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Called to be God’s Temple – Visit to North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

This past week, I visited Friends at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), held this year at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington. This gathering was a blessed time to share worship and fellowship with Friends from across the South and experience the active movement and teaching of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

I had originally planned to attend the Friends United Meeting Triennial (which, interestingly enough, will be held in Wilmington, Ohio next week!). However, as I began to solidify my summer travel plans, it became clear that God was not calling me to attend the Triennial. As much as I personally thought I should be there, there Friends at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)was a heaviness in the idea of making the trip. My sense that God was calling me to lay that trip aside was confirmed by the lightness and peace I felt when I gave up and cancelled my plans.

At first, I thought that the Lord had simply asked me to cancel the trip to the FUM Triennial. Soon, however, I felt clear that I was being asked to undertake another trip instead. I experienced the Lord drawing my heart to Friends in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Though I had not previously considered a visit to North Carolina, the call felt clear and grounded in the love of Christ.

I approached my Monthly Meeting and requested release to travel on this concern. This was granted, as well as being endorsed by my Quarterly Meeting. With the blessing of these Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting, I undertook the journey as a labor of gospel love.

I am so glad that I yielded to the Lord’s guidance in this matter. My time among Friends in North Carolina was blessed with a deep sense of Christ’s presence in ourFriends Singing at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) midst. Jesus was present, teaching his people, and I was blessed to take part in the labor.

I also learned a great deal about our spiritual cousins in NCYMc. I saw that we hold many things in common. While we do our business in slightly different ways and have developed slightly different structures, Friends in Ohio and North Carolina are strikingly similar in the way we operate. In both bodies, there is a strong emphasis on expectant waiting and reliance on the present-moment guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Historically speaking, it makes sense that Friends in North Carolina would share many similarities with Friends in my Yearly Meeting. Ohio Yearly Meeting has a long history of relationship with Iowa and North Carolina Yearly Meetings (Conservative). In 1912, the Conservative Yearly Meetings issued a joint statement of faith, and during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was a rich culture of intervisitation and exchange of ministers between the bodies of Conservative Clerk's Table - North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)Friends in North America. However, in recent decades, there has been a marked decline in the traveling ministry between the Conservative Yearly Meetings.

In many ways, the living connections between our Yearly Meetings are in danger of being lost. Ever since the emergence of the Conservative Friends tradition, the primary way that we have recognized one another is through the formal exchange of epistles. In continuance of this tradition, the Yearly Meetings in Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio all exchange personalized epistles with one another. Yet, the organic and relational connections between our bodies have become so tenuous that it is no longer clear to many Friends why these epistles are exchanged. One well-meaning Friend in North Carolina last week posed the question of whether NCYMc should adopt the practice of composing only one epistle – “to all Friends everywhere.”

This Friend was not trying to make a negative statement about Friends in Iowa and Ohio. She simply did not understand the deep historical connection between our Yearly Meetings. There were plenty of Friends present, of course, who had more background knowledge, and it was soon explained why the personalized epistles are important. The three Conservative Yearly Meetings will, I suspect, continue to formally correspond for the foreseeable future. But the fact that this question could even be asked speaks to the lack of spiritual and relational unity among Friends in the Conservative tradition.

This trip convinced me that, if we continue down the course we are on as Conservative Friends, our exchange of epistles will soon be a formality – a fiction that masks a lack of real community. I do notChildren at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) believe it is too late to revitalize these relationships, but it will not happen without care and effort on the part of concerned Friends.

Christ calls us into unity with one another, and I pray that Friends in the Conservative tradition will consider how it is the Lord might be calling us to reach out. I believe that Jesus has a purpose for us as a wider body of Conservative Friends. If we are willing to submit ourselves to one another in his Holy Spirit, I do believe that God could use our witness in fresh and powerful ways.

We were reminded in our worship last week that we are the temple of the living God(1). Just as the Temple in Jerusalem was purified by fire from on high(2), we, too, must be purified and made ready for the work that God has for us. If we will open ourselves to this Fire, the Holy Spirit will heal the pain and indifference that divide us, drawing us together to be a light to the world.

1. 1 Corinthians 3:16
2. 2 Chronicles 7:1

Being the Body in the Age of Facebook

This week I am visiting the sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), sister body to my own Ohio Yearly Meeting. During my brief time among Friends here in North Carolina, I have noticed that one area of commonality between our groups is our sense of corporate witness. Friends in both OYM and NCYMc understand our faith as being not merely a matter of individual conscience, but instead a question of corporate commitment, faith and practice.

This was made clear during the business sessions this morning, when Friends here in North Carolina considered the question of their Yearly Meeting’s presence on Facebook. It turned out that an individual, years ago, had created a Facebook group for NCYMc, which most members of the Yearly Meeting had never heard about. This revelation presented an North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) on Facebookopportunity for Friends to consider how they as a Yearly Meeting might relate to this new form of communications technology.

