Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Report from Northwest Yearly Meeting, July 2011

By Carole Spencer

From July 24-28 I attended the 119th session of Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Churches (NWYM) at George Fox University in Newberg Oregon. Northwest Yearly meeting is an evangelical Yearly Meeting made up of programmed churches in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. NWYM is the meeting I have been connected with all my life as a Quaker (30 some years) until I moved to Richmond last summer. This summer it seemed strange to attend as a “visitor,” but it was wonderful to see so many long-time friends.

The keynote address was the last message given by the outgoing YM superintendent
Colin Saxton. Colin has served seven years as superintendent of NWYM and will be
moving to Richmond to become the General Secretary of Friends Uniting Meeting in January 2012. There is a great sadness in NWYM with Colin’s departure as he is deeply loved, respected and admired. The only person there who felt joyful about his coming to Richmond was, of course, me!

Before Colin delivered his message, he introduced Rebecca (Becky) Ankeny whose nomination to become Superintendent was approved a few days later by the business meeting. Becky is a faculty member in the Literature & Writing Department of George Fox University and has also held administrate posts there. Becky will become the first female superintendent of NWYM. At the session to
approve her nomination a number of people spoke to the importance of the Quaker testimony to the equality of women and men, and some lamented the failure to consistently maintain it over time within the YM. When the recommendation of Becky was finally approved by the meeting, and she was called in to hear the announcement, she was given a standing ovation. Becky’s parents were missionaries and she grew up in Northwest YM. She is a graduate of George Fox College and the University of Oregon.

The theme of the 2011 sessions was “In Christ—one people—growing together” and the key biblical text: Eph. 4:13. The YM brochure reminded everyone that “True spiritual maturity is most fully expressed in community. When individual members experience the connecting power of the Holy Spirit and when our differences and disputes are surrendered to Jesus, we find a unity that transcends our diversity. We have a new purpose and direction.”

The theme of love and unity amidst conflicting viewpoints was a consistent thread throughout the sessions. Colin made
a point in his keynote to speak to people on the “poles” --those on the conservative and liberal ends of the YM --asking them to listen to each other and have respect for one another even if they have divergent perspectives. To facilitate this theme of unity and lay the groundwork for working through conflicts, some business sessions were laid aside for small groups to prayerfully share their experiences of times when differences of opinions divided them and times when conflict was transcended.

In two evening sessions Jan Wood from Seattle, Washington, presented messages on unity amidst diversity. (Jan also spoke at Indiana Yearly Meeting this year). Five people were recorded as ministers this year. One, Leslie Murray, a good friend
of mine, is a Youth Pastor and a dynamic young leader in NWYM. I was delighted to be able to attend a gathering in celebration of her gifts.

On the final night, a closing banquet was held honoring the five ministers who were approved for recording, and celebrating the golden anniversary of Friendsview Manor, a lovely retirement community in Newberg, OR.

Carole SpencerCarole Spencer serves as Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Earlham School of Religion. She is a recorded minister in Northwest Yearly Meeting.

Friday, August 19, 2011

ESR Examines the "Core of Quaker Leadership" at 2011 Conference

By Jay Marshall, Dean of ESR

Joe Volk delivers his plenary address to attendees
I spent the past weekend with about sixty Friends who have an interest in leadership. Mine is a biased opinion, to be sure, but the collective buzz and the energy it generated were exhilarating. For the second consecutive year, ESR hosted a conference on leadership. It is one result of ESR’s decision to add a leadership emphasis within the M. Div. curriculum.
Attendees work in small groups during a workshop
This year’s theme, “Seeking the Core of Quaker Leadership”, captures the essence of the motivation for this new venture. The conference included presentations from: Joe Volk, who recently retired as executive secretary of FCNL; Bonalyn Mosteller, who works in the area of leadership development with Friends Services for the Aging; Alan Kolp and Peter Rea, who teach business persons about the integration of virtues and business; a panel presentation by businesspersons (Peter Laughter, Chiyo Moriuchi, Ray Ontko, and Lawrence Ross); plus some leadership with Earlham connections (Jennie Isbell, Paul Lacey, and myself). Friends, indeed all groups, benefit from good leadership. Where better to discover how such leadership can thrive than among Friends experienced with leading? 
Bonalyn Mosteller leads one of the workshops
This year’s event was rich and diverse in terms of experience. The attendance roster included leaders from the corporate and the non-profit world, religious and secular organizations, academics and practitioners alike. Attendees and presenters together contributed much weight to the learning experience. One exciting feature was the simple fact that about 2/3 of conference participants live outside of Richmond, Indiana. In fact, most of that 2/3 number live outside of Indiana! This indicates the topic has an appeal to a wide range of individuals, many of whom are willing to travel in order to participate. 

