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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