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, August 15, 2008

The night of the IBQs – NEYM Part 5

I don't remember who at sessions mentioned Iron Butt Quakers (IBQs) who can sit for long hours in business sessions. We certainly had them in quantity on Wednesday evening. The scheduled called for the meeting to last from 7:00 to 9:00. We still had a few unfinished items of business. We had two memorial minutes that we hadn't heard yet. We had the history chapter from the new Faith and Practice that was due for preliminary approval. We had to approve the nominating committee report. And we had to approve the budget. We got through most of everything else by shortly after 8:00. The Finance Committee brought back the budget with some changes. They had restored the travel budgets but they had not restored the money for FGC and FUM. They stressed that this budget was in deficit by about $17,000 and that this would almost exhaust our reserves. At that point I spoke that there was another way to look at this. I said that by accepting this budget we would be committing ourselves and our meetings to increase their contributions to the Yearly Meeting by $17,000 overall. If at the beginning of the year you had told me that I would speak as much on the budget as on FUM issues, I would not have believed you. Such are the surprises that happen at Yearly Meeting. I do need to be careful how much more I speak on the subject or Nominating Committee will be asking me about the Finance Committee or the Advancement Committee.

At that point people began asking again for ways that they could keep their contributions from going to FUM. There were number of people who spoke how they could not be complicit with the discrimination they saw in FUM. There were expressions of anger and pain. Other people spoke of the need to remain engaged with FUM  There were expressions of anger and pain. It was 9:00 pm and some parents had to leave to collect their children from the evening activities.

The meeting continued.

Paul Hood gave a lengthy testimony of his experiences as a marine in the Pacific in World War II and how he was eventually led to being a tax resister. Although he hasn't paid Federal income taxes since the Vietnam War, he found to his surprise that he was eligible to a tax rebate check this year. After giving it some thought he filed a tax return and has now decided to give his rebate check to the Yearly Meeting.

The meeting continued.

Wellesley Meeting has not approved it's budget for the year because they have not reached unity on what to do with their contribution to NEYM because of the FUM issues. Phil Fitz, a gay man who had been the clerk of the Working Party on the FUM Personnel Policy, said that he would take that work back up. He also offered that, if Wellesley reduced its contribution to the Yearly Meeting, he would personally make up the portion of that which would have been their contribution to FUM.

At one point I looked up and the clerk of the Finance Committee was still standing by the podium where she had been when she made her presentation as if she were waiting for more budget questions, although it was clear that we had long gone past that point. I don't know how long she stayed there.
I sat in my seat holding the meeting and the clerks in prayer.

The meeting continued.

There were more expressions of anger and pain. Someone said that they did not know if there was a sense of the meeting. Jan Hoffman said that there was a clear sense of the meeting. The sense of the meeting was that there was a lot of pain around these issues and that we had a lot of work to do.

The meeting continued.

A lesbian friend spoke, asking us why we had to look so far away for homophobia to fight. Why didn't we fight the homophobia in our meetings and our communities. She is responsible for our child care and she said that it was possible, although she didn't know that it had happened, that people might not come to sessions or bring their children because they wouldn't want her caring for them. She works in early childhood education but there are schools in Massachusetts that won't hire her because of her sexual orientation. Why aren't we working on that? She reminded us that last year we had committed ourselves to look at our own issues around sexual morality, to work on our own issues of homophobia. Had we forgotten that and abandoned the commitment we had made just last year?

Shortly afterwards the Chris McCandless, who had done an excellent job of clerking the entire session, said that it was his sense that we had approved the budget, that we would trust the Finance Committee to create a mechanism that would allow people to specify that their contributions not go to FUM and that the clerks would prepare a minute and bring it to us in the morning.

The meeting ended sometime between 10:30 and 11:00
Iron Butt Quakers indeed.

The last night of Yearly Meeting is traditionally the night of the coffee house. It is organized by the Young Friends but Friends of all ages participate. It is a fun way to end sessions. This year will be known as the year the adults did not come to coffee house. At one point they stopped the performances and held the adult business session in prayer. They knew that if the business meeting was going this late, it needed our prayers.

There were many people holding the business session in prayer. The meeting stayed well focused and centered throughout. In the journals of Quaker ministers that I have read, I have seen references to being involved in close, hard, work during a meeting. This was certainly our case that night. There is a lot of work that remains before us. Pray for New England Yearly Meeting.

The thing that saddened me was to feel the same spirit of schism here as I had felt at the FUM Board Meeting in Kenya. It was not as strong or as prevalent, but it was there. I was also saddened that the entire discussion seemed to be focused on New England. By and large, the people speaking about withholding money were talking about their need to not be complicit. There was little willingness to hear about how their actions might be perceived by others. There was no discussion about how we might work to end homophobia within FUM. It was all about us. This might be a necessary stage to go through but ultimately God is calling us to be all about other people. Eventually we will have to emerge from our self-absorption and deal with the people in the world who do not see things the same way we do.

God grant me the strength, courage and wisdom to do that.

Blessings to all.

Will T


Blogger Robin M. said...

One of the sad things for me is that I would have had to leave too. How can Friends reconcile the need to be faithful in our deliberations and the need to collect children from child care?

August 15, 2008 10:26 PM  
Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

" At one point they stopped the performances and held the adult business session in prayer. They knew that if the business meeting was going this late, it needed our prayers."

