What is a yearly meeting?

If you asked any member of Indiana Yearly Meeting what it is we do at our annual gatherings, the answer would probably be, We get together to fight over all the things we disagree about.

When I told one of my Friends that Indiana Yearly Meeting decided to divide, he asked me, “What is a yearly meeting, anyway? Do we really need to have one?” It got me thinking.

London Yearly Meeting in 1668 said,

“We did conclude among ourselves to settle a meeting, to see one another’s faces, and open our hearts one to another in the Truth of God once a year, as formerly it used to be.”

Don’t you wish it could really be like this? Why don’t we try? We probably need some sort of gathering or association. But it’s going to look different from whatever we’ve had in the past. And if we’re going to have a yearly meeting, maybe we should try to do a better job than we’ve done in recent years.

Most books of Faith and Practice say that a yearly meeting consists of all of its members. We need to reclaim that sense of belonging or “ownership” if we’re going to succeed in the future. As long as the yearly meeting is “them” and not “all of us”, we’re doomed to failure.

Wikipedia says,

“Yearly Meeting gatherings are times for Friends from a wide geographical area to come together to worship, to discuss their concerns, and to seek God’s guidance on issues facing Friends in that region. Yearly Meetings also oversee the constituent meetings, and publish the guiding principles, organizational processes and collected expressions of faith of Friends in that geographical area.”

I’ve surveyed a number of different books of Faith and Practice. Here are some functions of a yearly meeting:

  • a place for business which affects all of our local meetings
  • gathering financial support for projects which are too large for any one meeting
  • representing Friends’ concerns to other organizations
  • setting up new meetings, and lay down inactive ones
  • encouraging members to exercise their gifts in ministry
  • providing common standards for the recording of ministers and pastors
  • advising or giving guidance on difficult issues

Many yearly meetings also hold funds or bequests in trust for specific purposes, such as mission work or outreach.

Most yearly meetings ask each monthly meeting to appoint representatives, so that every meeting has a voice, but every member has the right to attend and speak.

One of the major “missing ingredients” for Indiana Yearly Meeting in recent years has been fun. I’ve heard way too many complaints that yearly meeting sessions are tense, polarized, boring, or just plain incomprehensible. Whatever we do, let’s try to reclaim a sense of joy, a sense of common purpose, and a sense of Divine calling.

*     *     *

To read up on what other Friends say about the purpose of a yearly meeting, click on these links:

Indiana Yearly Meeting

Western Yearly Meeting

Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting, scroll down to page 39

New England Yearly Meeting

Other yearly meetings

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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.

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