Congregations disagree on split of NFC assets
Newberg Friends Church began the process of splitting into two congregations in May, and at a business meeting in June, clerks “recommended a formal process for separating into two congregations.” Representatives from both groups would meet “to develop a Covenant of Separation to be effective on or before September 30, 2017, which focuses on our relationships, finances and other matters.”
But at a business meeting Sunday, July 16, the group leaving Northwest Yearly Meeting (NEFC) approved formal withdrawal from the negotiation process: “We leave the choice of what to share in the hands of NWYM-NFC [the congregation that will stay with the yearly meeting], releasing all expectations.”
On a series of projected slides, leaders of the emerging congregation claimed they had received a “best and final offer” worth between $250,000 and $375,000. They estimated that the church’s net assets have a value in the range of $3.5 to 5.5 million.
“The process was not a good faith negotiation,” was listed as a point on a slide titled “Why it is Unjust.”
Leaders presented a minute for approval, and although the spirit of that prepared statement was approved, Brandon Buerkle shared in an email that several people in the meeting recommended the minute be revised “to take out language that could be perceived as antagonistic. They wanted to soften it to make sure that the minute spoke out of a desire to love while also speaking truthfully.”
“Some of those who spoke in the meeting about these kinds of revisions were tagged by the clerks to revise the minute alongside the CoS team this last week,” Buerkle wrote. “After a number of revisions over email, the revised minute was brought before the NEFC elders, who made a few more tweaks before approving it.”
The revised minute was shared with clerks and members of the Covenant of Separation talks in an evening meeting on Saturday, July 22, and is excerpted below:
“An offer of 50 percent of the sale price of Friends Center, some restricted and designated funds, and some material assets (e.g. two vans) was offered to NEFC from NWYM-NFC. These represent an estimated 5 to 10 percent of current NFC assets net of liabilities. Subsequent attempts to negotiate have not yielded a change in this offer.
“As members of NFC, we do not affirm an assumption that ascribes ownership and the right to distribute NFC resources to only one of the two NFC communities. Given our assumption that we should be equal partners at the table, we find the situation to be unjust and the offer to be inequitable. We find ourselves at an impasse, with no peaceful path forward.
“As a body, we discerned the call to love one another outweighs the inclination to fight. Above all else, in fidelity to our shared faith, we desire that love mark the conclusion of this difficult process. Knowing both communities have felt the hand of God leading us forward in unexpected ways, we leave the choice of what to share in the hands of NWYM-NFC, releasing all expectations.
“We recognize deep wounds in everyone involved. We pray for the grace to forgive, and for healing for all.”
Representative group to form Covenant of Separation
Clerks at Newberg Friends recommended a formal process for separating into two congregations in a letter emailed to the church info list on June 8. The message, signed by Mark Ankeny, Phil Smith and Ron Mock introduced an interim budget and a plan for forming a representative group that would “draft a Covenant of Separation to be effective on or before September 30.”
The purpose for the process is “our abiding concern that the coming transition be done well, to preserve relationships and allow both congregations to be thriving bodies of believers following the leadings of Jesus,” according to the letter.
The proposed minute acknowledged that the group is already in the process of dividing, that “none of us wish to leave Newberg Friends Church,” and that “each group includes people who have been members of Newberg Friends Church for all or most of their lives.” The minute also lays out parts of the Northwest Yearly Meeting restructuring process, especially those points that apply to the split at NFC.
The over 150 people present for the business meeting Sunday approved a second check signer and an interim budget of $101,100 – continued employment of one pastor, support staff, utilities, maintenance, program expenses, and yearly meeting local church support – for the period beginning July 1, and ending September 30, 2017. The meeting also approved the following minute:
We direct that a representative group be convened by our clerks to develop a Covenant of Separation to be effective on or before September 30, 2017, which focuses on our relationships, finances and other matters.
Each group names reps to Saturday meeting
Newberg Friends Church didn’t split on Sunday night. The roughly 250 people who attended the business meeting were unable to reach unity to approve the recommendation from the leadership team that members “discern whether we are being called to form two congregations,” so presiding clerk Mark Ankeny asked people to keep doing the work of talking to “folks we disagree with.”
He said elders and clerks would meet the following night and schedule a follow-up meeting: “We’re not going to wait weeks before we meet again. It could be as early as two weeks [from now].”
But on Tuesday, a letter was sent to “each of the emerging congregations,” encouraging them in their meetings “Wednesday or Thursday evening” to choose “thoughtful people representative of the diversity of opinion and experience in your group” for a Saturday morning meeting. This afternoon, an email was sent to the larger congregation, announcing the Saturday meeting as well as the five named representatives with an “affinity for staying in NWYM” and the five named representatives with an “affinity for leaving NWYM.”
“Since our Sunday night congregational business meeting the clerks have heard from people who expressed great concern about having another meeting in two or three weeks as announced at the end of our meeting. We have decided to honor those concerns and have invited leaders from each of the emerging congregations to send five people to meet this Saturday at 10 a.m. to discuss possible ways forward.”
Julie Anderson, Hank Helsabeck, Dick Sartwell, Ron Stansell, and Dave Woolsey will represent the first group. Davida Brown, Aaron Dunlop, Gary Fawver, Lisby Curtis Gemeroy, and Lisa McMinn will represent the second group.
Spring play includes critique of restructure discussion
The spring play at George Fox University explored the tension related to the restructure of Northwest Yearly Meeting. Deus Ex Millennia “centers on the stories of seven students who find themselves hiding in a closet during an active shooter event.” At least one of the students is gay.
In a university press release, Director Rhett Luedtke said, “Each character faces a specific hardship that millennials, and others, encounter on a daily basis…. How do our students navigate a divisive and divided culture?”
Specific hardships include aspects of poverty, sexual assault, immigration, loss, identity and equality.
Near the end of the performance, a modified pdf of Newberg Friends Church Discernment Process Information document is displayed on screens above the audience while two characters – both college students – discuss the announcement of “a split.”
PHILIP: What are we supposed to do with this? This is ridiculous.
QUINN: I don’t know, Philip. I really don’t know. I thought it wasn’t that bad, you know? Like what’s so terrible about a split? Maybe we could actually be in a denomination that cares.
PHILIP: Quinn, what if the church doesn’t decide to go that direction? What if we decide it’s not important? How many terrible meetings will we have to sit through? I can’t do this anymore. I can’t sit here and pretend like LGBT people don’t want to kill themselves while we take all of this time to argue…. I can’t do it. Do you hear me? This isn’t loving! This isn’t how families treat one another! Like their belonging is up for debate?
(Church member approaches their table and asks the two if they’ve heard about the split.)
CHURCH MEMBER: Maybe we don’t have to choose. This is bigger than human sexuality. It’s not worth dividing over.
PHILIP: I don’t know if you mean what you’re saying. Maybe it is worth dividing over.
CHURCH MEMBER: I get it, really. Like this is important. But we can’t just give up over an issue. I’m willing to live in the tension. We all have to listen to each other, you know? We have to love people where they are at and that includes the people with a traditional view on human sexuality. That’s what it means to be a church. A family. It’s not like it’s a life or death issue.
QUINN: Are you serious? It is! It is a life or death issue. People are literally dying because of this. They’ve done studies – you know that right? Conclusive studies that show LGBT people are bullied more, have more thoughts of self-harm and suicide than other populations. And it’s worse if you’re in a church where people talk about you all the time as if you don’t matter – as if you’re up for debate! Do we really need to listen to people who think others shouldn’t exist or have love? Maybe those people should shut up! I’m so tired. I’m just so tired.
CHURCH MEMBER: What did I say?
PHILIP: Some people are living in the tension, others are dying in it.
At the scene’s close, Philip comes out to Quinn as gay. She hugs him and tells him she loves him. Then, in the following interlude, Quinn crouches inside a closet while members of the ensemble yell at her:
“Why aren’t you willing to live in the tension? I don’t like her voice – it’s annoying. I love you anyway. You’re too aggressive, consider where the others are coming from. I mean it’s fine but just keep your sexuality to yourself. Care less. You’re making yourself sick. Just work harder. It’s not impossible. Wow, you’re not a scary feminist after all. I don’t support that lifestyle. I just feel more comfortable learning from a male pastor. You’re the problem. This is just the way things are.”
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.