Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Secrecy and Trust in God and Each Other

Some Friends were puzzled by my last post about Trustees. Frankly many of us were puzzled by decisions being made in our Quarterly Meeting, which seemed to emanate from Trustees, from Property, yet no one seemed to know how these decisions were being made. We met for months to view and comment on plans for improvements on Friends Seminary, with an understanding that we would be part of a process of unity which would result in these changes. Suddenly, 13,000,000 dollars where committed to a loan and the jack hammers were interrupting Meeting for Worship, and no one knew who gave the go ahead. Trustees were blamed.

For many years now, I have noticed a difference in my Meeting, Fifteenth Street Monthly Meeting, from any other Meeting I have attended. I am beginning to find the reasons. We seem to have built, over the years, a tolerance for secrecy, that darkness which denies light to a Meeting. We cannot say we trust God if we make decisions in secret, and certainly cannot say we trust each other. We are not alone completely in this, other members of other Meetings in the Quarter, which deal with Friend's Seminary, have become inured to this practice of secrecy. But the anger which flows from the results of this practice seem rooted in our Meeting, as we see the effects on the spiritual life of our community, due to our close relationship with the school and school property -- the source of this relationship of secrecy. The most damaging and blatant expression of this lack of simple light, I was shocked to find, in the By-laws of the School Committee of Friend's Seminary. The By-laws contain a direction that members of the committee: support all committee decisions to the public, and prohibit members of the committee from speaking about what is said in committee. In the simplest terms, this By-law is a constraint on the Quaker members of this committee from following that voice of God in us all, which is meant to guide and direct us as individuals, and guide our Meeting towards unity. In the complexity of human politics, this is a source of anger and disempowerment among Friends in this Quarterly Meeting. It makes the public face of our faith, an untruth.

Recently, there was an outpouring of anger at the Quarterly Meeting held in the fall at Morningside Meeting. The start of the slide towards anger came from the question, how it came to be, that while we still were in the process of reviewing plans for changes in the physical structure of the school building, changes began to be made without a final agreement. Many presumed it was Trustees behind the decision to go ahead, and part of the anger stemmed from no one stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for the decision.

Recent events have led me, and a few other Friends to realize that it was not likely the Trustees who acted out of process, but rather it was the School Committee. In the past several months, I have been confronted by members of the School Committee explaining that the work of their committee was not to be discussed outside the committee. I have checked, and the By-laws do in fact state this. This was not restricted to confidential matters, such as employment issues (not all of which should be confidential by the way) but every action of the committee, even the most mundane business. The most recent action, taken in secret by the School Committee, has been to rename the school building. In so doing, the School Committee is making a statement to the community at large, which will be taken to be a statement by the owners of the property, The New York Quarterly Meeting. It is a statement with which I find that I and a number of others are not in unity.

I was told, by way of explanation that the boards of corporations always make decisions in secret. That is simply not true. Quaker boards do not. Quaker boards must not, as it is a rejection of our faith and in the end it creates the kind of anger which we see tearing apart our Meeting today and we must put an end to it at once. I propose that we put an end to the practice of secrecy by a change in the Quarterly Meeting Handbook, this Seventh Month. It is my firm conviction that we must clearly define the difference between keeping confidences and secrecy. Confidences flow from our Pastoral Care responsibilities towards each other, not confined to the Pastoral Care committee, but those times which we minister to each other. Other than that, Quakers are bound by our faith to openness and simplicity.

I will write more on this later, many Friends feel a great sorrow, a betrayal of trust by the school committee, a sense that we have been stepped over, and voices not heard. It is a day from which it will take a long time to move forward.
Secrecy is like pulling down the blinds, so that no light can seep through.


At 3:05 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Hi Lorcan,
I was referred to your photography by Tompkins Square Park's own Lower East Side Jewels. I'm also an acquaintance of Bob Arihood's. So, it seems we're moving in the same circles that have yet to intersect.
I really enjoy your photography, including the shots posted on some of your other blogs.
As for Quakerism, though not a Christian, I have always had a deep respect for this and other contemplative paths. Having lived in Philadelphia for a decade, one can't help but learn at least a little about the Friends.
And as for the East Village, we're walking the same ground. I've seen you in Tompkins Square Park -- at least, that's what I discovered upon seeing your photo on Bob A.'s blog and in the profile pic on yours.
Anyway, if you would be interested in swapping blog links, I would be honored.

All the best,


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