Friends General Conference Annual Reports
The text of recently received Annual Reports are below, with the most recently received at the top and older reports below. To jump to a particular report, simply click the year listed below.
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This past year has been a one of challenges, unexpected changes, and deepened reflection for the FGC Central Committee and the members of all of the supporting committees that make it up. Before our annual meeting in October, 2016, we did not anticipate the news that a feasibility study for a new capital campaign found that no campaign should be undertaken this year. Instead, the report recommended that we do the following:
- Clarify our mission and purpose so that our work is mission driven rather than program driven;
- Look at our income and realistically balance our income and expenses in a way that is sustainable over time;
- Have the grit and confidence to make hard decisions and live with them.
Treasured and valuable projects and programs had to be addressed with clear eyes. Discernment does not come easily, even to Friends!
- Quaker Quest and the New Meetings Project were funded by grants that have run out, and these were discontinued.
- The Traveling Ministries Program was laid down.
- Quaker Bridge, our self-publishing program, was discontinued.
- Couple enrichment will no longer be under FGC’s care, but will continue as a largely independent project.
- We are working to make QuakerBooks more self-supporting. It was moved from Philadelphia to Pendle Hill, where it can receive walk-in business, and it has partnered with Quaker and Fair Trade Vendors to offer new kinds of merchandise. We are happy to report that as of this spring, there has been a 41% increase in sales and a reduced costs of goods. Other structural and staff changes have been made, and their effects will be evaluated over time.
As the year unfolded, we focused on these three goals:
- Fostering and nourishing collaboration among yearly and monthly meetings.
- Growing and strengthening the Religious Society of Friends.
- Fostering a more inclusive community
This spring Rachael Ernst-Stalhut was hired to coordinate the new Spiritual Deepening Program. Its goal is “to bring the full depth, joy, and fire of Quaker faith and practice to our daily lives, to our meetings, and to those who come to our meeting as seekers”. This program is expected to be available to monthly Meetings everywhere this fall.
Also this spring the Executive Committee agreed, after painful discernment regarding the best use of scarce resources, to lay down Stewardship Services for the present. The committee is committed to a renewed Planned Giving program which will focus on the most useful aspects of Stewardship Services.
Our Ministry on Racism Program directly supported a large number of the more than 500 Quakers attending the White Privilege Conference this year, and the Summer Gathering at St. Benedicts College in St. John, Minnesota offered a pre-gathering retreat for Friend of Color and Their Families. The 2017 gathering will be held at Niagara University in New York, with the theme “Ripples Start When Spirit Moves.”
As Jean-Marie Prestwidge Barch, Clerk of the Nurturning Ministries Committee reminded us, “programs and projects can and have changed from time to time—the emphasis and focus of the particular work can and has changed-- but although our ways of approaching or achieving our goals may have changed, the work of inclusion, religious education, outreach, extending the embrace of our Quaker Way— has not changed because it is the work to which we are called by Spirit!”
We are deeply appreciative of the opportunity BYM has given us to engage in this work.
Greetings from members of Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) who serve on the Central Committee of Friends General Conference (FGC), its governing body. Work under our care has supported and nourished monthly Meetings across the country and thousands of individual Friends. This work included the Quaker Cloud, Quaker Quest workshops, gatherings for Friends of Color, a consultation on Spiritual Deepening within the Religious Society of Friends, and ecumenical outreach through the World Council of Churches.
This year Central Committee focused particularly on three areas: discerning way forward for Quaker Books, which has been in financial trouble, spiritual deepening, and consideration of a fundraising campaign. After a challenging period of discernment, the physical bookstore was relocated to Pendle Hill for a trial period, and it became a mostly online bookstore at QuakerBooks.org. Here Friends can download e-books, order printed books, and read interviews with Quaker authors. The sustainability of this model will be evaluated by the committee. A Spiritual Deepening program was launched, to “make the full depth, joy, and fire of Quaker faith and practice highly available, teachable, and experiential for all those who are or will become part of our faith communities.” This program is in formation, and several Friends from BYM have taken on pieces of the work, which is designed to strengthen and deepen our Meetings as worshiping communities. Study of the feasibility of a major fundraising campaign for FGC is currently underway.
