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FUM Triennial 2008, Reflections, Part 2

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.

  • A long time ago FUM decided that the Triennial sessions were not a good place to make decisions, and moved most of the decision making that used to be done at the Triennial to the General Board. Those who gather for the Triennial are not an ongoing group; and there is considerable turnover between Triennials. It is just not a setting for careful decision making.

    I suspect the Belize request came from the heart as the Cains’ service is coming to an end. Affirmation is appropriate in this kind of circumstance, but I recognize the problem when it appears to be making a decision about the future. Don’t get too hung up in process. Listen to the heart of what is going on.

    As I read the transcripts on the Triennial blog, I was moved by the passion of those serving. There was a real sense of excitement in participating in God’s work here on earth. There is quite a lot of really wonderful Spirit-led work going on, it seems to me.

    It really saddens me that so many liberal North American Friends are unable to catch the excitement of faithful Friends work, and instead seize every opportunity to throw brickbats at FUM. Most of the work should be able to be affirmed across the divisions in Friends – peace and reconciliation work, education, health care, etc. These are Friends on the ground living out Friends testimonies in important ways. I wish more Friends would find it in their hearts to celebrate and support it.

    And lift the cultural blinders! So many North American Friends who have not done service abroad are uncomfortable at different styles, instead of opening their minds and hearts to the cultural mix they find at FUM. Friends are worshipping in ways meaningful to them and experiencing joy in the fellowship, and a bunch of white middle class North Americans are upset that things aren’t the way they are back home. Grow up!

  • Micah,

    Great to see you at the NCYM-Conservative worship.

    I read your report of the FUM with sadness. However, God is raising up prophets to call North American (and African) Friends back to the Foundation. It seems there is a movement afoot in all branches of Friends to return to the table that was set before us long ago and has, until recently, pretty much been abandoned.

    Your voice and the voices of many Friends are being raised to remind us that we must return to deep communion with the Inward Light of Christ.

    The problem is not so much liberal vs. evangelical for both have strayed from the Path. The Solution is, as it always has been, to keep our eyes on our Redeemer and get beyond the “labels” and ideologies. “What can thou sayest?” Nothing more or less than what has been spoken to our hearts by the One that called us out of the world and into His Kingdom.

    Love and peace,
    nclotus at

  • Wise comments, Micah. I fear that too many of our bodies are turning into denominational offices that we serve rather than organizations that serve the needs of Friends. Questions need to be asked — for example “Why FUM?” (You could insert any Quaker acronymn here — FCNL, AFSC, etc). What relevance do organizations set up in earlier centuries have to do w/ the Friends movement today? I’m not saying they don’t But have we ever asked if they do? What role/work is the Living Christ calling them/us to in this day? Do we pour new wine into old wineskins?

    And I disagree with my friend Bill Samuel about getting hung up in the process — I think the whole idea of meeting for worship for business (i.e. the process) is exactly where we can engage in the process of discernmetn and support the work that is going on. I fear sometimes we get so busy doing the Lord’s work that we forget to take time to stop and ask are we doing the Lord’s work and/or are we the people to be doing this particular piece of the Lord’s work.

    I see your report as a hungering for the vital work of the Spirit among Friends — and applaud it.

  • Anonymous

    Your reflections seem very grown up to this Friend (I wish there were no need to say it), and we absolutely need Friends like you with the courage to speak out when the way Friends around them do things upsets them. How will the Spirit correct the Church if everyone’s afraid to say anything that might seem impolite or challenging?

    I wasn’t at the FUM Triennial myself so I have no comment of my own to make on it, except that I’m reading and hearing reports on it with eager interest.

    The condition of the Church at Laodicea has been much on my mind as I prepare to attend my Yearly Meeting’s scheduled Meeting for Discernment this coming Third Day. What can be done about lukewarmness? What does Christ call us to do?

    Thy Friend John
    Blogging at “Among Friends:”

  • Anonymous

    Micah – thanks for the inside view of both FGC and FUM events. You keep a busy schedule. Miss hearing your voice since the May intensive. – Rob P.