I am so excited that my blog has become a landing spot for Quakers throughout the country (and hello to our friends in the UK too!) to follow what is happening with West Hills and Northwest Yearly Meeting. I am also excited that this blog is being followed by friends and family who have no clue about the Quaker world.
It's been eye opening. Certainly our language and the way we have structured ourselves as Quakers (aka Friends) is largely confusing to folks not associated with Quaker circles. Nearly seventy-five percent of my interview with the Willamette Week was trying to explain what a yearly meeting is, and why it matters. It can be hard to comprehend all of this, so I'm thankful for folks who are doing thier best to understand.
I talked in yesterday's blog about how young people in the Northwest Yearly Meeting have been energized by what has taken place. I wanted to share with you the appeal that was crafted by some of these young folks (and older folks too). My hope is that fellow Quakers will read this and be encouraged, or at least informed. If you want to visit the website where the appeal is published you can find that here: http://nwymunity.com/
Here is the letter:
July 29, 2015
To: Mark Kelley, Clerk, Northwest Yearly Meeting Administrative Council
CC: Becky Ankeny, General Superintendent, Northwest Yearly Meeting and Ken Redford, Clerk, Northwest Yearly Meeting Board of Elders
To the Board of Elders and Administrative Council of Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church,
We are a group of Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church members and regular attenders, a part of the family of Northwest Yearly Meeting. It is our desire to continue to be a part of this spiritual community, and to listen to the Holy Spirit together with humility about all that threaten to divide us. We acknowledge with gratitude the difficult work that the Elders, Northwest Yearly Meeting staff, and West Hills Friends have engaged in these last several years.
We are greatly saddened and disappointed by the news that the Elders have chosen to revoke the membership of West Hills Friends Church. We believe this decision should have been postponed until Northwest Yearly Meeting reached a sense of the meeting on the Faith & Practice statement on human sexuality (Faith & Practice 2012, page 80).
Northwest Yearly Meeting is strongly divided on belief regarding appropriate sexual expression. At the 2014 annual sessions, general superintendent Becky Ankeny requested that NWYM take five years for further consideration and seasoning regarding our sense of leading about human sexuality. Given the current lack of clarity about the Faith & Practice statement in question, removal of West Hills Friends during this consideration period, even as West Hills affirmed marriage of two gay Friends, seems to rush us into a conclusion of the process in which we were asked to participate. In the Yearly Meeting we allow a diversity of opinion about a number of topics addressed in the Faith & Practice. We desire for West Hills Friends to continue to be part of Northwest Yearly Meeting while we listen together to discern God’s will.
Since removal of a monthly meeting for noncompliance with the Faith & Practice is a novel situation in the history of our body, the procedure for addressing a concern such as that brought against West Hills Friends is not entirely clear. We humbly ask the Administrative Council to consider an alternative to removing West Hills Friends Church at this time based on the following considerations.
Was West Hills Friends “under the care of the elders”?
It seems that different individuals have different opinions about whether West Hills was placed “under the care of the Elders,” and if not, within what process in Faith & Practice their situation fits. Some Friends considered West Hills to be under the care of the elders, and indeed it is the section on meetings “under the care of the Elders” that contains the directive about Elders removing meetings enacting policies that are “shattering” (Faith & Practice 2012, p. 33). This passage in the Faith & Practice forms the basis for the action taken by the Elders, according to their letter (7/24/2015). The Faith & Practice states that the goal of placing a monthly meeting under the care of the Elders is “to strengthen and equip the church to spiritual vitality, effective ministry and loving fellowship” (Faith & Practice 20121, p. 32). The letter from the Elders regarding their decision (7/24/2015) makes it clear they find West Hills Friends to already be such a community. It seems that the Elders were also uncertain about what category this situation fits under, and did not officially place West Hills under the care of the Elders, but many in leadership as well as other Northwest Yearly Meeting members thought that was the process that was guiding this decision.
Faith & Practice conversation already started:
In that West Hills Friends was out of compliance with the Faith & Practice they would fit into the category “under the care of the Elders,” but as Northwest Yearly Meeting had already begun discussion of possible changes to the Faith & Practice statement on human sexuality and it was clear there are different leadings, placing a meeting under the care of the Elders does not seem like the appropriate course of action.
“Mutually agreed upon plan of action”:
If West Hills Friends had been placed under the care of the Elders, the procedure followed did not fully line up with the Faith & Practice directions. The Faith & Practice states that a “mutually agreed upon” plan of action will be formed. In this case, since West Hills Friends did not want to come back into compliance with the Faith & Practice but instead wanted to have a conversation about changing the Faith & Practice, selecting a plan of action that only gave the option of compliance necessitated failure of the restoration process.
“Shattering” & Participation:
Due to the vague nature about what constitutes “shattering,” it raises the question, “Shattering for whom?” The implication in this case is that it is shattering to Northwest Yearly Meeting as a whole. If the Yearly Meeting as a whole is in danger of being “shattered,” then the entire Yearly Meeting should be involved in the restoration process. There was not a specific space for West Hills Friends to be defended by other meetings or individuals. Nor did the Elders choose to set up a dialogue between West Hills Friends and those Friends lodging a complaint against them. Without listening to Christ together face-to-face, it seems difficult for true reconciliation or restoration to occur.
In cases where an individual is eldered for a personal error in judgment, a confidential process is understandable. In this case, however, we feel that maintaining a confidential process between West Hills, the Northwest Yearly Meeting Elders, and those Friends lodging a complaint led to a great deal of speculation, misinformation, and drawing up of ranks into “sides.” Rather than building up a Yearly Meeting body that trusted the leading of the reconciling and illuminating Holy Spirit, the lack of transparency in this process has created splintering in our community. As West Hills Friends publicly presented its position, this level of confidentiality does not seem warranted. Since this decision has major implications for individuals, monthly meetings, relationships, authority to minister, and the level of unity in Northwest Yearly Meeting, keeping the process very open and transparent would have led to increased trust and cohesion.
Sense of the meeting regarding revision of the Faith & Practice statement on human sexuality:
Despite differences, we desire unity. We have unity with other meetings who may technically be out of compliance with Faith & Practice on other matters. At Northwest Yearly Meeting annual sessions in 2014, a number of monthly meetings brought minutes regarding the statement on human sexuality stating that, though they had not reached consensus on the statement, they were committed to remaining unified and seeking direction from the Holy Spirit together (North Valley Friends, Camas Friends, Reedwood Friends, Eugene Friends, Newberg Friends, North Seattle Friends, and Klamath Falls Friends). We believe this desire to remain united represents the sense of the whole Yearly Meeting to a greater degree than does expelling West Hills Friends from Northwest Yearly Meeting at this stage in the process. To remove a monthly meeting during a time of Faith & Practice consideration fosters fear instead of peace, trust, and listening.
We recommend that the Northwest Yearly Meeting Administrative Council stay their decision about West Hills Friends until such time as the Yearly Meeting comes to unity on when to exercise forbearance rather than discipline for differences of interpretation of the Faith & Practice and the Bible. At that point, it is our hope that people would feel clear to remain in unity with Northwest Yearly Meeting, or leave the fellowship voluntarily, rather than being forcibly removed. We would also suggest that in such cases individuals and meetings would bring their concerns openly before those with whom they have concerns, as well as before the Yearly Meeting so that an open and honest dialogue can occur within the whole Yearly Meeting.
Our prayers are with you, the Administrative Council, as you discern the next steps in this matter, and for our beloved Northwest Yearly Meeting as we navigate these challenging waters. May we follow Paul’s appeal to unity in Colossians 3:12-17:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
May God’s love truly bind us together in perfect unity throughout this process.