Canadian Yearly Meeting Epistle, 2016

August 13, 2016

Epistle of Canadian Yearly Meeting 2016

O wait to feel this spirit, and to be guided to walk in this spirit, that ye may enjoy the Lord in sweetness, and walk sweetly, meekly, tenderly, peaceably, and lovingly one with another. And then ye will be a praise to the Lord, and anything that is, or hath been, or may be amiss, ye will come over in the true dominion, even in the Lamb’s dominion; and that which is contrary shall be trampled upon, as life rises and rules in you.    – Isaac Penington’s Letter to Friends in Amersham, May 1667

Loving Greetings to Friends everywhere,

Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends met for the 183rd annual gathering of Quakers in Canada, our 61st as a united Yearly Meeting, on the beautiful Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta in Camrose, situated in Treaty 6 territory.

During the week, the themes of grief and nurture arose in many programs and events. Many of us are saddened by the loss of CYM-in-Session for 2017 because we love CYM-in-Session for its blend of corporate decision-making and spiritual grounding. Our pre-gathering retreat explored how we may nurture our community during the upcoming fallow year in which we will not meet in person. We also grieved the deaths of several strong and spiritually grounded Friends. We shared our grief throughout the week, but most particularly during our Memorial Meeting and our session on the “Experience of the Spirit in my Life.” These experiences of sadness remind us of the need to care for ourselves and others.

The Sunderland P. Gardner lecture explored the topic “Continuing Revelation: Quaking with Grace and Joy in Modern Times.” It challenged us to consider how an inward condition of exhaustion can contaminate our ability to manifest the love that underlies our witness to each other and the world. This was echoed in our Bible study, which was an exploration of the Bible and how it relates to Friends’ testimonies. It reminded us that in overburdening ourselves we do violence to ourselves, and that this flies in the face of our peace testimony. When we take on too much, we deny ourselves the opportunity to practice communal discernment and experience the joy that can come from it.

We struggled to find ways to save our strength in order to dare greatly when the Spirit demands it. This condition of exhaustion was echoed by Clerks and others who serve our Yearly Meeting, and suggests that CYM-in-Session and its associated events and bodies, while beloved, can harm the people who serve them. Our faith in each other is high, but our expectations of each other are sometimes higher than we consent to or can sustain. We were made aware of the ways that Clerks and people serving in other positions were being immobilized and sometimes pushed away by the labour involved.  Just as we must take responsibility for the effects of our consumer habits on the Earth, we must mitigate the effect of what we take from the people who serve CYM.

We were moved by Friends who exhibited courage in revealing truths about their experiences living as the Other in our society. During our LGBTQ evening Friends challenged us to imagine experiencing gender dysphoria and gender fluidity. Our community is deepened when we have the courage to be vulnerable together.

We delighted in the presence of Young Friends and welcomed their involvement in the wider meeting, although they were few in number. We carry an ongoing concern about the importance of caring for Young Adult Friends, understanding their priorities, and making sure those priorities are reflected in our processes. We responded joyously to their request that we support them in fostering their community and strengthening their connection to the larger CYM community. Friends expressed appreciation for the rich children’s programming, which included daily worship.

We were encouraged to build harmonious relationships with our environment and surrounding communities. Friends participated in a service project to protect the local watershed, and nurtured our relations with the Maskwacis First Nation through mutual visits.

We were also urged to communicate our faith openly. This year’s session brought a means to do so: there was much excitement about the minute from Canadian Friends Service Committee detailing how we can take action in support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examined the cultural genocide experienced by Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.

Despite our sense of loss, we are facing a new future and stumbling, with God’s grace, toward healing. Our commitment to hiring a senior staff person and the newly-accepted personnel policy bring us relief at having learned from our past mistakes as well as gratitude for the sometimes difficult work of the Friends who serve our blessed community. Many of us are finding a quiet joy in clerkship and committee membership. We are looking directly at difficult issues that would be convenient to avoid and are willing to address issues of financial and human sustainability. This shows a level of courage and care that can help us live up to the patterns and examples of our spiritual ancestors over the centuries.

