At the end of mid-year boards this last January, the Administrative Council announced its decision to restructure Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM) and to create a transition team to “facilitate the creation of a newly formed yearly meeting.”
That same day, at least 21 yearly meeting board members and monthly meeting representatives met briefly and then signed up for more information about future meetings and gatherings that might lead to the creation of a new yearly meeting.
Members of churches leaving NWYM have been gathering documentation for the historic records of what is now being called Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends. These unofficial minutes from the meetings in January are part of that record as are these notes from a called meeting of representatives from December 10, 2016.
Group discusses details, documents
In a brief notice dated July 10 and released July 14, the Transition Team announced it had met on Saturday, July 8, to discuss details and documents “needed for further clarification on several issues before moving forward.” The notice also referenced but did not disclose details of a report from the Friendsview Retirement Community board.
The transition team, according to Northwest Yearly Meeting Presiding Clerk Brad Holton, “will facilitate the creation of a newly formed yearly meeting,” though the team may not have authority to act, as it must report to the Administrative Council, which “is committed to completing the transition with dignity and honor for all churches.”
In a report released in March, the Transition Team identified itself as having been “appointed by the Administrative Council to facilitate a fair and equitable division of assets for the restructure of Northwest Yearly Meeting.” In April, the team announced research of a fiduciary trust that “would empower both yearly meetings by holding certain assets that are non-theological in nature and currently benefit all parties.” In June, a sub-committee was assigned to work out the details of that trust, and it was clarified that “the work of the Transition Team is subject to review by the Administrative Council.”
At a meeting hosted by North Valley Friends Church in February, NWYM Superintendent Retha McCutchen said that questions “for the Transition Committee to consider and answer” should be directed to her by email – [email protected]
At least four members of the Transition Team attend churches that are leaving NWYM. Churches leaving NWYM do not have representation on the Administrative Council.
Congregation still determining whether ‘we will remain in NWYM’
North Valley Friends Church met on the evening of July 12, 2017, for the purpose of reviewing and approving the following minute:
We, the community of North Valley Friends Church, are now experiencing grief and sadness as a result of the January decision of the Northwest Yearly Meeting Administrative Council to restructure NWYM by splitting off four churches from NWYM without recourse and making provision for other congregations to leave NWYM. Our congregation is currently in a discernment process to determine whether or not we will remain in NWYM.
We recognize the January decision was the culmination of various events and choose to minute our dissatisfaction with the decision made by the Administrative Council. We believe that the process used to make the decision may have been flawed and was not representative of our commonly held values regarding Quaker decision-making. We realize that it has been stated that there will be no reversal of the decision. However, we desire to inform you and other churches historically a part of Northwest Yearly Meeting of our deep concern with the process and decision.
Dwight Burton and Trisha Hornback, co-clerks
AC decision intended ‘to lessen the tension’
In a letter sent to pastors today, yearly meeting presiding clerk Brad Holton issued four clarifications “regarding NWYM churches and the current restructure.”
1. “It was not the intention of the AC [Administrative Council] to force churches to discuss this division.”
This clarification may be in response to churches such as Newberg Friends, which announced on March 3, that “because of the yearly meeting decision to restructure, all churches have decisions to make” or North Valley, which announced on March 21, that “because of the yearly meeting decision to ‘restructure,’ all churches in NWYM have decisions to make.” The transition team also clarified on March 22 that “churches are not under a deadline to make decisions.”
2. “NWYM would be composed of meetings who align with current Northwest Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice. It also may include churches who have internal disagreement but have agreed to align their practices with current NWYM Faith and Practice.”
This clarification repeats information from the March 22 transition team report: “It was the intent of the AC decision, as revised at the Mid-Year Representatives meeting, that churches that have not made a statement regarding human sexuality are welcome in either yearly meeting. NWYM will require support of the current Faith & Practice. The new group envisions including those affirming churches as well as those who agree to disagree.”
3. “The AC made the decision to restructure in order to lessen the tension within NWYM and to open a path where everyone could move forward in their respective ministry.”
This clarification adds background insight for the June 3 transition team report that it is “the spirit and intent of the AC to be respectful, fair and impartial” to all churches.
