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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.

FUM Triennial 2008, Reflections, Part 1

Business began on Thursday with a roll call of yearly meetings, including US yearly meetings, Canada Yearly Meeting, many Kenyan yearly meetings, Jamaica Yearly Meeting, and visitors from FGC, FWCC, and Britain. Southeastern Yearly Meeting was present, with two observers. I was saddened to reflect on the possibility that this could be the last time that Southeastern is present at an FUM event in any official way, as they decide in this coming year whether to maintain their relationship with Friends United Meeting.

There is a clear sense of concern among Friends at these sessions, a feeling that we are at a turning point in FUM’s history. On the one hand, it seems that relations among Friends have grown more civil. On the other hand, despite our increased civility, it is not entirely clear who we are or what we are doing as a body. Perhaps the primary question that Friends gathered here are wrestling with is the question of FUM’s call and identity. What is FUM? A missions board? A denominational head? A non-profit foreign aid organization? An “umbrella group” for one branch of Friends to come together and share fellowship? At times it seems that FUM attempts to be all of these things, and more, but often fails to carry out any of these roles satisfactorily.

At these triennial sessions, there has been an enormous emphasis on overseas missions. Sylvia Graves, General Secretary of Friends United Meeting, made it clear in responding to questions on Thursday morning that at this point in history she sees FUM’s role as being in carrying out overseas mission work. The reasoning that she presented was that foreign missions is something that FUM can do far better than yearly meetings could do on their own. Encouraging and supporting Friends in North America is, in her view, the responsibility of each yearly meeting. This viewpoint, while having its merits, is very frustrating for me, as one who feels called to serve Friends in North America at the present time. The reality is, our yearly meetings are not adequately supporting home missions. What FUM’s role in all of this is, I am unsure, but I am uncomfortable with all attention being given to sending support to overseas projects when our Religious Society is in such dire condition here in North America.

The schedule at these sessions is packed full of business, though I haven’t seen any decisions made yet. The business sessions on Thursday and Friday have been largely filled by reports from field staff in East Africa, Belize, and the Ramallah Friends School. There has been very little time for worship beyond singing a few hymns and holding a moment of silence before field staff reports. There was a remarkable tension this morning, as open worship was cut off after only one minute by an FUM staff member introducing the next presenter. As she attempted to close the extremely brief worship, another woman rose from the body and read in a strong voice from an epistle of George Fox to Friends in New Jersey. The staff member stood aside, gave about fifteen seconds of space after the minister had sat down, and then proceeded to introduce the next speaker. I wonder at this lack of open worship at the feet of our Lord who we claim as our leader. Why is there not more expectant waiting on Christ? Do we imagine that there is not enough time to spare in our sessions to receive communion together? Are we afraid to wait on the Lord as a body?

When we are not hearing reports, we are listening to speakers. Wednesday evening was Sylvia Graves, who gave us an extensive report on FUM’s activities over the past three years. Landrum Bolling spoke on Thursday evening about the need to re-examine our Peace Testimony in light of current events. He insisted that, “there are consequences,” to our testimony of Christ’s call to peacemaking. Among these consequences, he stressed the imperative that we resist the current push for expanding the present war into Iran.

Thursday night, after Bolling’s presentation, the few Young Adult Friends present at this event gathered together, along with a few other YAFs who had come over from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), which is holding its annual sessions in nearby Greensboro. There were about a dozen of us, and we shared together about our experiences in the past few years, as well as about our frustrations as young adults in a religious community that alternately pampers us and patronizes us. There was a great sense that we are hungry for a more intergenerational life in community. We are, first and foremost, adult Friends. We just happen to be part of a religious community that tends towards the upper age range. Christ is teaching his people himself, and it’s not limited to any age group.

Brief Early Report From FUM Triennial 2008

Folks from all over the US, Canada, East Africa, Belize, Britain, and Jamaica came together yesterday, in Highpoint, North Carolina, for the 2008 Friends United Meeting Triennial sessions. So far, we’ve mostly introduced ourselves and talked about FUM’s programs and how they are not recieving the kind of support they need to reach their full potential.

I can’t imagine a much more different Friends conference in comparision with FGC Gathering. While FGC was like summer camp, FUM Triennial is more like a United Nations committee meeting.

More to come.

Now, to FGC Gathering

Until a couple of days ago, I did not think that I was going to Friends General Conference Gathering, being held this year at Johnstown, Pennsylvania. While having planned on attending when I originally considered my plans for the summer, a couple of months ago I came to the conclusion that FGC was an event that I would need to cut in order to have enough energy to undertake the rest of my intervisitation. However, in the latter part of this week, as I have considered what I felt led to be doing with my time in between Quaker Camp and FUM Triennial, I realized that I was feeling very drawn to travel among Friends in liberal-unprogrammed meetings in the Mid-Atlantic region. When I considered traveling among East Coast meetings this coming week, I realized that most folks whom I knew in those meetings would be at FGC Gathering. I also realized I had the money to attend the gathering, if I so chose, thanks to a grant from the Pickett Endowment. Critically, I felt inwardly at peace when I gave over to changing plans and attending the gathering.

So, having a probable leading to attend FGC Gathering, two questions remained: “Do I really have the energy to attend this event?” and “Is it still possible for me to register?” After some introspection and investigation, I have concluded that the answer to both is, “yes.”

See you at FGC, God willing.