2010 State of Society Reports

Statements Recently Approved

The Quarter, like other Quaker Meetings for Business, unites from time to time in public statements. The following are recent statements of the Quarter:

State of Society report for the year 2007

Therefore be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48.
“To all perfection I see a limit.” – Psalm 119:96.

Salem Quarter Meeting (SQM) of the New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM) of Friends consists of five large monthly meetings in or near Boston and four small meetings located somewhat further from the metropolitan center.  There are also four preparative or recognized meetings under the care of a monthly meeting.  All meetings are unprogrammed, and there are many long-standing bonds of spiritual friendship that interconnect them.  One can view the “State of the Quarter” both as a reflection on the viability and prominence of activities that are explicitly Quarter-wide, and as a summation of the activities of all its monthly meeting member and attenders.

“Quaker Studies Program” (QSP) is probably the Salem Quarter activity that touches the lives of the most SQM Friends.  Every year during January to April we offer a series of programs ranging from single presentations to 4-session courses, publicizing them throughout the Quarter.  QSP is cosponsored with Beacon Hill Friends House, but different monthly meetings serve as hosts for the events themselves.  In 2007 we had 83 registrations (55 individuals) for our four programs, two on historical Friends and two on current issues.

Continuing a long-standing tradition, we met as a Quarter four times during the year.  In the spring and fall, host-meeting-sponsored programs are followed by Meetings for Business.  In the winter (January 2007), we had our best-attended program to date (some 60 Friends came): a talk by Quaker philosopher-scientist Philip Clayton on “The New Convergence of Science and Spirituality.”  In the summer we gathered for a day of fun and frolic at the Plum Island beach.  These sessions, though often small, engage us in conversation and improve the Quarter’s visibility at the local host meeting.  In keeping with the charge in NEYM’s 2007 “Minute of Commitment” to host conversations on sexual ethics, we made this the topic for our 2008 winter meeting in Beverly.  We note that all nine Monthly Meetings in the Quarter have previously passed Minutes in support of same sex marriage.

The Salem Quarter’s Funds Allocation Committee, using income from three modestly endowed funds continues to support SQM formal and informal organizations, individual SQM Friends leadings and Friends in need.  In 2007 we gave $3,700 to 6 SQM organizations, $4,100 to 5 individuals, and $800 to two Friends in need. The Quarter also set aside $150 to be available to Friends wishing to march in the Gay Pride Parade as representatives of SQM.

In April 2007 the Quarter received a report commissioned in 2006 from a group of Friends united around their concern about the problems faced by increasing numbers of immigrants to the U.S.  The issue is seen as calling Friends to act lovingly and faithfully toward our new neighbors, in accord with Jesus’ clear admonitions.  The report detailed a number of policy and action points that we saw as examples of how Spirit can work through us.  We forwarded the report to the monthly meetings and asked them to reflect on how they can hold immigrants and the issue in the Light, and to report back to the Quarter in 2008.

From Monthly Meeting State of Society reports forwarded to the Quarter, some common themes can be noted.  Our five large meetings continue to experiment with ways to deepen worship.  With high turnover of visitors and attenders, there are always some persons present at Meeting for Worship who are unfamiliar with centering practices. 

Our smaller Meetings report general satisfaction with their quality of worship but express concern about their apparent difficulty of attracting and retaining newcomers.  A happy exception in this regard is Amesbury Meeting, which has gained some young families recently.  They enjoyed in 2007 a year of increased visibility in the community, by participating in the bicentennial birthday celebration of Amesbury’s favorite son, John Greenleaf Whittier, who was raised in Amesbury Meeting. 

Witness in the world remains a focus of Friends from both large and small meetings.  We continue to see challenges to our testimonies on peace, simplicity, equality, and integrity.   These challenges take the form of the “war on terror”, global warming, ongoing racism, the proposal for Massachusetts casinos and many other local, national, and international concerns.

