Letter outlines 3 points of unity
The document, sent out by Marie Cammack, describes the reorganization of Northwest Yearly Meeting into two organizations: “Churches and individuals of NWYM who believe actively practicing LGBTQ persons should be introduced into full church membership, including potential leadership roles, are being invited to form a sister yearly meeting that better reflects their theological position. In this re-organization, NWYM churches and individuals will remain faithful to orthodox Christian theology on this issue as our present Faith and Practice outlines.”
Leaders at Rosedale outlined three points around which the Salem Area congregation has reached unity:
- We at RFC will continue to accept, welcome and encourage people from all walks of life, regardless of their status, gender, ethnicity or the sin issues they personally struggle with.
- We believe we all are equal as sinners in the sight of our righteous God, and none of us are called to stand in judgment over one another.
- We also realize that to identify any of our present spiritual struggles need not be judgmental, and none of us will ever be encouraged toward righteousness if our sins are not first recognized as being the spiritual death they are.
“We will continue to believe it is inappropriate to elevate people into leadership while they are personally embracing life altering sins.” The letter includes an illustrative list of sins that would potentially prohibit an attender from service and that also might require a person “be discipled before being considered for membership.”
AC decision intended ‘to lessen the tension’
In a letter sent to pastors today, yearly meeting presiding clerk Brad Holton issued four clarifications “regarding NWYM churches and the current restructure.”
1. “It was not the intention of the AC [Administrative Council] to force churches to discuss this division.”
This clarification may be in response to churches such as Newberg Friends, which announced on March 3, that “because of the yearly meeting decision to restructure, all churches have decisions to make” or North Valley, which announced on March 21, that “because of the yearly meeting decision to ‘restructure,’ all churches in NWYM have decisions to make.” The transition team also clarified on March 22 that “churches are not under a deadline to make decisions.”
2. “NWYM would be composed of meetings who align with current Northwest Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice. It also may include churches who have internal disagreement but have agreed to align their practices with current NWYM Faith and Practice.”
This clarification repeats information from the March 22 transition team report: “It was the intent of the AC decision, as revised at the Mid-Year Representatives meeting, that churches that have not made a statement regarding human sexuality are welcome in either yearly meeting. NWYM will require support of the current Faith & Practice. The new group envisions including those affirming churches as well as those who agree to disagree.”
3. “The AC made the decision to restructure in order to lessen the tension within NWYM and to open a path where everyone could move forward in their respective ministry.”
This clarification adds background insight for the June 3 transition team report that it is “the spirit and intent of the AC to be respectful, fair and impartial” to all churches.
4. “Under the AC decision, churches who are diverse and choose to value their shared community and not divide over this issue would be able to stay in NWYM. Or they may discern to go independent or join another yearly meeting.”
This clarification repeats information from the January 28 AC announcement: “This may include churches who have internal disagreement but have agreed to align their practices with current NWYM Faith and Practice.”
Group would assist in ‘process of prayerful rebuilding’
Scotts Mills proposed establishing a special task force in an email to Northwest Yearly Meeting pastors, elders, clerks and representatives Wednesday.
“We are eager to get on with what God has called NWYM to do since 1893 and do not want to wait until 2018 to begin the process of rebuilding our structure and unifying our vision,” Pastor Wanda Jenkins wrote. “We believe that across NWYM are many Friends committed to Christ and NWYM Faith and Practice who have ideas and skills that would be helpful to the process of prayerful rebuilding, and who are excited about moving forward.”
In the email, Jenkins identifies the reality that the ongoing NWYM restructure requires significant resources: “By appearances, all the present administrative forces are by necessity focused on the legal and financial tasks of separation, not on the future of NWYM. It is our observation that many holes will be left in NWYM which need to be addressed, including, but not limited to: Administrative staff including a new superintendent, committee structure and membership, finances, vision and plans for a future.”
Establishing a task force would facilitate inter-church communication and collaboration, according to Jenkins: “This group would be charged with communicating between the churches gathering, collating, and reporting ideas, visions, concerns, resources, and needs (structural and spiritual) from churches around NWYM through all possible means (face-to-face gatherings, video conferences, etc.) and reporting recommendations to the AC, Elders, and entire NWYM as appropriate. This special task force would make public recommendations for future progress with NWYM.”
Church expresses hope for renewal, growth
Scotts Mills Friends Church announced its commitment to stay a part of Northwest Yearly Meeting in a letter shared with pastors, elders, clerks and reps. The email that included the letter as an attachment was signed by Pastor Wanda Jenkins and sent on Saturday, June 2.
