TCFM’s Service, As A Community, To Others

Should we be worried that TCFM’s Peace and Social Action Committee (PSAC) and Community Service Committee (CSC) have been inactive for over a year?
Some of our members who are deeply grounded in the religious traditions of western civilization are worried. They say (as best I understand them)

“We are all connected to one another. Whether you look to Jesus Christ or were raised Jewish, or something else, everywhere our traditions say not to turn your back on the poor, on suffering.
Quakers have our own splendid tradition of prison reform, working against slavery, caring for the victims of war. How can we, a fine, strong Quaker Meeting with many resources, not be active of behalf of others less fortunate?”

For myself, personally, I am not so concerned. My own leadings from the unseen world have led me to the identity of a Gaia Troubadour, and to work toward a Quaker Community Forest and to take a responsible role in the life of the Meeting. I may not be offering much more than token support for social justice, or caring for the homeless, but I feel like I am being faithful to my Light. And there have been years when, following that same Light, I have been almost invisible, within the life of the meeting. I want to believe that what is true for me is true for all of us; that we are being true to our deepest promptings and that we are living lives faithful to those promptings. If our days are filled with child-rearing or other activities that nourish the souls of ourselves and others, so be it. It is not our place to “should” one another to “look busy” at traditional Quaker activities, unless we are led there by Spirit.

As Clerk of Meeting, I find myself in a somewhat different position.
While I feel no need to “recruit” to repopulate PSAC and CSC, I do feel we should ask ourselves, “are we missing something important here?” I want to join with the voices of those who express worry about TCFM’s lack.
I want to press us as a Meeting community to do some soul-searching. If we, as a community, can look at the pain of the world, can engage with it, recognizing “there but for grace, go I”… if we can truly acknowledge the misery and injustice in foreign lands and in our own neighborhoods and can say, “I am doing what I need to do, what I am called to,”… if we can clear-mindedly, as a community ask these questions, and give this answer, and PSAC and CSC remain inactive, I will be content.

And at the moment, the TCFM community has its hands full, restoring our damaged buildings to health. This includes making some challenging decisions together, and probably trying to raise a bunch of money in time when people are frightened about money.
So your Clerks Team is not pressing for a big soul-searching effort at the moment, but we don’t want to let the issue slip away, unnoticed. We say, “let’s keep this simmering on the back burner, and look forward to the time when we can give it our undivided attention.” This web-log entry is a part of the keep-it-simmering process, and we will look for other ways to keep the issue cooking at a high enough temperature that it doesn’t go bad.

So here are a few queries for your individual back burners.

    Can I find a voice within myself that would press me toward the advocacy of the Peace and Social Action Committee or toward the human service of Community Service Committee? Without making any commitments about joining another committee, can I find a still small voice within myself that is hungry for such things? And, if I can find such a voice, can I encourage it to say more to me?

    If I anticipate a time when my spiritual community will gather specifically to discuss what TCFM should be doing in the areas of redressing injustice and serving those who are suffering, what might I say? Do I believe my Quaker community needs to witness in these areas? Whether I personally offer myself to that work or not, what might I say to other members of our community?

Richard Fuller

12 Responses to TCFM’s Service, As A Community, To Others

  1. Nat Case October 22, 2008 at 6:33 am #

    I find myself oddly indifferent to the inactivity of PSAC and CSC. It bothers me to find myself indifferent, but it would bother me more to pretend I really do want to see them revived as they were.

    Partly, I see so much energy coming from individuals in their ministries in the world, whether in family, in paid work, or in the public sphere. There’s a lot the people at meeting are doing, and we receive a lot of foundation for that work from other Friends.

    One of the ideas that came up at M&C this year was to put up some kind of “ministry board” where people would post things they are doing they consider a ministry, to connect people who are working similarly, and to allow more sharing of ideas, experience, and resources. I still think that’s a good idea, but it doesn’t address the sense of our collective ministry as a meeting. This is a question that has hung over practically all of our “big picture” discussions since I’ve been attending: How are we a meeting? What are our collective ministries?

    There are cases where individual Friends seek formal meeting support for their outward ministry. This is an important part of our work as a meeting, but it is not the same thing as a collective ministry. We have sought a common sense on specific issues, made statements, written minutes, but even this seems not quite right to me and I sense this discomfort in others. These are the arguments—quiet battles—we engage in as a meeting, not the reconciliations. They are important, but not enough.