4. “Under the AC decision, churches who are diverse and choose to value their shared community and not divide over this issue would be able to stay in NWYM. Or they may discern to go independent or join another yearly meeting.”
This clarification repeats information from the January 28 AC announcement: “This may include churches who have internal disagreement but have agreed to align their practices with current NWYM Faith and Practice.”
Churches may get up to 18 additional months for discernment
Churches that choose to become independent will not “share in liquid asset distribution,” according to a report released today by the yearly meeting transition team. The team met Saturday, June 3, to continue work on the restructure of Northwest Yearly Meeting.
Camp boards of Tilikum, Quaker Hill, Quaker Cove and Twin Rocks reported changes they anticipate in light of the NWYM restructure. Boards of George Fox University and Friendsview Retirement Community will be asked to provide similar reports.
Dave Green, Silas Olson, Roger Watson and Gordon Crisman were named to work out the details of a possible fiduciary trust.
Churches that haven’t discerned whether to stay with the yearly meeting or leave the yearly meeting by June 30, 2018, “should notify the Administrative Council for up to an 18-month extension.” Churches still in “process as of December 2019” may request additional time, and the Administrative Council will make decisions about such requests “on a case by case basis.”
Central Oregon congregation ‘hopeful for the future’
Metolius Friends Church reported in a letter yesterday that it is staying with Northwest Yearly Meeting. The decision, a response to the Administrative Council’s announced restructuring process, was shared by Pastor Jadon Ross in an email to yearly meeting pastors, representatives, elders and clerks.
“We are hopeful for the future of NWYM, and we are encouraged and excited to continue to have a voice and influence in NWYM. With the help and guidance of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit we know that people’s lives will be transformed, God’s Kingdom will expand, and Jesus will be lifted high throughout the Northwest.”
A follow-up email to Ross proposed the following questions:
- Regarding the helpfulness of moving through a formal process like the one you describe for Metolius in the letter. How has that been good for the congregation? How might that kind of process benefit other churches should they choose to similarly engage?
- NWYM is going to look different a year from now. What signs of hope do you see in the midst of what we’re going through now? What do you hope for? What hope might you offer for others who may be feeling hopeless?
- Do you think that having gone through this process and coming to unity as a congregation might positively affect the quality of relationship or of interactions that Metolius has with the yearly meeting going forward?
Churches leaving YM take step toward incorporation
[This article was updated on April 23, to include the final, approved minute]
Just over 90 people from 17 meetings gathered at Eugene this afternoon to discern next steps for those leaving Northwest Yearly Meeting.
The group approved for a communications team to begin work directly following the meeting. That team is tasked with broad dissemination of information, increased transparency, and an infrastructure that supports multi-directional connections for the continuing work of discernment.
Jan Wood, North Seattle, clerked the meeting. “We need a comprehensive way to do communication,” she said.
“Let what we’re doing become public,” Rachel Swain Kidd, Eugene, encouraged the group. “As long as we’re part of the Northwest Yearly Meeting, what we’re doing should be posted there.”
In addition, each church leaving the yearly meeting – Camas, Eugene, Klamath Falls, North Seattle and West Hills – will name two representatives to serve on an interim committee that could begin meeting as early as May 21. The interim committee will decide the scope of its work and will serve as a place for ideas to be shared, reporting back to the next gathered meeting at annual sessions in July.
John Price, Eugene, pointed out that having an interim committee will give the yearly meeting Transition Team a group that it can begin working with.
Superintendent Retha McCutchen briefly shared that this new association does not require a Faith and Practice in order to operate. “You just need bylaws,” she said.
The importance of having bylaws and of getting incorporated, according to Roger Watson, yearly meeting director of finance and development, is that “it’s going to be a sign to Northwest Yearly Meeting as a whole and to the Administrative Council in particular that we are serious about what we are doing.”
Watson clarified that incorporating will also help the Transition Team: “One of the questions that the Transition Team is dealing with is the question of division of … earnings from some financial assets…. The larger representation we have in this group, the more share you get to have in the earnings of those financial assets.”