The letter offers hope for the future – “We recognize the Lord God leading us to new and renewed faithfulness of life through the Holy Spirit, and look forward to a new life that will be given by the Lord Jesus”
Hope for a new start – “as renewal was given to our forebears. Much as they left old practice to follow the Lord’s leading, we expect this new life to look different from what has gone before.”
Hope for growth – “We rejoice that it will be an exciting new growth of God’s Kingdom as we turn from our failings to the glory of God, recognize the high priority of our identity as Jesus’ family, grow in the Spirit, and love our neighbors. May Jesus Christ be lifted up!”
The letter briefly explains the community’s decision in response to the yearly meeting restructure: “As a committed part of NWYM, Scotts Mills Friends Church witnesses to the unfailing truth of the Bible, given by the Holy Spirit through centuries. The Faith and Practice document of NWYM, crafted by earlier Friends, summarizes doctrines we still believe.”
The letter also offers historical context for the decision. Click here to read the entire letter.
Group prioritizes autonomy in split from yearly meeting
The North Carolina Fellowship of Friends is one of two new associations emerging from the split in North Carolina Yearly Meeting. The clerk of Vision Committee, Sara Beth Terrell, said that the speed of the restructure had forced “some hurried organizing” that has made it difficult for the group to determine its purpose.
Many “would be happy with a new Faith and Practice, for example,” Terrell wrote in an email, but “we have been told that for legal reasons we need to claim the old one as bylaws.”
The fellowship also determined at a meeting in April that it will focus on common ministries rather than theological nuances.
“We aren’t going to focus on what divides us but on what we can come together around,” Terrell wrote. “And one reason to state that up front is to make space for meetings that may not be theologically on the same page, but also don’t want other meetings to have the right to interfere in their life as a meeting.”
“Getting through the divorce as well as possible,” is what Terrell identified as the group’s primary concern. The pressure to act and act quickly is partly financial: “The division of trust funds and assuring that Quaker Lake Camp will survive are key motivators for many.”
Terrell said that the Vision Committee she clerks “is starting from a different place. We agreed that the starting place is that there is one Christ Jesus who can speak to our condition, and he has come to teach his people himself. This is the basic organizing principle for Quaker faith and practice over the years as well as our congregation-based polity.”
Terrell suggested some questions or queries for all Friends everywhere who are concerned with the future health of our movement:
- Do we have the right to call ourselves Friends?
- Can we use this seeming tragedy to call us back to the essentials?
- Will we allow the Spirit to re-shape this Body of Christ?
Terrell also offered her “blessings on your journey as a body of faith!”
The next NCFF meeting is scheduled for May 20.
Survey report second of five discernment meetings
Newberg Friends released survey results this last week as part of its ongoing discernment about whether to stay a part of Northwest Yearly Meeting. Nearly 400 survey responses are included in the data, available online, and the meeting Sunday was the second of five scheduled by pastors, elders and clerks.
Of the two survey items given the most time in Senior Pastor Gregg Koskela’s review of the data – “I want NFC to remain in Northwest Yearly Meeting” – had 356 responses in which 51.4 percent of respondents disagreed and an additional 6.7 percent were unsure. The other item – “I agree with and support the current NWYM Faith and Practice statement on human sexuality” – had 353 responses in which 50 percent of respondents disagreed and an additional 8 percent were unsure.
Tim Goodfellow, an elder, reminded the more than 200 people in attendance that the survey “has limits. There are people who didn’t take the survey. There are people who didn’t answer every question. In each one of those columns, there are people, people we care deeply about…. How we move forward is not determined solely by the pastors, the elders and the clerks. Each of us plays a role and has responsibility in how we move forward in this process.”
At the next two meetings – listening forums scheduled for the afternoon and evening of April 23 – people will have an opportunity to share their reasons for staying in the yearly meeting or for leaving. Then on May 7, the NFC leadership team plans to bring a recommendation to the business meeting.
At an informational gathering on March 5, monthly meeting clerk Howard Macy said the 2-month discernment process is intended to “help us seek God’s guidance about our life together. We want to find a path forward, what we need to do to maintain our vitality.”
In that same meeting, Administrative Pastor Elizabeth Sherwood clarified that the survey was not designed to be “a voting process. It’s a way for you to share your heart.”
A similar survey for members of North Valley Friends closed on April 9. Results of that survey have not yet been made available.
Restructure may extend past June 2018 deadline
[This article was updated on March 26 with additional comments from Superintendent Retha McCutchen]
The yearly meeting transition team met in closed session on Saturday, March 18. The team produced no minutes but did approve a report that was released the following Wednesday. That report counters one point from an earlier published Administrative Council decision, clarifies others, and prompts some new questions.