Four of our five large meetings underwent major internal strains in 2007 due to polarizing issues that divided the Meeting community and in some cases diverted energy that might have been used on other tasks.  The issues differed from meeting to meeting, yet the stories all involved the collision of Friends broad testimonies with activities valued or needed in the microcosm of the local meeting.  Rigid and discriminatory policies at FUM collide with the desire to support FUM’s worthy mission work.  Conducting criminal background checks to protect our children makes us participants in an inhumane and unforgiving “justice” system.  Does principled opposition to exploitative gambling mean we cannot let the children hold a fundraising raffle for a good cause?   How far can theological tolerance and diversity go without losing a sense of what makes us “Quaker”?

In holding these experiences up to the Light, we wonder: do Quakers sometimes strive too hard to be “perfect”?  As we feel increasingly disempowered by certain global trends, do some of us become too attached to the idea that we must at least uphold our ideals within the small worship community where we still have some control?  It has been said that a vice is nothing but a virtue taken to an extreme.  Can SQM Friends discern the limits to our testimonies?  Can we tolerate the uncomfortable paradox of making occasional exceptions to our testimonies in order to live together in community in an imperfect world?

State of Society report for the year 2004

Is there a yearning for deeper community among the Meetings in Salem Quarter? Are there ways in which our Quarter community functions well? What deeper ties do we want to establish? The clerk of Ministry and Counsel or the Clerk from each of the Meetings in the Quarter has been asked these questions and this report reflects the results.
We do yearn for deeper community. We would look to deeper community to boost our energy when it flags, to open us to a wider understanding of what Friends are, to help us support those among us who are called to challenging ministries, to wrestle together with difficult issues. Each Meeting's response reflects its own composition, size and needs. But all of us want to share our joys and burdens as meetings.
There are areas where this sharing is already a reality. Most meetings have people who practice intervisitation informally, usually with some purpose in addition to sharing worship with the meeting being visited. The fall 2004 Quaker Studies Program, "About Quakerism: Faith, Practice, History", was intentionally designed to bring together people from the three northern meetings. It is a good example of sharing resources for seekers. One meeting organizes youth events which welcome area young people. Several meetings have opened discussion groups, movie nights and celebrations to all the meetings in the Quarter. There have been some efforts to unite in peace witness. Meetings tend to interact with their closest neighbors. And we are more likely to share our events than our concerns.
We do not think to ask each other when we need spiritual support or are facing difficult discernment. Within our meetings we, individuals, committees and the body gathered to discern, are accustomed to ask to be held in the light as we struggle. Yet none of our meetings is in such relationship to any other meeting or the Quarter as a whole as to ask for prayer. While committees of our meetings consult with individuals from other meetings in times of need, this is informal contact. We may all be engaged in discernment on a common issue, but we do not talk with one another about our process or about our results. Our nearest approach to dialogue was the exchange of minutes on same gender marriage between the Quarter business meeting and individual meetings in the spring and fall.
Yet everyone consulted agreed that it would be good to open ourselves to each other more. Our needs and the opportunities we see in this interaction depend on meeting size, issues of growth and the challenges that each community finds within itself.
There are many areas where we know that interaction would benefit us: Intentional intervisitation would enrich our worship and help to build relationships. We know that allowing others to see our process and consider our results is of mutual value. We are aware of individuals and groups within each meeting whose ministry could be supported and enhanced both by contact with others with similar concerns and by encouragement and feedback from interested Friends. Prison ministry is only one example. Mutual support could enhance our care for families and children, especially teens. We could build on the experience of the Good Friday Peace Witness and be more public in our peace witness and more supportive especially to those whose concern has not yet grown into action. Our Quaker Studies Program should be only one of a number of shared resources for newcomers and seasoned Friends and attenders to learn about Quaker spirituality, thought and action.
In 2004 the Quarter made some first steps in enhancing our community. We started a monthly Events List, publicizing open events at Meetings and Quaker organizations in the Greater Boston area, on our web-site. Friends who submitted events for listing expressed gratitude for this support. As noted above, the Quaker Studies Program series, "About Quakerism: Faith, Practice, History" which met at a different meeting each week, encouraged participants to share worship as well as study. We encouraged communications between individual meetings and the Quarter by distributing our minute on Same Gender marriage, but this does not seem to have led to communications among meetings on this issue. We were less successful in starting up dialogue on recording gifts in vocal ministry by circulating the Quarter's minute on that subject.
Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel set two questions for us in formulating our State of Society report this year. The first was a query: How do your meeting's actions manifest its spiritual condition? The second was a request: Can you formulate one or two queries that express your vision for 2005? The current state of the Quarter makes it difficult to describe how our actions manifest our spiritual condition. Four times a year we gather and share. To what extent do we exist on the other 361 days? Is it enough to be a web site, an event calendar, an email list, a few minutes exchanged? Or do we see a desire that our quarter be the place where our meetings can become "members one of another"? This leads us to the following queries:
  • How do our meetings wish to be more truly "members one of another"?
  • How can our Quarter foster and build this community?

