Saturday, September 27, 2014


I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in that also I saw the infinite love of God; and I had great openings. 
George Fox, Journal, 1647                                              

In this blog, I am documenting my experience of the schism of Indiana Yearly Meeting as I knew it, and the birth of fledgling known, for now, as The New Association of Friends. Two of these posts appeared on a Wordpress blog called Yearly Meeting A. However, since the description of the fictional placeholder of that name differs so much from the reality of the 'broad church' that is the New Association of Friends, it only confuses to keep that name. So - welcome to the Endless Ocean of Light!

Here is the original post, from February 2, 2012, after I had driven 420 miles in a snowstorm:

I arrived a little early at Richmond First Friends, and sat in the car watching people arrive with their offerings for the potluck/pitch-in. I saw excitement, hugging, joy. The exuberance continued through the signing-in process, through the meal and into the start of the meeting, and then we settled into worship and business. I had a sense of being at an historic occasion, but it still felt strange. The first meeting of the first chapter of post-Indiana Yearly Meeting life: my new extended Quaker family.

Several people had stepped forward to convene the meeting. Catherine Griffith clerked sensitively. Her style was a little tentative, but it was appropriate to the unusual situation. It needed a balance – to start the process of building enough of an organization to be able to incorporate in the State of Indiana, but not so much as to drive away those meetings which were still at the stage of tentative exploration.
There was a problem of chicken and egg. Many people feel too exhausted to want to talk doctrine, money and structure. In fact, for some, the whole idea of an organization is an issue that they are not ready to get back into. Yet there has to be one to receive property, restricted funds and other assets as part of the separation from Indiana Yearly Meeting, and there are short deadlines attached to that. We knew we had work to do.
Catherine took a roll call of meetings that were represented and asked for a sense of their status. We began to use words such as  ‘engaged’, ‘dating’, and observing. There is a lot of uncertainty and some find this hard to live with. Others can cope better, for now, with ambiguity and lack of information.
I may have missed one or two, but I think people were present from:
-Bluff Point
-Friends of the Light
-Friends Memorial, Muncie
-New Castle First Friends
-Richmond First Friends
-West Elkton
-West Richmond
Being present at the meeting does not imply an intention to join the new association. Some came to observe, and many were there to pray.