Attendees enjoy a meal and conversation
I made more new acquaintances at this event than any I can remember in the recent past, many of whom have skills and talents that I do not have but about which I would like to learn more. Even now, a breakfast conversation echoes in my mind. I was reflecting upon a new idea from the day before, and acknowledging that I did not know how to apply that to my work even though I could see its value. One person at the table said in response, “I can help you with that. That is what I do in my work.” Indeed, she has already sent a document describing how I might proceed and offering further assistance when I need it. 
Many of us have experienced the power and good results that emerge from the synergies of Friends who value implementation as highly as conversation. I hope that time will prove this to be one of those occasions.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Report from Ohio Yearly Meeting 2011

By Micah Bales

This past week, Friends gathered from across the eastern United States for the annual sessions of Ohio Yearly Meeting. OYM is one of three Conservative(1) Yearly Meetings that remain in the United States. At the turn of the twentieth century, there were seven. However, because of a great decline in membership and several mergers with non-Conservative Yearly Meetings, only Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio Yearly Meetings remain as standard-bearers for the Conservative stream of Quakerism.

Among the three remaining Conservative Yearly Meetings, Ohio Yearly Meeting has been particularly tenacious in conserving the distinctive doctrines and practices of the Quietist Period(2) of American Quakerism. The theology of Friends in OYM largely lines up with that which is expressed in Barclay's Apology. A large minority of Friends have chosen to dress "plain" (somewhat similar to the Amish or conservative Mennonites). Vocal ministry in our meetings for worship is unrehearsed and (we hope) led by the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit. Spoken ministry usually draws heavily on Christian tradition and the Scriptures.

My wife Faith and I became involved in Ohio Yearly Meeting through Rockingham Monthly Meeting, which meets near Harrisonburg, Virginia - about two and a half hours away from our home in DC. We began attending there on a monthly basis in the fall of 2009. What drew us to keep coming back despite the distances involved was the clear Christian witness of the Meeting and the love, care and spiritual maturity that we sensed among the members. Faith and I were looking for a Quaker Christian community, and it seemed that God was opening the way for this among Friends at Rockingham.

This was our first Yearly Meeting session as members, and it was a particularly intense year for Ohio Yearly Meeting. Along with many other Christian bodies, Ohio Yearly Meeting is wrestling with its understanding of human sexuality. Our struggle as a Yearly Meeting began last year, when Salem Quarterly Meeting brought a suggestion to revise our Book of Discipline (Faith and Practice) to - among other things - define marriage as being "between one man and one woman." This elicited a strong reaction from many Friends. The matter was tabled and forwarded to Stillwater Quarterly Meeting - OYM's larger Quarter, and the one where Rockingham Meeting is a member.

Stillwater Quarterly Meeting instructed its Monthly Meetings to consider and share their response to the suggestion from Salem Quarterly Meeting to alter the Discipline. After consideration by the Monthly Meetings, Stillwater Quarter drafted a corporate response to be forwarded to the Yearly Meeting. Friends in Stillwater Quarterly Meeting were not in unity to revise the Book of Discipline. Friends had a sense that we as a Yearly Meeting did not yet have the full picture, and that we need Christ to guide us into the fullness of truth in this matter.

As one might expect, we spent a lot of time praying at our annual sessions this year. There was deliberation during three business sessions about how we could faithfully engage these difficult questions together as Christ's Body. I have detailed this process on my personal blog - here and here.