Friends from Baltimore Yearly Meeting have served Central Committee on the Personnel Committee and the Friends Mutual Health Group, the Long Range Conference Planning Committee, the Executive Committee, the Committee for Discernment, Planning and Priorities, and the Committee for Nurturing Ministries. This year, the Friends Mutual Health Group has expanded its outreach to include many Quaker organizations seeking better and more affordable health care coverage for employees. The Long Range Conference Planning Committee’s work has focused on making the Gathering more welcoming to first time attenders, Transgender Friends, Friends with disabilities, and Friends from working class backgrounds. The BYM Friend who serves on the Executive Committee described their work as sometimes appearing to be less glamorous than that of some other committees. However, their work is vital to strengthening FGC’s financial base, evaluating the effectiveness of its programs, discerning leadings for new or changed programs, and encouraging Friends and Meetings to use the many resources and programs available through FGC. Members on the Committee for Nurturing Ministries have been involved in visioning for the emergent Spiritual Deepening Program and in the rewarding work of developing resources and materials for this exciting new FGC offering. Friends from Baltimore Yearly Meeting feel that they have been well used in the work of Central Committee and appreciate the opportunity given to them by the Yearly Meeting to engage in this work.
Greetings from the members of Baltimore Yearly Meeting who serve on the Central Committee of Friends General Conference, its governing body. It has been our joy and privilege to be part of this work. One representative from BYM observed, “ I found the experience of attending Central Committee both enriching and a bit overwhelming. . . I was amazed at the number of opportunities for service. . . I felt centered during most of the business meetings; I felt centered as I wrote and reflected about the experiences when I got home.”
Much of the preparative work for the Central Committee’s annual meeting is done in smaller committees, which may also have subcommittees and working groups. Members from our Yearly Meeting serve the Central Committee in the following ways: Michael Boardman – Baltimore Stony Run – Long Range Conference Planning; Arthur Boyd – Baltimore Stony Run - At large member of Executive Committee; Sue Carnell – Baltimore Stony Run - Personnel Committee; Laura Fisher – Langley Hill – Publications and Distribution; Linda Goldstein – Charlottesville - Blue Book Committee; Deborah Haines – Alexandria - Central Committee Recording Clerk, also Personnel Committee; Elise Hansard – Roanoke - Growing Subcommittee of the Committee for Nurturing Ministries (CNM); John Meyer – Friends Meeting of Washington - Transforming Subcommittee of CNM; Nancy Moore – Baltimore Stony Run - coopted directly to Central Committee – Publications and Distributions; Tim Mullady – Annapolis - representative to Friends Committee on Scouting; Brad Ogilvie – Friends Meeting of Washington – Christian and Interfaith Relations; Ann Riggs – Annapolis - delegate to the World Council of Churches; Riley Robinson – Friends Meeting of Washington, BYM General Secretary - observer to Friends Committee on National Legislation; Ken Stockbridge – Patapsco - At large member of CNM.
In October 2013, the Central Committee approved the following Epistle, which beautifully conveys the spirit and substance of our work:
“One hundred thirty seven Friends from fifteen yearly meetings gathered on a beautiful fall weekend at the Pearlstone Retreat Center near Reisterstown, Maryland for the 2013 annual meeting of the Friends General Conference Central Committee. Our worship and deliberations have been deeply blessed. We have been swept by an awareness of opportunity and new energy. As one Friend said: “There is a deep and powerful stream flowing here, and we are invited to plunge in.”
Two years ago, Friends General Conference defined three areas of focus to guide our work—Deep Worship, Loving Community, and Outreach. Focusing on these three priorities has already yielded good fruit and opened new doors as we consider how we are called to nurture Quaker faith and practice.
We heard from our General Secretary, Barry Crossno, a call for us to take up the challenge of reaching out to and accompanying the thousands of seekers who visit our meetings each year. We heard of new energy around our work in religious education, and how we are re-envisioning it as spiritual formation. We heard how eager Friends meetings are to take advantage of the online services offered by our new Quaker Cloud, which hosts monthly meeting websites and a meeting “minute manager,” and will soon be offering a meeting directory feature. We heard how the new approach to planned giving being pioneered by our Stewardship Services program liberates Friends to give more generously to all the charities they support. We heard of the new books coming out of our two publishing programs—FGC’s QuakerPress and QuakerBridge Media—and were encouraged to hear of renewed efforts to preserve and extend the ministry offered by our bookstore—QuakerBooks of FGC. We heard how our New Meetings project is reaching out to dozens of clusters of scattered Friends and seekers, and helping to establish new worship groups across the country. We heard of continued excitement about the outreach-inreach work of our Quaker Quest program.
This weekend, we dedicated a period of time each evening to diversity work, exploring together the challenge of how to be an ally to those experiencing discrimination and injustice. Dedicating this time has been very valuable. We encourage monthly and yearly meetings to consider engaging in this work.
It has helped us to experience our own humanness, our weakness, and our common longing to do better. We still have much work to do, as individuals and in our Friends’ communities, to be truly welcoming and to live the Truth that we are all family. We are committed to carrying forward this work.
