Structure in NW contradicts distinctive of equality
Silverton Pastor Bob Henry said in a letter to Quaker News this morning that the unrest in Northwest Yearly Meeting is caused, at least in part, by what he calls “a Pastor/Leader Centricity Complex. This is where pastors, leaders, or groups of like-minded leaders in the yearly meeting have an obsession or excessive fear of ‘losing control’ when their personal beliefs or understandings are threatened (in ways real or imagined) or even questioned by those who believe or think differently.”
Henry said NWYM sees this problem playing out because of “local and yearly meeting leadership with a great deal of power to define who is ‘in or out’ while seemingly neglecting or acknowledging our Quaker distinctive of equality. And I am not just talking about those embracing our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers. I am also talking about fellow pastors, leaders, and entire local meetings who have been subjugated to this type of leadership and taught to draw lines, label, and refuse a variety of people a place at the table.”
And church leaders suffer: “Many of the pastors in our yearly meeting have suffered greatly (and will continue to suffer more than will ever be known) as pastoral care is replaced by rejection, estrangement and a set of hoops to jump through to prove oneself worthy of being called a pastor in the NWYM. Sadly, this often occurs at the hand of fellow pastors and leaders within the yearly meeting. It is already a hard club to break into without people working in opposition to one’s entrance. This is one of the many reasons I ultimately refused to take part in the NWYM Recording Process. I believe as Friends we are to be recognizing the gifting that God has bestowed on women and men alike, and recording what God is showing us.”
In the letter, Henry identifies a list of reasons his family joined Quakers:
- We sought a people who embraced the universal presence of God in all people.
- We sought a people who desired building healthy communities that appreciated one another for the gifting God bestowed on them and their neighbors.
- We sought a people who did not fear the future, emerging wisdom, or people different than themselves.
- We sought a people who understood themselves and their actions in terms of the world’s needs.
- We sought a people who were given permission to explore beyond their horizons with creativity and energy.
- We sought a people who were safe and would help us raise our children to love God and neighbor.
- We sought a people who were committed to the Quaker S.P.I.C.E.S. in daily life.
Henry, who is leaving Silverton to serve at Indianapolis First Friends, offered these words of encouragement: “I pray that the NWYM would take time to embrace potential and possibility while committing to persistent learning and seeking Truth wherever it may be found. Most of all, I pray that each person in the NWYM would take a moment to appreciate those pastors, leaders and their families who have tried hard to listen to God’s leading and remove themselves from the center, without completely losing themselves in the process. They are humble women and men who have heavy hearts for the people of this world and deserve a BIG thanks.”
Clerk sees transition as opportunity for identity work
Bob Henry announced his resignation at Silverton Friends in an email earlier this month. But John Pattison, clerk of the meeting, said the transition (Henry was called to pastor at Indianapolis First Friends) doesn’t “change the work that’s left ahead…. We still have to discern whether to stay in Northwest Yearly Meeting, join the new yearly meeting, or go independent.”
That’s because “the decision about the yearly meeting, as well as what our position will be regarding welcoming LGBTQ people, won’t be coming from the ‘top down,’” Pattison wrote in an email. “We have to do the hard, patient work of seeking God’s direction together.”
Northwest Yearly Meeting is setting off five churches as part of a restructure announced in January. Other monthly meetings may choose to stay in NWYM, join the new association or become independent Friends meetings. Each church has been asked to decide by June 2018.
“I hope Silverton Friends Church uses this time as an opportunity to become crystal clear about who we are, what’s important to us, and what God is calling us to do and be in our particular community,” Pattison wrote. “The concept I’ve used to describe it is one borrowed from psychotherapy: self-differentiation…. A self-differentiated leader is one who is clear about … values and vision, isn’t anxious, is willing to be vulnerable, willing to take risks. I want Silverton Friends to become a self-differentiated church.”
Pattison said that means Silverton won’t rush to hire a new pastor: “Hiring a permanent pastor before we are confident in our identity makes it more likely that we will rely on a new pastor to give us that identity. That’s not fair to the pastor or to us.”
“The church is fortunate to have a group of elders right now who are wise and humble and committed. The next step, as far as the elders and I can tell, is to set aside a few Sundays before Bob leaves, to talk as a whole congregation. Over the last several years, conversation has become a formational practice for our church. Though we’re far from perfect at it, we’ve intentionally trained ourselves how to talk well across our differences. We’re going to lean into that skill. Every few weeks, between now and mid-June, we are replacing the full sermon with focused conversations meant to clarify our identify in Christ, discuss what it means to be a Quaker follower of Jesus in the Silverton area, build closer community, and listen for God’s voice together.”
In his letter to the congregation, Henry brought up these same conversations: “I was proud at the most recent ‘family meeting’ to see people feel safe to share from their hearts on difficult topics – that only comes through strong relational bonds, patient listening, and faithful presence together. I know there are more difficult conversations ahead, but you have proved to be a people who can weather those and find a positive future.”
Pattison said these conversations are especially vital now that the yearly meeting is in transition: “What I’ve been experiencing as clerk since the Northwest Yearly Meeting decided to split – and especially since Bob announced that he is moving to Indianapolis – is new terrain for me. I can barely see the road ahead, and I have no clue how everything will play out. What I’m committed to do is just be faithful to the very next step, as that next step is revealed.”