The following minute was approved by the group:
We approved the creation of an interim committee for the purpose of proposing a structure for the association of the five churches that must leave Northwest Yearly Meeting by 2018, to be comprised of two members appointed from each of these churches. It will serve as the point group for communication among the Friends coalescing around the formation of the new entity, and for communication with NWYM. The interim committee will decide on the scope and priorities of its work. We will ask the five churches leaving NWYM to name their representatives by May 21, 2017. The work and continued existence of this group will be re-evaluated at a meeting of the departing churches to be held during NWYM’s 2017 annual sessions.
Friends from the following meetings were present:
- Betweeners (worship group in Tualatin)
- Bridge City (North Pacific YM)
- East Hill
- Eugene Friends Church
- Eugene Friends Meeting (North Pacific YM)
- Friends in Common
- Klamath Falls
- North Seattle
- North Valley
- West Hills
The communications team includes Gil George, Rachel Hampton, Connor Magee, Thomas Magee, Eric Muhr, Kjiersten Schmidt and Lorraine Watson.
Group hopes to avoid splitting ‘non-theological’ assets
A report from the yearly meeting transition team, released yesterday, identified one research item, one item of discussion, three recommendations and one next step. Two of the recommendations in the 278-word document were clarifications from the working group’s last report.
The transition team identified a fiduciary trust as an ongoing research focus. The trust would allow Northwest Yearly Meeting and the new coalition of monthly meetings to avoid splitting as-yet-undefined assets by “holding certain assets that are non-theological in nature” and distributing the dividends of these assets proportionally between the two groups.
Superintendent Retha McCutchen has not yet responded to an emailed request for clarification as to which assets might be included in this trust, and according to one member of the group, others are remaining “silent, at least for the time being, in agreement with the stated policy” of the transition team. McCutchen confirmed in an earlier email that “the group decided that I would be the spokesperson for all communication from the group and its work.”
The three recommendations from the transition team are “to the Administrative Council.” Earlier language from Presiding Clerk Brad Holton said the team would report to the council, leaving some ambiguity about what deliberative body has final approval. Holton had earlier written that the Administrative Council “is committed to completing the transition” but that the transition team would “facilitate the creation of a newly formed yearly meeting.”
The recommendations, the first two of which are clarifications of an earlier report, include the following:
- All current churches (whether they choose to stay in NWYM, join a new YM, or go independent) will retain their property along with any associated debt.
- Employed pastors and staff (current and future) will continue to have access to the 401(k) pension plan and be able to contribute new funds.
- All current churches will have access to the Friends Church Extension Fund.
The transition team reported ongoing discussion of Quaker Hill, Quaker Cove, Twin Rocks, and Tilikum camps. The team has asked each individual camp board to review its “bylaws and policies and report back to the transition team” whatever changes seem best in light of the yearly meeting restructure.
The transition team did not list Twin Lakes Friends Camp, nor has it commented on the disposition of that property, 22 acres on Upper Twin Lakes near Rathdrum, Idaho.
The next meeting of the transition team is scheduled for Saturday, June 3, and members plan to “look at related organizations” during that meeting.
Restructure may extend past June 2018 deadline
[This article was updated on March 26 with additional comments from Superintendent Retha McCutchen]
The yearly meeting transition team met in closed session on Saturday, March 18. The team produced no minutes but did approve a report that was released the following Wednesday. That report counters one point from an earlier published Administrative Council decision, clarifies others, and prompts some new questions.
In a follow-up email, Superintendent Retha McCutchen said that she was named “the spokesperson for all communication from the group and its work.” She said that several of the questions raised “have not been answered yet.” She promised to provide more information as it becomes available.
After a list of those present at the meeting, the report says that “no decisions were made. The team familiarized themselves with assets of NWYM and its related organizations and decided what research needs to be done to have the documentation necessary to make informed decisions.”
The report identifies four points of information:
Transition date flexible, all churches may choose to join new yearly meeting
In the decision announced by the Administrative Council in January, affirming churches will be set aside as independent churches or “may be a part of the newly formed yearly meeting.” This transition process was to be completed “on or before June 30, 2018.”
But the report released Wednesday walked back that language from the Administrative Council, calling June 30, 2018, a “soft date. Churches are not under a deadline to make decisions regarding their status within this time period. The transition team will offer a time frame after June 2018 where churches might still leave NWYM with their property.”
McCutchen clarified that “this is not a hard and fast deadline that a church meets or else. Churches might make a decision in the next six months or they may not reach consensus within their meeting until after June 30, 2018.”
