Making New Factions

Strange­ly enough, the Philadel­phia Inquir­er has pub­lished a front-page arti­cle on lead­er­ship in Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing, “Friends frus­trate some of their flock, Quak­ers bogged down by process, two lead­ers say”. To me it comes off as an extend­ed whine from the for­mer PhYM Gen­er­al Sec­re­tary Thomas Jeav­ons. His cri­tiques around Philadel­phia Quak­er cul­ture are well-made (and well known among those who have seen his much-forwarded emails) but he doesn’t seem as insight­ful about his own fail­ings as a leader, pri­mar­i­ly his inabil­i­ty to forge con­sen­sus and build trust. He fre­quent­ly came off as too ready to bypass rightly-ordered decision-making process­es in the name of strong lead­er­ship. The more this hap­pened, the more dis­trust the body felt toward him and the more intractible and politi­cized the sit­u­a­tion became. He was the wrong leader for the wrong time. How is this wor­thy of the front-page news­pa­per status?

The “Mak­ing New Friends” out­reach cam­paign is a cen­tral exam­ple in the arti­cle. It might have been more suc­cess­ful if it had been giv­en more sea­son­ing and if out­sider Friends had been invit­ed to par­tic­i­pate. The cam­paign was kicked off by a sur­vey that con­firmed that the great­est threat to the future of the year­ly meet­ing was “our grey­ing mem­ber­ship” and that out­reach cam­paigns “should tar­get young adult seek­ers.” I attend­ed the year­ly meet­ing ses­sion where the sur­vey was pre­sent­ed and the cam­paign approved and while every Friend under forty had their hands raised for com­ments, none were rec­og­nized by the clerk. “Mak­ing New Friends” was the per­fect oppor­tu­ni­ty to tap younger Friends but the work seemed designed and under­tak­en by the usu­al sus­pects in year­ly meeting.

Like a lot of Quak­er orga­ni­za­tions, Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing has spent the last fif­teen years large­ly rely­ing on a small pool of estab­lished lead­er­ship. There’s lit­tle atten­tion to lead­er­ship devel­op­ment or tap­ping the large pool of tal­ent that exists out­side of the few dozen insid­ers. This Spring Jeav­ons had an arti­cle in PYM News that talked about younger Friends that were the “future” of PYM and put the cut-off line of youthfulness/relevance at fifty! The recent polit­i­cal bat­tles with­in PYM seemed to be over who would be includ­ed in the insider’s club, while our real prob­lems have been a lack of trans­paren­cy, inclu­sion and patience in our deci­sion mak­ing process.

Philadel­phia Friends cer­tain­ly have their lead­er­ship and author­i­ty prob­lems and I under­stand Jeav­ons’ frus­tra­tions. Much of his analy­sis is right. I appre­ci­at­ed his reg­u­lar­ly col­umn in PYM News, which was often the only place Christ and faith was ever seri­ous­ly dis­cussed. But his approach was too heavy hand­ed and cor­po­rate to fit year­ly meet­ing cul­ture and did lit­tle to address the long-term issues that are lap­ping up on the year­ly meet­ing doorsteps.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard some very good things about the just-concluded year­ly meet­ing ses­sions. I sus­pect the year­ly meet­ing is actu­al­ly begin­ning a kind of turn-around. That would be welcome.


Don’t miss:

  • This will sound self-serving, com­ing from a for­mer leader in sev­er­al Quak­er groups, but so often when a leader crit­i­cizes the self-defeating aspects of the cul­ture with­in which he or she is expect­ed to oper­ate, the response is “Well, they had some good points, but their fail­ings were X, Y, Z, and Z1, Z2, Z3.…”
    I tend to look at Philadel­phia YM and sim­i­lar groups from a sys­tems per­spec­tive. Thom Jeav­ons was cho­sen by the YM for what role? Who agreed on that role, and what sources of dis­uni­ty were tac­it­ly set aside to obtain that agree­ment? What was attrac­tive about him that end­ed up being an irri­tant? What about his pre­de­ces­sors? (What about his suc­ces­sors?! Will they too be defeat­ed by the very traits that will have been ini­tial­ly attrac­tive to some sec­tors of the YM?) Why weren’t Thom’s more deci­sive char­ac­ter­is­tics lever­aged by the whole body as an advan­tage (with­in a cul­ture of mutu­al account­abil­i­ty) rather than now serv­ing as a rhetor­i­cal tool to mar­gin­al­ize him?
    Anoth­er way of putting my con­cern: There is NOBODY in the world who will be absolute­ly ide­al in every way. Every Quak­er body I know wants some­one in lead­er­ship who will be an inspir­ing Super­man and a def­er­en­tial Clark Kent simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. We will not con­front our sys­temic demons by cit­ing our lead­ers’ faults. Assum­ing that we han­dle our per­son­nel choic­es with prayer­ful care and don’t choose total block­heads for our prime lead­er­ship posi­tions, the main issues will not be the lead­ers’ vary­ing lists of strengths and weak­ness­es, it will be the body’s inten­tion to fol­low its LORD, and its will­ing­ness to engage in the sys­temic diag­no­sis, and if nec­es­sary, sys­temic exor­cism, that God might require.
    No leader can com­mu­ni­cate in the right way and the right order with the right peo­ple all the time. It is impos­si­ble. Most of the com­plaints I’ve heard about Thom say as much about the cul­ture from which the com­plaints emerge as they do about Thom. That is not said to get our indi­vid­ual lead­ers off the hook, but to ask us to sharp­en our analy­sis: were their “fail­ings” a result of unfore­seen weak­ness­es, delib­er­ate mis­chief, etc., or were they more about a lack of align­ment with the larg­er body (and with­in that body) that must be attend­ed to urgent­ly regard­less of who the leader is?

  • Hi Johan,
    Not self-serving at all, I’m glad you’re weigh­ing in. I agree that the com­plaints about Jeav­ons reveal more about the year­ly meet­ing than him in par­tic­u­lar. My own obser­va­tions are my famil­iar frus­tra­tions with Philadelphia’s insid­er cul­ture. While I didn’t see Thom effec­tive­ly address­ing this issue, he cer­tain­ly didn’t cre­ate it and it’s been main­tained over the years by any num­ber of year­ly meet­ing Friends.
    One pet the­o­ry I have about Quak­er lead­er­ship, whether as staff or clerk, is that no indi­vid­ual can affect more than about 10% of the larg­er cul­ture. A great clerk with an undis­ci­plined group (I’m think­ing of the young adult Friends com­mu­ni­ties I’ve known) will only be able to help pull them so far in dis­cern­ing God’s will. A ter­ri­ble clerk with a very sea­soned group will only be able to do so much dam­age before the group steps in to clerk itself. Over time, good lead­er­ship and God’s grace can turn a group around but it’s a slow process that relies on the faith­ful­ness of many Friends, not just a Gen­er­al Secretary.
    I wouldn’t have talked about Jeavon’s lead­er­ship if he hadn’t plant­ed that _Inquirer_ arti­cle. Still, he does rep­re­sent a cer­tain recent style of strong-willed Philadel­phia lead­er­ship that hasn’t worked. Jeav­ons was very con­cerned about the future of the year­ly meet­ing and he was one of the few peo­ple look­ing out at the long-term demo­graph­ic trends. It was quite pos­si­ble that his con­cerns and vision might have unex­pect­ed­ly out­last­ed his tenure and influ­enced the year­ly meet­ing more than any­one might have ever acknowl­edged, but self-serving stunts like the _Inquirer_ arti­cle unnec­es­sar­i­ly burn bridges. It’s a shame.
    It’s no coin­ci­dence that FGC’s Gen­er­al Sec­re­tary Bruce Bir­chard wasn’t inter­viewed for the arti­cle. I’m not always in per­fect agree­ment with Bruce (espe­cial­ly around issues of employ­ee com­pen­sa­tion, _ahem_) but FGC is a sur­pris­ing­ly func­tion­al body. We too can clunk along with deci­sions but we get where we need to go. Bruce’s “Dilem­mas of Orga­ni­za­tion­al Lead­er­ship in the RSOF”:http://​www​.fgc​quak​er​.org/​l​i​b​r​a​r​y​/​f​o​s​t​e​r​i​n​g​m​e​e​t​i​n​g​s​/​0​4​0​2​.​h​tml, writ­ten eons ago, is still well worth a read. Kudos not just to him, of course, but to faith­ful clerks and staff and God smil­ing on us. _(For those who think I’m just suck­ing up to the boss­es, rest assured that the only FGC staff­per­son who reg­u­lar­ly seemed to read this blog is gone (Liz, we miss you!))_

