Monday, May 18, 2009

The May Year of Discernment Retreat

RantWoman is still seasoning her impressions of the most recent Year of Discernment retreat at her meeting. Obviously she is going to post for the information of those who come after, even though she is having twinges of thought about airing community laundry all over the internet.

First, making the food a potluck works SO much better than trying to do food formally when attendance at an earlier retreat far exceeded the number who had gotten their acts together to put name on paper in advance. There was PLENTY of food both for lunch and for a mid-afternoon teatime after short work party and before more discernment and worship.

The work party included weeding, which RantWoman actually might have been able to put herself in the way of, windowwashing about which everyone agreed it was probably preferable for RantWoman just to play the blind card, little old ladies sweeping off the roof, big burly guys undoing all the spiders' handiwork on the ceiling of the worship room, and other tasks.

(Here RantWoman allowed brief and frightening humility about one task, cleaning the refrigerator. If Nominating Committee had looked at RantWoman's own fridge, PERHAPS they would not have put RantWoman in charge of the Meeting kitchen. More to the point, even if the fridge needs cleaning, a day when the kitchen is full of people and potluck food is really NOT optimal.)

RantWoman humbly built community by catching up on different Friends medical and other difficulties, holding all in the Light, and staying out of the way. RantWoman will do dirt therapy another time.

The discernment exercises brought up numbers of themes. In the morning Friends spoke in small groups of times in the past when they had been part of corporate discernment processes. One Friend in RantWoman's small group spoke of the discernment about renaming the organization now known as Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns, or by some of us as Friends with the impossibly long unpronounceable acronym. This example vividly illustrates the clarity of discernment: the group kept having a leading to make this long name and it just got clearer the more they worshipped.

Another LONG moment of discernment mentioned was when RantWoman's meeting was discerning the path toward recognizing same-sex marriage the same ways opposite sex marriage are recognized. Curiously, only two of five people in the group were present during that long interval. Mention was made of some objectors eventually just falling away and dropping out. A small effort was made to mention that sometimes efforts at corporate discernment involved quite hurtful things being said in public during this process and possibly other points of unspoken conflict. RantWoman was also thinking of a conversation she was part of once where someone was explaining that she and her then-husband spent a good bit of time turning over associated questions over their own dinner table. RantWoman finds herself wondering what kind of kitchen table discernment is needed in the current interval.

Another theme that came from this conversation was the role of leadership. This theme came up in a few ways, both mention of some formidable presences now deceased, and mention from various angles about concern for who the next clerks will be, what phases people are at in their lives, and approaches to needs including manual labor. No one thought to crystalize the question of recognizing leaders or leadership behavior even when corporate discernment is the focus.

At some points in previous eras the Meeting included more people with skills in manual labor. Mention was also made of the value of experience. There are tasks which can be figured out by reasonably intelligent people, but there is simplicity in repetition and omitting mistakes in later rounds of work. Mention of previous times when the Meeting made big financial decisions included both the roles of key people and lack of clarity about how some of the decisions came together. Agreeing about whether or not to recognize same-sex marriage is sort of binary: either Meeting will come to unity or... By contrast, one aspect of economic decisions is a large number of choices and scenarios to work through.

It occurs to RantWoman that when all the discernment is said and done, do we ever look back with an eye toward outcomes? Did we spend money from the right pot of money to fix the furnaces? Did we accomplish what we attended by taking one step or another? Did we spend more money than we really needed to? RantWoman thinks she should probably prod the person who raised some of these concerns to bring them up to more than our small group. Since this person was also concerned about leadership, RantWoman should perhaps ask him what would be his idea of satisfactory leadership (not just decisions that suit him) for the current age.

The afternoon's discernment involved 10 ministries of the Meeting and allocating either 24 or 12 dots signifying our financial resources and only our financial resources among these ministries. RantWoman's group first dealt with a strong leading to put all our smiley faces in Worship assuming all other necessary decisions would derive from there. However, a member of Finance Committee kept pressing us to interact with the money question.

Discussion also wound up spending a lot of time on the costs / shared costs of two ministries that place a lot of demands on our building, the homeless ministry and one large longtime tenant. RantWoman was pleased that others share her view that these are very important ministries and there are different ways to total what seem to be related costs. This needs more followup though.

RantWoman thinks the items on the list of ministries were clumped strangely. RantWoman's group was also full of huge conflict avoiders. In the end all ministries got one dot; Worship and care of the Meeting each got 2. Against this backdrop, RantWoman was dazzled by some of the clumps suggested by other groups later on.

RantWoman also suspects that many people were misreading the titles: RantWoman's group for instance kept mentioning "sex abuse" in a peculiar light that had little to do with Meeting's ministry about this topic. RantWoman also thinks many people might have done what she did during the individual person placement of dots a week ago. RantWoman interpreted the category "Outside" to be activities outside meeting which might or might not include explicitly Quaker activities. Then she allocated half her dots there, to reflect her life and lving out her Quaker values in larger circles. RantWoman also thinks this is an important reality check: LOTS of Friends have things outside of Meeting which are very important and which feed back and forth to enrich Meeting as well as other parts of life.

Stay tuned for further seasoning.


  1. Thank you for your comments on the retreat. I have forwarded this link to the year of discernment steering committee and I am sure it will give us a lot to talk about.


  2. And thank YOU for reading it and for bearing with my blogging experimentations.