The report also clarifies that churches not currently holding an affirming stance on human sexuality “are welcome in either yearly meeting.”
“The reorganization as presented by AC and amended during the January Reps meeting is intended to invite those churches who are diverse, and who have decided to keep their community together and live within that diversity, to be a part of either yearly meeting,” McCutchen said.
According to the published Administrative Council decision, a new yearly meeting “may include churches who have internal disagreement but have agreed to align their practices with the newly formed yearly meeting Faith and Practice.” Northwest Yearly Meeting “may include churches who have internal disagreement but have agreed to align their practices with current NWYM Faith and Practice.”
Nobody loses nonprofit status
“All churches currently members of NWYM will remain under NWYM’s 501(c)(3) until a new yearly meeting is formed and [has] obtained a 501(c)(3) for member churches.”
The exception to this coverage is that any “local church [that] has secured its own designation” will at that point, presumably, cease to be covered by the yearly meeting’s nonprofit status.
What about independent churches?
The transition team considered the reality that some churches may choose to be independent rather than stay with Northwest Yearly Meeting or join a new yearly meeting. The transition team has not determined what share those churches might have in yearly meeting assets.
Retirement accounts may remain where they are
Anyone who has invested in a 401k(k) tax-qualified, defined-contribution pension account, will be allowed to keep their individual contributions where they are, or withdraw their account, “regardless of the yearly meeting choice.”
“This statement is only intended to reassure people nothing is changing with their pension terms and conditions,” McCutchen said.
The transition team meets again on Saturday, April 15. Click here for the full report from Saturday’s meeting.
Yearly meeting decision inconsistent with Quaker process
Members of Camas Friends committed themselves last week to following Quaker process and avoiding “the authoritarian path that led to the NWYM administrative council’s decision to restructure NWYM without us.” The minute, approved in a regular meeting for business, was published in the Washington church’s weekly e-newsletter on Wednesday.
“Our Quaker practices and testimonies are timely for our time and place,” pastor Matt Boswell wrote in a follow-up email. “I hold the hope that this ‘new thing’ will allow us to live more fully into our Quaker identity in a way that is compelling and inviting to many and life-enhancing and life-saving to many others.”
Camas Friends’ approval of a Welcoming Statement in October resulted in its removal from Northwest Yearly Meeting, along with at least three other monthly meetings – Eugene, Klamath Falls and West Hills.
“We advocate for healthy relationships and will support them, whether between people of the same or opposite genders,” reads a portion of that statement. “While human sexuality is a particularly weighty topic of conversation in our religious context, we do not see our desire to equally value straight and LGBTQ identity as something that should define our meeting. It is simply one expression of what is most important to us.”
Boswell wrote that the yearly meeting decision to restructure has created unique opportunities: “We are hopeful about the path we are walking, even if our destination is a bit unclear at the moment…. I see the emergence of an organization that hits a ‘sweet spot’ in terms of the spiritual hunger of many: a Christ-centered, progressive, non-liturgical, non-showy, socially conscious, inclusive and spacious Christian spirituality.”
Boswell added that this split doesn’t end conversations on human sexuality, and it certainly doesn’t resolve them: “Meetings who have not talked about sexuality and gender need to talk about sexuality and gender. Meetings who have had the conversation need to keep growing in their understanding and not assume they are enlightened and thus ‘finished.’”
Boswell also suggested that churches take advantage of this transition to do “honest, self-reflective work about their religious identity,” work that might include sitting with some of the following questions:
- Are we really Quaker? How do we know?
- What’s the Bible?
- What do people need to believe or do to be one of us?
- What do our ministries and programs say about what is important to us?
- How are the demographics of our congregations implicating what we feel, say, and do about the marginalization of LGBTQ+ persons but also racial minorities, women, religious “others,” foreigners, and the earth?
- What’s a yearly meeting, and why should we care?
- What’s the value of being independent versus tied to others; and “tied” in what sense?
- What does a future network of meetings look like?
- What is “future us” doing in the PNW, the world, in our gatherings, with our resources, etc.?
- How do we start to take steps toward this future version of ourselves?
