Monthly meeting has yet to decide whether it will be independent or join SCYMF
In a letter to Northwest Yearly Meeting leadership, Silverton Friends announced its decision to fully welcome gender and sexual minorities who want to be part of the worshiping community. The congregation approved the following minute in a nearly three-hour business meeting on September 24:
We are a community that loves one another, yet even in our love we do not find ourselves in full agreement regarding all matters of human sexuality. Even so, as Silverton Friends walks the path of Jesus together, the LGBTQ+ community will be welcome to fully participate in the life of the Meeting.
Silverton Clerk of Elders John Pattison sent a copy of the letter to the congregation last night, explaining that “this minute puts us outside NWYM Faith and Practice, which means, unfortunately, that we as a church have to make a decision in the coming months about whether or not to join the new yearly meeting or be an independent church.”
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.”