October 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.