Reflection following trustees' meeting
Unusually - and appropriately - the reading in our opening worship at Britain Yearly Meeting trustees' meeting recently was not from Quaker faith & practice but from a 2014 blog by Scott Woods:
“The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people's expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn't care if you are a white person who likes black people; it's still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don't look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on.
"So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we're immediately born into. It's like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It's not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It's a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it's hard work, but it's the price you pay for owning everything."
The aftermath of the death of George Floyd in the US, has reminded us yet again that there is much to be done by Quakers within our own meetings and as our witness to the world.
(Racism) is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it.- Scott Woods
Our own BYM staff from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds have been particularly in our thoughts, both because of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US and the UK following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and because of the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. Our Recording Clerk Paul Parker is meeting with BAME staff members next week (both furloughed and non-furloughed) to listen to their experiences and concerns, and what this means for our own organisation.
But the pandemic has magnified many of the pressures on meetings across the country while making Quaker worship and witness more precious than ever. So, as trustees, we must ensure that the charity BYM does everything it can to nurture these.
Even before the current pandemic, BYM was spending more than its income, despite the funds generated by the Quiet Company through hirings and hospitality at Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall, and generous legacies from Friends. Trustees had planned to address this over the next five to six years and to start delivering the work in ways that are affordable. But with the losses we will face this year we must move faster to have a balanced budget in 2023. That means reducing costs and securing sustainable support from living Friends and meetings. BYM is fortunate to have reserves so this is not an emergency. But we must work together to find the right way forward and make clear decisions as soon as possible.
This weekend, with the clerks of QPSW and Quaker Life, and the clerk of the Quiet Company, trustees continued the conversation started with Meeting for Sufferings the previous weekend about how to achieve 'A simple church supported by a simple charity to reinvigorate Quakerism' – working towards thriving Quaker communities, with simple structures and practices, and towards a sustainable and peaceful world' – and how we can be doing this is an affordable way by 2023.
As area meetings and local meetings are finding, it IS possible to hold a Meeting for Worship for Business by Zoom.This was the third Zoom meeting for BYM trustees (we have been busy since COVID-19 started!) replacing what would have been a weekend of worship and fellowship at Woodbrooke.
Over four business-focussed sessions, chat in Zoom break out rooms, and a blissfully silent hour of pure worship together on Sunday, we managed to achieve much of what we would have done face to face. And our guests did not have to travel half way across the country to spend a session with us.
There is indeed much hard work ahead for all of us – in addressing racism and the climate crisis to name but two – and in nurturing our own meetings, but as faithful Friends we will do this together.
Clerk to BYM trustees