Clerk warns of separation if ‘way forward cannot be found’
Members of 28 Friends meetings in Ohio and Tennessee gather next week for what “may someday be remembered as the most important days in living memory for Wilmington Yearly Meeting.” Presiding Clerk Dave Goff announced the annual-session business focus in a letter sent last month and offered that if a way forward cannot be found on marriage equality, “We may need to begin the process of a separation.”
In the discussions, scheduled to start Friday, at least one proposal under consideration will be to allow “each monthly meeting to chart its own course on sensitive and complex issues.” The minute, proposed by Fairview Monthly Meeting, “advises that the yearly meeting not discipline any monthly meeting for their stand on such issues.”
“There are some meetings and some individuals who strongly believe that the time has come for Wilmington Yearly Meeting to endorse ‘Marriage Equality,’ or at the very least to allow those who strongly believe this way to practice their beliefs without disciplinary consequences,” Goff wrote. “Others would be inclined to discipline those meetings who have openly conducted same-gender marriages, or who have said that they will do so if opportunity arises. One meeting has unilaterally performed a same-gender marriage regardless of the opinion of the Wilmington Yearly Meeting or its affiliated monthly meetings. There are some who think they should be disciplined in some way. Many others believe they should be left alone to do as they believe is right.”
Marriage equality first came to the floor of Wilmington Yearly Meeting for action in 1978: “A concern came from Friendsville Monthly Meeting to Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel regarding a letter, sent to many meetings, from Gay Concerns Committee of Philadelphia Meeting…. Ministry and Counsel recommended this concern for response be referred to the Committee on Public Morals for study and report.”
The Public Morals Committee produced six position papers and released its findings in 1979: “The issue of homosexuality will not go away. The Committee suggests that Yearly Meeting members clarify their own views through study and openness and a waiting on the Spirit. Compassion should be shown to homosexuals.”
The yearly meeting received another request in 1990 to “discuss this issue and formulate a statement.” Then in 1997, “a statement on same gender marriages was adopted with representatives of Community, Wilmington, Eastern Hills and Dover Meetings and five individuals recorded as ‘standing aside.’” Friends approved the statement as a working document.
Campus Friends supports marriage equality and leadership there has encouraged the yearly meeting “to trust monthly meetings to make their own decisions about this issue.”
Cincinnati Monthly Meeting identifies as an Open and Affirming congregation.
Community Monthly Meeting is no longer part of Wilmington Yearly Meeting.
Eastern Hills Monthly Meeting “now holds to a position of favoring marriage equality,” according to leaders there “and would choose marriage equality over membership in Wilmington Yearly Meeting if forced to make a choice.”
Wilmington Monthly Meeting has a Statement on Equality on its website.
Documents from Wilmington Yearly Meeting:
A summary of the use of “working documents” by Wilmington Yearly Meeting from 1970-2013 Minutes that were approved without unity by Wilmington Yearly Meeting from 1970-2013 Minutes on the topic of same-gender relationships by Wilmington Yearly Meeting from 1970-2013
- Fairview Friends Monthly Meeting minute for Yearly Meeting
- Letter from Presiding Clerk Dave Goff regarding this year’s agenda for business
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.”
Our New Thing to gather for worship and business
The interim committee for the group leaving Northwest Yearly Meeting released a tentative schedule for annual sessions. Each meeting – Camas, Eugene, Klamath Falls, Newberg Emerging Friends Church, North Seattle and West Hills – is to name one person to serve on a nominating committee that would start meeting the Monday of Yearly Meeting.
The group is looking for people to self-nominate for the following positions:
- Clerk (1 volunteer)
- Recording Clerk (1 volunteer)
- Financial Committee (3-5 members)
- Spiritual Care Committee (no set limit)
- Interim Committee (5 at-large members, up to 5 members nominated by local churches)
- Prayer Team (no set limit)
- Bylaws, Faith & Practice
- People Work
- Quarterly Gatherings (responsible for worship, fellowship, and educational content)
Click here to read the complete minutes from the interim committee.
Congregational meeting scheduled for sharing, listening
In an email last week the North Valley transition task force and elders called a congregational meeting for sharing and listening. The meeting, scheduled for this Sunday evening, will give people an opportunity to consider the results of a meeting-wide survey about how NVFC might respond to the yearly meeting restructure.
“This is not a business meeting, and we are not seeking a decision at this meeting,” Scot Headley emphasized in the email. “Have conversations with your family and friends in the congregation, and with others you don’t know as well Now is a time to listen to one another about what are our hopes and concerns regarding the yearly meeting transition. Keep one another in prayer and remember our friends in our local congregations, as well.”
In the report, the transition task force presented several findings of fact:
- Based on inquires made about Evangelical Friends Church International (EFCI, an umbrella group for NWYM), churches may not be jointly affiliated with an EFCI YM and other YM, such as a Friends United Meeting (FUM) YM.
- Churches may not independently affiliate with FUM.
- Based on statements from the YM superintendent and presiding clerk, no appeals of the January YM administrative council decision will be heard.
- Information regarding the work of the YM transition team is not very conclusive at this point. There is general agreement from this group to seek fair and impartial means of apportioning physical assets, but as of yet, no clear guidelines or decisions have been published. NV Elder, Silas Olson, serves on this group.
- Information regarding a possible new YM that may emerge in the region is also inconclusive. There have been several listening meetings in this regard, but as of yet, no clear direction is apparent.
The survey results indicated that although the most selected option was some kind of joint affiliation with Evangelical Friends Church – North America and Friends United Meeting, a separate survey question illustrated that respondents were more willing to support joining a new yearly meeting than any other option.
Themes identified by the task force in responses to open-ended questions in the survey include the following:
- Schedule corporate discernment that incorporates meetings for worship, focused on healthy vulnerability, listening, and Quaker process
- Focus on welcoming, loving, and including our LGBTQ members and attenders
- Affirm unity in diversity as NVFC previously discerned
- Expressions of frustration and desire to appeal/reverse the YM decision to split
- Become independent now and acquire 501c3 status
- Hold fast to Quaker distinctions, history, process
- Desire that NVFC to be an example of love and trust to others
- Hope for trust/reconciliation with NWYM in the future
- Continue NVFC process/discernment/conversations around human sexuality
- Be transparent and informative during this process