Saturday, February 10, 2007

Letter of Concern 5/17/2005

If you would like an in-format version of this letter, please send a request to qinfriend 'at' gmail.com

New York, New York
May 17, 2005
TO: Clerks of each Monthly Meeting in NYYM

FROM: Glenn L. R., a member of Manhattan Monthly Meeting, New York Quarterly Meeting

Dear Friend,

Would thee pass this letter to an appropriate committee in your Meeting, or address some or all of these concerns with your Monthly Meeting?

This is a letter concerning the apparent disconnectedness between Monthly Meetings and New York Yearly Meeting, of the Religious Society of Friends. Joshua Brown, a former pastor at South Glens Falls Meeting, wrote an essay, ‘You can’t get there from here’ almost 20 years ago, in 1986.

This letter of my concerns is a continuation of Joshua’s concerns and hopefully will address clearly the issues we face concerning our internal business affairs. Hopefully the consideration and possible discussion and action we take will bring us closer together within Monthly Meetings, as well as within our Yearly Meeting body.

In Friendship,


Where have we gone?

A Letter from a Concerned Friend

To: Monthly Meetings of New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends

– May 2005 – by Glenn L. R.

Dear Friends,

This is a letter concerning the apparent disconnectedness between Monthly Meetings and New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. I will describe my view of the disconnectedness in three major areas of concern: Membership Issues, Budget Issues, and Transparency Issues.

I ask Monthly Meetings or committees therein, to consider: How do Monthly, Quarterly, Regional and Yearly Meeting re-connect ourselves in the large geographic expanse we occupy? How will we re-connect in the Life and Light within, in commonality and mutual understanding?

Membership Issues
Are we aware of the facts about our Monthly and Yearly Meeting membership decline, especially compared with our neighbors, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New England who are stable or growing in membership?
Have we reconciled our declining situation to circumstances that we can or cannot change? Do we understand that a declining membership beginning in the Monthly Meeting, undermines all participation, financial and otherwise, in the work we might do at all levels of our Religious Society?
Budget Issues

Can we begin to lovingly describe our condition in our Monthly Meetings by telling a story about ourselves with our finances?

Might you begin by considering the income, expenses, assets and budget of Poplar Ridge Monthly Meeting? Does your awareness of how New York Yearly Meeting operates, as partially supported by a large part of your Monthly Meeting budget, work to fulfill Fox’s admonition - ‘Let your lives speak’?

Might the deep consideration of how your Monthly Meeting spends its budget be the first step in making or renewing a covenant between our faith and our actions?

Transparency Issues

Are we true participants in a process of self-governance that is organically connected? Or do we ignore the process because of the growing inability or unwillingness to do hard work? Have we been transformed by the world in the only way possible for modern Friends to exist?

Do we at local levels receive sufficient feedback, support and transparency from those who ‘run’ our wider Yearly Meeting and wider Friends organizations?

Have we become so specialized ourselves in the modern world, and hired professional administrators to try and fix this disconnectedness?

Where do we go from here?

Joshua Brown, a former pastor at South Glens Falls Meeting, wrote, You can’t get there from here’ and Looking for the Promised Land, almost 20 years ago, in 1986 and 1988. These were two essays about the issues facing New York Yearly Meeting – before he left to become the pastor at West Richmond Friends Church, in Indiana.

Internal issues, in his opinion, prevented, and, in my own heartfelt opinion, still prevent New York Yearly Meeting from being integrally connected, and being truly progressive - moving forward in the Spirit, in continuing revelation.

I don’t want to ‘run on in many words’. I simply present facts in the following pages, mostly related back to our membership, finances and transparency up and down in the Yearly Meeting. I hope Friends will consider these facts and discuss them and communicate up and down with other Friends in our Yearly Meeting about where we are led to go.

The presentation of these facts might be annoying to some, it might be blasphemous to others, it might be eye-opening to some others, or it might be energizing yet to others.

