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 11, 2009

New England Yearly Meeting and the Power of the Lord

New England Yearly Meeting finished last Thursday. Because we were trying to fit 10 pounds of business in a 5 pound poke, we were still at it Thursday morning when the children joined us. Perhaps because we were mostly centered while doing our business, the children settled in quietly and remained quiet through most of the time. (My experience has been that children have a very good sense of the centeredness of a meeting. They are mostly quiet in a settled meeting and tend to be more restless in a meeting that has lost, or never found, it's center.) But I missed the singing and the sense of celebration. Which is too bad, because we were doing work worth celebrating.

The first item to celebrate was a minute affirming our support for the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered, intersex and queer Friends among us. It called for us to be sensitive to the difficulties that the families with GLTBQ parents or children encounter and to provide support to them. It also said that the same-sex marriages that have been or may be taken under our care are well-ordered. Given that same-sex marriage is now legal in five of the six New England states, this was not the prophetic witness that it might have been, but it is still an important step for the Yearly Meeting. It is official recognition of what has been true in much of the Yearly Meeting for some time.

The second item was a consideration of our contribution to FUM. Last year sessions had asked Finance Committee to prepare a mechanism whereby monthly meetings could accommodate individuals who did not want their contributions to go to FUM because of the personnel policy which requires all employees to be celibate except if they are in a monogamous heterosexual marriage. This question was very contentious last year. The Finance committee had reluctantly prepared a mechanism to accomplish this and had presented it to Permanent Board. (Permanent Board is the body in NEYM which is authorized to conduct the business of the Yearly Meeting between annual sessions.) Permanent Board had not adopted this policy because of concerns about what this meant in terms of individual discernment overriding the discernment of the body.)

Many people were disappointed with the decision of Permanent Board. In our initial consideration this year, we were not able to come to any unity and a working group was asked to continue to wrestle with the issue and report back. The recommendations of the working group were the minute of support I described above. The second recommendation was that the proposal from Finance Committee to allow for contributions to be specified as not going to FUM. This will allow people with this concern to be easy in their conscience that they are not giving financial support to an organization that discriminates. They also recommended that there be a fund set up so that Friends who are concerned that FUM be made whole as far as the yearly meetings budgeted contribution can make additional contributions to the Yearly Meeting to make up for what has been withheld. This provision will last for just the upcoming year and we will re-examine it next year.

At first glance this mechanism seems to be a crazy contrivance that ends up making no difference. That view does not explain the sweetness that came over the working group as this “contrivance” was taking shape. That sense of sweetness is one of the hallmarks of the work of the Holy Spirit. As I have thought more about this, I have come to see more clearly the spiritual principals at work here. Robert Barclay talks about how even a mistaken conscience is still binding upon a person. I had forgotten this. This resolution acknowledges that the people who want to withhold money from FUM are being faithful to their conscience and provides a way for them to be faithful. Before I felt anger towards some of these people because I was aware of how damaging their conscientious position was to FUM. With this resolution, my anger has been changed to a sense of love. I can help carry the burden that they cannot, by making an extra contribution. We have time to labor together to see where each of us may be being faithful to a mistaken conscience. This is a pastoral response that is bad policy for an organization. My hope is that it will serve as a way to move the conversation along so that we can come to a better solution later on. In the words of George Fox, “In this I see the power of the Lord over all.”

Blessings to All
Will T

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog post. I came in with the Young Friends (high schoolers) soon after the affirmation of marriage equality and towards the beginning of the end of the FUM temporary measure. For me the whole week was especially special.

I have attended NEYM every year since 2002 (except last year when I was at BYM.) This year I felt struck by the way we can pick up community after being apart for a year at a time. The Young Friends are lucky in that they meet several times a year for retreats. My only regret is that I was not able to attend more business sessions this year. Sounds like deep work was done.

August 12, 2009 9:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I did not attend this working group; by now I generally can only attend business sessions. I had heard you were angry at some Wellesley people; it is good to hear that your anger was overcome by the power of love.
Of course what Wellesley Meeting will do will this minute is anyone's guess. Nontheless, I am profoundly thankful that it was approved.

Allan Kohrman

August 12, 2009 5:25 PM  
Anonymous Peter Bishop said...

I acted as recording clerk for that working group. Folks from Wellesley who were part of it spoke with deep love and patience, so I was able to see some new developments as well as a few aspects to the issue that were obscure to me before.

First, unlike last year, this time nobody was calling for outright schism. There was a consistent feeling that FUM are our brothers and sisters and, whatever we feel about their policies or their theology, we love them.

Second, and most important, the dollar amounts involved are actually too small for this to be seen as a coercive act. Last year, this proposal felt like wielding the blunt instrument of economic boycott against members of our own family. This year, there was more worship sharing and fewer diatribes and we were able to see the issue of stewardship of resources motivates at least some of those who would withhold their contributions to FUM.

The temporary financial fix we came up with is not ultimately satisfying. Conscientious objection IN THIS CONTEXT is not how Quakers do things; however spirit-led the individuals may be, they are opting out of the process of corporate discernment. But it this case, it is a stop-gap that may allow us to continue laboring together in love. Real unity may take another fifty years, but by the end of Sessions this year I felt like it will eventually come.

August 23, 2009 9:03 AM  
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