We know that when we enter into the presence of the Divine together, experiencing and living out the love that binds us and opening our hearts to the world, way will open. We have experienced this weekend a taste of divine grace, and the way opening to new opportunities and new discoveries. We have been blessed.”
Central Committee of Friends General Conference meets as a whole only once a year, at its Annual Session in October, over several days. It is a huge committee, with well over 100 members. Much of the real work is done by the many smaller committees, each consisting of some members of Central Committee and reporting to Central Committee. Some committees, in turn, have their own subcommittees.
For 2012, Central Committee moved its Annual Meeting to the Pearlstone Center, after the Brethren's Conference Center in New Windsor closed in June 2012. We had to adapt to a strict Kosher regime, also to sharing the Center with a few other groups. Sue Regen presided over the plenary sessions.
The Vision Statement for FGC proposed in 2011 was not accepted, and work continued. Committee for Discernment, Planning and Priorities then proposed a rather long and rambling vision statement, but later stripped it down to the following two-sentence version, which was approved:
We envision a vital and growing Religious Society of Friends -
a faith that is deepening spiritually, welcoming newcomers,
building supportive and inclusive community, and providing
loving service in the world.
Through Friends General Conference and led by the Spirit,
we see Quakers joining together in ministry to offer services
that help Friends, meetings and seekers explore, deepen,
connect and serve within the context of our living faith.
This year, Personnel Committee adopted two new policies: a Conflict of Interest policy, and an Ethical Standards policy.
Committee for Nurturing Ministries has launched the New Meetings project. In the first month, 15 inquries were received. They have compiled a list of 63 meetings, new since 2002, and plan to find out how they got started.
We approved a request from Starkville Monthly Meeting (in eastern Mississippi) for direct affiliation with FGC.
Stoph Hallward (Treasurer) noted that there has been some non-standard recording of receipts; with the hiring of a new bookkeeper, there is an opportunity to clean up the accounts and make other changes over the next year. The Bookstore has lately been doing better than expected. A grant of $400K from the Shoemaker Foundation has been received, which will be used to fund the New Meetings project as well as Quaker Quest.
Future years promise, in an era of reduced revenues, a budget gap of around $280K if no changes are made. Less than half of the budget is available for cuts. Some segments are self-funding or grant-funded. Bridging the gap by only cutting expenses would likely mean cutting CNM. Quakerbooks has been losing $100K, but is popular. Cuts in IT positions would impact other staff. Nor is it realistic to increase revenue by enough to fill the gap. There had to be a third way.
A group of committees (and the Organizational Discernment Working Group) therefore asked CDPP for advice on reaching a sustainable budget for 2013, and beyond. The result was a list of 13 very specific recommendations. Some programs will have to be cut. The Bookstore needs to focus on Quaker titles and ministry. Some staff will have to be cut, to about 18 full-time equivalent positions. Finance Committee then presented a balanced budget for fiscal 2013 (which actually began October 1) in 7 highly condensed pages.
Stewardship Services (formerly known as Planned Giving) has undergone a third-year evaluation by a committee with outsiders. A bequest pipeline has been started, but this takes 7-10 years to produce, though $890K per year could result in due course. The recommendation is that the Committee should continue, with another evaluation in 3 years.
We are told that Development is more than fundraising. Development reported contributions of $1 1/4M for fiscal 2012. The Stoking the Spiritual Fire of Quakerism campaign ended in December 2011 with $6.3M, above its target of $6M. The goal for 2013 is an increase of $100K. The October Friends Journal, on money, is recommended reading.
Long Range Conference Planning reported that the 2012 Gathering at Kingston RI was excellent. A half-Gathering option was offered for the first time. There were 1,248 attendees, slightly fewer than expected, but the Gathering still broke even financially. It was announced that the 2014 Gathering has been set for California PA (south of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River).
We were invited to the 2013 Gathering in Greeley CO by the Gathering co-Clerks; the dates are June 30-July 6, with the theme "At the Growing Edges of our Faith." We were given Top Ten Reasons to go. You can get there by airplane, train or car.
Conference Visioning Committee was formed last year to consider the implications of rising costs and reduced attendance at the Gathering; this has not been looked at in many years. The Committee will be meeting in November. Look for a report next year.
Another proposal from CDPP is to reorganize communications. It is time to lay down the Communications Advisory Board (a temporary ad hoc group) and establish a new standing committee, Communications Policy and Infrastructure, separate from Publications & Distribution. These two committees will continue. The new CPI will focus on the Web, not on producing content.
Yet another proposal from CDPP is to set up a Working Group (or some such body) to collect data and review the structure and governance of Central Committee.