Many Friends wondered whether this Facebook page might be misconstrued as being an official expression of the Yearly Meeting, and they discussed how the page might be brought under the administration of the Yearly Meeting as a body. Friends hoped that NCYMc could find a way to administer the page in a manner that would positively affect the visibility of the Yearly Meeting. At the same time, Friends wanted to ensure that the message presented on Facebook would reflect the sense of the body.

There were also questions about the open commenting feature on the group. How would these comments reflect on the Yearly Meeting? While many Friends felt that it was not in right order to restrict public statements by individual Friends, they wondered how care and oversight might be extended to the Facebook group. In the future, might the elders of the Yearly Meeting be charged with administering the body’s Facebook presence?

I am heartened to see that Conservative Friends in Ohio and North Carolina(1) Yearly Meetings share the conviction that our Christian faith as Friends is not merely a matter of personal experience and expression. As Friends in North Carolina minuted today, “ours is an experience of aWebsite of a Conservative Quaker Worship Group faith community, not an individual.” This is a belief and a way of life that I believe Conservative Friends hold in common.

Customs and technology change, but Friends here in North Carolina seem convinced that discernment and action based in community are worth conserving, despite the pressures of Western individualism. The new power that the internet grants for individuals to express themselves does not mean that we as Friends should abandon our tradition of waiting together as a community to find and act on the will of God. Conservative Friends are embracing new opportunities, but with a cautious eye towards preserving the unity and integrity of Christ’s body. I give thanks to God for this witness.

1. Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) may share this as well, but I do not feel as qualified to speak about them, as I have not visited them in some time.

Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

I flew into Omaha and spent the night at Marshall Massey’s home, before he and I took off the next morning to West Branch, Iowa, the site of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s annual sessions. This trip came as the last of my stops before returning to Richmond, and I was quite exhausted. I took advantage of IYMc’s relaxed atmosphere and slow pace to unwind a little bit and focus on being present with the people there, letting go of most of my concern to get anything done.

Iowa (Conservative) struck me as a very mellow, cozy group of Friends from across Iowa, and with meetings in Nebraska, Missouri and Wisconsin. As I commented to several Friends there, I imagine that IYMc is similar to what my yearly meeting, Great Plains, might be like in character if we were to become fully unprogrammed and incorporate a few large, liberal meetings. While there was definitely a strong element which I would identify, for lack of a better term, as “liberal-oriented,” there was also a clear desire as a body to maintain some of the traditions of Conservative Friends, which I appreciated.

In particular, I noticed that the meetings for business were slower, beginning with between twenty and thirty minutes of open worship, and carrying significant periods of silence between items. The presiding clerk, Deborah Fisch, also served as recording clerk, taking the sense of the meeting, preparing each minute as Friends waited in prayer, and then proposing the minute to the body for its approval. Each item was approved and minuted at the time that unity was reached, not waiting until the end of the session to prepare and approve the minutes. I found this custom to be helpful for a number of reasons. Not the least of these was the way in which it bypassed the need to prepare the minutes all at once at the end of each business session, which has always seemed like it must be stressful for the recording clerk. It also provided a minute or two of silent worship between each item of business, which I felt helped keep the body more centered and attentive to the fact that this was in fact the Lord’s work and not our own.

When reports were received, there was generally appreciation expressed from the body for the report, either vaguely (“I appreciate the report”) or more specifically (“This report gives me a sense of what organization X does and I am pleased with the work that they are doing”). The clerk minuted the reaction of the body, along with an acceptance of each report. The yearly meeting’s queries were read, along with selected responses from the meetings. These responses, in addition to the state of the meeting reports from each monthly meeting, gave a sense of how the body was faring in its walk with Christ, giving a sense of the state of the yearly meeting as a whole, as well as that of individual local meetings.

The one event that took place at IYMc that I want to highlight in particular is the closing worship on Sunday morning, which I found to be particularly impactful. We were called, early on in the time of worship, to come to the living waters of God and to be filled with that life, and, as we sank down into that Life, we found that God had ministry for us, not only to comfort us but also to convict us and call us to action. A minister arose and told us of how, just before meeting for worship, she had been with her children, exploring the outdoors near the meetinghouse. The children were catching frogs, many of which were in the stage between tadpole and frog. Her daughter picked up a frog and brought it to her. The frog appeared to have a tail, still, but as she looked more closely, she realized that what at first had looked like a tail was in fact an extra set of hind legs. “The frog had two sets of back legs!” We heard more ministry that morning, but at the core of it all I felt a call for us as Friends to repent of our complicity with the destruction of the creation and to change our lives dramatically to come into alignment with God’s will for us: that we be in unity with the creation in Christ.

Are we listening? Do we hear God’s call to repetance? Do we hear God’s call to turn our lives around, to turn towards the Light and away from our own destructive ways of living on the earth? Are we ready for radical reorientation? My prayer for Friends of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), and for all Friends, is that we might together hear the Word of God in our hearts and change our lives, laboring together to lead lives that reflect humility, love and firmness in Truth.