09 June 2010

Leading Friends United Meeting

2005 Triennial, Des
Moines, Iowa, USA
I'm so far out of touch with Friends United Meeting today, it's hard even for me to take seriously anything I might say. But maybe that gives me a bit more freedom to think out loud about the current general secretary search (.doc format) without knowingly goring anyone's ox.

This is what intrigued me in the search announcement:
Friends United Meeting has initiated a search for a new General Secretary. Our General Secretary, Sylvia Graves, has announced she will retire in July of 2011. Friends United Meeting is also in the process of identifying a new organizational structure that would better facilitate our mission. We are looking for a new General Secretary who would work closely with the board to implement necessary changes while promoting Friends United Meeting's distinctive Christian Quaker message. The General Secretary would also develop and manage the programs and staff, seeking to connect, equip, and energize constituent Yearly Meetings with the work and mission of Friends United Meeting.
It is going to be a daunting task to conduct an executive search and restructure at the same time. What are the candidates to expect? What work and mission will be left for the new person to advocate among the yearly meetings? Will that person help build the vision, or is the vision that he or she must "translate ... into effective programs" expected to emerge simultaneously with the new structure?

When I first saw the announcement, I immediately thought of several people who should consider applying. I didn't think about the details of the announcement; instead, the people who came to my mind were creative, energetic, visionary, expressive. I was still under the impression that being the general secretary of Friends United Meeting is the best job there is among Friends. I still want to believe that FUM is the strategic center of the Quaker world, the best place to catalyze the revival of the Quaker movement, if we can just shed the perennial jockeying over who will be the first to leave if the others don't straighten out.

The very first person I encouraged to consider applying gave me a healthy reality check. Bottom line from this observer I respect highly: this is not an attractive organization to work for.

Well, faithful reader:
  • Is this person wrong? Why or why not?
  • What would make FUM an attractive organization to work for?
  • What would represent the coherence of vision and structure that could put the general secretary in the role of a servant catalyst (if, indeed, such an ideal is right)?
  • Is there in fact any organizational location for such a function among Friends these days, or are we in a period of irreversible decline for such structures?
  • If so, how will we organize access and accountability, or have we become totally personality-driven?


Long-time readers already know my context and disclosures, but by some miracle it's been almost a year and a half since I last posted anything about FUM (here's the full list) so let me just briefly add:

Friends United Meeting is an international association of Quaker congregations, accounting for something like half of the Friends in the world.

Until 2001, when my membership moved to Reedwood Friends Church in Northwest Yearly Meeting, Evangelical Friends, I'd always been involved with Quaker meetings affiliated with Friends United Meeting--in Canada, and in the US states of Massachusetts, Virginia, Indiana, and Ohio. My first contact with FUM was as a committee appointee from Canadian Yearly Meeting. I worked in FUM's bookstore in 1982 and 1983, had several volunteer roles after that, and then returned to the staff in 1993, serving as general secretary for seven years. I attended every triennial gathering from 1987 to 2005. Not surprisingly, I have quite an emotional investment.

I wholeheartedly unite with FUM's purpose statement, adopted in 1993: "Friends United Meeting commits itself 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."



Righteous links:

James Fallows writes on Google's plans to save the news industry.

This review of Trent Sheppard's God on Campus has put the book on my wish list.

More Gaza-related links: "Remembering the dead" and "the purpose of breaking the blockade is not breaking the blockade...." Moscow Friends Meeting adopted a minute last Sunday expressing strong concern about the tragic incident caused by the Freedom Flotilla's attempt to reach Gaza, stating that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be resolved through peaceful means, and expressing grief for those who died. (Russian readers: more here.)

"Has Christianity failed you?"

Robin Parry asks, "Is universalism heretical?" Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Watch for a promised fourth part.

Anthony Manousos writes about Quaker theologian Howard Brinton. (Thanks to Noli Irritare Leones for the reference.)

Is corruption ever good??



Grace Potter and the Nocturnals: "Treat Me Right."

17 comments:

Bill said...

Big Picture: Denominational structures no longer work.

Less Big Picture: FUM has a purpose statement that is only accepted with footnotes, addenda and other qualifiers by significant chunks of its constituency.

Tinier Picture: In spite of the above, FUM is dong some things very well.

Johan said...

Denominational structures no longer work. What does FUM have in common with "denominational" structures, and why don't they work? Are there reasonable structures to propose for this constituency? (Does the constituency itself still exist?) Early Friends probably would have claimed that the denominational structures of their day were not working, but that didn't stop them from setting up more functional structures.

FUM has a purpose statement that is only accepted with footnotes, addenda and other qualifiers by significant chunks of its constituency. I keep hoping that Friends will address each other directly, as adults, meeting-to-meeting, through approved minutes, if there are doubts about each other's commitments to FUM and its purpose. Otherwise, FUM can only proceed as if there is unity. Off-the-record sniping must cease or be challenged.

... FUM is doing some things very well. I'm sure that is true. What are those things, and how do we ensure that they remain part of the (yet again) restructured FUM?

