The email below is going out today to a Friends General Conference mailing list. It deserves wider notice:
After several meetings with a number of committee clerks, staff, and Gathering volunteers, it has become clear that we cannot safely hold the in-person FGC Gathering this year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
We share the experience that the Gathering is deeply important for so many Friends. At the same time, the health and safety of our family of Friends must be paramount. We bring this disappointing news, while at the same time seeking how Spirit might lead us to embrace online tools to create remote Gathering offerings this summer to bring our community together in this time of challenge. While change is neither easy nor comfortable, let us take time to celebrate what has gone before, mourn loss of being together in person, and move with hearts open to a new way forward.
We are clear in this decision, even as we reflect on the thousands of hours of planning so many Friends have invested, the loss of sharing in-person fellowship, and the financial strains cancellation of the in-person Gathering will cause for FGC. Why make the decision now, when so much is unknown? Both because so much is unknown, and because it’s already clear that even if the threat subsides by June, many Friends will be unable to participate in an in-person Gathering this summer due to Covid-19 related financial, family, work, and school challenges. Acknowledging this reality and making this decision now will give FGC more capacity and time to plan alternative ways to speak to the needs of Friends now and in the months to come.
A virtual Gathering working group is forming to explore how to provide, in a new way, spiritual sustenance to all Gathering attendees, including youth, high schoolers, young adults, the FLGBTQC community, and Friends of Color. We will work to share online offerings during the week that would have been the in-person Gathering. Staff & volunteers will also look for ways to include those with limited or no internet access. If you feel called to contribute to this new approach, please be in touch with Lori Sinitzky, rising Conference Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are also responding to the understanding that Spirit has opened a way for us to explore what it means to stay connected with each other beyond the week of the Gathering.
It is our current expectation to hold the 2021 Gathering as a traditional in-person event. The FGC Long Range Conference Planning committee will be meeting to set plans in motion for the 2021 and 2022 Gatherings. We are exploring how we can bring some of the content lovingly developed and discerned by the 2020 Gathering Committee to the 2021 in-person Gathering. We also want to remain open that the world is changing, and we are committed to understanding and meeting the emerging needs of the Friends, Seekers, and Meetings we serve.
As events unfold and clarity increases, we’ll be sharing more updates, both on the FGC website and on the Gathering update email list. (The link to information on the website is: https://www.fgcquaker.org/connect/gathering/coronavirus-and-2020-gathering)
Frank Barch, Presiding Clerk
David Haines, Long Range Conference Planning Committee Clerk
Michelle Bellows, Long Range Conference Planning Committee Assistant Clerk
Tony Martin & Patsy Arnold Martin, Gathering 2020 Co-Clerks
Barry Crossno, General Secretary
Ruth Reber, Conference Coordinator
Lori Sinitzky, Rising Conference Coordinator
The Gathering now joins a list of four yearly meetings (so far) that have been canceled, along with several other conferences and workshops. The list is expected to grow. This is the first time since 1918 that FGC skipped a year (their conferences were biennial then). That was also the year of what was widely called the Spanish Flu pandemic.
Reviewing this letter, I came across another letter, from FGC General Secretary Barry Crossno, from last September. In it Crossno asked FGC Friends to fill out a survey for FGC planners on the 2021 Gathering : “What do you think? Is a Gathering focused on ‘The Future of FGC Friends’ compelling and would you attend?”
In such a Gathering, he said:
“. . . several workshops and plenary sessions would be related to how we achieve the spiritual community we dream about. One plenary evening might be offered in a TED Talk-inspired format, so that we can feature 15-minute presentations by multiple Friends on how we can be a transformative and transformed people. . . .”
I neglected to fill out the survey, but whatever its results, the question of the Gathering’s future will surely come before FGC planners again, starting now, and continuing through the “tumults and commotions” (old Quaker jargon) of the very clouded months ahead.
But as the various FGC committees tackle it, here’s my belated advice about Crossno’s question: Don’t do it!
To be sure, devoting a week-long workshop, informal afternoon sessions, and maybe even a plenary to this topic would be okay. But as the main focus? Spare us!
Part of my recoil from the idea is the reflex of an amateur historian: I know that fretting and hand-wringing about whether and what might be the Quaker future has been a near-constant feature (and a bad habit) of larger Quaker bodies for going on 200 years. And not only a constant, but a largely tedious, self-centered one.
I had accumulated a dozen or so reports and books on the topic, though they disappeared from my bookshelf during a recent onslaught of decluttering. But they were an uninspiring, navel-gazing lot. A solid week of such dullness could make root canals or a colonoscopy attractive alternatives.
I hope FGC leaves the main wrestling with the Gathering’s future after this blighted year to its plethora of committees and keeps Friends posted. After all, in sum that’s what they all are for. And if they are able to mount what is now to be called an “in-person” Gathering in 2021, I hope it will be another in the long series of sprawling spiritual/practical smorgasbords that the ones I remember most fondly have been.