[NOTE: This post has been updated! Please go to the updated version here.]
Tuesday March 17, Canadian Yearly Meeting (CYM) posted a notice that its 2020 Annual Session, set for August 7-15 in Winnipeg, has been cancelled.
A letter from the Clerks, Beverly Shepard and Marilyn Manzer, posted on their website quaker.ca, cited several factors, related to the current Covid-19 virus pandemic:
Many of our members are in the higher-risk categories (over 60 and/or with underlying conditions such as hypertension), and many make their travel plans well in advance of the CYM dates. An early decision is desirable for these Friends.
To be clear, it is not simply a matter of the existing pandemic crisis of the Covid-19 virus, although that, of course, is the prime motivator here. Some Friends may be reacting to this news with a sense that the decision was made too early, but the fact is that our YM sessions require a great deal of preparatory work, much of which is done by volunteers. To ask this of our short-handed Program Committee and then to cancel after much work has been done seemed to us unfair.
We believed it would be preferable to cancel the sessions now for the sake of the many people who work hard to make CYM the wonderful gathering that it is; then work can proceed toward a joyous gathering in 2021. As you probably know, there is already much discernment underway about changes to be made to CYM to ensure sustainability. This decision allows these discussions to be more relaxed and thorough before our next gathering.
This unexpected cancellation of sessions will necessitate some new plans . . . .”
(But the plans have not yet been made.)
Beyond this concrete news, here’s a prediction: this is likely only the first of many similar announcements we’ll be hearing.
There’s a precedent: in 1918, the year of the Worldwide Flu pandemic, Friends General Conference did not hold its then biennial conference. (Available records are unclear on whether the flu pandemic affected this decision; but it would sure make sense.)
After all, almost all other North American Quaker groups I know of share many of the same conditions that weighed on CYM:
>> A large over-60 contingent;
>> The need to make travel plans well in advance, with a travel industry in both operational and financial chaos;
>> A dependence on much advance volunteer work, a significant amount of which has already been “invested”;
>> And three more not mentioned: first, the likelihood that many Friends will either be recovering from the virus and/or still quite vulnerable to it, caring for family members and other victims even in late summer.
Second, that many Friends who want to attend will be out of work, or with employment in jeopardy, and unable to commit the resources.
And third, that many Quaker parents, whose children are now out of school, perhaps for the rest of the academic year, will be much more concerned to put their time and money in catch-up work over the summer, to keep pace with their cohort’s unremitting drive to keep their progeny in the educational express lanes into the professional/upper middle class ranks.
Amid this rapidly changing vortex, your blogger remains in semi-isolation, tho presently asymptomatic. While Way Opens (i.e., I stay healthy), I’ll monitor the increasingly uncertain summer Quaker scene, and report updates from as they become available.