When I saw that Canadian Yearly Meeting (CYM) had posted a notice on Tuesday March 17, that its 2020 Annual Session, set for August 7-15 in Winnipeg, has been cancelled I thought it was the first such cancellation of this virus crisis season.
Wrong! Within a few hours I found that it was in fact the fourth. And I scrambled to catch up with events.
A letter from the CYM Clerks, Beverly Shepard and Marilyn Manzer, on their website quaker.ca, cited several factors in the decision, 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.)
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.)
Will there be more? My guess is, yes. 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.
As feedback to the post came in, updates were necessry; three in fact:
UPDATE 1: The Piedmont Friends Yearly Meeting, scheduled for March 27-29 in North Carolina, has also been postponed. PFYM Clerk Gary Hornsby wrote that,
In making our decision to postpone, we were conscious of how fast the situation may change, and of our responsibility to the vulnerable friends in our community.
Even if we decided to go ahead and meet in March, we thought that attendance would be very low and that friends would not be in the right spirit to meet.
We are considering alternative dates and possible locations for the 2020 retreat & annual sessions, but can’t yet assess what will be possible.
Then to UPDATE #2: Southeastern Yearly Meeting, centered in Florida, has canceled its session, set for April 8-12. In its letter, Clerk Bill Carlie wrote.
Out of deep concern for serious threat posed by COVID-19 to our guests and attendees, and the threat of transmission to the community at large, it was decided to cancel this year’s Gathering.
However…we need to be resilient. We have been so excited about all the workshops planned for this year! The Gathering and Youth Program coordinators and the Field Secretary for Earthcare have started looking at our options and abilities to offer workshops as interactive video ‘gatherings’ online or at future events.
And finally (for now) to UPDATE #3: South Central Yearly Meeting, with meetings from Arkansas through and around Texas. Its session had also been set for April 8-12, the so-called Easter weekend. But it has now been “postponed,” but new dates have not been chosen. Associate Clerk Liz Yeats wrote that
This decision was a sad one to make. We all agreed we would miss the fellowship, learning and spiritual deepening we experience when we gather face to face. However, in the face of the present COVID19 (Coronavirus) situation which places so many of our usual attenders and guests at risk, we felt the safety of all, and those in our broader communities, called for such action. We hope to reschedule in the fall of 2020 and will be back to you as soon as we are able with dates.
In the interim, the SCYM Zoom account will be used for virtual meetings for worship, one beginning this week on Wednesday evening. Please watch your email for more information about this opportunity to gather, worship and share with Friends around SCYM.
It seems likely these four will not be the last such drastic readjustments. Amid this rapidly swirling vortex of unprecedented events, 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. Feedback and more updates are encouraged