Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A few photos from Kenya.

I am glad for the discussion that has been happening here. It has been helpful to me to hear other perspectives and I hope that it is useful to others as well. The trip was not all discord and pain. It also included a lot of visiting. The North American Friends spent 4 days visiting hospitals and schools in western Kenya and eastern Uganda. I had my camera with me but I am not much of a photo-journalist. Here are a few pictures that might give a taste of Western Kenya.

We arrived in Nairobi on Saturday night and on Sunday afternoon flew out to Kisumu. Here we are waiting for our luggage at the Kisumu airport.

And here is the luggage being unloaded from the plane. When they finished unloading the plane they pulled the cart by hand to the terminal. One advantage of this low tech baggage handling was that we left a week later there were several planes that left ahead of ours. There were no announcements but we knew it was time for us to board when they pulled the cart with our luggage away from the terminal.

We had dinner overlooking Lake Victoria at sunset. This was a spot where hippos were common but since December these water hyacinths, which float in mats on the water, have blown into the bay and driven the hippos away.

Africa is just filled with incredible juxtapositions. This is the market on the edge of Kisumu. The billboard says "Live on the Coke side of life."

And even for someone from New England, this is some seriously rocky land.

The shops in Kenya often have names that would not have occured to us wazungu (Swahili for white people). This store is at the Kakamega market. As the song says, "All God's children got shoes." And this must be where they get them.
One last commercial note. Many of the shops have large advertising signs on them. Sometimes the whole shop or block of shops are painted in a theme by an advertiser. The shopkeepers get a free paint job. It is like the Mail Pouch Tobacco signs that used to be a staple on American barns. On the side of this building is a condom ad. These ads are a very visible reminder of how AIDS has affected Kenya.

And this was just a pretty flowering bush at the Bishop Stam Conference Center where we stayed and had our meetings. This was February. It was cold when we left for Africa and it snowed when we got back. But it is not winter everywhere.

I may post more pictures later.

God is good, all the time.

Will T

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Back from Africa with a broken heart

I arrived back from Kenya on Tuesday evening. That night we had our first significant snowfall of the year here in the Boston area. Except it wasn't just snow, it was ice and rain and sleet and a couple of things like grapple (little ice balls) that I had never heard of before. It was very heavy stuff to shovel. I was glad for our neighborhood snowblower. Wednesday night the weather turned cold. It was 11 degrees in the morning and what had been plowed into the end of our driveway during the night had turned into something resembling rock. So another hour of wrestling with the snowblower to clean it up so we could get to work, and to clean up the driveway of our elderly neighbor. So much for a gentle re-entry.

It was wonderful to go back to Africa after 36 years. I couldn't believe how much Nairobi had changed. In 1970 there were maybe 3 high rise buildings. The New Stanley Hotel, the Intercontinental and maybe one more. Now the entire downtown was high rises. We got in on Saturday night, attended the service at the Friends International Center on Ngong Road and then went right to the airport for our flight to Kisumu where the FUM Africa office is. Monday and Tuesday we visited the hospitals at Lugulu and Kaimosi, spending the night at the Bishop Stam Conference Center in Kakamega, which was where the Board Meetings were to be held on the weekend. We also got a chance to visit the Kakamega orphanage started by Dorothy Selebwa and sponsored by USFW (United Society of Friends Women). On Wednesday and Thursday we traveled into Uganda and visited 4 schools. There are stories to be told about all of these visits. I also have a lot of pictures but they are still in the camera.

Friday was devoted to working on a strategic plan for FUM and Saturday was the General Board meeting itself. I look at what I wrote before I left about Friends learning about reconciliation among themselves. That is not what happened. On Sunday at Ngong Road and again during the opening devotions of the General Board meeting itself, we were treated to sermons denouncing homosexuality as evil. On Friday I was in the group looking at how FUM can deal with its identity issues. In October we had felt God working among us and there had been a sense of tenderness toward each other, even when we disagreed significantly. This spirit was not present in February. Led by the Superintendents of Iowa, Indiana and Western Yearly Meetings and supported by the representatives of the African yearly meetings, there was a clear sentiment expressed that even looking at these issues was keeping them from doing the work of FUM. In the morning we did some work on discussing our plans for an identity retreat before the June General Board Meeting. In the afternoon we discussed how to address the issues of our theology, Christology, and the source of our authority. We made no progress in finding common ground and at the end, the only recommendation was that the General Board reaffirm the Richmond Declaration as a statement of faith of FUM. Christopher Sammonds, General Secretary of New York Yearly Meeting, was the co-clerk of this session and he felt it was the sense of that meeting, even though he could not unite with it.

On Saturday, the proposal to affirm the Richmond Declaration came to the General Board. Every representative present from the dual-affiliated yearly meetings spoke against the proposal. Everyone else who spoke was in favor of it and the presiding clerk, Brent McKinney of North Carolina said that the recommendation was approved. All of the representatives of the dual-affiliated yearly meetings were recorded as standing aside. This did not feel like a sense of the meeting, it felt like a vote. It felt as though the yearly meetings with dual affiliations were being told that their understandings and opinions did not matter to FUM. For me it was the most painful experience I have ever had among Friends. I do not know how New England Yearly Meeting or any of the other dual-affiliated yearly meetings will react to this. I do not know what this means for the future of FUM. I do know that it is not a step towards finding unity among Friends. This action makes it clear that there are Friends who care more for theological purity than they do for unity. Meanwhile my heart grieves for the Society of Friends.

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