Raising Our Walking Sticks

At our recent board meeting in Belize City, Oscar Mmbali read us a passage from Exodus.

The Lord answered, “What’s that in your hand?”

“A walking stick,” Moses replied.  [Exodus 4:2]

In the years following, God proceeded to work any number of miracles through Moses’ simple walking stick, from providing fresh water for the Israelites to parting the Red Sea.  It’s a reminder of God’s ability to use whatever tools we have at hand.

As a member of the Friends United Meeting general board, I can see that FUM is poised at the edge of its own Red Sea.  Each year, it grows more difficult to fund the schools, Churches, peace work, health clinics, and community development projects being led by local Friends—our partners—all around the world.  It’s not quite a crisis situation; we can cover the deficits temporarily.  And we hoped for awhile that this might be a temporary trend.

Now, we can see that it’s not.

A series of splits and reorganizations of Yearly Meetings in North America has cut contributions directly from Yearly Meetings nearly in half.  Long-faithful donors are aging, and their Churches, Meetings, and other organizations are shrinking.  Younger generations are accustomed to communicating through social media, while many members of the older generations still lean toward email and paper, which means we’re straddling direct mail, e-news, Facebook, and Instagram in an effort to stay in touch.   And many parts of the world are shifting away from institutional loyalty, with giving patterns swinging toward instant response to powerful stories rather than long-term organizational relationships.  Circumstances have changed, and we have not.

God can part the Red Sea for us; of this, I have no doubt.  But I remember that, while He certainly could have parted the Red Sea at any time, He waited instead until Moses had taken action.  Moses had to raise his walking stick, and that’s what we’re doing, too.  We’ve established a Long Range Financial Planning Working Group: Ron Bryan (Iowa Yearly Meeting, FUM presiding clerk); Cathy Harris (New Association of Friends, FUM general board finance committee); Kelly Kellum (FUM general secretary); Emily Provance (New York Yearly Meeting, FUM general board advancement committee); Richard Sitati (Nairobi Yearly Meeting, FUM assistant presiding clerk); and Lloyd Stangeland (Iowa Yearly Meeting, FUM trustees).

The Long Range Financial Planning Working Group has some Big Stuff to do.  We’re starting out with four big questions, though these are likely to launch a lot more:

How will we act with integrity in terms of our current, and likely future, financial shortfall?

How will we engage with the effectiveness of our communications, including e-news, direct mail, and social media?

How will we respond to the complications of fundraising across an audience that has a wide variety of reasons for engaging with FUM?

And in particular, how we will work through each of the other questions in the light of our understanding of FUM as a global fellowship?

It’ll mean a serious look at lots of moving pieces—everything from communications to donation platforms to income sources to budgetary structures to staff to physical property.  But I have faith.  We’ve got a walking stick; we’re lifting it up; God can part the Red Sea.  I’m excited to get started.  We’ll keep you up to date with how it goes.

Julie Rudd