North Seattle faces third affiliation
With its first meeting in 1905 in a tent on an empty lot, North Seattle Friends has been in existence now for over 100 years. That’s a lot of history.
“From our beginning as Friends Memorial Church in 1905 to 1948 the church was part of Indiana Yearly Meeting,” Pastor Lorraine Watson wrote in an email. “In 1948 Friends Memorial was accepted into Oregon Yearly Meeting (renamed to NWYM in 1974). In 2004 Friends Memorial changed its name to North Seattle Friends Church. Sometime soon we will exit Northwest Yearly Meeting for our third affiliation.”
Watson emphasized that in spite of that history, members of the Quaker church aren’t stuck in the past: “Our current meeting is very much alive with the sense that God is present among us today. We are … committed to listening deeply to God in community, following the leadings that come and freeing each other to live into the ministries that arise in our midst.”
In spite of its size and location, North Seattle Friends is “not a neighborhood church,” Watson said, “but a place [to which] people come from all over the area looking for a Christ-centered Quaker presence. We invite all people to join us, recognizing that those who stay are those who have a similar thirst for knowing God.”
“We gather in meeting each week with our primary purpose being to listen together to God who is present in our midst and speaking to us. Whatever else happens is of no consequence if we do not listen together and allow God to speak to us. Generally, we also include music, God stories, and a message, but not always. We are very aware that we all bring something to this gathering and that it is not up to the upfront leaders to create the experience for us. We bear witness to how God works in our midst.”
Watson said that weekly worship gatherings serve as touch-points for community: “We have a strong sense that we accompany each other as we go through the week, so we often announce where the community is going the next week. We also love blessing each other, whether it be going out in ministry or submitting to surgery. But no matter what else we do, we always have a time of silence so that we can listen deeply to God and in that time, we invite people to share their leadings out of the silence.”
In light of the yearly meeting restructure, Watson said, “We grieved the news that NWYM is unable to hold the diversity that has long been present in this yearly meeting. It was our sense that we would do our best work if we stayed together.”
North Seattle decided in April to leave Northwest Yearly Meeting and to help build a new organization: “We hold hope that this will be a Quaker organization that can truly live into what it means to be Christ-centered Quakers in the Northwest…. Once there is definition to the process, we will discern whether we are to join this group, although I think there is little question but what we will become members.”
“I really yearn for a strongly Quaker and Christ-centered yearly meeting in the Pacific Northwest,” Watson continued. “It has felt to me for many years like there has been a tug and pull in NWYM between various parts of the YM. Quaker vs. Evangelical, social concerns vs. evangelism and the struggle around joining FWCC are the areas that I’ve been most aware of. I believe this struggle goes way back to 1925 when Oregon Yearly Meeting (now NWYM) left Five Years Meeting (now FUM) and probably before that…. With the restructuring, I yearn for us to move forward in freedom as both Quaker and Christ-centered.”
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.
‘New, Christ-centered, affirming Quaker yearly meeting’
Friends in Eugene created a bulletin board in January for anyone interested in joining a “new, Christ-centered, affirming Quaker yearly meeting in the Pacific Northwest.” Nearly 30 people have signed up so far.
“The NWYM Administrative [Council] reached a decision that a new yearly meeting would be created, and that the four churches with published LGBTQ+ affirming statements would be spun off into that new yearly meeting,” administrator John Price wrote in a post explaining the purpose of the site. “This is where we find ourselves today, and it is the reason this bulletin board exists… to provide a place where people from these four NWYM churches, and anyone else interested in joining the new yearly meeting can communicate with each other in a moderated, safe environment.”
The board, hosted by John and Elizabeth Price, features threads for people to process grief, share inspirational thoughts, and discuss Faith and Practice language on human sexuality. It also includes a proposal for a new quarterly meeting, and several collections of documents and notices.
Although the site-hosted discussions are slowly developing, some contributions have already suggested possible ways forward:
Lynsley Rollins suggested simplifying Faith and Practice “to see only one behavioral requirement written into a practice document: a statement that the new YM followed Quaker process, and that if at any time some of its members felt unable to await a uniform leading, and a schism threatened, then those who were unwilling to wait would be the ones to leave.”
Peggy Senger Morrison suggested a revision of Freedom Friends statement on human sexuality: “We hold dear the gift of our sexuality, which is given to all persons regardless of gender identity, orientation, or marital status. Because sexuality and spirituality are closely related, all believers are called to be thoughtful stewards of their sexuality. Sexuality that is de-humanizing, promiscuous, violent, non-consensual, manipulative, or predatory in nature is always harmful.”
The forum is public and read-only for anyone without a login. Click here to visit the site.