MfS Long Term Plan
This is an essay I wrote when I received the document "MEETING FOR SUFFERINGS LONG TERM PLAN FOR THE CORPORATE WORK 2003-2007" which I will refer to as the LTP.
At the time I assumed it was a draft awaiting approval (despite its handsome cover) but I have since realised that it is regarded as approved as far as Meeting for Sufferings (MfS) is concerned. Of course all of the work of MfS is subject to the approval of Yearly Meeting, but invariably it is accepted unless specifically presented as a proposal or question to be resolved.
So one must assume this IS "The Plan"!
In that case all my tentative questioning and suggestions must be seen as criticisms. I think it is a dreadful "Plan".
If nothing else, it simply is not a plan. At best it can be seen as a search for a set of Aims that might form the basis of a plan. If one were to read it then be asked to choose a title one might call it "Some thoughts on our Aims". It is a denial to our testimony to truth to call it a plan.
The following is the essay I wrote when I still thought it was a draft proposal.
Comments on the Document "Long Term Plan 2003 - 2007"
MEETING FOR SUFFERINGS LONG TERM PLAN FOR THE CORPORATE WORK
We are not told the purpose of the document but I assume it is to be submitted to YM for acceptance.
I hope it is not accepted in its present form for several reasons. One is that I find it unclear as to what the plan actually is, or the priorities, or even its scope, i.e. what is meant by "the corporate work". I am disturbed by one of the five aims which seem to be presented here as the conclusion.
The document seems unclear to me as to its scope. It is by Meeting for Sufferings (MfS) so my initial understanding was that it was their plan for their work. Almost all central work is their responsibility. However in places it seems the plan is supposed to include all central work, and in others that it covers all corporate work, a term which is not defined but which at two places in the document seems to include all Quaker activities in Britain including those of local meetings and interest groups and other organisations which are formally separate from BYM.
There is no point in including in a corporate plan parts of the Quaker movement in Britain over which YM (and certainly MfS) has no real control nor responsibility; organisations such as Quaker Homeless Action, Quaker Historical Society, or Warwickshire Monthly Meeting.
The current pressure for long term planning arises out of concern about the somewhat chaotic financial performance in the past decade in the central work (which I define as that for which MfS is responsible - the central committees and central staff) and the disruption caused by continual reorganisations of the central committee structures and the organisation and control of our central staff. At quite a different level there is a concern for Quaker Renewal, a call for more religious, spiritual and reformist commitment and more unity in our vision of our religious identity and mission.
It could well be that administrative planning is made more difficult in the absence of conclusions about the progress of Quaker renewal. But to my mind those responsible for running the organisation (which includes planning) must accept the burden of indecision as to our religious aspirations. It is not for them to lead us to religious and spiritual conclusions. My view (and, as I understand it, that of "Faith and Practice") is that MfS takes its lead (its strategy, its policy, its "Aims") from Yearly Meeting, not vice versa.
This particularly worries me because (as I have said elsewhere) I believe that MfS is itself too ready to accept the leadership of those whom it should lead.
Meeting for Sufferings
I suspect that the writers have made difficulties for themselves by avoiding references to MfS on the grounds that MfS might be laid down, or have its role radically changed. Surely they should assume the structure currently defined in "Faith and Practice" - any later reorganisation will have impact on many other facets of our organisation and procedures besides the LTP. Is not it a principle of accounting that one assumes the current organisation is to continue. Should not the same apply to planning (except of course when the plans are about reorganisation)?
(I am disturbed by the practice in our planning documents of making assumptions that proposed reorganisations will take place long before the decision has been made, or even discussed. The effect is to pre-empt the proposal and make it more difficult to reject. For instance long before it was agreed to lay down QSR&E the budget showed the staff salary savings.)
A document such as this demonstrates once again the confusion caused by our use of the term 'Yearly Meeting' to refer to two quite different entities, on the one hand an annual meeting and on the other an organisation. Frequently the reader is unsure which is meant., for instance in item 1.a. on page 2. Usually the context clarifies, but here the preceding phrase and the first few words of item b. give conflicting clues.
Surely our testaments to truth and simplicity should lead us to use simple, clearly defined terms, and to do so consistently?
The Document, section by section
Regarding section 2.1. … a summary of values adopted by MfS. These all seem admirable though the first two words of the first item seem superfluous to me. What seems to me to be missing is any recognition of the role, the authority and the responsibilities, of MfS.
Regarding 2.2, again this seems fine so far as it goes. but while acknowledging that "Our vision originates with our Members…" (i.e.. members of MfS) should there not also be an acknowledgement of the crucial importance of "Faith and Practice" in defining their vision? I would have preferred to see "Our vision originates in our terms of reference as prescribed in F & P, tempered by that of our members in their grass roots meetings".
My main concern is with section 3.3. "Priorities". My criticism is twofold. First, as to its amazing obscurity. The authors actually say very little since the section consists almost entirely of quotations. And second, its effect as far as one can detect, of dismissing prioritisation.
I have found it necessary to read and re read this section taking note of the punctuation and the annotations such as figures representing references, and I am still unsure whether I have fully understood it. I must assume that my confusion is not due to editing errors.
The third paragraph of section 3.3 down to the bottom of the page is crucial, and in my opinion admirable in its precision and clarity. It is the 1998 statement of priorities which emphasises "sustaining our meetings". It also happens that I entirely agree with its content.
