Jenny Madeline,New South Wales Regional Meeting.
Attending Yearly Meeting (YM) can be a profound, fulfilling and energising experience. The many and varied elements of YM, the participants, and the selfless work of the organising committees, contribute to this. But can we keep it up?
After the event, I suspect that YM organising committees gloss over the difficulties, not wanting to be too negative, or alarm others taking on the role in the future. From personal experience, I know that organising YM can be a burden on Regional Meetings (RMs), with limited human resources and the expectation that YM will be “all things to all people”. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find suitable venues that meet our demanding criteria, including affordability. I have even wondered if some venues would have us back – we are pretty “high maintenance”. The range of possible venues, too, is narrowing as many universities and colleges now operate for most of the year and/or schedule sandwich courses during the long summer break. The last two YMs hosted by NSWRM have been held in regional areas and this has added to the travel time for participants.
From the participants’ point of view, some Friends don’t attend because January is too hot, and some find it too long and/or too expensive. If the YM is far away, it is not practical to attend for a shorter number of days, as the major cost may be travel.
It would be timely, I think, for us to commence a discussion or review of the current (and longstanding) YM arrangements to see if an alternative model (or models) can be found. Perhaps it would assist if we unpick the various elements of YM and the needs that they meet and consider whether there are other possible ways to meet those perceived needs. We should look at the current arrangements (and possible alternatives) both from the perspective of the participants and the host RMs/organising committees. Can we continue to be “all things to all people”?
It could be useful to have a look at how YMs (& family gatherings) are organised in some other countries, and consider whether those arrangements (or something along similar lines) might, or might not, work in Australia.
Now that Tasmania has moved to a 4-term school year, in line with other states and territories, there is an opportunity to consider the timing of YM. Other alternatives, some of which have been canvassed in the past, include using the same location each year (ideally with a significant contribution from other RMs), and perhaps having separate family gatherings. There is scope for a greater emphasis on RM (and inter-RM) weekend (or long weekend) workshops and family camps and, of course, the increased use of technology to share information. There is potential, too, for Friends to make more use of the resources offered by Quaker Learning Australia and the Silver Wattle Quaker Centre.
Friends, what are your thoughts on this?