I’ve heard a Friend say to me, “Everyone is entitled to one’s own opinion, but not one’s own facts.”

The following are ‘our facts’ to consider:


Membership Issues

Facts/Reactions/Facts in light of reactions

Quakerism in the US has declined in membership in the last 35 years from ~120,000 members in the US to ~90,000 members in 2005. /Mainline traditional Protestant Christian churches are also declining at approximately the same rate as the Quakers./Religious groups which give participants self-determination, and participation in their beliefs and governance are increasing in membership over the last 35 years. (Buddhist, Earth Religion, Wiccan, etc)

Sympathetic groups like Unitarians and the Bretheren are increasing in membership in this period also.

Membership in New York Yearly Meeting has declined by ~50% from 1970 to 2004 (6800 members in 1970, to 3500 in 2004) and membership continues to decline at the same rate.

Membership in similar-sized New England and Baltimore Yearly Meetings has increased moderately in this same period.

/

1. and 2. We’ve been cleaning out our rolls of inactive members.

3. Since Friends are cheap, and the method of paying for New York Yearly Meeting was by head count, Meetings were more likely to remove members who were not active in this time period, to reduce their share contribution to the Yearly Meeting./

1. 35 years is much too long a period for this reaction to be valid.

2. In decentralized organizations such as NYYM, NEYM, or BaltYM, there has not been any top-down requirement for independent recorders, and independent Monthly Meetings to empty rolls or to keep inactive members on rolls.

3. NYYM stopped using the head count method of apportioning the cost of the YM in the late 1990’s. The rate of membership decline since 1970 has continued at the same rate since 2000 to the present.

Membership in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting declined at a similar but less steep rate as NYYM over the same period, but slowed in 1980 and 1990 and stabilized in 2000./It’s just the way it happened.

The 1960’s membership bubble burst.

The 1960’s ‘protest’ Friends came in and drove away a number of less ‘militant’ Friends./PYM initiated a study of Diversity and Outreach1 in 2000 to determine the attitudes and makeup of their Meetings. Feedback from these surveys are used to help with an open self-awareness.

The outreach attitude or atmosphere in MM’s in PYM is changing, Meetings were not even listed in the phone book, but attitudes changed. A real push occurred from MM level in cooperation with YM to get indoor plumbing, wheelchair access in Meetinghouses, and local paper listings, billboard ads, etc.

The ‘Making new Friends’, pilot project started with 8 meetings (out of 110) that wanted to grow. PYM provided support for those Meetings – and has at least one employee2 dedicated to this project, which started about 2000.

The 1960’s is gone and the world we live in is much different now.

New York Yearly Meeting had 3501 members as of summer 2004.

The maximum participation at Annual Sessions at Silver Bay is 750 including both adults and children.

/

There is camping and a few hotels nearby which would increase the 750 number slightly, but you must travel by bicycle (on narrow heavily traveled roads) or by car each day to get to Silver Bay. /

At most, 1/5 of NYYM’s membership can possibly participate in annual sessions.

Much of the fellowship and interaction at Sliver Bay occurs at the meals.

Although Annual Sessions are self-financing, or outside of the Operating Budget, the cost to attend has gone out of reach for many Friends./One Friend has said, “Although I’ve gone to Silver Bay for 40 years, I’d consider other locations for annual sessions if the costs for annual sessions were cheaper and the duration shorter.” “Since I’m here to work, I don’t consider it a vacation.”

The Advancement Committee budget of $12,000 for 2005, plus trust fund distributions of an undetermined amount helps pay for scholarships for Friends who cannot afford to go to Annual Sessions at Silver Bay./Annual Sessions are 7 days in a place which, although reasonably priced considering other ‘vacations’, is expensive as a meeting place for the business of annual sessions.

The Advancement Committee uses most or all of its budget for Annual Sessions scholarships, and very little or none for Outreach programs, which are meant to increase membership.

The NYYM website homepage features a slogan:

“QUAKERS--A simple faith.
A radical witness.