CYM 2016 Midweek Reflection

Thursday… More than half way through Canadian Yearly Meeting’s annual gathering! Being on Programme Committee, I’ve been here in Camrose a full week. And yet with the bustle of organized activities, time has flown. This is without mentioning the many enriching opportunities for fellowship. One of the underestimated blessings of CYM in session is the chance for networking, which involves not just catching up with old F/friends but informally facilitating CYM committee work.

welcome banner

The weather has so far held up – sort of! The relatively cool weather (daily maximums of around 20°C)  came as a bit of a shock to this southwest Ontarian, but make walks around campus and in the neighbouring park a delight. We are frequently visited by very un-shy deer, sometimes accompanied by fawns, cougars can be heard at night in the residences, and there have been sightings of a cougar and herons along the river, the latter reminding us of the Caroline Balderston Parry’s Sunderland P. Gardner lecture theme at CYM two years ago.


There was somewhat of a setback for me the other day, however, when a major thunderstorm ripped the fly off my tent, but I have just about finished wringing out my clothes and mopping up the resulting puddles on the tent floor.


The last few years at CYM, a black thundercloud seemed to be hovering over our business sessions. This was money. While the achievement of long-term financial sustainability will require restructuring of one sort or another, we are now in a period of respite as far as our financial means are concerned. A revamped Contributions Committee is exploring what makes us a community. Time, more than money, seems to be the cloud hovering over us at this CYM. The clerk of one CYM committee, finding that committee work was taking four hours a day, stepped down early. Volunteers are becoming burnt out, while the same small number of Friends are rotating through the same committee positions.

In her Sunderland P. Gardner lecture, Maggie Knight presented us with some challenges. I quote her third “Ask”:

I ask that you discern what your life would be like if you decided to spaciously, joyously, and abundantly give some of your time to Friends…

We will hear more from Maggie at a Special Interest Group later today.

In Friendship,

Sheila Havard.

Thankfulness and Celebration Usher in CYM 2016

With a song of gratitude in his native tongue, Elder Rick Lightning welcomed us to Treaty Six Cree territory. We were gathered in Wahkohtowin Lodge at Augustana University in Camrose, Alberta. This Cree word refers to creating kinship with the natural world. So it is fitting that Elder Rick deplored the accelerating destruction of Mother Earth and the consequent violation of Aboriginal rights. The Cree who signed Treaty Six in the late 1800s understood that the treaty would allow the settlers to use the top six inches of soil, in other words plow and farm the land, whereas mineral exploitation nowadays pollutes to a much deeper depth. Pointing to the children in our midst and referring to his own grandchildren, Elder Rick stressed that it was they who would bear the brunt of environmental destruction.

Elder Rick Lightning welcomes Friends to Treaty 6 Territory. Camrose, AB.

Elder Rick Lightning welcomes Friends to Treaty 6 Territory. Camrose, AB.

When the treaties were signed, cultural misunderstandings were rife, and there was a gulf between the expectations of the two parties to these legal documents. The new arrivals understood the Indians to have many gods as they appeared to be worshiping rocks, trees and the like, whereas they were actually giving thanks to one deity, the Creator.

Briefly, and without bitterness, Elder Rick reminded us of past injustices inflicted on the Cree and on Aboriginal peoples in general. Both his parents went through residential school. Under the Indian Act, native languages and ceremonies were suppressed, depriving the Indian peoples of their own culture. But what touched me most in his welcoming address was that he did not dwell on this painful past. “Let it go,” he said. “Don’t hang on to it.” In other words, his message was that relationship building in the here and now is what counts.

This theme of moving forward by relationship building was continued on Monday at a Special Interest Group showing of the movie Elder in the Making: Treaty Seven. This road trip documentary of reconciliation, set in stunningly beautiful Alberta landscapes, traces the history of the area from an Aboriginal perspective and centres on a Blackfoot whose ancestors lived there for thousands of years and who feels disconnected from the place he calls home. It is a profoundly moving film.

In friendship,

Sheila Havard.

2016 Sunderland P. Gardner lecturer Maggie Knight urges transformation through Continuing Revelation

On the evening of August 7, 2016, Maggie Knight presented the annual Sunderland P Gardner lecture to Canadian Yearly Meeting, held this year at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus in Camrose, on Treaty 6 territory. The lecture was filmed and will be made available in coming weeks.


Maggie Knight


Entitled Continuing Revelation: Quaking with Grace and Joy in Modern Times, Maggie spoke about transforming ourselves, transforming the Religious Society of Friends, and transforming our world.