  • In look­ing through the PYM Pow­er­point pre­sen­ta­tion to which you link, it struck me that it include the Hart­ford Sem­i­nary Study Cor­re­lates of Growth. The strongest was “Clar­i­ty of pur­pose and mis­sion.” The strongest rea­son for PYM Friends attend­ing Friends was “Open­ness to wide range of belief.”
    A blunt, some­what exag­ger­at­ed way of putting that is that clear­ly stand­ing for some­thing pro­vides the strongest cor­re­la­tion for growth, but for PYM Friends not clear­ly stand­ing for some­thing was the most impor­tant thing for them. Is it strange that PYM Friends don’t seem to grow?
    This is close­ly tied to lead­er­ship. Hav­ing clear mis­sion and pur­pose pro­vides a good con­text for lead­er­ship. Where there is no clar­i­ty on mis­sion and pur­pose, and strong resis­tance to attain­ing such clar­i­ty, no one is going to be able to lead effectively.

  • I love the fact that a major news­pa­per took notice. (I take it for grant­ed that news­pa­pers will get it wrong some­times, that they will reflect one point of view or one agen­da more than oth­ers, and that even the most bla­tant­ly one-sided arti­cle is not the end of the world. I’ve been there.) One of my pet the­o­ries is that we Quak­ers would behave a lot bet­ter if we were under more jour­nal­is­tic scruti­ny. Our near-invisibility allows a lot of dys­func­tion, elit­ism, and com­pla­cen­cy to fester.
    Why should get­ting one’s point of view in the paper con­sti­tute bridge-burning? Espe­cial­ly if the group one’s no longer pan­der­ing to is on a ter­mi­nal path to irrel­e­vance, despite its own opin­ion of itself? Being a people-pleaser hasn’t worked, either. There is a life out­side the tiny cir­cles of Friends who are either too full of them­selves or too frag­ile to stand crit­i­cism. By the way, you your­self have been pret­ty sharp in your crit­i­cisms. Does a more pub­lic plat­form make it worse? If “insid­er cul­ture” is part of the prob­lem, then a pub­lic air­ing might be at least a bit of the cure. Any­way, for what it’s worth, I thought Thom’s com­ments were rel­a­tive­ly restrained. If there is not a sense of cri­sis in Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing, with its mem­ber­ship a tiny frac­tion of what it should be after three cen­turies of prime loca­tion and polit­i­cal safe­ty, then peo­ple must believe that being a Friend is either for very, very spe­cial peo­ple or is no longer worth cher­ish­ing at all.
    Thanks for the hos­pi­tal­i­ty of your site for my cranky views. Just wait and see how defen­sive I can get when FUM is criticized!