A radical faith. A simple witness.”/A non-Quaker friend of mine said, “I wouldn’t be interested in a group where the word ‘radical’ was used to describe itself”.

“Why do Quakers really need a slogan, especially one that confuses the public and further marginalizes the faith?”/Synonyms of ‘radical’ are:anarchistic, communistic, complete, entire, excessive, extremist, fanatical, far out, forward, freethinking, gone, iconoclastic, immoderate, insubordinate, insurgent, insurrectionary, intransigent, lawless, leftist, liberal, militant, mutinous, nihilistic, progressive, rabid, racist, rebellious, recalcitrant, recusant, refractory, restive, revolutionary, riotous, seditious, severe, supremacist, sweeping, thorough, ultra, ultraist, uncompromising, unruly, violent

//1 this summary presentation of Diversity and Outreach is available in electronic format from qinfriend 'at' gmail.com

2 Lyle Jenks, PYM

Tel. 215 241 7225
Budget Issues

Facts/Reactions/Facts in light of reactions

New York Yearly Meeting has a 2005 budget of $550,000 while NEYM and BaltYM which are slightly larger in membership size, have 2005 budges of

~ $375,000 each.

/Its more expensive to operate in New York City.

The (reasonable) rent for the Yearly Meeting office has increased from 13,000 per year in 1991 to $24,000 per year in 2005.

We must pay our employees fairly./The relocation of the New York Yearly Meeting office to a more central, and less expensive location was studied ~15 years ago.

In this age of communication technology, there is possibly no need to have a fixed office. The Yearly Meeting office could be relocated every 5 years or office staff could work from a home office with proper communication capability.

Of course we should pay our employees fairly, but if an employee works from home there is normally a salary adjustment for that.

The NYYM General Secretary position was approved by many Monthly Meetings as proposed to be $70,000 in annual salary, to establish a residence in New York City, and work three days per week in the office, and to supervise the office staff./None/The NYYM General Secretary works one day per week on average in the NYYM office.

The Field Secretary of NEYM working mostly from his home in Boston, MA, is paid much less than the NYYM General Secretary who works mostly from his home north of Poughkeepsie, NY.

This is a testament to how much more the NEYM Field Secretary should be paid, or how much extra NYYM is paying for its General Secretary.

NYYM has budgeted $9,000 each in membership contributions to FGC, and FUM - Wider Friends organizations in 2005./None/Baltimore has budgeted ~2x NYYM amounts. 3

New England has budgeted ~1.5x NYYM amounts.

There are mixed messages about the cost and need for a ‘bookkeeping service’ ($26,000 budgeted in 2005) when members of NYYM office staff potentially participate in the bookkeeping process./

“How is NYYM

support of the Sharing Fund with staff, bookkeeping service, and the treasurer’s accounts been included or excluded in your [report]”

/

Lack of transparency in office processes does not mean that anything is awry, however, Quakers are (historically?) known for their openness and transparency.

New York Yearly Meeting approved a 7% or ~$35,000 deficit for the 2005 Operating Budget.

New York Yearly Meeting has consistently overestimated its expenses in budgets (compared with actual expenses for the corresponding years) by an average of 6.7% since 1991./

“This deficit budget is intended for a one-year period (2005) only.”

Attempts were made to balance the budget between Budget Saturday (9/18/2004) and 12th Month Representative Meeting -instead of in spring meetings of the NYYM Financial Services Committee./

After reductions were made in all sections in fall 2004, the NYYM General Services Section 2005 budget (~$390,000)was approved at 71% of the total (~$550,000) Operating Budget.

The General Services budget represents the cost of administering ourselves as a Yearly Meeting body.

Powell House, the NYYM retreat center, is now a substitute for, or the evolution from the Quaker tradition of Inter-visitation.