Speaking to assembled Friends, she said,
“And so, what do we mean when we talk about ‘continuing revelation’? It is the commitment to ongoing discernment, to the belief that the divine will continue to unfold its wisdom to us if we listen, that our faith is an ongoing practice and journey. It is the belief that our faith continues to evolve, rather than stemming from a static religious text. It allows us to embrace and lead social change in our time, beyond what Fox and Penn and Fell could have imagined. This belief in continuing revelation is the reason I’m a Quaker.” 

Here’s how the speedy fingers of Canadian Friends Service Committee’s Matt Legge and Publications and Communications Committee Clerk Chris Hitchcock livetweeted the evening.

In Part I: Transforming Ourselves, Maggie shared some of her experiences with workaholism, activist burnout, and ways to foster rest, space, and healthy boundaries in our lives. Speaking about the importance of acting through joy and abundance, she offered three queries:

  1. What is enough?
  2. When do I most love myself? When am I in best balance with myself?
  3. How am I staying open to Spirit?

In Part II: Transforming our Religious Society of Friends, Maggie spoke about the ongoing nature of our evolution as a community, saying “the critical discernment is the wisdom to know the difference between the times we truly need more discernment, and when we are simply resisting the discomfort of change, resisting walking into the continuing revelation laid out before us.”

She identified three themes for Friends to work on:

  1. Leaning into the discomfort: talking about money and embracing abundance
  2. Journeying through conflict
  3. Healthy boundaries and deeper discernment: above all, nurturing our blessed community

Emphasizing the importance of building a loving community through the creation of strong relationships between individual Friends, she said, “There are a million little kindnesses that add up to a beautiful community. We are all responsible for the inward health of our Meetings, just as we are all responsible for living our leadings outwardly.”

Pendle Hill

Pendle Hill


In Part III: Transforming our World, Maggie offered six ideas on what Quakers have to offer an increasingly secular world:
  1. The cultivation of a practice of collective silence and contemplation in an age of distraction.
  2. A faith grounded in strong and compelling testimonies that offer up ways to heal the world.
  3. A beloved community in a time of growing social isolation and a fraying social safety net.
  4. A spiritual practice based in discernment, in questions, rather than dogma – critical for many experiencing great existential angst and fear for the future.
  5. Inter-faith work that transcends the Clash of Civilizations narrative.
  6. A long tradition of speaking truth to power, and engaging in faith-based advocacy. The integrity to show up for our own work and a spiritual practice to keep at it.
She spoke about the importance of sharing our Light in the world through compelling personal stories.
Halifax 2013. Picture by Tori Ball.

Halifax 2013. Picture by Tori Ball.

Finally, Maggie closed with three asks for all Friends:
  1. Practice explaining your faith and inviting others into it. What is the Light that you delight in letting shine? What are you quietly, humbly proud of?
  2. Find your way to contribute to community-building in your Meeting, to help your community transcend and Quaker crankiness, get better at conflict and money, and turn towards each other’s bids for connection.
  3. And finally, discern what your life would be like if you decided to spaciously, joyously, abundantly gift some of your time to Friends. What Quaker service would you let go? What else in your life would you like to let go? What new service would be led to undertake?

Maggie’s slides are available here.

Maggie grew up on unceded Coast Salish territory in Victoria, BC. She’s a member of Vancouver Island Monthly Meeting and has sojourned with Meetings in Montreal, Halifax, and Vancouver. A third generation Quaker of British extraction, she became involved with Friends after attending Camp NeeKauNis in her early teens. She has worked on restorative justice and Indigenous rights with Canadian Friends Service Committee and recently served as Clerk of Canadian Young Friends Yearly Meeting and the CYM Determining Priorities and Envisioning Change Working Group.

A social and climate justice activist since her teens, Maggie studied Environment and Economics at McGill University and served as President of McGill’s undergraduate student union during the 2011-2012 Quebec student strike. She was progressive political non-profit‘s first Managing Director, building a distributed national campaigning organization while navigating the joys of 4 time zones and 17-staff-person calls via Google Hangouts. Now 27, she works as the BC Civil Liberties Association‘s new Operations Manager.

In 2015, she married her long-time partner Nat Egan-Pimblett (now Nat Knight) under the care of Vancouver Island Monthly Meeting. They live in Vancouver with their very talkative cat.

CMMC Letter to MMs and WGs

Dear Friends, please take a moment to read the letter from the Continuing Meeting of Ministry and Counsel to Friends in regards to the CYM Annual Gathering (2017).


Available here.