Despite the cancellation of Thursday night's program due to heavy snow, approximately 100 Friends attended the annual Corporation Meeting of AFSC this past weekend in Center City Philadelphia. Our short time together was filled with powerful workshops, engaging presentations, fruitful business sessions, and many exciting conversations.
Thank you to all the AFSC Corporation members, staff, presenters, volunteers, and Friends Center staff who braved the weather and made this an inspiring and valuable experience for all. See you next year! - GE
Epistle from American Friends Service Committee 2015 Corporation Meeting
5-7 March 2015
To Friends Everywhere:
Friends from around the world traveled through a blizzard to gather for the annual meeting of the American Friends Service Committee Corporation, a governing body of the AFSC, at Friends Center in Philadelphia. Blizzard conditions forced the cancelation of the scheduled opening session, though groups of Friends gathered informally to share experiences, concerns, and hopes for the work of AFSC.
Orientation for new members of the Corporation over breakfast included a description by Friends Relations Clerk Doug Bennett of the origins of the Corporation, with representatives appointed by Yearly Meetings, as a vehicle to ground the service work of AFSC in the faith and practice of Friends and to keep Friends connected with the work and communities served by AFSC’s programs.
General Secretary Shan Cretin noted that while AFSC was formed to provide alternatives to military service, AFSC has never been a substitute for individual witness. She described two themes identified in recent strategic plans: engaging youth in spiritually grounded work for social change in their communities; and changing the narrative about war and violence.
Clerk Phil Lord opened our Meeting for Business with worship, reminding us of that all our work is carried out as worship, seeking guidance of Spirit. Shan Cretin, General Secretary, noted that the theme of each year’s Corporation Meeting is intended to highlight and lift up an aspect of AFSC’s work. This year’s theme was “Radical Hospitality: Working for Immigrant Justice.” The General Secretary acknowledged that not all Friends are clear that Friends are called to this work and reminded us with powerful illustrations that speaking truth to power is most effective when the truth is spoken kindly.
Friends Relation Committee Clerk Doug Bennett described volunteer opportunities for Friends within and partnering with AFSC, including service on governance committees, volunteer work for AFSC programs, and the emerging Quaker activist/partner role. This new model of engagement works toward beloved community through accompanying and partnering with others. An AFSC “track” at the 2014 FGC Gathering included 5 workshops, afternoon activities, and the closing plenary, leading to a network of Friends working to end mass incarceration.
Afternoon workshops with AFSC staff showcased some of AFSC’s programs including “Shared Security,” “Mass Incarceration,” and “Immigrant Justice.” The workshop “Palestinian Fragmentation and Movers” brought three young Palestinian women to describe the pervasive corrosive effects of fragmenting and isolating populations of Palestinians. Even members of a single family may be assigned to different areas making it technically illegal for them to meet as a family. Travel between or out of tightly controlled areas is at best difficult and often impossible. Friends were urged to support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a means of promoting meaningful change and human rights. One of the Palestinian youth, who is from Gaza, described AFSC’s work as unique in the region. She told us that while other organizations provide specific kinds of humanitarian assistance, she was happily surprised that AFSC is willing to talk about those things that matter most to her and other Palestinians. AFSC is the “one organization that cares for my dreams and aspirations and supports communication with my history and my land.”
Speakers at the evening plenary session “this moment in the immigrant rights movement” described the current work of AFSC as continuous with a decades-long struggle for immigrant rights. Staff from the San Diego and Denver offices of AFSC are working with immigrants to challenge arbitrary and inhumane treatment and assert the rights of immigrants. Staff and young people in the program “67 Sueños” brought some of the energy and passion of their work to the gathering. Immigrant youth brilliantly expressed their experiences in poetry using bilingual spoken word and visual art including large murals. We heard their stories of struggle against poverty, family separations, violence, and indifferent or hostile officials. We heard the importance of listening to their authentic voices to change the narrative and change the culture.
Honoring the value of the work of these young people, AFSC Corporation members were spontaneously moved to raise funds to purchase artwork from the 67 Sueños program that will remain at the AFSC offices in Friends Center.
David Jaimes, Pastor of Student Ministries at Friendswood Friends Church near Houston, Texas led opening worship Saturday morning. He feels called to the ministry of reconciliation and reminded us of the Biblical injunction to care for “the least of these” and provide hospitality.
The second session of the Meeting for Business featured a description of Courageous Acts, AFSC’s capital campaign to fund the next century of AFSC’s work. Among other things, this campaign will increase endowment to allow funding of internships and fellowships for the next generation of activists.
As we near our 100th anniversary in 2017, American Friends Service Committee invites your voice and partnership in our work for beloved community.
Clerk, the Board of AFSC
(The Corporation approved this epistle, with one Friend expressing the need to stand aside. All photos taken by AFSC's Don Davis.)