Group discusses details, documents
In a brief notice dated July 10 and released July 14, the Transition Team announced it had met on Saturday, July 8, to discuss details and documents “needed for further clarification on several issues before moving forward.” The notice also referenced but did not disclose details of a report from the Friendsview Retirement Community board.
The transition team, according to Northwest Yearly Meeting Presiding Clerk Brad Holton, “will facilitate the creation of a newly formed yearly meeting,” though the team may not have authority to act, as it must report to the Administrative Council, which “is committed to completing the transition with dignity and honor for all churches.”
In a report released in March, the Transition Team identified itself as having been “appointed by the Administrative Council to facilitate a fair and equitable division of assets for the restructure of Northwest Yearly Meeting.” In April, the team announced research of a fiduciary trust that “would empower both yearly meetings by holding certain assets that are non-theological in nature and currently benefit all parties.” In June, a sub-committee was assigned to work out the details of that trust, and it was clarified that “the work of the Transition Team is subject to review by the Administrative Council.”
At a meeting hosted by North Valley Friends Church in February, NWYM Superintendent Retha McCutchen said that questions “for the Transition Committee to consider and answer” should be directed to her by email – [email protected]
At least four members of the Transition Team attend churches that are leaving NWYM. Churches leaving NWYM do not have representation on the Administrative Council.
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.
Excerpts from Saturday’s meeting
Jan Wood, North Seattle, opened the meeting Saturday: When we enter the door we lay down our preconceptions, convictions, planned speeches – and take on a neutral space in the spirit of Christ, to align with the heart of Jesus. It’s like shedding the garments that need to be shed, that encumber us, and take on the garment of Christ, that frees us. Whenever an organism experiences pain, the natural reaction is to resort to coping mechanisms, to change our behavior to protect itself, to protect itself from that pain ever happening again. We are being birthed out of woundedness and pain, and are vulnerable to resorting to these defenses. We need to release those we are angry at, hold in judgment, have wounded us—release them into the hands of Jesus.
During the meeting, we identified six priorities for an interim steering committee:
- “People work.” Jan asked Eric Muhr to elaborate on “people work.” He offered that we are usually inclined to think in terms of superstructure, rather than infrastructure. We might want to give attention to concern about an undergirding infrastructure to provide for the individuals not connected with these five churches, but who might want to be involved.
- Research into what’s been done before in similar situations, what the YM is requiring, what bylaws are needed. Retha McCutchen, NWYM Interim Superintendent, noted that we don’t need a full Faith and Practice, but merely bylaws (Roger Watson added later that we will need articles of incorporation as well).
- Identity work (who are we, what throws us together).
- Plan for ways to serve the interests of folks not affiliated with departing churches.
- [This was added later in the discussion.] Plan for alternative, parallel business meetings to be held during YM sessions in July 2017.
Wood clarified: We are pretty clear on a steering committee with a limited shelf life expiring at yearly meeting, a time frame for the steering committee to be formed, and a strong concern for a large, pained group in the middle without a departing church to affiliate with, and an identification with their pain.
Jade Souza, Reedwood: I would like for the committee to consider institutional support for meetings that are currently unclear, churches that are restructuring, or new plants or new worship groups.
We approved the following minute:
We approve the creation of an interim committee for the purpose of proposing a structure for the association of the five churches that must leave Northwest Yearly Meeting by 2018, to be comprised of two members appointed from each of these churches. It will serve as the point group for communication among the Friends coalescing around the formation of the new entity, and for communication with NWYM. The interim committee will decide on the scope and priorities of its work. We will ask the five churches leaving NWYM to name their representatives by May 21, 2017. The work and continued existence of this group will be re-evaluated at a meeting of the departing churches to be held during NWYM’s 2017 annual sessions.
Roger Watson, NWYM Director of Finance and Development, spoke to us about relevant legal and financial matters. As a NWYM staff member he has a fiduciary responsibility to us, in both practical matters (such as IRS 501(c)3 eligibility), and also matters concerning our relationship with NYWM. Transition team is working on a plan for the fair and equitable disbursement of the earnings from financial assets. The larger representation our group can achieve, the larger our share in the earnings from the financial assets. We need to show ourselves as a “going concern” here today and at least through the next year. To show good faith effort, we must show ourselves as a legal entity. This involves creating incorporation papers and bylaws. The Faith and Practice of NWYM is their bylaws. In establishing who you are, it’s important also to establish why you are, your purpose.
The next meeting will be during the 2017 NWYM sessions in July.
Click here for the complete minutes from the meeting.
Churches leaving YM take step toward incorporation
[This article was updated on April 23, to include the final, approved minute]
Just over 90 people from 17 meetings gathered at Eugene this afternoon to discern next steps for those leaving Northwest Yearly Meeting.
