This past week (October 7-11) the General Board of Friends United Meeting met here in Richmond, Indiana. I had the privilege of attending the sessions as a Young Adult Friend representative. I must admit that, leading up to this first meeting of the General Board, I felt a great sense of anxiety. What would these sessions consist of? To be honest, I feared that the General Board would be a very dour place, a meeting characterized by great contention, great division, clear battlelines, and old grudges. Thank God, I was wrong. On the contrary, I was very impressed with the spirit that prevailed at this, our first gathering as a board for this triennium, as well as with the quality of the individuals who served as representatives for Friends from across the Orthodox** Quaker world.
For me, the week began with a long meeting of the North American Ministries Committee. This was a special meeting of the committee, as there were serious questions about whether it was serving a function at this point in FUM’s development. Given the serious limits in FUM’s financial and staff resources, most of our energy is currently going into sustaining our work in overseas missions sites, such as East Africa, Ramallah, Jamaica and Belize. The question was frankly put forward, “does this committee have any work left to do?” The answer that we heard was that the North American Ministries Committee does indeed still have work to do, and must be transformed from being merely an “idea committee,” where dreams are tossed around but little is done, to being an engine for action. Those of us there for this meeting identified four priorities that FUM would do well to concentrate upon in the next triennium: 1)Publications; 2) Curriculum; 3)Traveling Ministry and Intervisitation; 4)Nurturing Ministry and Leadership
Recognizing that FUM’s staff is already overworked, we did not propose any additional obligations for folks at the Richmond office. Instead, we suggested that the North American Ministries Committee could serve as an oversight body for four taskforces, one for each of the areas where we felt FUM was being called to labor in North America. Each of these taskforces would be open to individuals (both board members and others) who felt a concern to work in this area. If there were not energy to do the work, then the taskforce would remain inactive until there was. Speaking for myself, I feel a concern for traveling ministry and intervisitation, and I expect to volunteer for that taskforce. Each of these areas are important, and I pray that the Lord will raise up those who have gifts appropriate to the work that we are being called to as the Church in North America. (If you personally feel a leading to serve in one of these taskforces, please email me at micahbales AT gmail DOT com)
The North American Ministries Committee met a day before the rest of the General Board sessions, so once the bulk of the board had arrived, I was already done with my committee work. This was advantageous in that it gave me the opportunity to take part in some very passionate and tender discussions among the board members while others were in committee meetings. There were set topics for any given time period, including “The Richmond Declaration of Faith,” “The Christian Faith of Friends,” and “Friends views on the Bible.” I was very impressed with the vulnerability of those present in these discussions, and the tenderness, openness and love with which we were able to speak.
I felt that Friends were trying to hear and understand, not to judge or dismiss others. We did not always agree, but there was a genuine lovingness and openness to hearing truth from one another that pleased me very much. I, of course, was not the only one who caught on to this. There were Friends who expressed during our conversations, “there is a really wonderful spirit here,” and remarked at the way Friends were really listening to each other, having the courage to be non-defensive and stand together in the Truth.
This courageous openness towards each other and groundedness in who we are in Christ despite our differences extended beyond our discussion times; this same spirit of trust in each other, in ourselves and in Christ’s present guidance carried over into our meetings for business. There were some fairly tense moments, especially around the notorious personnel policy, but also around some other things that hadn’t occurred to me beforehand. Nevertheless, in that tension it was clear that we were all seeking way forward. As far as I could tell, no one was trying to make things difficult for the sake of making them difficult. The questions that we as a board are faced with are simply difficult and we are walking together in God’s Light as best we can, praying that we will be shown way forward as we wait on the Holy Spirit. It was clear to me that we were family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and that we were diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Far from being the tension-laced snipe-fest that I thought it might be, I am very impressed with the caliber of those who have been selected by Friends to serve in the governance of Friends United Meeting. This has been my first experience of being able to sit down with Friends from across the Orthodox spectrum, breaking bread and sharing spiritual communion together with Friends from Baltimore, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Canada, California, Iowa, and everywhere in between. What a blessing it has been to share fellowship with these Friends from such disparate geographical, cultural and theological backgrounds and to know that we are one body in Christ! At these meetings I have known it experientially and not just as a concept. We have felt it together. Some of us may not even like it, but we know that we are knitted together in the Spirit of Christ and that we are called to work for God’s Kingdom together.
**A note on language: I use the word “Orthodox” to refer to Friends bodies that are part of Friends United Meeting – for example, Indiana and Baltimore yearly meetings. I understand that some yearly meetings that have chosen not to be part of Friends United Meeting are characterized by highly Orthodox Friends; on the other hand, some yearly meetings that are part of Friends United Meeting contain a large number of individual Friends who would probably not think of themselves as Orthodox. Nevertheless, despite our sometimes vast differences, I consider all yearly meetings that form part of FUM to be a part of the venerable “middle way” of Quaker Orthodoxy. We have been brought together as a body, committing ourselves to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.