We heard the final report from CAB, which was mostly about cloud support. The FGC website has been revamped, and content development is ongoing. The Quaker cloud, at www.quakercloud.org is planned to be a suite of tools for meetings and committees, with a full rollout planned for January 2013. The focus will be on what Friends, seekers and meetings want or need to do, instead of being based on the internal committee structure of FGC. (It was noted that clouds (the real ones) were first classified by Luke Howard, a Quaker.)
At present, the Quaker cloud is in beta mode, with 6 meetings participating. System news is on the site now. Simple demonstrations were presented. Initially, three tools are on the system: a meeting website manager, a minute manager, and a meeting directory, with appropriate privacy restrictions; these are open to updating by anyone with the access. There will be monthly fees for the tools, depending on the size of the meeting. So far, there has been an 85% increase in visits to the website, with a big reduction in "bounces" (visitors who leave after finding nothing they want). They are looking for 100+ meetings in 2013.
Central Committee will be distributing an Epistle on the Annual Session.
J. Michael Boardman, Baltimore Stony Run
Brethren Conference Center, New Windsor, MD
Informal report by J. Michael Boardman
The weather was noteworthy: rain on Thursday, sunny on Friday, snow all day Saturday (about 3 inches), and sunny but cold on Sunday, with icy spots.
Central Committee is the governing body of FGC, and it meets once a year. It is huge, with well over 100 members. It contains several committees, where much of the real work is done; they meet more often. And some committees have their own subcommittees.
Annual Session was clerked by Sue Regen. The new FGC General Secretary is Barry Crossno, following Bruce Birchard, who retired this year after many years of service.
The Stoking the Spiritual Fire of Quakerism campaign was created in 2006, with a goal of $7.25M over 5 years. The intent was to spend the money raised over 7–9 years, beginning in 2007, on programs such as youth membership and Quaker Quest, as well as on more mundane matters like office renovations, rather than to set up endowments. In 2010, as a side effect of the economy, the goal was lowered to $6.3M and the time frame extended by a year. To date, $6.5M has been raised in gifts and pledges. Now that the campaign is winding down, FGC will have significantly reduced funds over the next several years. Displayed graphics explained that very little campaign money will be left after 2012, so FGC needs to wrestle with the financial realities and work towards a balanced sustainable budget for 2013 and beyond.
Committee for Discernment, Planning and Priorities was formed in 2009 by merger. It was charged with discerning which are the core activities of FGC, which activities should be reduced or eliminated, and possibly what new opportunities might arise. Any plan needs to be specific and transparent. Barry Crossno reported that a small working group under CDPP will work on this, and involve Finance and Development. There have been some committee mergers, and more changes can be expected.
The fiscal year runs from October through September. FY2011 actuals were within 2% of budget. The FY2012 budget was approved; it includes a $165K decrease in the personnel budget. The operating budget is set at $2.3M (was $2.4M in FY2011); the total budget is $2.7M (was $3M in FY2011).
Development noted that building endowment is a long-term process, taking 7–10 years to show returns. Meanwhile, the annual fund goal for FY2011 was met.
CDPP offered a Visioning Statement. However, there was some unhappiness with it, as being too generic; it was returned to CDPP for further seasoning. On Saturday, small focus groups were organized, to provide some input for CDPP.
Communications and Advisory Board (which is not a permanent committee) and Publications and Distribution have much overlap. The eventual aim is to integrate them into one program and one committee to handle all communications. Meanwhile, CAB is working on a new website, to be launched February or March 2012, with the tag line “Nurturing Faith and Quaker Practice”; this will in effect replace QuakerFinder and enhance services to monthly meetings, with further additions later. This work should be completed during 2012. Executive Committee recommends that CAB should continue for now, and CC approved.
P&D reports that FGC Quakerbooks has 23,000 customers, but declining revenue. Is this a business or ministry? Book publishing is undergoing a revolution. One proposal is to merge Quakerbooks with the Pendle Hill bookstore, as both are losing money. The merged bookstore might be named “FGC Bookstore at Pendle Hill.” However, it is not clear that Pendle Hill has a usable location. The idea needs further seasoning. Executive Committee is asked to decide whether it is practical and desirable to merge, before the next session of CC, as part of a strategic plan. P&D plans to lay down the Traveling Ministers Directory (unless enough volunteer help emerges), as there are no staff to update it.
Long Range Conference Planning reported that the 2011 Gathering at Grinnell, IA was highly successful. The 2012 Gathering will be at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. We are promised a Quaker cantata there, and were reminded that Quakers were in Rhode Island before Philadelphia. The 2013 Gathering will be out west, at Northern Colorado University in Greeley. Some changes may be needed in future Gatherings, and a committee is being formed to consider. Projections suggest they may not be financially sustainable in their present form; attendance has been declining in recent years.
