tender hand.
If You Feel Comfortable Addressing the Violation of Trust Yourself:
If you have experienced a violation of trust and are comfortable doing so, address the issue directly with the other individual. Arrange for a convenient time to sit together, alone, so that you can explore BOTH the intention AND the impact of an action or communication. (Arranging use of the Selleck Room for these conversations will insure privacy and quiet.) May you both listen to that of Spirit in the other and be heard in that same, loving, and open spirit.
Should your conversation(s) not resolve this violation of trust, ask one or two people you trust to accompany you during further conversation(s). These “witnesses” are present not to mediate or to adjudicate but to hold the space for transformation (Amanda Kemp).
Should you not feel comfortable to directly speak with the other individual, or should the above-described Gospel Order steps still feel unresolved, let someone from this community know. This person may be someone who can help you connect with the appropriate person(s), or you can speak directly with the Resident Friend or the clerk(s) of Ministry and Counsel. (Their names are listed in the FMC Directory.)
After careful discernment, Ministry and Counsel (M & C) may decide to:
Appoint one or two members of M & C to meet with each party separately
If appropriate, facilitate a meeting between the individuals involved.
If not appropriate, M & C members will create a sustainable solution for both parties and the Meeting.
Explore other resources both within and outside FMC and, if appropriate, encourage individuals to become involved with resources and services deemed useful.
These FMC resources may include:
A clearness or support group for one or both parties
A restorative justice (RJ) circle [Not yet implemented at FMC]
Harassment and/or Abuse
There are many different types of severe violation of trust including harassment, unwanted attention, or boundary violations. Here are some examples:
Actions or communication which are experienced as de-valuing, disrespectful, hostile, or aggressive
Any coercion of one individual over another
Unwanted verbal interactions of a sexual or sexually suggestive nature
Engaging in sexual behaviors/activities in any public area of FMC
Unwanted physical contact or unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature.
Threats, stalking behavior or unwanted sexualized conversations regarding another person
Refusal to abide by community norms as listed above.
Response to Abuse and/or Harassment Guidelines
If you have concerns for your safety and need an immediate response:
Contact the Resident Friend or a member of the FMC Response Committee, comprised of representatives from the Clerks Table, Ministry and Counsel, and Trustees, as well as the Resident Friend. (These same individuals, whose names are listed in the Directory, serve as the Child Abuse Response Committee.).
The Response Committee will quickly arrange a time to talk to all individuals involved and to take necessary steps to support recognition of and adherence to appropriate boundaries. In addition to providing a safe space for individuals to share their perspectives, interventions from the Response Committee may also include referring the concern to Ministry and Counsel for their assistance. The Response Committee in consultation with Ministry and Counsel will work to find a solution that involves all individuals having a place and space to worship. If so led, the Response Committee may wish to bring a concern to the attention of law enforcement agencies.
If an individual does not adhere to the Response Committee’s and/or Ministry and Counsel’s guidelines, the next steps may include: barring from the property, police intervention and/or a harassment protection order. We note that calling the police related to a person of color may place that person at significantly greater risk than when calling the police related to a white person, and should be avoided whenever possible.
Miscommunications and Conflict
Excerpt, Minute approved by FMC, September 14, 2000:
Our meeting is a community of people seeking to be open to the love of God and to be caring of each other. Participation in this community needs to be based on trust. While we acknowledge our human imperfections in interacting with each other, we want to treat each other with love, compassion, and respect.
 From FGC Gathering Policy and Procedures on Harassment, 2016 (modified)
 FMC’s Child Abuse Policy and Protocols describes FMC’s policy regarding violations of trust with children. FMC’s Policies on Discrimination, Harassment and Sexual Harassment details violations of trust involving an FMC employee.
Central to our faith is the belief that divine truth continues to be revealed among us and that there is that of God/Spirit in everyone. We are united by a deep commitment to non-violence and social justice. Our worship together is primarily silent but includes spoken ministry when the worshipper is so moved. Friends believe that God can speak to and through every person.
We have no prescribed creed. While some of us identify ourselves as Christians, some do not. Some have a strong sense that they are accompanied by the living God, others may understand God as metaphor.
When we share our religious experience, we rely on deep listening to seek below the words for the Spirit that unites us. Our decision-making process has been described as radical democracy. We believe God cherishes every one of us in equal measure, and we therefore strive to have no hierarchy. At FMC we have no clergy: some say we have abolished the laity, that we are all ministers.
We cherish our Christian and Jewish heritages, as well as many other spiritual traditions. At FMC membership is an affirmation that we share a commitment to each other, to our community, to humankind, and to the natural environment. In the world, we actively strive for social justice, non-violence, peace and reconciliation. We try to live in harmony with the natural world, following our testimony of simplicity.
As Quakers we seek to help create a spirit of love, truth, and beauty in the universe. We do this by practicing an awareness of the Spirit in our lives, and we share it by meeting together for worship as well as acting together in society.
The Religious Society of Friends arose from a 17th century movement in England to create ideals of truth, simplicity and community in religious and daily life. Soon afterwards, Quakers committed themselves to the Peace Testimony, a rejection of participation in any form of war or violence.
Today, Friends are a diverse world-wide community, all striving to live lives consistent with these principles. Membership joins us with the larger Religious Society of Friends through various Friends organizations. Thus, in joining FMC, you also become a member of New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM), which. includes both unprogrammed meetings, like ours, and meetings which have pastors and where worship is more similar to other churches.