    There is something simmering in meeting. It’s been simmering a long time, and maybe it needs to simmer for longer. If I could put it easily into words, I would, but that’s part of the problem: the language we use doesn’t know how to approach injustice, poverty, war, and hate except with the words we already have, and many of these have just become so much rhetoric. But we experience the simmering thing in individual testimonies, in our work in the world, and in silent worship.

    The simmering thing looks at wholes that our language has pulled apart, and it looks at pieces that our language has lumped together. It looks at familiar tools to fight injustice and poverty and war and all the other ills, and tries to see what’s really doing something and what’s just making us feel like we’re doing something. It is trying to reconcile “I love you” and “Don’t tell me who I am.”

    It’s hard work, because it’s like a tree trying to pull itself out by the roots. We can’t pull out too many all at once or the tree will fall over. But some of those roots are tapping poison, and we need to keep working to figure out exactly which ones.

    I feel like I’ve been nibbling around the outside of something here, and it frustrates me not to be able to just leap in and take a bite, but that’s part of the work, finding the middle bit.

    I wish the work were not so slow, but it is, and I say the best we can do is keep at it, as we are doing. Keep pulling, keep testing, keep loving the tree.

  2. Richard Fuller October 22, 2008 at 10:19 am #

    Thanks Nat,
    I find this helpful in several ways, including a clear statement that you don’t feel a strong connection with PSAC & CSC, and the suggestion that part of what has been fueling our social-justice energy is probably best avoided.
    Your groping with no particular resolution emboldens me to a similar effort, with no guarantee of a good outcome.
    Thinking of your example of us forming and approving a minute, brought to us by the advocate of some good cause…
    Many of us, sitting in the MWB when the issue arises are not particularly motivated in that direction. We sit and listen as the minute takes shape, we raise concerns about particular wording or issues, if we feel we need to, and we approve the final minute. We don’t particularly feel, “this is MY issue; I join with it at the same level of enthusiasm as the person or persons who brought it to us.” But we accept the issue. We listen as the minute is crafted and we approve it. It becomes OUR minute. We, corporately and individually, support a motion of the spirit among us, with the energy and wisdom we have available.
    I like the image I get from this description. Spirit motivates one or a few people. They bring their energy to the community. The community makes the issue their own by crafting the minute and corporately expresses itself, as a community, to others, as those others encounter the minute or the people most motivated about the issue, who carry the minute out into the world.
    The model I see in this contains a couple of aspects that I feel are worth highlighting.
    1) If TCFM serves the larger world, as a corporate body, it doesn’t mean that the avenue of service is of focal concern to all, or even most, members of the meeting. We, individual members of the corporate body, join with the issue at varying levels of involvement. Still, even those with little feeling about the matter support it by giving it cursory attention, looking for what to their minds would be fatal flaws. A minute from TCFM or a “project of TCFM” comes with the implicit assurance, “even those of us who were not excited about this found nothing in it to which we were conscientiously opposed.”
    So there is a range here, in this image I’m developing. We have some people who are inspired, who start things moving. We have some who support with good ideas and emotional reinforcement, and we have some who support by being part of the corporate body and saying “I see no strong objection to this.” Voila! A corporate expression!
    2) This model starts with inspiration. Whether I call it “movement of the Spirit” or not, a few people find the issue worthy of their focused attention, and that’s where it starts. It doesn’t start with some Friends who are earning their “committee points” sitting down, opening the bulk mail in the Social Concerns Pigeon Hole, and saying, “this should come to MWB.” (That’s a caricature. I’m not saying that has ever happened. The caricature is intended to point to the “going through the motions” energy that we should always seek to minimize.)
    I’m on a roll here, so let me offer an example of what this model might look like in a particular case.
    Let’s say, a few members of the Climate Change Potluck group get inspired about having our newly reconstructed building be a shining example of green construction, which is built and used by a community that was taking the next big steps toward environmental sustainability. This is not simply an idea they could bring to MWB some evening and get a “yea” or “nay.” They would need to find and stir up other Friends who were supportive. They would need to test the waters and the wallets of the larger community: Are we willing to spring for this? Are we willing to back loans to cover what we can’t pay for in the short term? When the proposal came to MWB (more than once) some folks would make their contribution, merely by examining the proposal and, with their silence, declaring “I find no stop in this proposal.”
    If the body of MWB approved, TCFM would be offering a “Service, As A Community, To Others,” at the same time we were serving ourselves and our children.