Committee for Nurturing Ministries reported that the Staff Diversity Committee of FGC is asking CC to devote serious time to diversity issues, including racism, ageism, white privilege and class. Specifically, that CC should devote 2–3 hours to study, conversation and exercises in each of the next 5 years. This applies also to committees, working groups and individuals. This needs time and work, not extra money. CC accepted the challenge. CNM put out a sheet of queries, and their Transforming Committee can collect answers. There is a diversity section on the FGC website, to which users may add (moderated) comments.
Christian Interfaith Relations Committee was born in 1893, so is older than FGC. It works with National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches. One recent achievement was to convince them that baptism by convincement was as valid as baptism by water; this gives Quakers a seat at the table. Another action, at Friends United Meeting Triennial, was a call to set about making war illegal.
This is the last year that Central Committee will meet at New Windsor. In June 2012, the Conference Center will close, for financial reasons.
As representatives to the Central Committee (CC) of Friends General Conference, we understand FGC as fundamentally guided by a shared vision of a revitalized Religious Society of Friends that is spiritually deepened, transforming lives, increasingly diverse and growing, and relevant to the wider world. We believe FGC has an extremely important role based on its unique position as a service organization supporting, working with and serving Meetings and Quaker organizations in the United States and Canada.
Service with FGC brings many rewards. Here are some of our voices:
Gail Thomas notes that Central Committee members have the opportunity to serve on one or more of its standing committees. “I serve FGC by being a member of the FGC Personnel Committee, particularly important in these times of financial challenge. I also serve on the board of the Friends Mutual Health Group, the health insurance used by many Friends organizations. FGC this year had both the excitement of change and possibility with the challenge of reduced financing. I feel so few Quakers understand the value of FGC and all it offers to support Meetings.”
Mary Anna Feitler writes: “I serve FGC by being a member of the Nominating Committee which works to discern and name gifts of members of Central Committee. The hoped for result of this discernment is to have Friends to serve FGC on its Administrative and Program Committees. As there is a regular turnover (or there should be) of BYM members named to Central Committee, and if gifts are named and recognized, members of CC from BYM will have opportunity to give to FGC time and talent, and in turn be able to share the results of their participation back to BYM and their own meetings. As a result of my own service, I am able to relate the value I find in FGC work and activities to Friends wherever I am.”
Arthur Meyer Boyd describes his experience as a new member to CC last year and now this year as a new member of its Executive Committee: “Attending Central Committee of FGC in New Windsor, Maryland was an enjoyable experience. A highlight is seeing Friends from far-flung corners of North America (FGC serves both the Untied States and Canada). Everyone there has many things in common, not the least of which is the desire to support FGC. FGC’s governance structure and process (having observed now two years) seems to be designed for maximum participation of Friends. There has been a committee restructuring over these last two years, to make the governance structure clearer and more efficient.”
FGC has had fifteen years of steady growth in the services it offers to Friends and Meetings and in the involvement of more volunteers and committee members. We are serving more and more Friends and Meetings in more ways than we were at any time in the past. We have become a more open and flexible organization, finding new ways to listen to the leadings of the Spirit and more able to respond creatively to new challenges and opportunities. New leadership continues to emerge.
Now FGC is at an important transition point. Our general secretary of nineteen years, Bruce Burchard is retiring, and new, younger staff leadership is taking over. Barry Crosno, with experience in communications and development, begins this summer as the new general secretary. While FGC projects a time ahead of financial constraints, we have sufficient reserves that we could continue all of our current work for several years. Nevertheless, we share the conviction that it is better to be prudent now than to allow FGC to drift into what could become a crisis in several years. And being prudent involves some reductions in expenses. Guided by our Minute of Purpose the Executive Committee has been considering what services and programs will best serve our Religious Society of Friends into the future. Some programs may not continue, or may be carried forward in new ways. We understand this as pruning for future growth.
In this age of constant change, we must continue to listen to the promptings of the Spirit and the needs being expressed by Meetings and Friends. One area for new growth is in using internet communications in new ways that promote community among Friends, and new approaches to publications. In developing these initiatives, concern has been raised by Yearly Meeting representatives that these creative new initiatives support and serve Yearly and Monthly Meetings, and not in some ways supplant them.
Please continue to hold this work and the Friends laboring on it in your prayers, that we might continue to be open to the Spirit and discern how we are truly being led.
Compiled by Arthur Meyer Boyd