Ohio Yearly Meeting was unable to come to unity on our sense of how or whether God has ordained same-sex romantic relationships. However, we were in agreement that "Friends of all perspectives are equally committed to the Lord." This is no small matter when dealing with a question that has and continues to divide Christian bodies around the world. Friends in OYM recognized that we have not yet been shown how to move forward together as a community on questions of sexuality and marriage. Nevertheless, it is our conviction that the Holy Spirit that Jesus sends us will lead us into all truth as long as we are faithful in waiting upon the Lord and submitting ourselves to him.

There is a strong sense among many of us in Ohio Yearly Meeting that there is a "third way" that we have not yet seen. We believe that our God is one of order, not of disorder(3) and that if there are different, strongly held convictions in the body, that there must be some amount of truth in both of them. What we still lack is the complete openness and submission that would clear the way for Christ to lead us into the fullness of his truth.

And yet, despite our disagreement on these very important issues, we do sense a deep spiritual unity that surpasses our human understanding of what unity should mean. We disagree, yet we know that the Holy Spirit is present in our midst, binding us together as Christ's Church. We are in spiritual unity, though outwardly we are in disagreement. This is a mystery of Christ's work in the body. If we choose to be faithful to his teaching in our hearts and in our midst, I do believe that Jesus will lead us out of our faulty human understandings and into the clarity that comes from repentance and purification by the Inward Light of Christ.


1. Conservative Friends "conserve" many aspects of the Quietest-era Quaker tradition, including unprogrammed worship, explicitly Christian faith and various traditions and folkways that have largely been discarded by the wider Religious Society of Friends. For more information on Conservative Friends, see the QuakerMaps description of Conservative Quakerism and The Conservative Friend.
2. The Quietist period ran from the mid-1700s to the early 1800s.
3. 1 Corinthians 14:33

Micah BalesMicah 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.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Missionary Work Abroad: Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM)

My summer has, as you know from previous posts, included time in Kenya and Rwanda.  Perhaps because of this, at Indiana Yearly Meeting I found myself more aware of the reports of FUM ministries abroad.  This was even more the case at Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) this past weekend.  Perhaps my time in Africa is continuing to echo through my experience and drawing my attention to the international work of Friends.

Iowa Yearly Meeting is a group of programmed meetings in Iowa and Wisconsin.  Iowa YM's worship has an evangelical bent to it (in the choices of music, for example), and I am reminded of the great range of diversity within FUM.  This was underscored by their keynote speaker, Ron Stansell, who is from Evangelical Friends Mission.  Candi Young, who teaches at Belize Friends (Boys) School, spoke about her work there.  John Moru was visiting Iowa YM from the Turkana Friends Mission.  Two Iowa YM members(Nathan and Brianna Martin), home from being missionaries in Cambodia to have a baby, also spoke.

Belize Friends Boys School

Candi Young spoke about her desire to expand Friends (Boys) School in Belize, and her joy at the enthusiam of her students to learn.  (I put "boys" in paraentheses because she showed us pictures of the first girls to attend the school!)  I was reminded again of how much of a difference a little money can make.  USFW donates the money to give each child there a snack: a banana, an orange, and a biscuit.  For most of the children, this is all they will eat each day, and the cost is so small.

John Moru, testing water (FUM website)
John Moru had several opportunities to speak, and was very engaging.  FUM General Secretary Sylvia Graves, who was also visiting Iowa YM, spoke about Turkana Friends Mission being a "Kenyan" mission.  Kenyan Quakers, having been evangelized by missionaries a century ago, are now traveling out to build missions themselves.  Ron Stansell pointed out that FUM is not a white organization anymore, and Quakerism is not a white denomination.  African and South American Quakers will take control of their own institutions, and take responsibility for missions in their area, in an increasing way.  John Moru feels a particular calling to plant churches in Sudan, having been there as a child.  With the majority-Christian southern part of Sudan separating off from the northern part on July 9th, he feels that his way will soon be clear.
ESR's registrar, April, presenting a workshop in Kenya

I have been thinking lately about missionary work.  Many Christians do "mission trips" within the US or to other countries, which seem to be a valuable tool for increasing cultural awareness and forming connections on both sides, as well as sometimes getting some practical work done!  Our trip to Kenya and Africa was, in some sense, similar.  The intetion was to develop our awareness of African Friends and to offer some workshops and presentations.  I do, however, wonder about long-term church-planting.  Some point to the great commision given in Matthew 28:19-20 ("Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.")  Some believe that non-Christians will go to hell and conversion is an imperative.  Others see this conversion as colonialism, or unnecessary given strong religion traditions across the world and point more to interfaith dialog. 

