Monthly meeting has yet to decide whether it will be independent or join SCYMF
In a letter to Northwest Yearly Meeting leadership, Silverton Friends announced its decision to fully welcome gender and sexual minorities who want to be part of the worshiping community. The congregation approved the following minute in a nearly three-hour business meeting on September 24:
We are a community that loves one another, yet even in our love we do not find ourselves in full agreement regarding all matters of human sexuality. Even so, as Silverton Friends walks the path of Jesus together, the LGBTQ+ community will be welcome to fully participate in the life of the Meeting.
Silverton Clerk of Elders John Pattison sent a copy of the letter to the congregation last night, explaining that “this minute puts us outside NWYM Faith and Practice, which means, unfortunately, that we as a church have to make a decision in the coming months about whether or not to join the new yearly meeting or be an independent church.”
A February meeting at North Valley Friends brought together at least 76 people from 14 different churches in Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM) to hear more about what it might mean to start a new yearly meeting. An earlier post reported that 12 churches were represented, but the sign-up sheet – uncovered in efforts to establish the historic documentation for Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends (SCYMF) – includes people from two churches left out of that original report.
Represented churches included
Of those, Rosedale has announced its plan to stay with NWYM. Newberg has split into two congregations – Newberg Friends Church and Newberg Emerging Friends Church – with Newberg Friends Church staying in NWYM while Newberg Emerging Friends Church is leaving. Other churches leaving the yearly meeting include North Seattle and Reedwood. Churches removed from the yearly meeting include Camas, Eugene, Klamath Falls and West Hills.
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.”
Churches leaving YM take step toward incorporation
[This article was updated on April 23, to include the final, approved minute]
Just over 90 people from 17 meetings gathered at Eugene this afternoon to discern next steps for those leaving Northwest Yearly Meeting.
The group approved for a communications team to begin work directly following the meeting. That team is tasked with broad dissemination of information, increased transparency, and an infrastructure that supports multi-directional connections for the continuing work of discernment.
Jan Wood, North Seattle, clerked the meeting. “We need a comprehensive way to do communication,” she said.
“Let what we’re doing become public,” Rachel Swain Kidd, Eugene, encouraged the group. “As long as we’re part of the Northwest Yearly Meeting, what we’re doing should be posted there.”
In addition, each church leaving the yearly meeting – Camas, Eugene, Klamath Falls, North Seattle and West Hills – will name two representatives to serve on an interim committee that could begin meeting as early as May 21. The interim committee will decide the scope of its work and will serve as a place for ideas to be shared, reporting back to the next gathered meeting at annual sessions in July.
John Price, Eugene, pointed out that having an interim committee will give the yearly meeting Transition Team a group that it can begin working with.
Superintendent Retha McCutchen briefly shared that this new association does not require a Faith and Practice in order to operate. “You just need bylaws,” she said.
The importance of having bylaws and of getting incorporated, according to Roger Watson, yearly meeting director of finance and development, is that “it’s going to be a sign to Northwest Yearly Meeting as a whole and to the Administrative Council in particular that we are serious about what we are doing.”
Watson clarified that incorporating will also help the Transition Team: “One of the questions that the Transition Team is dealing with is the question of division of … earnings from some financial assets…. The larger representation we have in this group, the more share you get to have in the earnings of those financial assets.”
The following minute was approved by the group:
We approved the creation of an interim committee for the purpose of proposing a structure for the association of the five churches that must leave Northwest Yearly Meeting by 2018, to be comprised of two members appointed from each of these churches. It will serve as the point group for communication among the Friends coalescing around the formation of the new entity, and for communication with NWYM. The interim committee will decide on the scope and priorities of its work. We will ask the five churches leaving NWYM to name their representatives by May 21, 2017. The work and continued existence of this group will be re-evaluated at a meeting of the departing churches to be held during NWYM’s 2017 annual sessions.
Friends from the following meetings were present:
- Betweeners (worship group in Tualatin)
- Bridge City (North Pacific YM)
- East Hill
- Eugene Friends Church
- Eugene Friends Meeting (North Pacific YM)
- Friends in Common
- Klamath Falls
- North Seattle
- North Valley
- West Hills
The communications team includes Gil George, Rachel Hampton, Connor Magee, Thomas Magee, Eric Muhr, Kjiersten Schmidt and Lorraine Watson.
‘Quakerism should have consequences’
Nearly 100 Friends from 14 monthly meetings found unity Saturday in their commitment “to being a safe place for the LGBTQ+ community.” The Quaker gathering of worship for the conduct of business formally recognized “that it has not always been a safe place in the past.”
The minute – drafted from the floor and approved after nearly 12 minutes of discussion and edits – was a surprise to some. Just over an hour earlier, before taking a break, acting clerk David Peyton reported to the meeting his sense that there was no clarity or unity: “This meeting is saying we’re not ready. We don’t know what we want to build. Maybe we don’t want to build anything.”
But after the break, A.J. Mendoza acknowledged for the first time in the meeting that there were gender and sexual minorities in the room.
“Every LGBTQ person in this room is perfect – is not sinful.” Mendoza countered the notion some had shared that there isn’t yet unity to stay or to leave Northwest Yearly Meeting, pointing to the fact that gender and sexual minorities don’t get that choice. “To hear people talk about not wanting to move to a new home while I’m sleeping in the street is not good medicine…. I’m asking you to adopt the position of somebody who can’t go back. Quakerism should have consequences.”
Elijah Walker reminded the group that the reason for this gathering is that affirming churches “were forced out of a larger body of churches. A handful of communities said they want to be a safe space. We want to hold that leading in mind.”
After several more shared, a woman highlighted the fact that the feeling in the room changed after the break. “I grew up in church, and I’ve never heard someone declare before a body of believers that ‘God loves you’ as an LGBT person.” The woman said she’s 22 years old, and “I pray that no youth has to go 22 years before hearing in front of a body of believers that God loves them.”
Bernie Bosnjak announced during a potluck supper that Hillsboro Friends would be available for another gathering on Saturday, March 18. That weekend had been set aside for a Portland-area gathering. Bosnjak said anyone interested in helping to plan or host the gathering should contact Forrest Cammack, the clerk of that quarterly meeting.
Clyde Parker extended an invitation to a yearly-meeting-organized gathering at Eugene Friends on Saturday, April 22.
Of the four churches being removed from Northwest Yearly Meeting – Camas, Eugene and West Hills all had representatives at the meeting. A representative from Klamath Falls shared via Facebook that she was unable to make the trip up for this gathering. Friends from the following meetings were also present, although many made clear that they were present as interested individuals, not necessarily as representatives of their meetings:
- Bridge City – North Pacific Yearly Meeting
- Freedom – independent, unaffiliated
- North Seattle
- North Valley
- South Salem
David Peyton clerked the meeting, and Krissi Carson served as recording clerk. Elders for the meeting were Bernie Bosnjak, Gil George, Lynn Holt, Jim Miller, Greg Morgan, Catherine Olson and Elijah Walker.
Click here for minutes from the meeting.
All monthly meetings remain full members for now
Members of 12 Friends churches gathered at North Valley last week to discuss starting a new yearly meeting. But nobody’s out yet.
“All churches will remain full members of Northwest Yearly Meeting,” according to the minutes from Saturday, “until the transfer takes place on or before June 2018.”
Local churches with representation at Saturday’s meeting included the following:
- Klamath Falls
- North Seattle
- North Valley
- Second Street
- West Hills
A transition team tasked with making decisions about yearly meeting assets has its first meeting scheduled for March 18. The next yearly-meeting-organized gathering for those interested in forming a new yearly meeting will be held at Eugene Friends Church on Saturday, April 22.
Questions for the transition team can be directed to NWYM Superintendent Retha McCutchen by email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here for the complete minutes