  3. James Riemermann October 26, 2008 at 8:41 am #

    It feels pretty simple to me. If there are Friends within our meeting who find the time and energy to form a nucleus for these committees, then the rest of us are called on to bless the committee and bring them under our corporate wing. If not, not. I feel this way about very nearly every committee in our meeting. There might be exceptions, but perhaps not.

    There are more ways of doing things than through a committee. Peace and social action work, in particular, might even flow more freely when dissociated from committees. Even when the committee was active, most such work done by our meeting was not under its banner.

    That said, I can see the wisdom of the clerks bringing the matter forth from time to time to remind us all of where things stand and see if any are led to take it up again. But hand-wringing over the committees absence (not that I hear you doing that, at all), or seeing it as a reflection of some underlying failure, seems to me misguided and maybe even counter-productive.

  4. Richard Fuller October 26, 2008 at 5:33 pm #

    James wrote: “But hand-wringing over the committees absence…or seeing it as a reflection of some underlying failure, seems to me misguided and maybe even counter-productive.”
    Both as Clerk of Meeting and in my personal self I find James’ statement to point at the core issue.
    If no one is “inspired” (my word) or “finds the time and energy” (James’ words) can we, as a meeting community, simply accept that fact, or do we need to lean on each other, speaking of Quaker history or various religious injunctions?
    If James is right, we should simply lay PSAC and CSC down. It might have been premature to do that earlier. It may have been good to hold the empty committees in “inactive” status for a year, to see if anyone found the time and energy to step forward. But by now we know that is not the case. If someone gets inspired in a few months we can start one or both of them back up.
    I would like to argue for this path.
    This does NOT mean we, as a community, “don’t care” or that we “don’t value service to advance the greater good.”
    I would like to say, this means we are loyal to the spirit’s movement within us. We have waited on Spirit. Now we lay these committees down. We will continue to wait on Spirit, and if we are stirred by the still small voice, we hope we will be moved to action. (James would use other words for the same thing, I believe.)
    Please friends, we have now heard from three of us who feel there is no need to feel badly about laying down Peace & Social Action Committee and Community Service Committee. Could we hear some voices on the other side of the issue?

  5. Anne Supplee October 27, 2008 at 4:37 pm #

    While I can’t profess to having the energy to reinvigorate inactive committees, I do hesitate to encourage laying them down quite yet.
    I resonate with what Nat said about our not having a “sense of our collective ministry as a meeting.” This bothers me!
    I support the amazing ministry that many individuals participate in and find myself also drawn to serving outside TCFM. I also wish that there were things we did as a community -together in serving the greater whole.
    It goes back to the questions that continue to be raised (and have been for years): who are we? How do we serve? Who are we as a community?
    What do we, as a community, do in the neighborhood? in the city? in the world?

  6. James Riemermann October 27, 2008 at 5:57 pm #

    I don’t know that I would have suggested laying the committee down, though laying it down is not a decision I would take hard, personally. But I think the meeting might take it hard.

    I think some Friends are grieving pretty deeply over the fact that the PSAC isn’t active, and laying it down would just be too painful for them. I’m not sure that they’re looking at things altogether clearly, but I understand their sadness and wouldn’t want to rush them. I think it’s a fair question to ask the meeting, though, whether we’re ready to consider such a step.

  7. Liz Opp(enheimer) November 7, 2008 at 12:05 pm #

    I have sat with this topic for a while, even before PSAC was identified as inactive.

    I have a different take on the situation.

    Any committee that is being faithful and well led in its service to the Spirit and to the faith community will find that over time, we as a body will do at least two things:

    1. We will readily come under the weight of the work and focus of the committee; and

    2. We will readily engage ourselves–physically, energetically, financially–in CARRYING OUT (not just verbally supporting) the committees work.

    When I say “we,” I mean a significant portion of TCFM.

    In any committee work, there is a danger that the preferences or desire or even leading of an individual will not be thoroughly tested by the group to be sure that the committee’s work is of God and is led by the Spirit, not just by the enthusiasm (or anger, etc.) of one or two people.

