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 23, 2011

NEYM Part 5 - In which we work together in the Light.

The first significant issue that came forward on Wednesday morning was the preliminary approval to the chapter of Faith and Practice on Corporate Discernment.  The sticking point was the recommendation that if a Friend stands aside from a decision of the meeting, that person's name should not be recorded in the minutes. Some friends were concerned that this would make the work of future historians more difficult. Christopher McCandless, a former clerk of NEYM, shared with us that he felt that the biggest mistake that he made while he was clerk, was in recording the names of people who were standing aside from the decisions made about our relationship with FUM. Once he did that, he had some 20 people wanting to be recorded, and he doubted that any future historian would be able to figure out all of their different motivations. Another friend spoke about another elephant in the room, and in fact it might be the mother of all the other elephants, and that is pride. It appears that some people want to be recorded as standing aside so that they can be shown later to have been on the right side of history. Such an attitude is not conducive to the kind of unity that we seek. The chapter was approved with one friend standing aside because he could not be in unity with the section on standing aside.

I wish that I had participated in such a discussion and discernment about our business practice before I had attended the FUM General Board Meeting in Kenya 5 years ago. It is too easy for us to see the mechanisms of Quaker process as a quaint variation of Robert's Rules of Order and think of them as techniques for political advantage. We do not sufficiently appreciate that the Quaker practice of business is radically different than the world's. From time to time we may get business done, but the deeper purpose is to build up our discernment, faithfulness and unity as a body.

The other major issue on Wednesday morning was our relationship with FUM. Two years ago the Yearly Meeting had agreed to a mechanism that if a meeting minuted that it wanted to withhold funds from FUM that they could contact the treasurer, reduce their contribution to the Yearly Meeting by that amount and that amount would be deducted from the contribution that NEYM sends to FUM. But because there are Friends in New England that want to hold FUM harmless, there was also a fund set up to receive contributions from Friends specifically to replace these withheld funds. As a result, Friends who were concerned that they not be supporting an organization that they felt was discriminatory could contribute to their monthly meetings and through them the Yearly Meeting without violating their conscience. But Friends who felt that it was important that NEYM continue to support FUM fully could contribute additional amounts with love and respect for the consciences of these other Friends. It was clearly not a long term solution but it was being recommended that this be extended for another two years.

The clerk of Wellesley Meeting spoke about how the discussion in their meeting had been very painful and that several years ago they had brought that pain to the Yearly Meeting. She wished that some of those same people could have been here this year. The current mechanism had been important in allowing discussion and discernment to continue while removing the pressure that had surrounded the issue of contributions. Other speakers noted that it takes time for Monthly Meetings to find out about the decisions of the Yearly Meeting and then to proceed based on that. As a result, a number of meetings are only beginning to consider the issues raised.

I spoke that, while it was significant that the FUM General Board had acknowledged that it was unable to find unity on the sexual ethics portion of the FUM Personnel Policy, and that while we had already seen evidence of God to perform miracles in a body, it was highly unlikely that FUM was going to change its Personnel Policy in the next two years. Part of the work that we need to do is to deal with the whole issue of how do we balance the call of individual conscience with what we as a body are willing to do. This is work that we need to do primarily in our own monthly meetings. Delay will not make the problem go away. Another friend noted that we also have to deal with the homophobia and heterosexism in our own meetings.

The proposal was approved. The sense of unity was not as strong as the day before, but I think that is because we still have a lot of work to do. What we had was the unity of committing to continue difficult work together, rather than the joyful unity that comes when the labor is completed. But it was still a gathered and favored meeting. Our sessions this year were truly blessed.

Blessings to all,

Will T

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Anonymous Allan Kohrman said...

One reason pride, or ego, is the elephant in the room is that we Quakers don't pay enough attention to these essential aspects of life. In the matter of standing aside, some minutes are, I think, so mistaken, that I cannot be included in the larger group that accepts them. If this is ego, then so be it.

I might say that I have stood aside only once before. This was at an AFSC committee meeting in the early 80s.

August 24, 2011 12:42 PM  
Blogger Cat C-B said...

Will, you write:"The sense of unity was not as strong as the day before, but I think that is because we still have a lot of work to do. What we had was the unity of committing to continue difficult work together, rather than the joyful unity that comes when the labor is completed."

I think that you are right.

I was really struck by what the Wellesley Meeting speaker said--in particular, I was struck by that part of the message that related to there being shifts and healing within Wellesley because of this option and this window of time. I found myself glad to see that time extended, knowing that some monthly meetings are making good use of it in working to discern more fully their relationship with FUM and with the Yearly Meeting.

I was also deeply struck by the willingness at least one speaker showed to consider the role his own pride had, he thought, played in a past year's decision to be recorded by name in standing aside. It's hard work, this business of learning to bend the knees of the heart, and I admire people who show a willingness to do it.

I was very grateful to have been in attendance at this year's sessions. (And I'm continuing to be grateful to you for writing about it so fully. Thanks, Will. *smile*)

August 26, 2011 6:56 PM  

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