Intervisitation Working Group
Baltimore Yearly Meeting
Annual Report – 2014
“Might there not be a richer and more abundant life in so wide a family?” – Ann Riggs
This past year, the Intervisitation Working Group has been clarifying its new role, as it makes the transition from its predecessor – the ad hoc Intervisitation Committee. A world of possibilities came into view to broaden and deepen our Yearly Meeting’s experience with intervisitation. We have wrestled with the tension between those many possibilities and the need to keep our work focused and doable. As a result, our proposed mission statement has a primary focus on the “ministry of presence.” In the meantime, we have continued to send out visitors and host incoming ones. We continued hosting an annual retreat for any who travel among Friends. In addition, the very well-received workshop on dialogue around our differences, which we sponsored at the 2013 annual session, has been shared more widely and continues to be.
I. Proposed Mission Statement for Intervisitation Working Group
In 6th month, 2013, Interim Meeting laid down the ad hoc Intervisitation Committee and created in its place the Intervisitation Working Group under the care of the Ministry and Pastoral Care committee (M&PC). We had had a very rich experience with our intervisitation program, which had been initiated in 2004 to help rebuild community among Friends United Meeting. More recently, Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) had also been deeply enriched by intervisitation within BYM relating to developing a vision statement and revising our Faith and Practice. So the new working group was created to build on those experiences, seeking to integrate intervisitation into the routine practice of the Yearly Meeting.
We have developed a proposed mission statement for the new working group, which is subject to review by M&PC. Many ideas for potential work have arisen both within the working group and from the wider community, including
- encouraging all YM committees to identify members to visit local Meetings;
- identifying Friends willing and able to offer workshops of all kinds and sharing what they offer on a website as a resource for local Meetings;
- developing best practices for visiting
- conducting training workshops
- maintaining a list and tracking the visits of all BYM Friends having a travel minute, and generally supporting that practice;
- identifying a cadre of Friends with a gift of vocal ministry to visit within BYM to nurture and enrich vocal ministry in our local Meetings;
- expanding the scope of our intervisitation outside of BYM to include other branches of Friends and also lift up opportunities for wider participation in the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC);
- supporting the work of M&PC relating to embracing ministries of Friends;
- explore and draw from the intervisitation experiences of other YMs; and
- providing an annual comprehensive report of all visits made within, to, or from BYM for any purpose, as a way to track the state of our practice of intervisitation.
As the working group considered the exciting range of possibilities, we quickly felt overwhelmed by how expansive its mission could become. At the same time, we confronted the reality that, while we continue to sense a high level of support within BYM for intervisitation, the number of people willing to do the actual work of our working group remains pretty small. Especially given that we are entering a new phase of our intervisitation work, we felt a need to limit the scope to something achievable, hoping that would help create a solid foundation for whatever might evolve over time. All of the possibilities raised seem to be worthy and desirable undertakings; they are just more than we can realistically contemplate at this time. We encourage the YM to consider how else it might pursue those possibilities.
So the working group considered what is the core effort we are called to pursue in laying a strong foundation. We felt it most appropriate to build on the most essential aspect of our experience with the previous program, which we concluded was a “ministry of presence.” When that phrase was lifted up in the course our work several years ago, we had an immediate sense that “yes, that is what we are doing here.” We must have all felt we knew exactly what that phrase meant because, as it turns out, we don’t seem to have ever attempted to define it, until now. So our proposed mission statement lifts up the “ministry of presence” as our primary focus.
An intervisitation committee member brought us the phrase “ministry of presence” after attending an event of Friends General Conference’s Traveling Ministries Program, (though we have not found a definition from that source). An internet search reveals that the phrase is in standard use among chaplains and missionaries of various kinds. The website for Franciscan Mission Services (http://goo.gl/IHUxoD) shares this quote from Henri Nouwen:
“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”
While related, the context for our intervisitation efforts may be somewhat different than for chaplains and missionaries. From our experience with intervisitation, a “ministry of presence” means
- to be spiritually present to those we visit,
- to hold them in the light,
- to pray with them and for them,
- to listen deeply and without judgment,
- to stand with them in times of joy, sorrows, and anxieties,
- to love,
- to not bring our own agendas,
- to get to know them and invite them to get to know us, especially “in that which is eternal,”
- to heal and build community,
- to be available to offer what service they might ask of us as way opens, and
- to be open to the same from those who visit us.
At its roots, intervisitation is an affirmation that we are in community with each other and available to each other. Our presence alone conveys the message that “we are part of you and you are part of us. We are here so that we may stay together, not break apart.” As such, intervisitation at whatever level helps give life to the idea that we are one Meeting, one Yearly Meeting, and one Religious Society of Friends.
Our working group was also clear that we were called to expand the scope of our efforts to promote intervisitation both within BYM and to a wider range of the Religious Society of Friends outside of BYM, that is beyond Friends United Meeting (FUM). This year, we have extended our invitations to include the three Conservative YMs (Ohio, North Carolina, and Iowa), Evangelical Friends Church – Eastern Region (set off from Ohio YM, which was set off from BYM), and Southeastern YM (which had participated in our program while it was still a member of FUM). Our proposed mission statement, however, is not so specific about the scope of our efforts outside of BYM, leaving that scope as a matter for ongoing discernment.
