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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

October FUM General Board Meeting

This has been a while coming but I want to make at least a brief report on the last FUM General Board Meeting.

The FUM General Board met in October at Woolman Hill, which is a Quaker retreat center in Deerfield, Mass. On Thursday night, Friends from the area hosted a welcoming pot luck dinner. I was held up by rain and traffic and so the meal was well underway when I arrived. There was still an abundance of food and the dining room was packed. I think I found the last seat available. It seemed to me that there were as many people from New England as there were from the General Board. From conversations with Friends from the General Board, it was clear that they felt warmly welcomed by New England Yearly Meeting.

The Board Meeting was held in the old North Dartmouth Meetinghouse which had been disassembled, moved to Woolman Hill and carefully reconstructed. The room was full of tangible parts of our common Quaker tradition. Perhaps most importantly, the benches gave testimony to the skill of the 19'th century Quaker carpenters who were able to make a solid wooden bench that was comfortable to sit on for hours on end.

I was not able to attend the July meeting so this was the first General Board Meeting I had attended since the February meeting in Kenya. This was also the first GB meeting that I had attended where we were not looking at our identity issues and what was dividing us. Instead we were focused on doing the work of FUM. It was not that we were unaware of our differences or swept them under the rug. Our differences were on plain view during our reports on our various Yearly Meeting sessions but we also heard how God had worked among us this year.

In the Friday evening session we examined how we should move forward with Kaimosi Hospital. Several years ago, East Africa Yearly Meeting had asked FUM to take back control of the hospital, which we had done. The initial period of our agreement ends in January and we needed to decide what we would do. Until now, we had not done as much as we might have done and there were organizational problems on the ground in Kaimosi as well. There had been a Board of Directors with many influential and high powered Kenyan Quakers. They were mostly in Nairobi and so most of their meetings had been held there. As a result they had been unable to exercise the kind of direct and immediate oversight that would have been possible if they were based in Kaimosi. A more locally based board is being established. There were still problems with getting complete financial reports and the hospital director that we had met in February has resigned. As we were trying to sort all of this out, Chris McCandless, clerk of NEYM who was there, as he put it, as a dishwashing elf, asked if we could take some time to see what God wanted us to do. We settled into a very sweet period of worship. It became clear to us that were were being called to continue to work with the hospital and to provide the resources we have available to do this. I saw this as a sign that we can work together in spite of our theological differences.

On Saturday afternoon we heard a concern from Canada Yearly Meeting about the reports of the sermon preached at the February General Board meeting that had been heard by some as a threat against gay men, lesbians and their allies. The speaker had already circulated a clarification that this was not what he had meant. The Executive Committee was bringing a letter that they had drafted as a further response. The General Board discussed the letter and wanted it sent out as a letter from the General Board. This is the text of the letter:

Allegations that Friends United Meeting (FUM) is hostile to homosexuals and their allies, and that FUM condones physical or emotional violence against homosexuals and their allies, have been circulated among Friends and on the internet.

The General Board of FUM/Richmond, in session this 13th day 10th month of 2007, is clear that God loves all persons, and that hostility toward any person is not consistent with the Christian Gospel. In particular, this General Board condemns the threat of physical or emotional violence against any person.


I found comfort in this. I had certainly experienced the words used in Kenya as threatening. What had made this more painful was that no one had repudiated the statements at the time. I found healing in the fact that the issue was raised and discussed, in being able to talk about my experience and in the concern and tenderness of the all of the General Board members present. It was another moment of grace.

I still do not know what God has in store for Friends United Meeting but I do have a sense that we are being guided and held on our way.

7 Comments:

Blogger Peter Bishop said...

Will,

Thank you for this post. I was one of the many New England Friends there when you arrived. I’m very glad the General Board felt welcomed. We certainly felt appreciated, and it was wonderful to be part of extending that welcome.

I am also very comforted by what I hear happened at the rest of the gathering. The letter that you quoted seems like an important and powerful step in continuing to heal the feelings of division among us.

Reading it, though, left me with a couple of questions that maybe you can answer. That notorious “sermon preached at the February General Board meeting that had been heard by some as a threat against gay men, lesbians and their allies” is certainly a piece of why there has been so much talk of FUM’s supposed “hostility,” but I realized only today that I don’t know exactly what was said there. I’ve only heard impressions and very rough paraphrases from people who were there, all of whom seem to have been deeply shocked by the level of hostility they experienced. But what did he really say? And what did his “clarification that this was not what he had meant” say?

I know that I have been one of the people who has made the mistake of drawing conclusions about all of FUM based on that one incident. I am straining to hear the diversity of voices within FUM, as well as the Spirit behind them, and that is sometimes at odds with my deeply ingrained practice of directly confronting anything that smacks of hate speech. That word, “allegations,” brought me up short. It is itself a highly charged and provocative word, but it reminds me that perhaps I’ve been shouting in a room full of people who are all trying to listen, and that one homophobic pastor does not speak for all of FUM. It also reminds me that, issues of theology and politics and culture aside, there are simple facts about this conflict that I’m unclear on.

Here’s another factual question: You tell us that “The General Board discussed the letter and wanted it sent out as a letter from the General Board.” Does that mean that it will be sent out? That it’s going to be an Epistle? If so, cool! And thanks be to G*d!

Peter Bishop

November 18, 2007 3:42 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Peter,
I believe that the letter was sent and the text I posted was the text of the letter, so yes it is a statement of the General Board gathered at Woolman Hill in October. One of the reasons I did not post this earlier was to allow time for the letter to actually be sent.

I don't know that it is possible to recover the actual words spoken at the General Board Meeting. The "sermon" was a part of our opening devotions. It was given extemporaneously and I believe the speaker was asked to speak just a few minutes beforehand so there are no notes or text available. k it would be useful to

I don't have the text of the clarification immediately at hand. It did reaffirm his belief in the peace testimony and that he did not mean to threaten harm to anyone.

It is also true that homophobia is deeply entrenched in East African culture, but inside and outside of the Society of Friends. Discussions touching on the subject of homosexuality in Africa, even among Friends, are subject to misunderstanding, misinterpretation and sensationalism. When the World Gathering of Young Friends met in Mombasa, one or more of the European or North American Friends came out about their sexual orientation. This ended up being reported in the Kenyan national newspaper as the Quakers advocating homosexuality. This upset quite a few Kenyan Quakers.

This is one of the areas in which there are profound differences between liberal Friends and Friends in Africa. It will require a lot of patience love and forbearance to approach these issues in any meaningful way.

Will

November 19, 2007 10:57 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Hi, Will--

Thanks for posting the text of the letter shared by the Executive Cmte of the FUM/Richmond board. Like Peter has said, I would be delighted to see the letter sent out under the auspices of the entire General Board. Woo-hoo!

Thanks for your loving faithfulness and patient watchfulness as these events continue to unfold.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

November 21, 2007 2:15 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Friends,
I see that I was unclear in my original post. Ultimately the letter was approved and sent out on behalf of the North American General Board. The Board was clear that they did not want this just coming from the Executive Committee.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Will

November 21, 2007 8:29 PM  
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