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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Setting the Stage - NEYM Part 2

I returned from New England Yearly Meeting on Thursday and proceeded to get sick. Not from the happenings but perhaps from a lack of self-care (like getting sufficient sleep) during sessions. I have spent a lot of time sleeping and resting since then and I am feeling better. I don't know that the time has given me any more perspective on sessions. I recall what I heard from a number of people, “This is all so complicated.”

The theme of the sessions was “War, God Help Us.” The idea was that we would look at our response to the current wars that have been going on for 7 years without much response from Friends in New England. At least not corporately. There were references to the Peace Testimony but they as often related to divisions among Friends as they did to our external condition. The greater part of our corporate discernment was devoted to our finances and our relationship to FUM and our reaction to the personnel policy of FUM which restricts employment by FUM to people who are celibate or in a heterosexual marriage with only one other partner. One can look at this as a valuable exploration of our condition and a continuing exploration of our differences, something that a regular reader of this blog will know that I generally favor. Or you can look at it as another victory for the forces behind the war who have skillfully managed to distract their opponents into disputes on the topic of sexuality. As far as I can tell, both are true. God will have to help us sort this out.

Last year NEYM had begun addressing the issue of the FUM personnel policy. We had realized that we could not address the statement of sexual ethics contained in the personnel policy when we, as a yearly meeting, had not examined our own sexual ethics. We have been asked a number of times by our Young Friends to provide some guidance but we have so far not done so. The Yearly Meeting had minuted our commitment to begin exploring these issues. On Sunday night we heard reports from all eight of the Quarterly Meetings about the progress that had been made on this issue. There was a range of responses. Some meetings actively embraced the discussion. Some meetings felt that other issues were of higher priority and had done nothing. Many meetings fell somewhere in between.

There was a group of people, who came with a concern that they could not, in good conscience, see their money go to FUM because they felt that it would make them complicit in the discrimination that they see being practiced by FUM. There were some who went so far as to say that New England should disaffiliate with FUM because of the reaffirmation of the Richmond Declaration.

In addition to these issues there were issues with the Yearly Meeting budget. There was a significant shortfall in donations both from monthly meetings and from individuals. The Finance Committee presented a budget that contained some deep cuts. One area that was eliminated completely in the initial presentation was representative travel. Another significant cut was that our donations to both FGC and FUM were cut in half.

The stage was set for a difficult Yearly Meeting Sessions.

Blessings,

Will T

4 Comments:

Anonymous Carol said...

There was a group of people, who came with a concern that they could not, in good conscience, see their money go to FUM because they felt that it would make them complicit in the discrimination that they see being practiced by FUM.

This is an uttterly raw and undigested comment, and I trust Friends will help me with that, but it leaped at me as I read your post, Will.

By this same logic--that one's money must not be sent to places where one does not wish to be complicit with unacceptable policies--shouldn't the first priority, as Quakers, be to withhold taxes for war from the U.S. government?

It's a question.

I haven't thought it through.

August 13, 2008 10:55 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Hipp said...

Sorry to hear you fell ill after Sessions. My stomach had been twisting in knots all through that long Wednesday night session — I thought it was due to stress. It ended up that I had minor food poisoning. (Darn that Kielbasa!)

Your juxtaposition of the personnel policy/sexual ethics and the peace witness concerns as competing for our attention is true to my experience, but it reminds me of a quandary I have about NEYM. Our time at sessions is greatly burdened by our attention to institutions: our staffing structure, the Moses Brown School, the Friends Home, the Friends Camp, and an unwieldy committee system. (I can only imagine what Philadelphia's business sessions are like.) When helping to set the agenda in prior years as part of the clerks' table, I came to appreciate just how much of our schedule is filled from the start by recurring institutional business. With the time that's left, we can only thresh through two concerns with the scope of our FUM relationship or our response to our nation's wars if we all show a *great* deal of discipline and humility.

All of these institutional aspects are potentially invaluable tools in the witness and ministry God calls us to. But I feel we get bogged down in posturing and notion espousing rather than trusting and supporting the Friends with a leading to be stewards of these resources and processes.

I know I'm not the first to express this frustration, but I wonder how have our foremothers and forefathers balanced their concerns for institution with concerns for witness?

August 13, 2008 11:02 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

Carol,
At this point I am just reporting on what happened. I expect to get to my reactions later on.

Jeff,
Actually, I think the clerks did a good job of preparing the agenda in such a way that there was lots of time for discernment. About balancing witness and institutional concerns, I doubt that it is completely accidental that when Friends were most known for their witness, they had very little in the way of institutional structure.

Blessings,

Will T

August 13, 2008 7:50 PM  
Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Carol wrote, "By this same logic--that one's money must not be sent to places where one does not wish to be complicit with unacceptable policies--shouldn't the first priority, as Quakers, be to withhold taxes for war from the U.S. government?"

This question was asked from the floor, in fact. Further, it seems to me that witholding taxes from the U.S. government, which discriminates against same sex couples even where their marriage is recognized by their states, would make more sense even from the single concern of avoiding complicity with homophobia.

However, it was my sense, at least, that some of the folks who were focused on the budget line item for FUM had come to Sessions with a ready-made agenda and arguments. I don't mean to overgeneralize, and I may be wrong--it's always tempting to see those I disagree with as at fault, and perhaps unfairly so. But it seemed to me that at least some individuals who raised this concern came prepared for a debate rather than open to corporate discernment. (My apologies if I am wrong in this, and I'm not trying to speak for anyone but myself in sharing my impression.)

I was pleased that, rather than respond in an adverserial, human-centered logical debate, the clerks and the meeting as a whole remained centered in Spirit, at least attempting to listen for the Seed of truth in what was spoken even when the messages were far from what seemed wisest or best to us as individuals. I saw plenty of people who slipped into rhetoric and persuasion on all sides of the controversies we wrestled with, to be sure... but my sense is that we really worked, as a meeting, to sink down into something stronger and better, waiting to be led as a community by God, not our own passions and human convictions alone.

I think we could have done better. I wish we had. But I think, to the degree we were able to be, we managed to be faithful. I'm grateful for that.

August 16, 2008 10:35 AM  

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