The group approved for a communications team to begin work directly following the meeting. That team is tasked with broad dissemination of information, increased transparency, and an infrastructure that supports multi-directional connections for the continuing work of discernment.
Jan Wood, North Seattle, clerked the meeting. “We need a comprehensive way to do communication,” she said.
“Let what we’re doing become public,” Rachel Swain Kidd, Eugene, encouraged the group. “As long as we’re part of the Northwest Yearly Meeting, what we’re doing should be posted there.”
In addition, each church leaving the yearly meeting – Camas, Eugene, Klamath Falls, North Seattle and West Hills – will name two representatives to serve on an interim committee that could begin meeting as early as May 21. The interim committee will decide the scope of its work and will serve as a place for ideas to be shared, reporting back to the next gathered meeting at annual sessions in July.
John Price, Eugene, pointed out that having an interim committee will give the yearly meeting Transition Team a group that it can begin working with.
Superintendent Retha McCutchen briefly shared that this new association does not require a Faith and Practice in order to operate. “You just need bylaws,” she said.
The importance of having bylaws and of getting incorporated, according to Roger Watson, yearly meeting director of finance and development, is that “it’s going to be a sign to Northwest Yearly Meeting as a whole and to the Administrative Council in particular that we are serious about what we are doing.”
Watson clarified that incorporating will also help the Transition Team: “One of the questions that the Transition Team is dealing with is the question of division of … earnings from some financial assets…. The larger representation we have in this group, the more share you get to have in the earnings of those financial assets.”
The following minute was approved by the group:
We approved the creation of an interim committee for the purpose of proposing a structure for the association of the five churches that must leave Northwest Yearly Meeting by 2018, to be comprised of two members appointed from each of these churches. It will serve as the point group for communication among the Friends coalescing around the formation of the new entity, and for communication with NWYM. The interim committee will decide on the scope and priorities of its work. We will ask the five churches leaving NWYM to name their representatives by May 21, 2017. The work and continued existence of this group will be re-evaluated at a meeting of the departing churches to be held during NWYM’s 2017 annual sessions.
Friends from the following meetings were present:
- Betweeners (worship group in Tualatin)
- Bridge City (North Pacific YM)
- East Hill
- Eugene Friends Church
- Eugene Friends Meeting (North Pacific YM)
- Friends in Common
- Klamath Falls
- North Seattle
- North Valley
- West Hills
The communications team includes Gil George, Rachel Hampton, Connor Magee, Thomas Magee, Eric Muhr, Kjiersten Schmidt and Lorraine Watson.
Group hopes to avoid splitting ‘non-theological’ assets
A report from the yearly meeting transition team, released yesterday, identified one research item, one item of discussion, three recommendations and one next step. Two of the recommendations in the 278-word document were clarifications from the working group’s last report.
The transition team identified a fiduciary trust as an ongoing research focus. The trust would allow Northwest Yearly Meeting and the new coalition of monthly meetings to avoid splitting as-yet-undefined assets by “holding certain assets that are non-theological in nature” and distributing the dividends of these assets proportionally between the two groups.
Superintendent Retha McCutchen has not yet responded to an emailed request for clarification as to which assets might be included in this trust, and according to one member of the group, others are remaining “silent, at least for the time being, in agreement with the stated policy” of the transition team. McCutchen confirmed in an earlier email that “the group decided that I would be the spokesperson for all communication from the group and its work.”
The three recommendations from the transition team are “to the Administrative Council.” Earlier language from Presiding Clerk Brad Holton said the team would report to the council, leaving some ambiguity about what deliberative body has final approval. Holton had earlier written that the Administrative Council “is committed to completing the transition” but that the transition team would “facilitate the creation of a newly formed yearly meeting.”
The recommendations, the first two of which are clarifications of an earlier report, include the following:
- All current churches (whether they choose to stay in NWYM, join a new YM, or go independent) will retain their property along with any associated debt.
- Employed pastors and staff (current and future) will continue to have access to the 401(k) pension plan and be able to contribute new funds.
- All current churches will have access to the Friends Church Extension Fund.
The transition team reported ongoing discussion of Quaker Hill, Quaker Cove, Twin Rocks, and Tilikum camps. The team has asked each individual camp board to review its “bylaws and policies and report back to the transition team” whatever changes seem best in light of the yearly meeting restructure.
The transition team did not list Twin Lakes Friends Camp, nor has it commented on the disposition of that property, 22 acres on Upper Twin Lakes near Rathdrum, Idaho.
The next meeting of the transition team is scheduled for Saturday, June 3, and members plan to “look at related organizations” during that meeting.