This I had not known, and when I read it, I burst into tears--whether of sorrow or gratitude, I really can't say.

I remember Debbie Humphries, during one of the Bible half-hours this week, sharing a message about how she senses Spirit grieving for us, that She could lead us so much farther, if only we were ready to follow. Like you, I wish we could look up from the tight focus we've had these past few years on the personnel policy of FUM and on the budget. I have become aware, during the past few years, of the work being done at home and around the world by our ministers--recorded and not--and I want to support and uphold that work. I want to take the hands of Friends whose language I don't speak, and find ways to engage with one another. I'm hungry for connection, and excited and energized by what I sense is possible for us.

Of course, it is the matter of our relationship with FUM and of the recognition of homophobia among Friends that has led me to this place. It has awakened me to things far beyond that single controversy. I know it. I'm grateful for it.

I'm also so sad that we continue to have difficulty hearing one another and listening for God amid our passionate opinions. And humbled and grateful that Young Friends held us in prayer.

One thing all this sorrow has been good for, at least from my perspective, is that I have been learning how to pray. I bet I'm not the only one.

Will, thank you so much for all that you have done. I feel very lucky to have such good models of faithfulness around me in NEYM.

August 16, 2008 10:20 AM  
Blogger Chris M. said...

Robin speaks my mind. My heart was weighed down with the same concern at Pacific Yearly Meeting.

August 16, 2008 11:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have had the same problem as Robin and Chris (I was at NYYM sessions, and was forever having to leave things early to get my children). I wrestle with Robin's query often, but have come to realize that when one has to leave deliberations in order to balance some other part of their life, a gift we leave behind is the trust that the sessions are in the hands of those who can take up the work.


August 18, 2008 11:42 AM  
Blogger anj said...

Will- Thank you for your thoughtful writing of NEYM sessions. Reading yours, and Peter and Cat's writings, I feel very connected with Friends I don't even know. I am left with the hope of your words "This might be a necessary stage to go through but ultimately God is calling us to be all about other people. Eventually we will have to emerge from our self-absorption and deal with the people in the world who do not see things the same way we do.
God grant me the strength, courage and wisdom to do that." I join you in that desire, and that prayer.

August 20, 2008 8:59 AM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

This morning I had just finished re-reading H. Larry Ingle's excellent account of the Hicksite-Orthodox split in Philadelphia during the 1820s (Quakers in Conflict), and then I came back to re-read your account of this year's sessions of NEYM, and I thought, some things just don't change.

Expressions of anger and pain have of course a great deal of importance in our Judæo-Christian tradition; we ignore them at our peril. But I look in vain through your account, and Peter and Cat's accounts, for any sign that they were balanced by a genuine willingness to do as Christ taught in his prayer and forgive those who have trespassed against us as we wish to be forgiven ourselves.

It seems to me that if we will not practice such forgiveness, we will not be able to hold our community together. Am I wrong?

August 22, 2008 3:07 PM  
Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 24, 2008 8:00 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

I do agree with you about how some things don't seem to change. I have certainly felt the spirit of division that sparked the 19th century schisms both in FUM and NEYM.

I cannot say if anyone asked forgiveness, either for themselves or others. This is mostly because I did not take notes and my memory is very fallible. Whether or not the word forgiveness was used, my sense was that when Phil Fitz offered to make up whatever Wellesley Meeting withheld from FUM, this was a sacrificial action taken on in the spirit of Christ. He was willing to take on for himself a burden that others could not bear. He is also a gay man who is personally very pained by the position of FUM. The word forgiveness may not have been used, but the spirit was there.

I am also aware that this was just one chapter in a much longer story. A lot of talking was done this year by people who have either not been involved in the yearly meeting until now or who did not feel heard last year. I think they feel heard now. Forgiveness cannot be forced. It takes time for people to be ready to offer or receive it. We will have to wait to see what the coming year brings.



August 24, 2008 2:44 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey said...

Thank you, Will, for explaining what's going on in more detail! I suppose it must be fairly obvious that this is something I, too, care about.

I should have said earlier, but at least I can say now, that I had a very positive reaction to your story of Phil Fitz's offer. Thank you for sharing it here.

August 26, 2008 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Christine Greenland said...

Will's comments of the 24th echo my understanding

Outside of this particular session, I saw obvious shifts in perceptions shown by Friends whom I love. There was one gentle reminder during worship sharing that in Christ we are all one, "slave and free, gay and straight."

A Friend from Wellesley confessed envy of Friends in Philadelphia since we don't have the challenge of the FUM policy. I responded that the "grass always looks greener." Philadelphia Friends also face besetting challenges -- in part because we lack a sense of forgiveness and spiritual generosity. I am as guilty of this as anyone.

I am most grateful for the care and the example of many New England Friends. Thank you.

August 26, 2008 1:25 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Thanks to Will and to all the Friends who have written with such tenderness, humility, and honesty about the NEYM sessions and some of what we wrestle with, as Friends.

The second half of the summer had pulled me away from the blogosphere, and as I reenter and review some of what is here, I am grateful for the reports, for the personal sharing, for the seeking of the Way forward.

Perhaps I shall find myself at NEYM sessions in 2009: I am already paying attention to that particular nudge.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

September 03, 2008 2:57 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

You are welcome at NEYM anytime you are clear to come.


September 03, 2008 8:38 PM  

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