Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #10 – Ohio Yearly Meeting

Dear Children of Light,

Following Northwest Yearly Meeting, Faith and I flew back to Ohio. She soon returned to the William Penn House, in Washington, DC, while I made my way to the sessions of Ohio Yearly Meeting, in Barnesville. I was pleased to return to Barnesville after being away for the past year. I feel a special peace and tenderness to the Lord when I am among Friends in Barnesville, and I was grateful for the sense of homecoming I felt at Stillwater meetinghouse after what had been in some ways an emotionally and spiritually difficult summer. I arrived fairly early, so I had about a day to settle in before the business began. I had a good time shucking corn, cutting up fruits and vegetables, and catching up with friends.

I had experienced Conservative Friends’ business the previous summer, when I visited Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and also sat in on a small bit of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Having had that experience, business at Ohio Yearly Meeting was familiar. I was again impressed by the Conservative tradition of having the clerk both preside and record. I found it particularly good practice the way in which Conservative Friends prepare their minutes during meeting for business, presenting the wording of each minute for approval at the time it is being discussed. This way, there is no need to go back and review minutes and approve them at a later time. Each minute is composed and approved then and there. Friends worked together to guide the body’s discernment and come to Spirit-led decisions; and most of the time it seemed like there were many clerks, not just the one at the clerk’s table.

Business at OYM is slow. Sometimes breathtakingly so. There are long stretches of silence between items of business, allowing the clerk time to compose a minute to be approved then and there by the body. One thing that particularly struck me about the business I observed at OYM was the way in which the clerk would wait and ask questions of the body to ensure that there was indeed clarity of God’s will for Friends. Even when Friends were in easy agreement, the clerk would wait and encourage Friends to seek clarity from Christ. I believe this is valuable. It was recently pointed out at a clerking workshop at Northwest Yearly Meeting that the times when we are in most danger of making a mistake is when all are in agreement from the beginning. I respect the way in which OYM takes the time to sit with questions that they think they know the answers to, leaving room for God to work and overturn their assumptions.

A great amount of the business this year had to do with queries. OYM takes a great deal of time answering queries: First on a Monthly Meeting level; then synthesizing these answers at their Quarterly Meetings. Finally, at the Yearly Meeting, the Quarterly Meeting responses to the queries are read and synthesized into a single response for the Yearly Meeting as a whole. This year, in addition to answering the queries as a body, the Yearly Meeting also undertook to revise one query which speaks to oaths and gambling/speculation. The query had read in a way that admonished Friends not to sign statements “under penalty of perjury,” nor to “affirm.” Some Friends pointed out that signing a statement “under penalty of perjury” or “affirming” a legal statement is not equivalent to swearing an oath. Instead, signing or affirming such statements is a statement of agreement to be held legally liable for falsehood. Friends accepted this correction and amended the eighth query accordingly.

Seeing how much time and energy OYM Friends devote to them, I came to appreciate what the queries have to offer us as Friends. Friends at OYM discussed why the queries were important to them, and their reasons included the importance of the queries in: establishing and maintaining Christian identity and spiritual understanding as a corporate body; teaching us how to live as Christians and helping us be accountable; and encouraging Meetings to have a corporate relationship with Christ and to be established as a Christian body. They also spoke of how the queries were useful for individuals: challenging us to greater faithfulness; calling us to accountability to one another and to Christ; and providing a sense of connection between (affiliate) members who live at a distance and correspond with their Monthly Meeting, giving their individual reponses to the queries.

Overall, I was very impressed by Ohio Yearly Meeting. I am comforted to see a Friends body that is unreservedly Christian and clearly committed to the Friends tradition, including waiting (unprogrammed) worship. I think that Friends in Ohio often feel compelled to over-state their Christianity as they seek to distinguish themselves from other bodies of Friends that disregard the centrality of Christ Jesus. While there is sometimes a certain rigidity in their stance, there is also undeniable truth in it. This truth attracts me to Ohio Friends. I appreciate their unwillingness to water down their theology or their practice.

And I’m not the only one who is attracted. Ohio Yearly Meeting, after more than a century of decline, is growing once again. It is growing numerically, spiritually and in terms of morale. This year, Friends celebrated as they welcomed Crossroads Friends Meeting into full Monthly Meeting status. This was the second Monthly Meeting to be added to OYM in two years. The last time that two Meetings were added to OYM in such a short period of time was in 1866. This growth is due in large part to a new wave of evangelism undertaken by OYM Friends in the past years. Friends are laboring to encourage new Conservative worship groups across their region, throughout the United States, and even in other countries. If the Lord wills it, we can expect to see continued growth among Friends in the tradition of Ohio Yearly Meeting – Meetings that bear witness to the Quaker understanding of the gospel of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

During this period of new growth and vitality, there seem to be two primary tendencies or streams in the body of Ohio Yearly Meeting: The first is those who are of an Evangelical bent, but who appreciate waiting (unprogrammed) worship. It is important to them to be clear on the fundamental doctrines of Christian faith, as well as practicing a listening spirituality. The other significant group is those who are attracted to the hyper-traditionalism that OYM allows room for. Of those in attendance at OYM this year, I would guess that roughly half were in some form of plain dress – that is, they wore clothes that visibly marked them as separate from “the world.” This ranged from those whose dress was remarkably simple to those who wore Quaker attire that would probably be suited for historical reenactment of eighteenth century Friends. Many men wore suspenders, broad-brimmed hats, buttoned-up shirts, non-descript slacks, and black shoes. Many women wore bonnets or other head coverings, as well as a simple dress and simple black shoes. Many Friends, both plain-dressed and not, used plain speech (“Thy fly is unzipped, Friend”). I enjoyed the plain language, and used it myself often. It serves as a form of intimate address among spiritual brothers and sisters.

After Ohio Yearly Meeting, I caught a ride with Tyler Hampton and a couple of folks from New City Friends in Detroit. At this time, I am staying with Tyler and Ray at their home in the city of Detroit. I praise God for allowing me this time of rest and reflection as my wedding approaches. In the past weeks, I have been increasingly feeling that God is calling me to prayer and rest from labor. I pray that I may be faithful in resting, just as I have sought to be faithful in laboring. In many ways, resting is harder.

I appreciate the correspondence that I have received from Friends, and I hope that you will continue to write to me as the Lord leads. I hope to see many of you at Faith and my wedding on September 5th, at Stillwater Meetinghouse. All are invited. (Click here for details.)

God bless you. May each of us continue to be brought more deeply into the Way of Jesus.

With love,

Micah Bales