On Saturday, the “business session,” while still mostly reports, also included some interaction by the body that gave the appearance of actual decision-making going on. Sylvia Graves (FUM’s General Secretary) and Brent McKinny (FUM’s outgoing presiding clerk) asked the body to affirm FUM’s ongoing mission in Belize, given the retirement of the Cains, who have served as field staff there for more than a decade. When a Friend rose, expressing that they were not clear on what we were being asked to approve, Sylvia responded, “I’m wondering if you care.” So, we were being asked to affirm that we “cared” about Belize?
Some other folks raised questions, not really understanding what this affirmation would mean. At this point, Brent McKinny stood up and said that this would be an approval of “the principle” of FUM’s ongoing work in Belize, not necessarily of any new project. Brent then proceeded to push for an approval from the body, despite a call from one Friend for us to spend time in prayer and hear what the Spirit was saying to the Church. This whole process took place in a matter of minutes and felt very rushed, even forced. I felt very uncomfortable with this maneuver, feeling that the executive leadership of FUM simply wanted a rubber stamp, rather than really desiring to listen together with the body to the voice of Christ.
As I mentioned in the first installment of my reflections on this event, I was astonished at how little corporate, inward listening was allowed us during our time together at sessions. It seemed clear that the primary purpose of our being at the Triennial was to be receive reports on the work of FUM as a missions organization and to be reminded (and reminded, and reminded) of our failure to adequately fund FUM and its projects abroad. At times it seemed that there were more appeals for funds than there was vocal prayer. And open worship was almost completely absent. We were there to hear FUM’s executive leadership’s opinions about what we should be doing, not to wait on Christ and hear the mission that our Lord has for us as Church.
FUM Triennial finished up Saturday evening with an “intergenerational/youth worship service.” The whole thing felt a little off to me, with “the Africans” being asked to rise and sing us a song. (In fact, this happened several times during the Triennial. At a certain point I wondered about whether someone should have asked the white folks to stand up and sing a few hymns for the Africans, to reciprocate.) The whole service seemed more like entertainment than worship, with applause after every performance, beginning with the Africans singing hymns. The body applauded after every time the youth sang, and even when the youth presented an episode from Jesus’ ministry. Frankly, the service felt demeaning, with the Africans and the youth being paraded out to be the evening’s entertainment.
What is it that we are hiding from, distracting ourselves with entertainment rather than opening ourselves to the purifying power of Christ’s Inward Light? I see a connection between our apparent failure to wait on Christ’s guidance and our own conceit as the North American Church. I myself have been particularly struggling with the single-minded focus of FUM and these triennial sessions on foreign missions. As one who feels called to serve Friends in North America at the present time, and seeing the need of North American Quakerism and the Christian Church more widely, I cannot grasp the failure of our yearly meetings and other bodies as evangelical Friends to commit funds, time, and human energy to Christ’s Kingdom in North America. Are the people of the Two Thirds World the only ones in need of redemption? Are we unaware of our own desperate need? A theme that has been persistent with me for at least a couple of weeks now is that of our need for repentence as the Church in North America.
We are like the church in Laodicea, which Christ addresses in Revelation 3. We believe that we are rich, prosperous, wanting for nothing, but cannot see that we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked! I do not know what the future holds for Friends as a body, but I pray that God will humble us, break us, remold us and forge us into an instrument that can serve God’s purposes. God, have mercy on us. Expose our sin, our pride, our utter nakedness before you, and bring us back into your paths.