by Micah Bales
This past week, I traveled to Wilmington, North Carolina as Friends gathered there for the sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). It was a blessing to be with these Friends during their annual gathering. I would like briefly to give a sketch of what I observed while with them.
There are two North Carolina Yearly Meetings - one which is a part of Friends United Meeting and another which a part of the small Conservative branch of North American Quakerism. Each of these Yearly Meetings is the result of the division in 1902 of a previously unified North Carolina Yearly Meeting. Today, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) is a generally pastoral body - that is, most of their local congregations employ pastoral ministers and have adopted pre-planned sermons, vocal prayer and congregational singing as part of their worship services.
North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) is "conservative" in the sense that it conserves the Friends tradition of extended waiting worship and has not adopted the practice of financially releasing pastors. Neither have Friends in this body adopted the pre-planned elements - congregational singing, sermons and set prayers - that are now common in the other North Carolina Yearly Meeting. If you were to attend any of their local congregations, you would encounter a worship service that consists of roughly an hour of silent waiting, occasionally punctuated by spontaneous sharing in words or in song.
While Friends here have much in common with the Liberal-unprogrammed tradition represented by Friends General Conference and Britain Yearly Meeting, they see themselves as forming part of a distinct branch of Quakerism. Together with Friends in Iowa and Ohio, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) seeks a middle path between the innovations of the pastoral/Evangelical and Liberal-unprogrammed branches.
Friends in NCYMc place their emphasis on waiting upon the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Informed by their wrestling with Scripture, North Carolina Conservative Quakers seek to submit their lives to the personal, living guidance of the God of Abraham and Jesus. While there are clearly a wide variety of theological understandings within NCYMc as a whole, it seems fair to describe the Yearly Meeting as being fiercely God-centered and intent upon leading lives that are submitted to God's Holy Spirit as it is experienced in each individual's heart, as well as in their midst as a worshipping community.
I was blessed to be with Friends in North Carolina this past week. As a member of Ohio Yearly Meeting, I see these Friends as my spiritual kinfolk. We share a rich historical tradition, and I pray that we might grow closer together as we wrestle with our shared history and tradition as Conservative Friends.
For further reflections on my trip, check out these posts on my blog, The Lamb's War:
Micah Bales serves as Coordinator of Young Adult Engagement at ESR. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Faith Kelley. He is active with Capitol Hill Friends and is a member of Rockingham Friends Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting.