Opportunity to ‘remember our story, say our goodbyes’
The clerk of the Yearly Meeting worship planning team sent out a letter today addressing questions about plans for annual sessions. Because of a restructure announced in January, the gathering at George Fox University later this month will be the last such session. The NWYM restructure is set to go into effect in June 2018.
Lynn Clouser Holt wrote that “many may be weary and disillusioned and wonder the reason for gathering together for worship…. We must be committed to reflecting and holding Christ’s Light for each other as we close our last NWYM together to establish a good and strong foundation as we all move ahead.”
Although six congregations have announced their intent to leave NWYM and three have publicly declared they will stay, the reality, according to Holt, is that all “have been shaped by our NWYM relationships – past and present, and by years of participating in worship and service together. I invite you to attend each service and hope you will encourage others to come and worship together as well.”
Each evening service has been planned as “a safe and spacious place to encounter Christ, and the themes of the evenings are similar invitations one would find in a memorial service,” Holt wrote. “There will not be a main speaker but … each service will include silence and opportunity for private personal response if one feels led. A small team will be providing the music. Sitting in worship together – regardless of what label we wear or whether we stay or go – invites us to trust God with one another and exposes us to currents of grace which thankfully are not limited by human division.”
Holt included the theme for this year’s worship gatherings: “When Grace happens, we relinquish [and/or] remember our story and say our goodbyes.”
The worship planning team includes Holt, Retha McCutchen, Nate Macy, Rob Willoughby and Martha Wood.
Congregational meeting scheduled for sharing, listening
In an email last week the North Valley transition task force and elders called a congregational meeting for sharing and listening. The meeting, scheduled for this Sunday evening, will give people an opportunity to consider the results of a meeting-wide survey about how NVFC might respond to the yearly meeting restructure.
“This is not a business meeting, and we are not seeking a decision at this meeting,” Scot Headley emphasized in the email. “Have conversations with your family and friends in the congregation, and with others you don’t know as well Now is a time to listen to one another about what are our hopes and concerns regarding the yearly meeting transition. Keep one another in prayer and remember our friends in our local congregations, as well.”
In the report, the transition task force presented several findings of fact:
- Based on inquires made about Evangelical Friends Church International (EFCI, an umbrella group for NWYM), churches may not be jointly affiliated with an EFCI YM and other YM, such as a Friends United Meeting (FUM) YM.
- Churches may not independently affiliate with FUM.
- Based on statements from the YM superintendent and presiding clerk, no appeals of the January YM administrative council decision will be heard.
- Information regarding the work of the YM transition team is not very conclusive at this point. There is general agreement from this group to seek fair and impartial means of apportioning physical assets, but as of yet, no clear guidelines or decisions have been published. NV Elder, Silas Olson, serves on this group.
- Information regarding a possible new YM that may emerge in the region is also inconclusive. There have been several listening meetings in this regard, but as of yet, no clear direction is apparent.
The survey results indicated that although the most selected option was some kind of joint affiliation with Evangelical Friends Church – North America and Friends United Meeting, a separate survey question illustrated that respondents were more willing to support joining a new yearly meeting than any other option.
Themes identified by the task force in responses to open-ended questions in the survey include the following:
- Schedule corporate discernment that incorporates meetings for worship, focused on healthy vulnerability, listening, and Quaker process
- Focus on welcoming, loving, and including our LGBTQ members and attenders
- Affirm unity in diversity as NVFC previously discerned
- Expressions of frustration and desire to appeal/reverse the YM decision to split
- Become independent now and acquire 501c3 status
- Hold fast to Quaker distinctions, history, process
- Desire that NVFC to be an example of love and trust to others
- Hope for trust/reconciliation with NWYM in the future
- Continue NVFC process/discernment/conversations around human sexuality
- Be transparent and informative during this process
Yearly meeting decision inconsistent with Quaker process
Members of Camas Friends committed themselves last week to following Quaker process and avoiding “the authoritarian path that led to the NWYM administrative council’s decision to restructure NWYM without us.” The minute, approved in a regular meeting for business, was published in the Washington church’s weekly e-newsletter on Wednesday.
“Our Quaker practices and testimonies are timely for our time and place,” pastor Matt Boswell wrote in a follow-up email. “I hold the hope that this ‘new thing’ will allow us to live more fully into our Quaker identity in a way that is compelling and inviting to many and life-enhancing and life-saving to many others.”
Camas Friends’ approval of a Welcoming Statement in October resulted in its removal from Northwest Yearly Meeting, along with at least three other monthly meetings – Eugene, Klamath Falls and West Hills.
“We advocate for healthy relationships and will support them, whether between people of the same or opposite genders,” reads a portion of that statement. “While human sexuality is a particularly weighty topic of conversation in our religious context, we do not see our desire to equally value straight and LGBTQ identity as something that should define our meeting. It is simply one expression of what is most important to us.”
Boswell wrote that the yearly meeting decision to restructure has created unique opportunities: “We are hopeful about the path we are walking, even if our destination is a bit unclear at the moment…. I see the emergence of an organization that hits a ‘sweet spot’ in terms of the spiritual hunger of many: a Christ-centered, progressive, non-liturgical, non-showy, socially conscious, inclusive and spacious Christian spirituality.”
Boswell added that this split doesn’t end conversations on human sexuality, and it certainly doesn’t resolve them: “Meetings who have not talked about sexuality and gender need to talk about sexuality and gender. Meetings who have had the conversation need to keep growing in their understanding and not assume they are enlightened and thus ‘finished.’”
Boswell also suggested that churches take advantage of this transition to do “honest, self-reflective work about their religious identity,” work that might include sitting with some of the following questions:
- Are we really Quaker? How do we know?
- What’s the Bible?
- What do people need to believe or do to be one of us?
- What do our ministries and programs say about what is important to us?
- How are the demographics of our congregations implicating what we feel, say, and do about the marginalization of LGBTQ+ persons but also racial minorities, women, religious “others,” foreigners, and the earth?
- What’s a yearly meeting, and why should we care?
- What’s the value of being independent versus tied to others; and “tied” in what sense?
- What does a future network of meetings look like?
- What is “future us” doing in the PNW, the world, in our gatherings, with our resources, etc.?
- How do we start to take steps toward this future version of ourselves?
“This conversation could be very exciting,” Boswell wrote, “assuming we listen to one another, are aware of our anxieties and the limitations of our perspective as individuals, open to learning from others, and aware of what is at stake: not just our happiness as religious practitioners seeking a new spiritual home but the potential consequences for others – especially suffering others – of what we do (or don’t do) and how we do it.”
The minute approved by Camas Friends has three parts:
- Camas Friends needs to take plenty of time in the decision-making process concerning future affiliation with other Friends churches or becoming independent.
- We need to get our non-profit status taken care of, to allow us to move forward.
- We want to commit ourselves to following Quaker process, seeking God’s direction for Camas Friends. We do not ever want to fall into the authoritarian path that led to the NWYM administrative council’s decision to restructure NWYM without us.