Also, the proposed mission statement is stated somewhat generally to allow for flexibility and change in how we pursue that. Over the coming year, we anticipate our focus will involve identifying a group of people to visit within BYM as well as to continue our current efforts to identify visitors from BYM to other YMs and visitors from other YMs to BYM. We will also revisit our guidance on visiting and related documents in light of the new mission statement and explore ways to continue developing and sharing best practices.
Given that background, we propose the following mission statement, which we will ask M&PC to affirm:
Proposed Mission Statement of the Intervisitation Working Group
The Intervisitation Program of Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) seeks to nurture the beloved community of Friends by encouraging, preparing, and supporting those who travel among Friends, both inside and outside of BYM. Our experience has shown the power of visiting to address the fragility of relationships within and among Yearly Meetings as well as to enjoy the richer, more abundant life available in the wide family of Friends. Through a simple “ministry of presence” we hope to be spiritually and prayerfully present, to listen deeply with love and without judgment, not to bring our own agendas, and to get to know each other in that which is eternal. Visits will be in all directions, and involve both offering and receiving hospitality.
II. Report on Visits
In 2013, we sent visitors to the Triennial of the United Society of Friends Women International (USFWI), two visitors to Western YM, two to Indiana YM, and three to North Carolina YM-FUM. We received visits to our annual sessions by two from New England YM, two from Bolivia YM, and one from the FUM staff.
This year, we sent two visitors to Indiana YM. We also became aware of one BYM Friend who will be visiting Ohio YM (Conservative) informally (without a travel minute), as she has been doing for several years. Another Friend plans to visit several local Meetings in Cuba in November, which will be our first visit within Cuba YM. We received three visitors from African YMs to our annual session through our intervisitation program, as well as several others from other YMs who came in connection with plenary programs and Quaker organizations.
In addition, three of our working group members attended a weekend gathering sponsored by the Traveling Ministries Program of Friends General Conference. A few BYM Friends attended the consultation held by FWCC in North Carolina. A few attended the annual Quaker Spring Gathering, held this year in Barnesville, OH, which draws Friends from across various Quaker branches. Two BYM Friends spent time as Friends in Residence at Woodbrooke in England. Several BYM Friends attended the FUM Triennial, where many connections are made or renewed, and we extended invitations to visit. At the same time, the Triennial makes it harder for both incoming and outgoing visitors to make visits to annuals sessions in the same year, given limited time and budgets for travel.
It’s worth noting that some of the travel minutes being returned to BYM often include endorsements from visits made to local Meetings within other YMs. Such visits to local Meetings in the course of our individual travels, with or without a travel minute, are also very much a part of the intervisitation experience.
We are always looking for more folks to visit, both incoming and outgoing. For more on our program, including a schedule of Yearly Meetings to visit, see our website at http://intervisitation.bym-rsf.net. You can direct your questions or let us know of your interest by [using our contact form].
III. Workshops and our Annual Retreat
At the 2013 annual session Erik Hanson and Joan Liversidge presented a workshop sponsored by the Intervisitation Working Group. About 40 people attended the workshop, “Christocentric Quakers and Nontheistic Quakers: A Dialogue,” including several members of M&PC. This committee then asked Joan and Erik to train their committee to give this workshop. In May, Deborah Haines and Michael Cronin gave the workshop to a quarterly meeting held at Frederick. The workshop will be given again at 2014 annual session. Along with Windy Cooler, Erik also led the opening retreat of our 2014 annual session on an expanded and similar topic, “Bringing our Differences into the Light.”
Each year, we also host a retreat for those traveling among Friends, usually on the Sunday afternoon following March Interim Meeting. This year, seventeen attended, and we had a rich opportunity to share our experiences. We have settled into a habit of opening with some practice of deep listening. We have found there’s always room for more focused and facilitated practice in listening, and this practice also sets a tone and feeds into the sharing we do in the rest of the retreat. While the working group has chosen to focus on the ministry of presence, we encourage all who travel among Friends to join us for this retreat, whether they travel with or without a travel minute, formally or informally, with or without a specific concern or focus. We have found it to be mutually beneficial to share across the range of these travel experiences, as we reflect on the discernment, blessings, challenges, and process involved.
Many of our program’s expenses are incurred by travelers and not reimbursed. Not all travelers report their unreimbursed expenses, so our aggregate reports are only estimates, except for expenses paid out of the YM budget.
In 2013, we estimate about $7100 was spent on visits, of which about $6000 was paid for by travelers and about $1100 was paid for out of our YM budget of $4000. Thus, we used only 28 percent of our YM budgeted funds, and YM funds covered just 16 percent of the program costs. We did reimburse expenses for one traveler from BYM to another YM upon request, given the availability of funds from our budget. We submit a more detailed report to Stewardship and Finance each year, along with out budget request.