    For years I worried for PSAC, that it was a committee gathered around the concerns of a small group of Friends, but without testing with the meeting if they were concerns *of the meeting.*

    On the other hand, I am NOT concerned for having no active PSAC or Community Service Committee: the life of a faith community ebbs and flows in its activities. My own sense is that, as a meeting, we are being led to take up two primary tasks right now:

    1. Care for the physical building, and

    2. Reexamining certain elements of our faith, as evidenced by the M&C’s epistle, the attendance at previous workshops on Fox, Penington, etc., and the growing attendance at 8:30 MfW.

    I’m not so sure that we, as a community, are WANTING to be active as a corporate body right now–have we, as a community, agreed to open our hearts and minds to receive this possibility???–though I think that there will be some new opportunities for us to stretch ourselves again, given the conditions of the planet.

    Not sure that I addressed the topic at hand, but these are some of the thoughts that have arisen for me.


  8. James Riemermann November 11, 2008 at 1:09 pm #

    In my view a significant portion of TCFM is, in fact, carrying out the work of peace and social action. We’re just not doing it by means of a committee.

    I’m not sure it makes sense, or reflects the way the work of Friends generally gets done, to assume that it is not the work of the meeting if it does not pass through a committee, or get approved in meeting for worship with attention for business.

    A great deal of the most important work our meeting does consists of individual Friends and groups of Friends going out in the world and acting out of the spiritual center of our community and our worship. In most cases they have neither sought nor received the approval of the meeting.

    There is other work, certainly, where we are spending the resources of the meeting, or where we feel a need to speak with one voice, where the processes of our standing and ad hoc committees and meetings for business are absolutely necessary.

    But I think we have a tendency to forget about or dismiss the organic work that is just as legitimately–sometimes more legitimately–the movement of spirit through our meeting as the official work we do. The impulse to bring everything we do under the aegis of a committee is sometimes as much bureaucratic as spiritual. Process is a container, and not everything we do needs to be contained. Spirit is notorious for not allowing itself to be contained.

  9. Harry Dilworth January 3, 2009 at 3:01 pm #

    I am an ex member of the Community Service Group which was laid down for lack of interest on the part of the Meeting.

    Thiis does bother me as I feel strongly that service to our community is an important function of the Meeting as a whole. Certainly there are those amongst us who are active in various service areas (or areas deemed to be of service), but they have not the blessing or suppoort of the Meeting. These folks are on their own and must join other non-friendly groups, or fly solo which at times is hard.
    Perhaps there is a method to begin a committee to support such activities and attempt to attract those who are active, as well as those who would like to serve in some manner.
    Service, like the Library, is the hallmark of Friends.

  10. Aimee January 6, 2009 at 6:38 pm #

    Hi all, sorry to join this conversation so late! I have a number of thoughts rolling through my head after reading these posts – so this may not flow in any linear way.

    First, Nat: I LOVE the idea of a ministry board! There was a lot of comment about people at TCFM being involved in a lot of PSAC/CSC type activities outside of meeting. And Harry, it sounds like you don’t think people have support from the meeting in these ventures. I think (maybe naively) one way to get support is to just let people know what you’re up to.

    I also thought of something they are fond of saying at North Seattle Friends; don’t know how y’all will take it. Several people like to say that they feel like representatives of North Seattle so when they go off to do some thing (serving in Africa or Latin America or closer to home) they are “taking all of us with them,” in spirit of course. There was often a feeling of a close community, sending someone out to do some thing, holding them, etc – and they usually weren’t doing anything related to a committee! (I think I’ve explained that poorly…)

    My other thoughts can be organized thus:
    When I first found out there was no PSAC I admit I was a bit shocked. Surely this is a foundation of Quakers – but we can’t keep it going!?
    But then I remembered how things went at North Seattle (at least recently). The pastor was fond of saying that serving on a committee did not make one a Christian or get you into heaven or earn points (or whatever you like). She didn’t want anyone serving on a committee out of guilt or otherwise; you only served on a committee if you had the leading to do so.
    So…. if no one has the leading to be involved in PSAC or CSC, then that’s the way it is.
    At NSFC we would just leave a committee standing with no members. I get the sense things might be more complicated here. What happens if you lay down the committees? Is is hard to start them up again?

    I am curious about one more thing – perhaps someone can write me “off line” if it’s not pertinent to the topic at hand. What sort of things did the PSAC and CSC do? I’ve never seen them in action and am very curious what they used to do.

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