Epistle arising from American Friends Service Committee Corporation Meeting March 6-8, 2014
To Friends Everywhere:
The annual meeting of the American Friends Service Committee’s Corporation was convened on March 6, 2014, in Philadelphia by Arlene W. Kelly, Presiding Clerk of the Corporation, with optimism and celebration of 97 years of AFSC service.
Some Friends came on canes, walkers, crutches or braces. But don’t be fooled: Corporation members representing U.S. yearly meetings traveled long distances through inclement weather to reach AFSC’s annual business meeting. The members of the Corporation, which brings representatives from yearly meetings throughout the U.S. to consider business and engage in program work, took their responsibilities seriously. We are a diverse group, as befits an organization with over fifty offices and even more programs in the U.S. and around the world. We are all Quakers upholding and putting into practice Quaker values.
We conducted the business of the Corporation, appointed Corporation and Committee members, and approved the Friends put forward by the Standing Nominating Committee. We also approved the placement of the Friends Relations Committee as a committee of the Corporation, parallel to that of the Standing Nominating Committee.
The members of the Corporation of American Friends Service Committee from all walks of life included different regions of the country and branches of Quakerism. Youth and elders, staff and visitors gathered to worship and work together. As a community of seekers, we gathered in this sacred place to address peace and social justice issues of our contemporary world.
The gathering began on Thursday night when we directed our attention to art as a catalyst for change. Hearing songs of forgiveness and unity from Tribe One, we were inspired to search in the Spirit for the power to reconcile and bring peace. We also heard from Naima Lowe, who presented “39 Questions for White People” to challenge us to consider issues of privilege.
The Friends Relations Committee (FRC) is tasked to nurture a greater vitality in the Corporation and the connection between AFSC and U.S. Friends in their monthly and yearly meetings. FRC participated in the planning of the Corporation meeting. During the meeting Friends experienced both programmed and unprogrammed worship and worship-sharing sessions. The theme this year, “Steadfastly working for peace and justice in Israel-Palestine,” offered evening sessions on this topic.
Several seasoning sessions gave Friends a deeper familiarity with AFSC programs and provided an opportunity to advise staff and the AFSC Board.
We discussed the indicators of AFSC as a Quaker organization. An AFSC document, two years in the making, was reviewed at a seasoning session to get feedback and opportunity for refinement. This document reports on how AFSC seeks to embody Quaker practices in its mission, governance, leadership, program strategies, relationship principles and our spiritual connection through worship.
We held several seasoning sessions. One revolved around critical issues facing AFSC and the world. This session discussed a working paper, titled Shared Security: Reimagining U.S. Foreign Policy, jointly authored by the AFSC and our partners in the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). This document is the foundation of new program initiatives to embrace youth leadership both inside and outside of Quakerism and strive to change the narrative that justifies militarism and violence in the media. In our seasoning we explored the issue in terms of U.S. foreign policy abroad, amongst our own communities, and ways in which the language and concept of “security” could be redefined to promote dialogue between different communities.
This theme of security informed other discussions throughout the day, most notably concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict. Many times the question arose: What is the price of the current narrative of Israeli security in the form of restrictive walls, military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and discrimination and brutality directed towards the Palestinian people? Growing concerns were noted among Friends, which have resulted in initiatives in many monthly meetings towards a just peace in Palestine, while noting that the narrative of “peace” is also a complicated one. We heard from Sandra Tamari and Dalit Baum about the recent history in the region and attempts to boycott companies tied to apartheid against Palestinians. Although we do not know how these challenges will ultimately be overcome, we unite in hopes of a world where all can walk down the street and not be labeled criminal for simply existing. AFSC affirms its involvement with programs in Israel and Palestine. Since 1948 AFSC has been persistent in the search for a just peace in Israel-Palestine.
In another program presentation we heard about mass incarceration, specifically for people living in poverty. We asked ourselves what the future of the prison system should look like, seeing the injustice but not knowing a way to end it.
General Secretary Shan Cretin's annual report joyfully emphasized the return of AFSC's financial stability after critical years following the economic downturn. The required shrinkage of AFSC has resulted in higher efficiency. Any new work considered by AFSC will be guided by the strategic plan and financial health. The organization is smaller than in 2007. We have learned the need for good stewardship of our resources to meet our obligations, such as retirement plans. The 2013 Annual Report, including the audit results, was ready for the Corporation meeting. All documents were available electronically to members of the Corporation, reducing the environmental impact of printing. Plans are in the works for the centennial celebration and a related Courageous Acts campaign to raise additional funding for general endowment, interns/fellows, and strategic opportunities.
This time marks Friend Arlene Kelly’s last meeting as Clerk. She is released from these duties with gratitude for the leadership she has shown in partnership with the General Secretary, governing bodies, and committees. A strong and articulate voice of reason, she will be remembered for her ability to pause for silence and wait for clarity to resume in the meeting. While she conducted business with humor, her high expectation of commitment, promptness, and exacting nature led AFSC though challenging times, ensuring viability for future generations. During her tenure as Clerk, AFSC faced restructuring and reorganization due to the economic downturn. Board committees were combined or laid down, and well-defined charges gave clear direction for each committee. Her trait of discernment is a special gift that she has brought to us and leaves with us. A minute of appreciation was approved and signed by the Corporation.
Phil Lord will become Presiding Clerk at the rise of meeting. He brings a wealth of experience from many roles within AFSC over the years. He is a longtime member of the Society of Friends. Phil is currently a member of Chestnut Hill Meeting in Philadelphia. He has had more than twenty years of experience with the AFSC, during which he has come to know many different aspects of the organization and has served in varying capacities, including assistant clerk of the Board of Directors at two different points in his Board service. He wrote recently in Acting in Faith, an AFSC blog, “At its very best, AFSC is a vehicle and conduit for mutual transformation and Continuing Revelation.”
Ad Hoc Epistle Committee: Harold Branam, Patric Garrison, Ted Klyce, Jane Kroesen, Carolyne Lamar Jordan, and Margaret Rowlett.