This past weekend, I had the joy of attending Indiana Yearly Meeting at Quaker Haven Camp near Syracuse, IN. Indiana Yearly Meeting consists of pastoral meetings in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Indiana and Western yearly meetings share Quaker Haven, the lovely 160-acre camp and retreat center on a lake, and summer sessions include campers from both yearly meetings.
Worship was spirited and Jan Crouch, from Bear Creek Meeting, provided music at the piano. Jan Wood, Director of Good News Associates, spoke about reconciliation among Friends with differing theologies. The attendees met in small groups to discuss the theme, “God has a dream”, in reference to the book God Has a Dream: a Vision for Our Time by Desmond Tutu. We discussed our dreams and God’s dreams for ourselves, our meetings, and the yearly meeting. Threading these discussions was the theme of discerning between our own impulses and God’s will.
The yearly meeting heard reports on new ministry among Hispanics in Indianapolis and two monthly meetings that joined Indiana Yearly Meeting. Visitors from several organizations came to speak, including Friends Fellowship in Richmond and Friends United Meeting. FUM brought several Kenyan Friends as visitors and there time in a separate session to ask them questions and hear about the work FUM is doing in Kenya. There was a particular awareness of the famine in Somalia, as there are now many refuges in northern Kenya. Kenyan Friends see the refugee camps as an opportunity for humanitarian work.
A major business item at the yearly meeting was related to conflict over West Richmond Friends's welcoming and affirming minute. IYM has a 1982 minute condemning homosexuality as a sin. A later 1994 minute acknowledges a broad spectrum of opinion among Friends on this issue, but affirms the 1982 minute. A few years ago, after a long process of study and discernment, West Richmond Friends approved a welcoming and affirming minute. Some other monthly meetings and individuals fear that WRF’s minute will be seen as speaking for all Quakers or for all of IYM. These members see IYM as having authority over monthly meetings to create unity on certain issues. Alternately, others claim that monthly meetings may have a “prophetic witness” to the yearly meeting (a term drawn from Faith and Practice), and have a policy in contrast with IYM.
This has, you might imagine, led to continued tension in the Yearly Meeting and this spring a task force began exploring options to move forward. IYM and the task force acknowledged that things cannot continue as they are. Last weekend the task force presented their report and laid out four models for the future of IYM. They were honest in saying that each has advantages and dis-advantages. The first is to move to a more Congregationalist structure, where the yearly meeting speaks to, but not for, individual meetings. The second is to apply Faith and Practice consistently on this issue and others. The third is disciplinary action against West Richmond, although not necessarily requiring the meeting to withdraw its minute. Finally, the task force recommended splitting the yearly meeting intentionally, giving meetings the opportunity to choose between different ecclesiastic or theological options. The task force recommended model 4. Individuals of the task force agreed that this was the only viable way forward that they see, but seem to disagree about whether this is the best option. To quote a task force member, “We brought [the recommendation] to the yearly meeting trusting that wisdom would prevail.”
The discussions sidetracked into scriptural debates, and the clerk wisely re-focused the meeting on the central issue: We know that we have differences in theology and scriptural interpretation.What do we think about the options the task force has laid out for us? I scribbled down some quotes as people spoke passionately on the issue. Several people expressed a desire to remain in fellowship with WRF (“As a family, divorce is the last resort”, “If we split, how are we going to minister to those we think are in need?”, “I feel as though we’re deciding whether to cut off our left foot, or our right foot.”) They acknowledged that their own meetings had diverse opinions on this issue, or explained that they felt the yearly meeting benefited from diversity. Others insisted that West Richmond is going a different way than their meetings and that they wished to part (and remain) F/friends (“sometimes in love, you need to draw lines”, “you’re going in another direction, and I can’t go with you”). One begged WRF to withdraw the minute in hopes that this would quiet tensions. The monthly meetings will be discussing this in the next few months and there will be a fall meeting to make a decision about the way forward.
Skirting along the edge of the scriptural issues here (and I recognize that these are not in the least bit small, but are simply not resolvable in a blog format, or in fact possibly at all), what are your thoughts about the possible ways forward? Do you see any other creative options? What is a good balance of diversity and commonality in a yearly meeting? What is the purpose of a yearly meeting? What, if anything, does this say about the larger project of forming connections across branches of Friends? Is splitting a way to remain F/friends and possibly even strengthen connections? If a split occurs, what will happen to meetings within IYM where there is a diversity of opinions about homosexuality?
Please take a moment and pray for Indiana Yearly Meeting, that they may be able to corporately discern the best way forward for them.
West Richmond Friends Meeting.