“This conversation could be very exciting,” Boswell wrote, “assuming we listen to one another, are aware of our anxieties and the limitations of our perspective as individuals, open to learning from others, and aware of what is at stake: not just our happiness as religious practitioners seeking a new spiritual home but the potential consequences for others – especially suffering others – of what we do (or don’t do) and how we do it.”
The minute approved by Camas Friends has three parts:
- Camas Friends needs to take plenty of time in the decision-making process concerning future affiliation with other Friends churches or becoming independent.
- We need to get our non-profit status taken care of, to allow us to move forward.
- We want to commit ourselves to following Quaker process, seeking God’s direction for Camas Friends. We do not ever want to fall into the authoritarian path that led to the NWYM administrative council’s decision to restructure NWYM without us.
Klamath Falls pastor reflects on effects of restructure
“In the wake of the news,” pastor Faith Marsalli wrote, “we have been reflecting on the spiritual DNA of our meeting. Among the qualities we most value is being able to provide a safe haven for folks who have had negative church experiences, a place where questions are welcomed, diversity is celebrated, and all are invited to participate in the full life of the meeting.”
Marsalli wrote that the Administrative Council decision also creates an opportunity to do something completely different: “I sense the ‘new thing’ will not just be a NWYM II with all of the familiar organizational trappings. It seems we need to be spacious around the dreaming process and not rush to build the new thing too quickly without the leisure of time and prayer and lots of conversations about who we want to be and do together.”
Klamath Falls is a small faith community of anywhere from 30 to 40 worshipers on a typical Sunday. It is an hour from the closest Quaker gathering at Sprague River and more than 90 minutes from the next two closest Friends churches in Talent and Medford.
“I think that Klamath Falls Friends has felt isolated from the yearly meeting,” Marsalli wrote. “The downside is that many in our meeting, with few exceptions, don’t have the connection or feel the grief that I have in being put out of the yearly meeting.”
Marsalli, who has lived in Klamath Falls for 26 years, said that being put out from the yearly meeting makes her work as pastor even more important “to make sure a Quaker meeting remains here in Klamath Falls long after I leave and for years to come…. While we have a lot of people attending who are still new to Friends, we value our Quaker distinctiveness and are making space to listen for how God is leading us to live more fully into our Christ-centered Quaker identity.”
That Quaker identity is getting lived out in several ways, according to Marsalli. “Our meetinghouse is located in one of the most economically poor neighborhoods in Klamath Falls…. The property next door to our meetinghouse is used as a food pantry and garden space. It has given us many wonderful opportunities to interface with our neighbors and extend help to those who suffer from food insecurity.”
Marsalli also wrote that “there is much work to do in this fearful and reactive political environment…. We wonder what we will be able to do together as churches that are separating from Northwest Yearly Meeting to be a presence of hope. We wonder if our light will shine brighter than ever before.”
And for anyone interested in getting to know Friends in Klamath Falls, Marsalli offered her hope that “we will be able to visit each other more often and not allow the geographical distance between us to hinder our connection. We need each other!”
The next open meeting for transition planning is at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 22, at Eugene Friends Church, 3495 W. 18th Ave., Eugene, Ore.
Threshing meeting to consider way forward in face of YM split
Hillsboro Friends will host a gathering for business and worship from 2 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, February 25. The meeting – planned by representatives at midyear boards and open to all interested Friends – is intended to give people an opportunity to grieve the planned split in Northwest Yearly Meeting while also hearing “from one another about how Christ is calling us in our own communities.”
The meeting is in response to the Administrative Council’s announcement during midyear boards on January 27, 2017, of its decision to restructure the yearly meeting. Four churches are being removed from NWYM: West Hills, Eugene, Camas and Klamath Falls, while several other meetings may also choose to leave. The intended completion of this restructure is June 20, 2018.
“Many from the four released meetings and other meetings expressed a desire to come together to fellowship and hold This New Thing in the Light,” the group said in an email sent out Friday. “And so, let us gather!”
The proposed schedule includes introductions at 2 p.m. followed by waiting worship and threshing sessions. All are invited to stay for a potluck dinner from 5 to 6 p.m.
Hillsboro Friends is at 332 NE 6th Avenue.
Click here for the packet handout provided for anyone interested in attending the meeting.