The Yearly Meeting subsidy for Powell House is around $70,000 per year, or 13% of our 2005 Operating Budget./

Powell House is an important asset in the life of NYYM./

Even with the Yearly Meeting subsidy in the Operating Budget, costs to arrive at, and attend Powell House are not inexpensive for many Friends.

//3 BaltimoreYM lists a contingency amount equal to what would be contributed to FUM, on a special line for ‘other’ due to consideration of FUM’s Personnel Policy regarding sexual relations between unmarried persons.

Transparency Issues

Facts/Reactions/Facts in light of reactions

NYYM has 3.5 employees without any dedication to specific committees or functions.

Baltimore YM has 5 employees,

NEYM has 4.5 employees. These employees are dedicated to specific committees and functions of the Yearly Meeting.

/New York Yearly Meeting has a small but dedicated staff and job descriptions are given in verbal reports at different times./New England and Baltimore Yearly Meetings have written job descriptions, reporting structures, and time allocations to various committees available to the public for its paid office staff.

At this time, NYYM does not plan to issue any written job descriptions, reporting structure, or time allocations for its office staff.

NYYM dedicates staff time and ‘Bookkeeping Service’ expense to administer and distribute ‘Sharing Fund’ disbursements for Witness projects around the world.

There is an amount that might be determined as ‘overhead’ which could be charged back to the total Fund for our employee time and outside bookkeeping expense./

To "break out" these data…makes the process seem a bit easier than it is. To "break them out" , they would have to already be there in some form that differentiates these activities and transactions from similar ones done for other reasons./

A distribution of $11,801. for ‘Overhead’ was made in 1991 for the Sharing Fund out of a total distribution of $70,280.

A NYYM Sharing Fund distribution total of $46,312. was made in 2004. The 2004 overhead line is $0.

In the 1970s, the NYYM Sharing Fund distribution, an amount that goes to our Witness activities abroad, was approximately equal to the NYYM Operating Budget. (~$100,000).

The NYYM Operating Budget is approximately $550,000 in 2005./
Where are our priorities?/
The 2005 Sharing Fund Goal is $70,000.

The Financial Management Guidelines is not a public document.

Page 20 of the 2004 NYYM Yearbook reads …”we also approved a set of Financial Management Guidelines for use by the Yearly Meeting office and the Treasurer, these guidelines will also assist us in our work with our auditor and bookkeeping service.”/

“This document pertains to the management of YM funds and the various responsibilities - especially between the treasurer and the YM Office. It simply puts into writing the procedures we have been following for the benefit of any new personnel. “/

Lack of transparency in office processes does not mean that anything is awry, however, Quakers are (historically?) known for their openness and transparency.

In Summary:

In the wider New York Yearly Meeting, Friends have tacitly or unconsciously given way to a few, taking over for what many Friends should be doing. Is it possible that this small group of Friends comprise the only ones left to do the hard work? Up to 1/5 of us might simply relate to the Yearly Meeting by spending a week at Silver Bay at Lake George, in the Adirondaks, for a week in July. What about the rest of us?

What is needed now Friends, is mindfulness, communication and feedback up and down in our statewide-regional organization of 60 Monthly Meetings and 9 regions. What are Philadelphia, and more specifically New England and Baltimore doing that New York is not? What is New York doing that New England and Baltimore are not? Are there issues or circumstances that prevent New York from growing, or at least stopping the decline in membership? Are we ready to confront these circumstances and issues?

Do we understand as our membership declines, that we must face finite realities in Yearly Meeting committee participation? We will have to face the realities of work that must be done and money that must be spent on our local concerns, in the context of our wider expression of fellowship of the Yearly Meeting.

Are we led to grow in number at our Monthly Meeting levels, or will we have to make difficult decisions in reducing our expenditures and number of committees on which Friends serve?

Are we ready to re-connect our faith and our material lives? Can we re-connect our Monthly Meetings with the Yearly Meeting?

Yours in faith,

Glenn L. R.

Member of Manhattan Monthly Meeting

New York Quarterly Meeting

New York, NY 10011