QVS Executive Director Hilary Burgin shares with us about being invited to present Walton Lecture at South Eastern Yearly Meeting.

A year ago, in the summer of 2023, Friends from Southeastern Yearly Meeting (SEYM, which includes Florida, coastal Georgia and South Carolina, Managua, Nicaragua and Havana, Cuba) invited me to present the Walton Lecture for their annual sessions, scheduled for March 27-March 31, 2024. 

When I considered whether to say yes, my Support Committee* asked if it would feel like a chore. In discerning whether I would accept the invitation, I realized preparing something for SEYM would be an opportunity for me to bring together and look creatively at the work I do in the Quaker ecosystem. What are learnings from my time with Quaker Voluntary Service and how do those learnings speak to and inform the way I have co-facilitated Nurturing Faithfulness?** How have my multigenerational spiritual friendships contributed to my learning and growth? How can I share learnings with others?

In preparing for the Walton Lecture and the associated “retreats” (two 1½ hr workshops during Sessions), I brought together a committee of Friends to make a “Walton Lecture Prep Committee,” in addition to my regular Support Committee. These Friends and mentors offered a grounding process for my planning. I started a journal to write and pray in just for this piece of ministry; I prayed on the question of “What do SEYM Friends need right now?”; I looked through every workshop and weekend retreat I’ve led, particularly the Nurturing Faithfulness programming.

I see fractals in our spiritual lives when our internal and external beliefs and behaviors are aligned; when our internal and external patterns are the same, regardless of the scale of the situation. I need to be, on my smallest level, what I want to see in the world on the biggest scale.

I felt led to offer spiritual deepening exercises during the Thursday and Friday morning retreats, borrowing from my work with Marcelle Martin and colleagues at Quaker Voluntary Service. The workshops – “Truth and Telling Our Stories” and “Living Loudly” – made time for pair and small-group exercises designed to help draw out a new Truth from the speaker. One pair-share offered individuals time to speak about an experience they had during which they lived out (or “testified”) to their faith. The deep listening and deep sharing was palpable. 

An enduring theme of my offering was the concept of living our life in a fractal manner. Fractals are patterns that appear the same regardless of scale. The way water droplets feed into a rivulet is similar to how that rivulet feeds into a stream, which feeds into a bigger stream, and then into a tributary, and so on – watersheds appear like fractals. I see fractals in our spiritual lives when our internal and external beliefs and behaviors are aligned; when our internal and external patterns are the same, regardless of the scale of the situation. I need to be, on my smallest level, what I want to see in the world on the biggest scale. I want peace and justice and connection out in the world between communities and nations. I need to also, then, create peace and justice and connection in my relationships with family and friends. I need to commit to working through conflict with loved ones if there’s any hope for our communities to work through conflict on an international scale.

The other main theme for our retreats and lecture was that of faithfulness – which is, as I see it, doing the next thing next. Faithfulness is a process and a practice rather than an outcome. This is hard for me! I love having goals to move towards. When I’m planning a workshop or a retreat I want to start at the end, using backwards planning, and ask “What do I hope these participants leave with? What do I hope we accomplish?” Being faithful, though it can include some of this backward planning technique, is about a moment to moment presence and listening to Spirit. It is rare and wonderful and important to see Friends be faithful even when we don’t know what the end result will be. 

I had an amazing time with Friends in SEYM, and I feel honored to have been offered the opportunity to coalesce some of my work and spiritual life for this opportunity. 

Thank you!

*I’ve recently learned that the use of Support Committees or Care & Accountability Committees isn’t as wide-spread as I believed! When I first started working for a Quaker organization several Friends considered how to best support me and the emerging ministry / faithfulness / work. When I stepped into the Executive Director role this coalesced into a committee which meets roughly monthly to support me in the work of grounding in Spirit in my professional and spiritual life with Quaker Voluntary Service. 

** Nurturing Faithfulness is a 9-month non-residential Quaker spiritual deepening program which I co-led with Marcelle Martin, Eldering by LVM Shelton, Anne Pomeroy, and Janet Hough, through two iterations. This was a program New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM) and Woolman Hill supported, in addition to several grants from Quaker foundations. 


More about Hilary (she/her)

Hilary (she/her) joined Quaker Voluntary Service in January 2015 as the Boston Coordinator. In that role, she supported three cohorts of Fellows through the QVS program. In November 2018, she stepped into the Executive Director role. Hilary sees QVS as an integral component of the Quaker movement the world needs now.

Connect with [email protected].

What sorts of programming and tools are Fellows offered during their year?

Every other week throughout the nine and a half month fellowship, QVS Fellows attend QVS Days instead of working at their site placements. 

QVS Days offer Fellows a chance to slow down and be in community. For the first part of the year, QVS staff take the lead in planning and facilitating QVS Days. They support Fellows in exploring their individual and communal journeys, as well as discussing work, community living, Quakerism, spiritual practices, and social justice issues. As the year progresses, Fellows take a more active role in planning and facilitating QVS Days.

Over the course of the year, Fellows learn tools like: clerking and Quaker decision-making processes, clearness committees, conflict transformation, signs of defensiveness, and tons more. Additionally, at the start of the year, Fellows attend a week-long orientation with all QVS Fellows from across the country, as well as a mid-year and a closing retreat with their city cohort.

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