I returned on Sunday from the FUM General Board meeting in Richmond, Indiana. There were a number of logistical problems. Because high winds in New York forced the closing of New York airports for several hours on Thursday, some people did not arrive until late on Thursday night. I had a direct flight from Boston to Indianapolis and I did not encounter such a problem. However, when I arrived at Quaker Hill and entered Woodward Lodge, where I expected to be sleeping, I discovered that they were mopping up some very rusty looking water from the floor of the basement where my room was to be. I heard variously that the hot water heater in the building had sprung a leak, or exploded, depending on the dramatic tendencies of the teller. I was moved into Evans House which had hot water but some people had to make do without hot water in their rooms.
Last fall the Superintendents of the 5 Orthodox yearly meetings in North America sent a letter to the clerk expressing concerns about the future of FUM. The letter can be found here
. This letter provoked quite a bit of discussion some of which was here
The Executive Committee met in December and on Friday afternoon made their report. They identified a number of questions for us to explore: Is FUM a missionary society or a denomination? Are FUM General Board members responsible for representing the views of their yearly meetings or are they selected to exercise their own discernment? They also named that there are cultural differences between members from the East Coast and the Midwest. Seeing some of the items listed let me see that some of these issues can be separated from our theological differences. This meant that we could, at least in theory, come to some resolution for some our organizational problems without having to resolve the theological ones.
The clerk and the executive committee had planned at this point for us to go into small group discussions. John Smallwood, from Baltimore YM asked us instead to go into prayer as a body. He felt that we were trying to solve the problem using human tools rather than turning to Christ for guidance. We entered into a period of deep worship and prayer. People spoke of how God calls us to love one another. I spoke of how I felt pained by the mentions of being unequally yoked. In the morning session we had been considering various parts of our work and we had worked well together and there were important contributions from people in many different yearly meetings. We had seemed to be working well together and pulling together to carry out the work of FUM. When I hear the phrase being used, I am pained because it feels as if it is excluding me, as if I am some kind of second-class Christian. I offered another image, where Paul suggests that Christians should not divorce an unbelieving spouse so that they may become an instrument of salvation.
Kelley Kellum quoted Jeremiah 6:16-17
This is what the LORD says:
"Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, 'We will not walk in it.'
I appointed watchmen over you and said,
'Listen to the sound of the trumpet!'
But you said, 'We will not listen.'
We recognized that we did not know how to proceed and that we needed to stay at the crossroads and ask to be shown the good way and when we find it, walk in it.
We continued in the deep worship until it was time to break for dinner. In the evening session we sang some hymns and prayed for the work of FUM but broke early. Everyone seemed pretty tired and ready for an early evening. No matter what changes spending deep time in the presence of God may work in our hearts, minds and souls, it can be tiring.
On Saturday morning we entered again into worship on the matter and again we went to a deep place. We heard from a number of the superintendents who had signed the letter. I spoke to the idea that the middle does not have to be a mushy place but can in fact be seen as the center of mass around which binary stars revolve. It is the center that holds things together and keeps them from going off in their different directions. The clerk was looking for us to provide some guidance to the Executive Committee on how to proceed but we did not provide much. Mostly we continued in that place of unknowing. We went on to the rest of our business and finished it up by the middle of the afternoon. The Executive Committee met at that point and I believe that they have some thoughts as to next steps but I do not know what they are.
After the Friday afternoon session I felt a change in the dynamics of the board as a whole. There seems to be a greater willingness to work together. There seems to be less of a desire to break FUM apart. There seems to be a willingness to stay in this place of brokenness and unknowing a while longer. There is more of a willingness to name the conflicts and to face them directly. We are just starting on this journey and we have not always found ways to talk with each other without hurting each other. But we have made a start. If we stand at the crossroads long enough, we will
see the good way to go. As I have held this image, I think perhaps we are not standing at the crossroads, we are just standing at the Cross.
I am more optimistic about FUM than I have been for a long time. To quote Fox, “The good Lord is at work in this night of darkness that can be felt.”
Continue to pray for FUM and the Society of Friends,
Blessings to all