Opportunity to ‘remember our story, say our goodbyes’
The clerk of the Yearly Meeting worship planning team sent out a letter today addressing questions about plans for annual sessions. Because of a restructure announced in January, the gathering at George Fox University later this month will be the last such session. The NWYM restructure is set to go into effect in June 2018.
Lynn Clouser Holt wrote that “many may be weary and disillusioned and wonder the reason for gathering together for worship…. We must be committed to reflecting and holding Christ’s Light for each other as we close our last NWYM together to establish a good and strong foundation as we all move ahead.”
Although six congregations have announced their intent to leave NWYM and three have publicly declared they will stay, the reality, according to Holt, is that all “have been shaped by our NWYM relationships – past and present, and by years of participating in worship and service together. I invite you to attend each service and hope you will encourage others to come and worship together as well.”
Each evening service has been planned as “a safe and spacious place to encounter Christ, and the themes of the evenings are similar invitations one would find in a memorial service,” Holt wrote. “There will not be a main speaker but … each service will include silence and opportunity for private personal response if one feels led. A small team will be providing the music. Sitting in worship together – regardless of what label we wear or whether we stay or go – invites us to trust God with one another and exposes us to currents of grace which thankfully are not limited by human division.”
Holt included the theme for this year’s worship gatherings: “When Grace happens, we relinquish [and/or] remember our story and say our goodbyes.”
The worship planning team includes Holt, Retha McCutchen, Nate Macy, Rob Willoughby and Martha Wood.
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.”
Group would assist in ‘process of prayerful rebuilding’
Scotts Mills proposed establishing a special task force in an email to Northwest Yearly Meeting pastors, elders, clerks and representatives Wednesday.
“We are eager to get on with what God has called NWYM to do since 1893 and do not want to wait until 2018 to begin the process of rebuilding our structure and unifying our vision,” Pastor Wanda Jenkins wrote. “We believe that across NWYM are many Friends committed to Christ and NWYM Faith and Practice who have ideas and skills that would be helpful to the process of prayerful rebuilding, and who are excited about moving forward.”
In the email, Jenkins identifies the reality that the ongoing NWYM restructure requires significant resources: “By appearances, all the present administrative forces are by necessity focused on the legal and financial tasks of separation, not on the future of NWYM. It is our observation that many holes will be left in NWYM which need to be addressed, including, but not limited to: Administrative staff including a new superintendent, committee structure and membership, finances, vision and plans for a future.”
Establishing a task force would facilitate inter-church communication and collaboration, according to Jenkins: “This group would be charged with communicating between the churches gathering, collating, and reporting ideas, visions, concerns, resources, and needs (structural and spiritual) from churches around NWYM through all possible means (face-to-face gatherings, video conferences, etc.) and reporting recommendations to the AC, Elders, and entire NWYM as appropriate. This special task force would make public recommendations for future progress with NWYM.”
Survey report second of five discernment meetings
Newberg Friends released survey results this last week as part of its ongoing discernment about whether to stay a part of Northwest Yearly Meeting. Nearly 400 survey responses are included in the data, available online, and the meeting Sunday was the second of five scheduled by pastors, elders and clerks.
Of the two survey items given the most time in Senior Pastor Gregg Koskela’s review of the data – “I want NFC to remain in Northwest Yearly Meeting” – had 356 responses in which 51.4 percent of respondents disagreed and an additional 6.7 percent were unsure. The other item – “I agree with and support the current NWYM Faith and Practice statement on human sexuality” – had 353 responses in which 50 percent of respondents disagreed and an additional 8 percent were unsure.
Tim Goodfellow, an elder, reminded the more than 200 people in attendance that the survey “has limits. There are people who didn’t take the survey. There are people who didn’t answer every question. In each one of those columns, there are people, people we care deeply about…. How we move forward is not determined solely by the pastors, the elders and the clerks. Each of us plays a role and has responsibility in how we move forward in this process.”
At the next two meetings – listening forums scheduled for the afternoon and evening of April 23 – people will have an opportunity to share their reasons for staying in the yearly meeting or for leaving. Then on May 7, the NFC leadership team plans to bring a recommendation to the business meeting.
At an informational gathering on March 5, monthly meeting clerk Howard Macy said the 2-month discernment process is intended to “help us seek God’s guidance about our life together. We want to find a path forward, what we need to do to maintain our vitality.”
In that same meeting, Administrative Pastor Elizabeth Sherwood clarified that the survey was not designed to be “a voting process. It’s a way for you to share your heart.”
A similar survey for members of North Valley Friends closed on April 9. Results of that survey have not yet been made available.
Reps agree to continue in fellowship regardless of affiliation
[This article was updated on March 28 to reflect additions to the minutes.]
All three clerks tendered their resignations at the start of business Saturday, suggesting that the ongoing restructure of Northwest Yearly Meeting likely means the end of a united Portland area. But just over 40 representatives from 11 monthly meetings agreed that they should continue to gather “regardless of formal affiliation.”
Keri Kimberly, an elder at West Hills, clarified that the area meetings could continue to meet “even if various monthly meetings end up in different places.”
“Portland area is one of the areas that’s most affected by this [restructure],” Tonya Comfort (Clackamas Park) said, noting that the area includes some churches that will likely stay with the yearly meeting, some that will join a new yearly meeting and others that may decide to become independent. “It would be important that there be a time together where we maintain those contacts. I don’t want to lose contact with those people I love and care about.”
Bernie Bosnjak (Hillsboro), Forrest Cammack (Tigard), Tonya Comfort and Brian Morse (Clackamas Park) agreed to serve on a planning committee. The next gathering of the Portland Area will be during annual session this July. A fall gathering will be hosted by Clackamas Park Friends on Saturday, October 14.
During the five-hour meeting, Julie Peyton (West Hills) reported on the importance of visitation for the sake of building and maintaining relationships. Eric Muhr (Newberg) offered a talk on reconciliation with the first two chapters of Philippians as his text. Elijah Walker (West Hills) facilitated an open worship experience in which participants prayerfully produced drawings, collages and a number of other art pieces.
In the 3-o’clock session, Bosnjak prepared the group for final business by encouraging people to consider what feelings they have experienced – individually, in local churches or as part of the area gathering – and what those feelings might suggest as to what should be shared with the larger yearly meeting: “Some people say, ‘I have feelings and I want to tell somebody and I’m not sure who to tell.’ Other people might say, ‘I have feelings and I want to tell somebody and I’m not sure who will listen.’ Do you have something to say to Northwest Yearly Meeting?”
Before the end of business and a shared potluck meal, the meeting approved the following minute: “We are sensitive to the pain many have experienced as a result of the announced restructure of our yearly meeting. We note, from our conversations, a desire to be mutually vulnerable in our work toward reconciliation. We are more together than we are apart, and many stated their desire that we find a way to nourish relationships and stay together. We intend to continue meeting in fellowship together as a Portland area gathering regardless of formal affiliation.”
Click here for the complete minutes from Saturday’s quarterly meeting.