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Minute Supporting the Right to Marry

October 31, 2004:
04-21 Support of Same Gender Marriage

The Salem Quarterly Meeting of New England Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) supports the right of all adult couples to join in legal marriage and to enjoy the full legal benefits of that state. We base our stand in our long held testimony of equality, that there is "that of God in every person", and in our understanding of marriage, that marriage is a spiritual union not imposed or defined by us. "For the right joining in marriage is the work of the Lord only, and not the priests' or magistrates'; for it is God's ordinance and not man's; ... for we marry none; it is the Lord's work, and we are but witnesses.", as George Fox, one of the first generation of Friends, wrote in 1669*.
We oppose any law or constitutional amendment which restricts the right of gay and lesbian couples to legally marry. We support the extension of marriage with all its legal rights and responsibilities to adult couples who are willing to accept those responsibilities. We encourage our constituent meetings and all their members to make this stand known to their elected representatives.
*George Fox, 1669. Quoted in Britain Yearly Meeting, Quaker Faith & Practice 1995, section 16.01

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Minute Affirming Support of Recording Gifts

April 25, 2004:

04-11 Recording Gifts in the Ministry

Sarah Spencer of Salem Quarter Ministry and Counsel committee reported that M & C considered on 4/10/04 how the Quarter should handle requests to record gifts in the Ministry. The committee forwarded the following minute to the Quarter for approval.
"There has been some confusion about whether or not the Quarter has decided to not record gifts in the ministry. A search of our minutes can not find a minute to that effect. We reaffirmed that Salem Quarterly Meeting will follow the process (as far as practical) outlined in New England Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice for any requests for recording gifts in the ministry received from our member meetings.
The Quarter approved.

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Minute Endorsing the "Declaration of Religious Support for Same-Gender Couples to Marry

April 25, 2004:

04-12 Same Sex Marriage

The Quarter has recently received minutes from Cambridge and Fresh Pond Monthly Meetings in support of same sex marriage. Friends Meeting at Cambridge asked for our support of the Declaration of Religious Support for Same-Gender Couples to Marry (DoRS). Other Meetings in this Quarter have approved similar minutes in support of same-gender marriage the past.
We approved sending the minutes from Cambridge and Fresh Pond along with the DoRS to other Meetings for their consideration and possible support.
We asked M & C to draft a minute on this issue for consideration at our October session.
We approved endorsement by Salem Quarterly Meeting of the Declaration of Religious Support for Same-Gender Couples to Marry.

The Declaration of Religious Support for Same-Gender Couples to Marry is a statement of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry .

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State of Society Report - 2003
Salem Quarterly Meeting