  • Hi Bill: You’re preach­ing to the choir, bro’. I hear you. No one read­ing offi­cial PhYM doc­u­ments would even get much of a sense that we were reli­gious. We utter tedious plat­i­tudes about “com­mu­ni­ty” to paper over our fear of talk­ing about God, faith, con­vic­tion. See my pro­posed “tes­ti­mo­ny against com­mu­ni­ty”:http://​www​.non​vi​o​lence​.org/​m​a​r​t​i​n​k​/​t​e​s​t​i​m​o​n​i​e​s​_​f​o​r​_​t​w​e​n​t​i​e​t​h​f​i​r​s​t​_​c​e​n​t​u​r​y​_​a​_​t​e​s​t​i​m​o​n​y​_​a​g​a​i​n​s​t​_​c​o​m​m​u​n​i​t​y​.​php (which didn’t make it onto this year’s year­ly meet­ing agen­da) for more.
    As Bill well knows, Thom was one of the few PhYM lead­ers to use taboo words like “Christ” in print. That pub­lic iden­ti­fi­ca­tion makes his actions even more sub­ject to scruti­ny. I know of at least one uni­ver­sal­ist Friend who’s con­flat­ed his anger at this arti­cle with Thom’s Chris­t­ian pro­fes­sion, which is sad.
    Johan: I hear ya too. The Inky talks about (usu­al­ly against) Catholics all the time and all the papers in the land go wild when­ev­er one of the main­stream Protes­tant denom­i­na­tions elect some­one con­tro­ver­sial or make some big state­ment. Putting aside our pathet­i­cal­ly small num­bers, why shouldn’t Friends make the “big time”?
    Time will tell what this tem­pest in a teapot might pro­duce but right now it’s hard to see what Jeav­ons was think­ing. He’s used up his “lead­er­ship cap­i­tal” as Gen­er­al Sec­re­tary and needs to step back and let go. We need to trust the Holy Spirit’s work amongst us, even when it seems fruit­less. Why pick a fresh fight? If he’s been faith­ful then he’s plant­ed many seeds with his wit­ness and vision. Might now be a good time to go about qui­et­ly tend­ing to the seedlings?

  • Our chal­lenge in North Pacif­ic Year­ly Meet­ing is not a close­ly held lead­er­ship that resists expan­sion of its cir­cle but a grad­ual devolv­ing of lead­er­ship into few­er and few­er hands because few­er and few­er Friends “have time” to devote to par­tic­i­pa­tion in the life of the (monthly/quarterly/yearly) meeting.
    (Query: whose time is it? Who gave it to us? For what purposes?)
    This is man­i­fest on the Year­ly Meet­ing in lev­el in NPYm by the resort to an “exec­u­tive com­mit­tee” to make deci­sions in lieu of our “steer­ing com­mit­tee.” This lat­ter institution/framework, is func­tion­al­ly a rep­re­sen­ta­tive body of the con­stituent meet­ings. It aspires to meet and be led as a group but the truth is that those involved do not know one anoth­er well enough, and have not sea­soned busi­ness well enough, to actu­al­ly func­tion, very often, as a com­mu­ni­ty in the sense we use (or used to use) that word. The Steer­ing Com­mit­tee, as it func­tions in NPYM, is less like a Meet­ing for Suf­fer­ings and more like the form that comes from the world of non prof­its and oth­er corporations.
    At least, how­ev­er, the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee form is a sea­soned enough form (which is not to say that it is actu­al­ly effec­tive) that it is men­tioned in our Faith and Prac­tice. This new expe­di­ent, the “Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee,” has been called into being more or less sua sponte by the clerk, more or less in despair to get some busi­ness done.
    Very lit­tle actu­al busi­ness is done by the Year­ly Meet­ing, at its Annu­al Ses­sion. One of the found­ing prin­ci­ples of this YM – when it was set off from Pacif­ic Year­ly Meet­ing – was that it exist­ed for the pur­pose of fel­low­ship among Friends, and not the “doing of busi­ness.” Man­i­fest­ing a lack of char­i­ty, I sup­pose, some – myself includ­ed – have come to char­ac­ter­ize our Annu­al Ses­sion gath­er­ing as “the par­ty.” Many Friends find it has no use­ful­ness to them (“I’m just not a Year­ly Meet­ing Friend,” I hear said) and those who attend care lit­tle how it is put togeth­er or who does the work, so long as it’s ready for them when they show up. Often they do not reg­is­ter in advance, per­haps for “lack of time” to do it or per­haps because there is always the chance that some­thing more appeal­ing to do will present itself at the last minute.
    I may be open to ques­tion about fur­ther man­i­fes­ta­tion of lack of char­i­ty for this last remark except that I have heard it said, in so many words, by peo­ple who com­pained about “rigid dead­lines” to reg­is­ter. At the same time I have heard com­plaints about the inabil­i­ty to muster a children’s pro­gram for tod­dlers and babies by peo­ple who would nev­er think to vol­un­teer to help pro­vide one.
    The NPYM is cur­rent­ly embarked upon a “vision and struc­ture” process, with a com­mit­tee writ­ing a mis­sion state­ment (again, sound­ing more in cor­po­ra­tion than cor­po­rate in the Quak­er sense) and, it is hoped, from this mis­sion state­ment, struc­tur­al reform will grow.
    I won­der whether the prob­lem is in the idea that Friends do not “have time” to par­tic­i­pate in the life of the meet­ing. If more Friends spent more time par­tic­i­pat­ing in the process­es that are famil­iar to Friends there might be less of a prob­lem with busi­ness being sea­soned and Friends hav­ing enough famil­iar­i­ty with one anoth­er (on all lev­els) to suc­ceed in find­ing God’s will together.
    I also query how famil­iar many Friends are with Friends man­ner of doing busi­ness. It seems to me that in NPYM many have not been sub­stan­tial­ly ori­ent­ed through the mem­ber­ship process or through oth­er teach­ing and so, as the num­ber of such Friends grows, among us, there is more and more resort to the kinds of democratic/ cor­po­ra­tion type deci­sion mak­ing forms that such Friends learned to use pri­or to com­ing to the Soci­ety. These forms are not cen­tered on find­ing uni­ty in God’s will and so each deci­sion, to a large or small extent, leaves dis­uni­ty in its wake – the dis­tinc­tion between uni­ty and con­sen­sus being glossed over, the dif­fer­ent results in terms of rec­on­cil­li­a­tion being not large­ly seen by indi­vid­u­als but defi­nate­ly felt by the body.