However the next paragraph - which could well be read as a continuation of the previous (especially in view of the second, one-sentence paragraph) seems to me to thoroughly confuse the issue. Checking the references shows it to have been written later and by a quite different, subordinate committee. It seeks to redefine the term "Yearly Meeting as a Church". It presents what seems to me to be the false premise that this term implies organisational rigidity, and goes on to say they prefer to read the term as including a much broader scope, including "all the listed groups". It seems to me that, first, this vague, broad redefinition does not refute their premise, and secondly defines organisational elements over which the plan can have no control. If this preference for a redefinition were to be accepted the clear statement of priorities would be made so vague as to be quite unhelpful.
However the writers of the plan do not say that this second paragraph is part of The Plan, so one continues to read to see if the 1998 statement of priorities is being altered.
We then have another paragraph (the second on page 4 - one asks why the paragraphs were not numbered) which seems to me to further obscure the issue since it simply describes a series of questions, with no conclusions.
We then get four short paragraphs on page 4 which "add some new emphases" and identify some constraints.
Then in bold type, apparently written by the plan writers (all the foregoing having been selected quotations), we have two assertions which summarise some but certainly not all the foregoing. This ends the section on priorities.
My concern is that the original, clear statement of priorities has now been thoroughly confused - unfocussed, made so woolly as to be almost useless. Anyone trying to argue a case, perhaps for resource allocation, on the basis of the original statement might have some of the following verbiage used to counter their case.
Section 5 is entitled "Our Aims: what we hope to achieve in the next five years"
Maybe the writers see this as the resolution of all that I have described in section 4. If so, the shift of terminology is confusing, sliding as it has from 'planning' to 'prioritisation', to 'emphases' and now to 'aims' (and with 'values' and 'vision' added for good measure).
However, the text is indeed a set of aims and not a set of priorities, (and certainly not a plan) so we must assume the discussion on priorities has been left in its muddled state. This has to be a very serious condemnation of the document.
Section 5 starts with the statement "We need to work together towards a release of spiritual energy." Though admirable, indeed inspiring, this assertion does not come out of any of the previous consideration of priorities, aims and emphases.
It then lists five aims "as steps towards this", as if to assume that all the foregoing has been replaced by the inspirational statement
I find I agree wholeheartedly with the first three aims. (One: support the witness and learning of members … and conditions of their local meetings; Two: respond to new leadings in … radical ways; Three: be clear, confident and articulate about our faith…)
As for the fifth aim, I am not sure what is meant by 'mutual accountability'. I believe that our central organisation should be more accountable to MfS and to our local meetings. But I am not sure what 'mutual' implies. I do not wish to see local meetings more accountable to the centre.
My main worry is with the fourth aim: "develop a more solid base of resources and forward planning". I see this as a possible justification for more control and less flexibility by the central organisation. My experience has been that this sort of statement, if approved by YM, might be used to justify the stifling of almost any new proposal that emerges other than through the central organisation. As such it might be acceptable as an "aim" of that central organisation, but not by its superior, YM.
One could not say one wished to see 'an inferior base of resources', etc. But surely this is an internal, an administrative aim, a means to an end, and does not deserve to rank alongside the first three of these five aims. It is something that might well be decided by MfS for its own guidance.
Are these five aims intended to replace the 1998 statement of priorities and also the oft repeated statement of the purpose of central work (first sentence in section 1)? I hope not! I fully support both these and would very much regret their abandonment.
Item 5 of the plan is the financial strategy. I have not examined this but would hope it is entirely compatible and indeed subservient to the forgoing
The document concludes with an appendix the purpose of which is not explained. It seems to me to be out of place. It refers specifically to 'central' not 'corporate' work. It seems to be a mission statement for the staff and members of the central committees about their own modus operandi. Its admirable first sentence or preamble deserves to be in the introduction of this document, as a guide to all that would follow, but its four detailed sub sections seem to be more in the nature of an internal document, not part of the Plan. If this is the case they do not need to be in this document, but if they are to be regarded as part of the plan then some explanation is needed.
In conclusion I feel that one effect of the document is to replace the carefully thought out statement of purpose of central work (that it is to "Uphold and serve Friends in their worshipping groups") which has been central to our policy since (I believe) the early 1990s. This statement came out of an extensive and high powered consultation. It has been quite unpopular with some influential sections of Friends House since it implies they should respond to current members' concerns rather than to their own perceptions of where their efforts should be directed.
Another effect seems to be to muddy and finally replace the clear and unambiguous 1998 statement of priorities. I feel they did and should continue to apply to those areas over which YM has delegated responsibility to MfS.
These are replaced by a set of five high minded aims one of which could be interpreted as handing a much greater degree of control of resources to the central organisation.
I note that nowhere in the Plan is there acknowledgement of the authority of YM or of Faith and Practice, and that MfS has been cut out of the picture.
Therefore I see this long term plan as a radical move to transfer control away from MfS as representative of our YM (and effectively of our Monthly Meetings). If indeed this is what is planned then its nature should be made clear to all members. I fear that it is being deliberately obscured.
1. Withdraw the "Plan" since it is not in fact a plan (Or change its title.)
2. If accepted, at least delete section 4(d) as this document is not an appropriate place for it.
3. Do not abandon the statement of the purpose of central work.
4. Do not abandon the 1998 statement of priorities.
1. We all acknowledge the value of planning but the overriding consideration must be the ability of Yearly Meeting to decide on policy even if it flies in the teeth of long term plans. (One remembers YM's insistence that the then QPS respond to the Kosovo crisis, despite the latter's reluctance on the grounds such work had not been budgeted.) The central committees and staff must be willing to respond to whatever the YM lays upon them, within reason.
2. But the central organisation also has a duty to inform YM (and similarly, MfS) of any doubts it has about proposed action. In MfS meetings staff present often do not contribute to the discussion. Some Friends say that the Finance people should have brought to the attention of YM and MfS the serious effects of YM's decision to reduce our reserves. Similarly they should point out the effects on their plans of other proposals.