"And we are to hold fast this hope that is set before us, which we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast" George Fox
"And we should grasp this hope set before us, for that hope is an anchor for our lives, safe and secure." Rex Ambler
"All Friends everywhere dwell in the living spirit and in the heavenly light. Quench not the motions of it in yourselves, nor the moving of it in others..." George Fox, epistle 275
If faithful persistence was the only measure of spiritual health Salem Quarter would be doing all right. We continue to support the spiritual growth of members of our constituent meetings through our programs at Quarterly meetings and through the Quaker Studies program. At our Quarter sessions this year Meetings have moved us by speaking from their own experience in programs on "Friends in East Africa" and on developing Firstday School curriculum. Quaker Studies, a series of evening programs and weekend workshops presented by the Quarter in conjunction with Beacon Hill Friends House, continues to provide programs that fill a variety of our spiritual needs. Attendance at the Quaker Studies series on Islam indicated that it fulfilled a strongly felt need. 30 to 50 people attended each session
We seek to take advantage of current technology to make our meetings more aware of each other feeling that sharing our light multiplies it. Our email list provides for communication between members of different meetings and reaches many in the Quarter although we should be doing more to make everyone aware of it as a resource. We have a web page but could be using it to more advantage, especially as a device for communications among our meetings.
Much thought, prayer and effort has gone into the right ordering of our leadership structure and committees. This has not only been a year of transition (with a new clerk, assistant clerk and treasurer) but also one during which we rarely had all of our servant-leaders together at any one event. We have been flexible and able to support each other as need arose. There may have been a cost, in that none of us has a complete overview of our condition.
The State of our Society as a religious community (as a Quarterly Meeting) is open to question. Perhaps in this, an age of secular busyness, it is normal that a gathering of Friends beyond the First Day gathering of Monthly Meetings expands us to a limit that many find unreachable.
How well is the Spirit settled in our meetings across the Quarter? How are we linked in a common embrace of loving oneness as Friends? Are we visible as a consecrated community? Do we view ourselves, and are we seen by others, as a "great people gathered"? As members or attender is our individual participation in Friends Meeting intentional?
Across the Quarter, Friends Meetings have responded seriously to the call of New England Yearly Meeting that we address the concern of Racism. Our Meetings have engaged this concern in a variety of ways. Many of our activities have been educational. How can we deepen our response to the challenge we face? We need to search our consciences to see where the seeds of racism lie in our own hearts. How can we be open and accessible to new seekers in our midst as we gather for worship? One way to draw seekers from communities of color to our Meetings is to take visible action against racial and economic injustice. "With faith" as Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us "we will hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."
We have noted that many of our Meetings reflect vibrant life in their State of Society reports, but our membership has not grown. We wonder whether this reflects hesitancy in discussing membership with a growing base of attenders. And are we called to encourage our constituent meetings to make greater efforts at outreach?
Individual Friends and attenders across the Quarter are engaged in many wonderful activities and actions. These need to continue and grow. At the same them we must open our hearts, minds and actions in a way of being Friendly that builds up and strengthens our Religious Society and makes us visible and viable in the world!
We seek in our interactions to build communities that can stand as wonders in our world. Yet we are often hampered by low attendance as we gather in worship with a concern for business. This is true of the Quarter as it is for many of our Monthly Meetings. It is understandable that Friends and attenders may not be able to get to every Business Meeting, but to be routinely absent from such monthly gatherings should be cause for concern. The seasoning and growth of our communities can only happen with active participation and an awareness that the Divine is at work within each of us as we gather.
Quarter Meetings have provided us with their own unique form of blessings and gifts. It is interesting that in days past Friends would travel for days to attend a Quarterly Meeting gathering. What made those meetings significant? What will make our meetings significant for a growing number of Friends today? Can Salem Quarterly Meeting provide Monthly Meetings and individual Friends with a deepening avenue of outreach in spirit and action?
Can we have an impact as a religious society on the secular drama unfolding before us? Issues like globalization, the Patriot Act, bio-technology facilities located in urban centers and global warming are just the tip of the iceberg. What does it say about our spiritual state that such issues do not call our meetings to greater action? "The values of globalization are also ethically questionable. Its foremost value of profit and market is definitely an example of serving Mammon." (Mary John Mananzan OSB "Globalization and the Perennial Question of Justice" ORBIS 2001)
Can we Friends as a Quarterly Meeting send forth a response? Should our response put us at risk or are we to be focused on walking a path of ease? Should Friends stand in the midst of sacred exploration in silence? Clearly George Fox and other early Friends opted in their own lives for life on an unsafe edge.
Can our collective exploration as a Quarterly gathering help center us and provide the energy for deeper reflective action at Monthly Meetings? The vital tasks at hand belong not to a few. We are all caretakers of an ancient and loving witness. May we stand open to the call.
Salem Quarterly Meeting Ministry and Counsel
Greg Williams, recording

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Complete minutes of recent meetings