Susan Freeman, New South Wales Regional Meeting
I did toy with the idea of subtitling my article “I Was A YM20 Groupie”, as I did almost every kind of session possible, and really enjoyed the week. So, let me explain myself a bit. I haven’t had much involvement with Yearly Meetings, managing just two face to face YMs in my 12 years of membership, which means I haven’t built up any definite expectations nor a lot of memories with which to compare this year’s YM20. I have also had a fair experience of Zoom meetings from before YM20 and, since moving to the country four years ago, I have come to appreciate Zoom for the possibilities it offers for wider and more varied interactions with people than I can have in my local communities.
Travel can be a problem too, but I could, and would, have driven to either Canberra or Cooranbong this year. Also, I live alone with just myself to please, and since I would have been away for a face to face YM20, I “went away” at home for the week.
About YM20, I would say firstly that I admire and very deeply appreciate the dedication of the volunteers to make it work as well as it did: the IT team and their work beforehand to help people feel comfortable with Zoom, as well as their efforts during the week to keep everything running so smoothly; the clerking team who worked hard behind the scenes, as well as fronting sessions so admirably, and all those who developed such a thoughtful, rounded, considered program for the week.
Each morning I attended Meeting for Worship, each different and each nourishing. The same I would say for Epilogue with which I ended my days. I attended Welcome to Country, Friendly School, Plenary Sessions and Share and Tells about every day, as well as the Meetings for Worship for Business. And some Coffee Chats. In between, I washed dishes, or went for a walk, or did some patchwork, read, and even journaled; all the more routine, everyday activities that grounded me during these very stimulating days.
Every day brought “highlights”. Murray Short’s presentation for Friendly School was thought provoking. I did think the discussion questions missed some of the points he made. Evan Gallagher’s State of the Society Address was both sensitive and challenging; while Ann Britton’s Summary of Epistles showed both what unites world Quakers and our differences. These would all be worth visiting again. As is the Backhouse Lecture, this year given by Fiona Gardner. “Living Life in Union with the Spirit” was not just about the individual but also about community – supporting the individual, but the individual nurturing community too. Key ideas for me in this lecture were embedding the spiritual in the everyday and being intentional; a call to me to do more.
Plenary sessions offered a lot to reflect on too. The Earthcare session offering WA’s experiences maintaining this Quaker concern was interesting, but the “breakout room” chats were too short to develop ideas. I took away the idea of seeing earth as an “en-spirited whole”. The Indigenous Peoples Concerns Committee had invited indigenous archaeologist, Dave Johnston, to speak. This was inspiring not just for his passion and experience, but for his belief that aboriginal heritage is heritage for all Australians, something we can all share in and be proud of, and his work towards that. The IT Committee’s presentation on the Website was very useful and lively, dissolving my sense of “too hard” to try to navigate.
Children and Junior Young Friends involvement in Meetings for Worship and in the Plenary Session presented by their committee was inspiring in what they do, and in their motivation, their spirit. I enjoyed the liveliness of the Meetings for Worship, the story telling for the “children” and the presentations by JYFs.
Of Share and Tells, two were of particular interest to me, on Online Meeting for Worship, and Outreach. Interesting discussions in each session showed a lot of different attitudes, but a lot of keenness to develop these matters. Two S.&T.s offered different experiences of the spirit to challenge and delight me: Joy Bowles’ Walking Labyrinths, Praying the Lord’s Prayer – interpreting and using the Lord’s Prayer in new ways – and Virginia Jealous’ Quakers and the Rule of St. Benedict, about her experience of an Anglican Benedictine women’s community in UK. Both were reminders of how we can learn from others (A&Q. 5).
Attending all these sessions did not leave me much time to enjoy the offered friendly gatherings, but I did join in some Coffee Chats, meeting people from all over. Meeting people in a different way occurred in Meeting for Remembrance. I found the outpouring of people’s personal memories of F/friends who have died in the last year or so very moving.
I did say earlier that I found the Business sessions to be very well organised and run. The idea of having the Preparatory sessions before YM20, where people could discuss issues, was a good idea given the time restraints for YM20. This meant the comparative brevity of the MfWfB sessions was not such an issue, except for the last session which raised a matter that was far more complex than any single preparatory/business session could have dealt with.
Perhaps more than face to face Yearly Meetings have shown, this year’s online YM20 shows the importance of all of us taking responsibility for each other and for the concerns we have, not just when it suits us, but in considering the needs of others, given the demands we can place on the volunteers who organise and facilitate the meetings and activities of our Society.
As you can see, I found YM20 online stimulating and enjoyable, not just for the ideas and challenges I was exposed to, but also in meeting and mixing with the wider Australian Quaker community. It is easy to sit back and say, “it’s not like it was”, “it’s not the same”…Of course, it’s not. Zoom is not a replacement for face to face, but another and different way of gathering people together. For people in the country/disabled/sick/a carer/…Zoom offers a lifeline to the world. Certainly, there were quite a few people at online YM20 who don’t go to Yearly Meetings generally, as well as many who do. It offers “fresh opportunities” not just at this stage in our lives (cf A&Q. 30), but at any time. “Live adventurously” says AQ.29, and at YM20 I felt I did.