I wonder what it would be like to go plant a church in a place with a strong religious culture.  How does a missionary in Cambodia or Thailand view Buddhism?  What would it mean to be a Christian missionary in Saudi Arabia?  Can one be a long-term Christian missionary and respect the validity of other religions?  Can one take a "come and see" attitude (John 1:46), offering what Quakers have available while respecting the existing religious and denominational forces in a particularly area?

Just some thoughts on my mind this morning!  It was lovely to visit with Friends in Iowa YM and I enjoyed worshipping with them very much.

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Postlude: Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting

Gara, from Wilmington College
I posted about Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting last Friday, but realized that I wanted to news of a particular event.  On Saturday, Larry Gara and his wife Lenna Mae spoke in a session titled "Simply Speaking."  Larry is a retired Wilmington College professor and editor of a recently published book A Few Small Candles: War Resistors of World War I Tell Their Stories.  Living in Richmond, I have met several people who were contentious objectors during World War II or the Vietnam War. 

What I didn't know was that there were some who went one step beyond and refused to register for the draft as contentious objectors and were sent to prison for "non-registration."  Larry Gara was himself a war resistor and spent three years in a federal prison.  Once released, he was re-arrested for continuing to refuse to register.  Finally, while teaching at Bluffton University, he spoke with a student who had already refused to sign up for the draft and encouraged him, leading to another arrest, trial, and 18-month prison term.

Gara spoke about his time in prison, his trials, his decision not to sign up for the draft, working towards racial reconciliation, and the evolution of laws regarding draft resistance.  It's well worth your time to read the Wilmington College press release about the honorary PhD they awarded him from a few years back, and to learn a little more about this topic.

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions: July 28-31

I had the joy of “traveling” to Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting annual sessions this past weekend.  (By “traveling”, I mean I walked across Earlham’s campus to the Landrum Bolling Center to join Friends for business sessions, meals, and workshops.)  Ohio Valley YM is an unprogrammed yearly meeting with monthly meetings in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, including Richmond’s own Clear Creek Meeting.  OVYM is a part of Friends General Conference.

Business sessions began with silent worship and readings of quotes from the Journal of Elias Hicks.  There were the usual committee and Quaker organization reports, and among those issues discussed a few things rose to the surface for me.  OVYM Advancement and Nurture Committee did a broad survey of members on YM work this year and presented the results.  There is discussion of doing a broader visioning process for OVYM.  After seeing Wilmington YM do this in April, I agree that threshing sessions focused on vision are essential and encourage OVYM to do this.  OVYM also discussed the formation of a standing committee on Earthcare (they currently have a more ad hoc committee), Earthcare being a particular concern of the yearly meeting.  I was reminded of Micah’s blog post about Great Plains Yearly Meeting when I heard the report of OVYM youth traveling to visit Friends from the Osage Nation in Oklahoma.  I also heard some rumblings of unhappiness about how the Quarterly meeting structure operates.  This complaint seems to be one endemic across Yearly Meetings, and I invited anyone who feels strongly their YM’s Quarterly Meeting structure works well and is effective to share their secret.

I attended a workshop by Mark Rembert, a Haverford alum from Wilmington, OH.  He has an interest in International economic development, but came back to Wilmington to found Energize Clinton County.  This non-profit does economic development work in Wilmington and the surrounding area.  Mark is concerned with the questions of how our everyday consumer decisions are a ministry.  This message is typically perceived as “liberal" one: buy local, etc.  Mark, however, has re-cast this message as one of keeping wealth in the community and gaining more control over how your money is used.  He is running a campaign to weatherize houses in Clinton County for this winter and arguing that unnecessary energy costs caused by insufficient insulation and inefficient furnaces are an added “tax” by energy companies that consumers can choose not to pay.  Weatherizing can “free up money that’s going to things you don’t really care about to spend it on things that you do.”