Plans for parallel summer session placed on hold
One possibility for monthly meetings leaving Northwest Yearly Meeting might be some kind of combination with the Western Association of the Religious Society of Friends. The three WARSF meetings – all in California – have expressed interest, according to Brian Young (Berkeley), but there are also reasons for caution.
Young said the physical distances may be daunting, “especially for the folks from southern California. That will have to be determined as we get further into this process, and visitation will probably give us the best indication.”
In a 45-minute conversation at the Friends World Committee for Consultation Section of the Americas meeting in Stony Point, NY, this last month, Julie Peyton (West Hills) and Young discussed the possibility of representation from WARSF at annual sessions this summer.
Peyton had originally been given a green light from NWYM Presiding Clerk Brad Holton and Superintendent Retha McCutchen “to pursue a parallel program, one geared towards those leaving the yearly meeting. My intent was to share dorms, cafeteria, and worship but have some programming … that would help ground this new thing.” But Peyton reported that in a meeting last Tuesday, McCutchen shared with Peyton her concern that this not be “a divisive situation, where Friends see some workshops geared toward one group or the other,” effectively putting plans for a parallel program on hold this summer.
Young said he intends “to draft a report to WARSF’s Board of Oversight on [the] dialogue thus far in the next week or so, and I will be sure to mention the annual session dates” as an option for visitation.
No matter what happens, the priority for WARSF meetings, according to Young, “is to provide connections with Friends United Meeting and other Friends organizations – American Friends Service Committee, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and FWCC. I believe that I can speak for most WARSF Friends in saying that we would want any organization that we might join, or any meetings that might want to join with us, to actively support those same connections.”
The next meeting for churches leaving NWYM, as well as anyone interested in the process, will be from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 22, at Eugene Friends Church, 3495 W 18th Ave, Eugene, OR 97402.
Restructure may extend past June 2018 deadline
[This article was updated on March 26 with additional comments from Superintendent Retha McCutchen]
The yearly meeting transition team met in closed session on Saturday, March 18. The team produced no minutes but did approve a report that was released the following Wednesday. That report counters one point from an earlier published Administrative Council decision, clarifies others, and prompts some new questions.
In a follow-up email, Superintendent Retha McCutchen said that she was named “the spokesperson for all communication from the group and its work.” She said that several of the questions raised “have not been answered yet.” She promised to provide more information as it becomes available.
After a list of those present at the meeting, the report says that “no decisions were made. The team familiarized themselves with assets of NWYM and its related organizations and decided what research needs to be done to have the documentation necessary to make informed decisions.”
The report identifies four points of information:
Transition date flexible, all churches may choose to join new yearly meeting
In the decision announced by the Administrative Council in January, affirming churches will be set aside as independent churches or “may be a part of the newly formed yearly meeting.” This transition process was to be completed “on or before June 30, 2018.”
But the report released Wednesday walked back that language from the Administrative Council, calling June 30, 2018, a “soft date. Churches are not under a deadline to make decisions regarding their status within this time period. The transition team will offer a time frame after June 2018 where churches might still leave NWYM with their property.”
McCutchen clarified that “this is not a hard and fast deadline that a church meets or else. Churches might make a decision in the next six months or they may not reach consensus within their meeting until after June 30, 2018.”
The report also clarifies that churches not currently holding an affirming stance on human sexuality “are welcome in either yearly meeting.”
“The reorganization as presented by AC and amended during the January Reps meeting is intended to invite those churches who are diverse, and who have decided to keep their community together and live within that diversity, to be a part of either yearly meeting,” McCutchen said.
According to the published Administrative Council decision, a new yearly meeting “may include churches who have internal disagreement but have agreed to align their practices with the newly formed yearly meeting Faith and Practice.” Northwest Yearly Meeting “may include churches who have internal disagreement but have agreed to align their practices with current NWYM Faith and Practice.”
Nobody loses nonprofit status
“All churches currently members of NWYM will remain under NWYM’s 501(c)(3) until a new yearly meeting is formed and [has] obtained a 501(c)(3) for member churches.”
The exception to this coverage is that any “local church [that] has secured its own designation” will at that point, presumably, cease to be covered by the yearly meeting’s nonprofit status.
What about independent churches?
The transition team considered the reality that some churches may choose to be independent rather than stay with Northwest Yearly Meeting or join a new yearly meeting. The transition team has not determined what share those churches might have in yearly meeting assets.
Retirement accounts may remain where they are
Anyone who has invested in a 401k(k) tax-qualified, defined-contribution pension account, will be allowed to keep their individual contributions where they are, or withdraw their account, “regardless of the yearly meeting choice.”
“This statement is only intended to reassure people nothing is changing with their pension terms and conditions,” McCutchen said.
The transition team meets again on Saturday, April 15. Click here for the full report from Saturday’s meeting.