In a follow-up email, Superintendent Retha McCutchen said that she was named “the spokesperson for all communication from the group and its work.” She said that several of the questions raised “have not been answered yet.” She promised to provide more information as it becomes available.
After a list of those present at the meeting, the report says that “no decisions were made. The team familiarized themselves with assets of NWYM and its related organizations and decided what research needs to be done to have the documentation necessary to make informed decisions.”
The report identifies four points of information:
Transition date flexible, all churches may choose to join new yearly meeting
In the decision announced by the Administrative Council in January, affirming churches will be set aside as independent churches or “may be a part of the newly formed yearly meeting.” This transition process was to be completed “on or before June 30, 2018.”
But the report released Wednesday walked back that language from the Administrative Council, calling June 30, 2018, a “soft date. Churches are not under a deadline to make decisions regarding their status within this time period. The transition team will offer a time frame after June 2018 where churches might still leave NWYM with their property.”
McCutchen clarified that “this is not a hard and fast deadline that a church meets or else. Churches might make a decision in the next six months or they may not reach consensus within their meeting until after June 30, 2018.”
The report also clarifies that churches not currently holding an affirming stance on human sexuality “are welcome in either yearly meeting.”
“The reorganization as presented by AC and amended during the January Reps meeting is intended to invite those churches who are diverse, and who have decided to keep their community together and live within that diversity, to be a part of either yearly meeting,” McCutchen said.
According to the published Administrative Council decision, a new yearly meeting “may include churches who have internal disagreement but have agreed to align their practices with the newly formed yearly meeting Faith and Practice.” Northwest Yearly Meeting “may include churches who have internal disagreement but have agreed to align their practices with current NWYM Faith and Practice.”
Nobody loses nonprofit status
“All churches currently members of NWYM will remain under NWYM’s 501(c)(3) until a new yearly meeting is formed and [has] obtained a 501(c)(3) for member churches.”
The exception to this coverage is that any “local church [that] has secured its own designation” will at that point, presumably, cease to be covered by the yearly meeting’s nonprofit status.
What about independent churches?
The transition team considered the reality that some churches may choose to be independent rather than stay with Northwest Yearly Meeting or join a new yearly meeting. The transition team has not determined what share those churches might have in yearly meeting assets.
Retirement accounts may remain where they are
Anyone who has invested in a 401k(k) tax-qualified, defined-contribution pension account, will be allowed to keep their individual contributions where they are, or withdraw their account, “regardless of the yearly meeting choice.”
“This statement is only intended to reassure people nothing is changing with their pension terms and conditions,” McCutchen said.
The transition team meets again on Saturday, April 15. Click here for the full report from Saturday’s meeting.
‘New, Christ-centered, affirming Quaker yearly meeting’
Friends in Eugene created a bulletin board in January for anyone interested in joining a “new, Christ-centered, affirming Quaker yearly meeting in the Pacific Northwest.” Nearly 30 people have signed up so far.
“The NWYM Administrative [Council] reached a decision that a new yearly meeting would be created, and that the four churches with published LGBTQ+ affirming statements would be spun off into that new yearly meeting,” administrator John Price wrote in a post explaining the purpose of the site. “This is where we find ourselves today, and it is the reason this bulletin board exists… to provide a place where people from these four NWYM churches, and anyone else interested in joining the new yearly meeting can communicate with each other in a moderated, safe environment.”
The board, hosted by John and Elizabeth Price, features threads for people to process grief, share inspirational thoughts, and discuss Faith and Practice language on human sexuality. It also includes a proposal for a new quarterly meeting, and several collections of documents and notices.
Although the site-hosted discussions are slowly developing, some contributions have already suggested possible ways forward:
Lynsley Rollins suggested simplifying Faith and Practice “to see only one behavioral requirement written into a practice document: a statement that the new YM followed Quaker process, and that if at any time some of its members felt unable to await a uniform leading, and a schism threatened, then those who were unwilling to wait would be the ones to leave.”
Peggy Senger Morrison suggested a revision of Freedom Friends statement on human sexuality: “We hold dear the gift of our sexuality, which is given to all persons regardless of gender identity, orientation, or marital status. Because sexuality and spirituality are closely related, all believers are called to be thoughtful stewards of their sexuality. Sexuality that is de-humanizing, promiscuous, violent, non-consensual, manipulative, or predatory in nature is always harmful.”
The forum is public and read-only for anyone without a login. Click here to visit the site.