  • Liz

    Hi Mar­tin. I miss you guys too. Some­times. And for what it’s worth, I think your com­men­tary is right on.

  • Johan’s ini­tial com­ments on this post res­onat­ed strong­ly with my own feel­ings. “Every Quak­er body I know wants some­one in lead­er­ship who will be an inspir­ing Super­man and a def­er­en­tial Clark Kent simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. We will not con­front our sys­temic demons by cit­ing our lead­ers’ faults.” Very nice­ly put.
    My own poor take on the mat­ter? I think no Friends body can func­tion as a com­mu­ni­ty unless its mem­bers are tru­ly com­mit­ted to uphold one anoth­er, to the point of mak­ing mean­ing­ful dai­ly sac­ri­fices of time and love on one another’s behalf.
    If they are at that point of com­mit­ment, then it is guar­an­tee­able that they will also be look­ing at one anoth­er in terms of account­abil­i­ty instead of in terms of “inclu­sive­ness”. And at that point they are ready to con­front their sys­temic failings.
    And at that point, too — when they are accus­tomed to mak­ing sac­ri­fices for one another’s wel­fare, and to being account­able to one anoth­er and requir­ing account­abil­i­ty from one anoth­er — then mean­ing­ful lead­er­ship at last becomes possible.
    Even then, it will not be lead­er­ship in the world­ly sense, because it can­not com­pel any­one to do any­thing. (Mem­ber­ship in our Soci­ety is strict­ly vol­un­tary, after all.) But it will be mean­ing­ful lead­er­ship, because the com­mu­ni­ty has cho­sen the leader, and is com­mit­ted to sac­ri­fice for the com­mu­ni­ty (which includes for the activ­i­ties that the com­mu­ni­ty has select­ed the leader to lead in), and because the com­mu­ni­ty has meth­ods of account­abil­i­ty in place which can keep the leader and her/his pro­pos­als sat­is­fac­to­ry in its eyes.