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, August 13, 2008

Things heat up. NEYM – Part 3

On Sunday afternoon the business agenda was given over to hearing the State of Society Report, hearing the report on the Working Party on Spirituality and Sexual Ethics, and threshing on Friends United Meeting. That was the way it was laid out in the agenda. After the Working Party report, the clerk said that there was an hour left and this was time to bring up any concerns people might have. For the first half hour, the comments centered on responses to the Working Party and how we should provide guidance to our young people and so on. After about half an hour I turned to my wife and whispered to her that this wasn't the conversation that I had expected.

No sooner were the words out of my mouth and a Friend stood and asked the clerk again when the threshing on FUM was going to begin. Once again, the clerk said that this was the time to bring up any issues that might be on people's hearts. This brought forth a series of speakers with concerns about the FUM personnel policy, the perceived homophobia of FUM and how people could not see their money going to support this organization any longer. There was a lot of pain and anger expressed. At least one person got up and read a brief extract from the Richmond Declaration and part of the General Board minute from February, 2007 which reaffirmed it. He used this to support his position that NEYM should withdraw from FUM. As he read the minute, my first reaction surprised me a bit. I found myself saying to myself, “Hey, I wrote that minute-don't read it back to me and tell me what it means.” Fortunately I had spent the week or two before sessions began recalling James 1:19-20, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness.” Sometimes I think that these words should be projected on a screen above the clerk's head at every business session everywhere.

Towards the end of the meeting I was able to speak to remind Friends that FUM was more than just a personnel policy. It includes people who, when faced with violence in their own communities, sheltered and protected people in their own homes, brought food and blankets to the displaced, and helped facilitate reconciliation when displaced people returned to the communities they had fled. They had thought that the peace testimony did not apply to them because they lived in a peaceful country but when they needed to, they rose to a witness in their lives, at considerable risk, that we in America would be hard pressed to match. I spoke of the need to remain in dialog. I spoke of the need for spiritual hospitality. I encouraged people to look to see whether their need to maintain their own purity in not associating with the homophobes of FUM was not prompted in part by the same spirit that caused Friends elsewhere to not want to associate with the sinful homosexuals. Based on later comments, I don't think that suggestion gained much traction among Friends.

In the evening we heard the reports from the Quarterly Meetings on their consideration of the minute of commitment and how they had begun the process of exploring their understanding of sexual ethics. There was more discussion of all the issues at that time as well. Sylvia Graves, FUM General Secretary, arrived fresh from Western Yearly Meeting, in time for the evening session. She remained with us for the rest of our sessions. I do not remember many specifics of that session. My memories of some of the details is already getting a little hazy. One thing I do know was that by this point I had a number of appointments to discuss these issues over meals later on.

Monday morning my wife and I skipped the business session and went for a bike ride. The weather was sunny, dry and not too warm. It was the most enjoyable part of sessions for me. Monday night was the first presentation of the budget. This was where people started talking about wanting a mechanism so that they could contribute to the Yearly Meeting but not have their contributions go to FUM. The budget issue I found myself speaking to was the elimination of the representatives travel budget. I am fortunate enough that I can afford the extra expense that this would mean for me. I was concerned that this restriction would limit who would be able to serve the Yearly Meeting as a representative to the larger Quaker bodies. I also felt that it was changing the terms under which I had accepted a three year appointment last year. The hardest part for me was that it felt like the Finance Committee was devaluing the work of the various representatives. More precisely, they were setting a value of $0 for all of the time and energy I have put into being one of the representatives to the General Board. I described the job to some friends like this: “I go to the FUM General Board meetings and say things that some people there don't want to hear and then I come back to New England and say things that people here don't want to hear.” I am getting an increasing appreciation for the work of mediators and diplomats.

More to come.

Will T

5 Comments:

Blogger Liz said...

Will, I just wanted to let you know that I'm a reader of your blog. I particularly appreciate your account of the sessions. I have never attended NEYM, and I wish I could have gone this year. As I read your writing, I feel like I am beginning to understand more about Fresh Pond, and our wider community of Friends in New England with whom I still feel like I am getting to know. Thanks.

August 14, 2008 4:48 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Liz,
NEYM is like the Red Sox, there is always next year. It's not like you were doing something major this summer like getting married or something :^) I am glad you are enjoying the blog.

Will

August 14, 2008 7:47 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Hipp said...

Sometimes I think that these words should be projected on a screen above the clerk's head at every business session everywhere.

Love it!

I encouraged people to look to see whether their need to maintain their own purity in not associating with the homophobes of FUM was not prompted in part by the same spirit that caused Friends elsewhere to not want to associate with the sinful homosexuals. Based on later comments, I don't think that suggestion gained much traction among Friends.

Maybe it didn't gain much traction with many Friends, but it certainly stuck with me. I've been reminded of the purity-fear correlation this ministry illuminated a few times in the weeks since, with wider application than just FUM/homosexuality.

August 15, 2008 7:52 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

Jeff,
Thank you for reminding me that we don't know where our words will lodge.

Blessings,

Will T

August 15, 2008 9:01 PM  
Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Your words on purity vs hospitality, as two threads within religion, have stayed with me, too, Will. And they had the satisfying THWOCK! of a baseball connecting solidly with a glove for me when you spoke them.

(They are, FWIW, coming up for me again and again in my summer project, my Bible as Literature course readings. In addition to illuminating a lot that was happening at NEYM for me, they are helping me grapple with some of the hard bits of Samuel and Kings, and helping me "feel" the God I know in Quaker meeting at least peeking out at me from the story of David, for instance. So, on behalf of one someday-spiritually bilingual Pagan, thank you.)

August 16, 2008 10:43 AM  

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