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.”
Fraser offers notes from Indiana schism
Back in February 2012, Margaret Fraser began documenting the emergence of something new among Friends in Indiana. She was later named the New Association’s presiding clerk.
Fraser shared the following linked pieces from her blog in the stated hope that her documentation of their process might prove helpful to Northwest Friends embarking on a similar journey:
February 2, 2012 – There was a problem of chicken and egg. Many people feel too exhausted to want to talk doctrine, money and structure. In fact, for some, the whole idea of an organization is an issue that they are not ready to get back into. Yet there has to be one to receive property, restricted funds and other assets as part of the separation from Indiana Yearly Meeting, and there are short deadlines attached to that. We knew we had work to do.
July 29, 2012 – And here we are, in 2012 in a different crisis. While many issues – the interpretation and role of scripture, organizational polity and authority, the nature of sin, God’s will and so on, have arisen, at the heart of it is an issue – the potential violation of conscience – that, it seems, cannot be accommodated. Some things can be worked through by compromise, by giving up a cherished tradition in order to keep the peace and stay together. But for one group of Friends to take a course of action, or withdraw from a course of action that they, in conscience, after deep prayer, cannot do, is a different matter.
July 17, 2013 – We had to move forward – deadlines had been set. However, too much pressure to be “in” or “out” would add to the stress in meetings, as well as adding to the lines that had already been drawn. We wanted to avoid wounding splits in congregations. With a lot of trust, and some hugs and tears, we began the process of building a new Quaker family. We decided to delay choosing a permanent name for ourselves until we knew what our ultimate geographical boundary was, and incorporate simply as The New Association of Friends.
August 2014 – We share a renewed sense of the encouragement that can be found in relationship with each other. Many of us spoke of how wonderful it was not to approach a gathering of Friends with apprehension, but with hope, joy, even an anticipation of having fun. We are still in discernment about the future of the New Association of Friends. We rejoice at how far we have come, trusting God will continue to lead us to deepen and strengthen our ties, and to increased effectiveness and faithfulness.
Clerk sees transition as opportunity for identity work
Bob Henry announced his resignation at Silverton Friends in an email earlier this month. But John Pattison, clerk of the meeting, said the transition (Henry was called to pastor at Indianapolis First Friends) doesn’t “change the work that’s left ahead…. We still have to discern whether to stay in Northwest Yearly Meeting, join the new yearly meeting, or go independent.”
That’s because “the decision about the yearly meeting, as well as what our position will be regarding welcoming LGBTQ people, won’t be coming from the ‘top down,’” Pattison wrote in an email. “We have to do the hard, patient work of seeking God’s direction together.”
Northwest Yearly Meeting is setting off five churches as part of a restructure announced in January. Other monthly meetings may choose to stay in NWYM, join the new association or become independent Friends meetings. Each church has been asked to decide by June 2018.
“I hope Silverton Friends Church uses this time as an opportunity to become crystal clear about who we are, what’s important to us, and what God is calling us to do and be in our particular community,” Pattison wrote. “The concept I’ve used to describe it is one borrowed from psychotherapy: self-differentiation…. A self-differentiated leader is one who is clear about … values and vision, isn’t anxious, is willing to be vulnerable, willing to take risks. I want Silverton Friends to become a self-differentiated church.”
Pattison said that means Silverton won’t rush to hire a new pastor: “Hiring a permanent pastor before we are confident in our identity makes it more likely that we will rely on a new pastor to give us that identity. That’s not fair to the pastor or to us.”
“The church is fortunate to have a group of elders right now who are wise and humble and committed. The next step, as far as the elders and I can tell, is to set aside a few Sundays before Bob leaves, to talk as a whole congregation. Over the last several years, conversation has become a formational practice for our church. Though we’re far from perfect at it, we’ve intentionally trained ourselves how to talk well across our differences. We’re going to lean into that skill. Every few weeks, between now and mid-June, we are replacing the full sermon with focused conversations meant to clarify our identify in Christ, discuss what it means to be a Quaker follower of Jesus in the Silverton area, build closer community, and listen for God’s voice together.”
In his letter to the congregation, Henry brought up these same conversations: “I was proud at the most recent ‘family meeting’ to see people feel safe to share from their hearts on difficult topics – that only comes through strong relational bonds, patient listening, and faithful presence together. I know there are more difficult conversations ahead, but you have proved to be a people who can weather those and find a positive future.”
Pattison said these conversations are especially vital now that the yearly meeting is in transition: “What I’ve been experiencing as clerk since the Northwest Yearly Meeting decided to split – and especially since Bob announced that he is moving to Indianapolis – is new terrain for me. I can barely see the road ahead, and I have no clue how everything will play out. What I’m committed to do is just be faithful to the very next step, as that next step is revealed.”
California, Indiana groups show new way for meetings to partner
Churches removed from Northwest Yearly Meeting and those considering leaving started discussions in February about what a new thing might look like. Two associations – one in California and another in the Midwest – give meetings examples for a way to be together.
The Western Association of the Religious Society of Friends (WARSF) is an organization of independent Friends meetings. Each church has its own 501(c)3 tax status and does its own recording.
WARSF, a collection of three California meetings, is similar to the New Association of Friends, based in Indiana, as both groups are part of Friends United Meeting and have full status in Friends World Committee for Consultation and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
WARSF has minuted inviting churches leaving NWYM to join them. It’s also been suggested by one member of WARSF that they might be interested in joining something created by monthly meetings in the Pacific Northwest.
Points of interest from the bylaws:
- “Individual Friends who are members, regular attenders, or supporters of monthly meetings that do not participate in the New Association” may themselves be members of the New Association if they “desire to participate on a personal basis.”
- “Monthly meetings and individuals that desire to maintain affiliation with another body of Friends are allowed to do so.”
- “Release from membership shall be without penalty or retribution.”
- Decisions are made “according to the Quaker process of prayerfully seeking unity under the leading of God.”
- A process for removal of the presiding clerk is defined in section 9.6.
- “No property belonging to the New Association of Friends shall be deeded, assigned, or in any manner transferred or disposed of without the passage of a resolution by the meeting for business.”