I also attended a workshop by Noah Baker Merril, who was visiting from New England Yearly Meeting to give the Plenary talks.  He divided up the participants into four groups: the voices of Quaker past, Quaker present, and Quaker future, and a smaller group of “inquisitors”.  The inquisitors questioned each of these voices about various aspects of Quakerism.  This is an instructive (and funny) exercise.

In visiting many different Quaker communities, one begins to notice language differences between the two.  Whereas last week when I was attending Indiana YM the language was very (and primarily) Christ-centered, OVYM members spoke more about “the presence”, “the divine.”  Some did use “Lord” and biblical passages read referenced “Our Lord”, but the shift in language was noticeable.  I say this not as a comment on these two particular yearly meetings, but rather an acknowledgment that anyone who travels among Friends notices these language shifts and contend with the extent to which they can be flexible about the language they use.

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Epistle from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) annual sessions

A note from Valerie: Andrew Wright, an ESR Access student and member of North Carolina YM (Conservative) attended yearly meeting.  I asked Andrew if he could share his reflections on the annual sessions, and he asked if we could share the epistle, feeling that to be a good reflection of the annual sessions.  Micah Bales also shared his thoughts on attending this yearly meeting a few weeks ago.  I found these words to be lovely and poetic, and (with the permission of Andrew and the Clerk of the meeting) am glad to share them here.
To Friends Everywhere –
How can we become the blessed community that we aspire to be? In these 314th Yearly Meeting sessions we have lived into some of the answers to this question which has been our theme.  In our query responses, state of the meeting reports, and times of worship we  have shared experiences of all the facets and phases of life. We have held each other as we have mourned, struggled, and grieved together. We have celebrated new life, rejoiced in success, renewed old friendships and discovered ever growing love among us.  We have found ourselves held in the hands of God, protecting us, healing us, and knitting us together into the blessed community. 
We have learned from our children as they are tender with each other, as they enjoy and play well with each other. We watch as our children rejoice in the mystery and wonder of the present moment. Playing at the beach with Young Friends is like swimming in an ocean of light. One Friend noticed that even the salt in the water works to lift us up together. The elements have conspired, along with the laughter and play of our children, to lead us toward the blessed community.
We are aware of our dependence upon God’s support, because we see evil around and within us. We are mired in it up to our ears. We have witnessed decades of war, and we see violence in our communities – and we feel the effects of both in our own lives. We watch with sadness as our way of producing, consuming, and working destroys the life giving capacity of our earth. Our economy is driving greater and greater inequality between the richest and poorest people of our world community. These things stand against our deeply held beliefs, and yet we find them both within us and infused in our way of living.  What little we do to change the world often seems small and ineffectual, and we sometimes feel paralyzed by discouragement. We recognize that this discouragement itself is a symptom and part of the evil we oppose. At times the effort to sustain our belief in God’s power for good is the largest part of our struggle.  Yet God is with us, even in these troubled times. We remember that Friends in our history faced systems of enslavement and an economy of radical inequality that seemed just as intractable as our present systems of domination.  In their simple and peaceful ways, these Friends found new ways of being in the world that moved beyond what seemed impossible.

In our Bible studies this week we have been reminded that there is still good soil for God’s seed, and that seed can yield a hundred-fold harvest.  God is very much with us, caring for our welfare and intervening on behalf of the widow, orphan and alien in a strange land.  The women of the Exodus story – Shiphrah and Puah, Moses’ mother and sister, and even Pharaoh’s daughter – model for us the courage to risk faithful acts in dark times.  Over and over, we see that God gives us the tools, the strength, and the courage, at the right time, to do what must be done to advance the Kingdom of God in the face of the evil that opposes it.  And so we send you, dear Friends, a message of hope in these dark times. The Kingdom is here – already here among us.
On behalf of the yearly meeting,
Richard Miller, Clerk
North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)