At the time of writing, 41 meetings have apparently stated their intention to remain with Indiana Yearly Meeting, which expects to enjoy “greater theological unity” as well as a reaffirmed “understanding of yearly meeting authority” (Superintendent’s message, January 30.) Twelve meetings have stated their intention to leave the yearly meeting. Not all, however, intend to join the new association. Some plan to become independent for now, and a further ten meetings have not yet communicated any intention to Indiana Yearly Meeting.
It seems that the new association is going to start with something between 500 and 1,000 members, making it larger than several yearly meetings in the US and Europe, and potentially quite viable. Initially I expect it will be closer to the lower end of the range, but it is likely to grow – by how much, and how quickly, will depend on several factors, including its geographical boundaries. I think it will be open to meetings having dual affiliation with other yearly meetings and to individuals affiliating directly if their meeting is not a part.
Catherine avoided something that had been worrying me – asking people to say if their meeting was ‘in’ or not, thus drawing yet another boundary – more lines that include some and exclude others. In inviting people to be willing to serve the new interim body, she suggested that almost everyone in the room was potentially qualified to serve as a Trustee or on the Steering Committee, even if their meeting had not yet made a decision. We agreed, recognizing that for some meetings to be forced to decide could potentially cause a wounding split in the congregation. This solution made it possible for those individuals who feel called to serve the new body to do so.
With that established, we selected Trustees who will handle the processes relating to transfer of property and financial assets and legal incorporation. We appointed a Nominating Committee, clerked by Tom Hamm, to bring forward the names of a Clerk, Recording Clerk and Treasurer of the new body (necessary for incorporation.) We agreed that one member of each meeting should serve on a Steering Committee, and we appointed two people to take responsibility for communications, which will be largely electronic. All these people will serve until the end of January next year, after which the transition should be complete and we can turn our attention to other things, including a name to replace New Association of Friends, the present placeholder, which should emerge when we have clarified our geographical boundary and lived into our new identity and priorities.
In addition to the legal aspects, there were some matters of pastoral care that needed urgent attention with the reconfiguration, such as oversight of pastors’ retirement funds and the health insurance of some meeting employees. Also, some professionals such as chaplains need to have their recording as Ministers of the Gospel maintained and a mechanism to do this will have to be explored, as well as the question of recording gifts in ministry in the future. Anxiety about such issues has to be allayed if people can engage fully in the visioning process.
We were making good progress, but I noticed some voices shaking as the transition became more real. Many of us are still in grief, and it is going to take time to adjust to the new realities. Fortunately, we were held in prayer by Friends attending from Ohio Valley and Western Yearly Meetings and by a host of others from a distance.
We appointed an observer to attend next weekend’s Friends United Meeting Board meeting, and we were encouraged to attend the Friends World Committee for Consultation Section of the Americas Annual Meeting in March, which will be a chance to get together, and perhaps answer questions that others might have.
We set some dates for future meetings, with the commitment to rotate location among all the meetings that are willing and able to host. That, for me, was a new and welcome breeze of inclusivity.
Early in the meeting, Catherine had asked us to say what we thought the purpose of the meeting and organization was, and some words and sentences were put on a chart. These will be used to develop a purpose statement. I don’t want to anticipate what that statement will say, but some of the points that I remember were:
The practical:
- To develop the minimum amount of organization to aid in the transition with, and complete the separation from, Indiana Yearly Meeting.
The pastoral:
- To offer mutual support to help meetings in their goals.
- To become familiar with each other’s meetings, to assess needs, help establish a group identity and make decisions together, where appropriate.
- To have a place to record, and maintain recordings of, ministers of the Gospel.
- To ensure that pastors’ pensions and meeting employees’ health insurance is protected.
The social:
- To get to know each other better.
- To work together on service projects.
- To have active inter-visitation.
We played with the idea of a Fun Committee, but decided that fun should be a theme running through all that we do.
The visionary:
-To be noble, valiant, and to apply our faith to make a true difference in the world.
- To embrace diversity among Friends and welcoming to all Seekers. We were agreed that our hoped-for “diversity” was not a code for a particular kind of progressive agenda, or just “liberal” thinkers, but it was true diversity of thought and theology. As one person said, and we affirmed, “A, B, through Z are welcome.”
Note that there was very little talk about beliefs and faith statements, not that we do not think these are important. It is more that we believe that the locus of identity should be at the level of the individual meeting, and we want to be a big tent, which can be home for a range of meetings. The closest we got to it was to flag that we wanted to reclaim the identity of a New Testament church. Now that could mean many things, depending on which Book you are reading. I took it to mean that we would explore what it means to be followers of Jesus.
It was not the time to be exploring and unpacking too much theology. There will be time enough for that in the future. For now, we had done what needed to be done. We were weary, but we had done good work.
As I write this, an image is coming to me of having been in a catastrophic event. It is as if my home, along with others in the neighborhood, has been destroyed. We are traumatized, in occasional disbelief that it could have happened. With repeated realization come unexpected tears. But as we look around, we see that we are all alive, all safe.  We can’t rebuild in exactly the same place, but we have been given land and materials to build a new community. Most of us have not built before. We simply lived in our old houses. So we are going to have to identify gifts and skills that exist among us, and many of us are going to learn new skills.
Just over a year ago, I visited Greensburg, Kansas, which had been flattened by a tornado. Since the old town had been built, new ecological awareness has developed, affecting architecture, building materials, scale and webs of connection. While some may have wanted the rebuilt community to look like the old one, most knew that innovation offered the best opportunity for healing.
So here we are. A little shaky, but wearing new hard hats and work boots, on a giant Habitat site, ready to join a crew to build the structures for our community, and to build community itself in a more intentional way. We have friends around the world praying for us and cheering us on. We will tread on each others’ toes – it’s a good thing about the work boots. In our clumsiness, we may hammer our own thumbs, or say things we regret. But if we keep our eyes on the Source of our faith, on why we are doing the work, and end each work day with laughter and gratitude and forgiveness, I think it will be just fine.

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