Bill Samuel said...

To me, it's always been key that there is not really unity around the purpose of FUM. It seems to me that to be a member of such a grouping, constituent bodies should be able to adopt its purpose as their own. That this is a very long way from being true for several member yearly meetings is a highly significant problem.

There certainly are other problems, but I think they could be dealt with if not for this monster in the room. And the General Secretary has very limited ability to resolve the key problem.

Bill said...

To expand on my earlier comments:
Denominations are generally structured around three things: a set of common beliefs, a common tradition and a desire to work together on common tasks that are an expression of those beliefs. These three were tied together in the development of Five Years Meeting and Friends missionary activity in the late 19th century.

Fast forward to today: We no longer have shared beliefs and tradition, and so the common tasks begin to fall apart. Not just in FUM, but in many other denominational groups.

There is no longer a set of common beliefs in FUM. Many would prefer to organize as a group of autonomous yearly meetings made up of autonomous local meetings. Holding to common beliefs gets in the way of personal and corporate autonomy. But community based on personal autonomy will fall apart.

Shared tradition is disappearing fast. The history of Friends (and others) is a history of letting go of all that stuff in the past so we can focus on the latest faith fad. Shared tradition gets in the way and is moved to the museum of faith where we can keep it at arm's length behind glass.

For me, the FUM purpose statement was an attempt to state what parts of our tradition we are going to hold on to, and to affirm them. If that is its intent, then that could be a beginning place for restructuring.

Jeremy Mott said...

Jeremy Mott comments:
Right now, Friends are in the middle of choosing new general
secretaries for four U.S.Quaker orgainizations: American Friends
Service Committee; Friends Committee on National Legistlation; Friends United Meeting; Friends General Confeence;
also a director for Quaker House of Fayetteville, N.C. I think that the gen.secs. for AFSC and FCNL have already been chosen, but
not announced yet. The other three
searches are still underway.
For all these positions, we need
someone with (1) Wide experience
and broad knowledge of the U.S.
Religious Society of Friends, not
just one's own part of it.
(2) Administrative experience.
(3) Speechmaking and fundraising
abilities. Willingness to travel.
(4) Youth; anyway youthful vigor.
(5) Computer knowledge.
For Friends United Meeting, we need
several other things as well.
I'll continue in my next comment.
Jeremy Mott

Jeremy Mott said...

I'll continue, with qualities
for an FUM general secretary:
(1) An appreciation for FUM's
history, back to 1902, as a
"coalition" of Quaker Christians,
in the Orthodox tradition.
(2) Willingness to tolerate the
continual bickering in FUM, which
also goes back to the beginning
of Five Years Meeting in 1902. It's sort of "background noise."
At best, it doesn't hinder working together. At worst, it causes schism.
(3) Continuing attempts to have
evangelical Quakers and liberal
Quaker Christians work together in
FUM, as they have often done since
1902. No attempts to "purify"
Friends United Meeting in any way.
No insistence that someone else,
also attempting to follow Jesus,
has no legitimate place.
(4) A renewed home mission effort.
The obvious need is to help Great
Plains Yearly Meeting (I haven't
seen this year's minutes of that
y.m.; I hope they haven't already
decided to lay themselves down.)
Their work in Nebraska seems to be almost over: but they have much to do in Kansas and Oklahoma: the
Indian mission at Wyandotte needs
a pastor and no doubt funds; the fine pastoral couple at Hominy
Friends meeting (another Indian
mission) are doubtless woefully
underpaid; and Mid-America Y.M.
is abandoning its support of the Hispanic Friends churches in Kansas; the Emporia church is trying to carry this work on, but
surely can't do this all by itself.
Great Plains Y.M. is a member of
Friends United Meeting, and it's
a Quaker emergency.
I'll continue. Jeremy Mott

Jeremy Mott said...

I'll continue, with qualities
for an FUM general secretary:
(1) An appreciation for FUM's
history, back to 1902, as a
"coalition" of Quaker Christians,
in the Orthodox tradition.
(2) Willingness to tolerate the
continual bickering in FUM, which
also goes back to the beginning
of Five Years Meeting in 1902. It's sort of "background noise."
At best, it doesn't hinder working together. At worst, it causes schism.
(3) Continuing attempts to have
evangelical Quakers and liberal
Quaker Christians work together in
FUM, as they have often done since
1902. No attempts to "purify"
Friends United Meeting in any way.
No insistence that someone else,
also attempting to follow Jesus,
has no legitimate place.
(4) A renewed home mission effort.
The obvious need is to help Great
Plains Yearly Meeting (I haven't
seen this year's minutes of that
y.m.; I hope they haven't already
decided to lay themselves down.)
Their work in Nebraska seems to be almost over: but they have much to do in Kansas and Oklahoma: the
Indian mission at Wyandotte needs
a pastor and no doubt funds; the fine pastoral couple at Hominy
Friends meeting (another Indian
mission) are doubtless woefully
underpaid; and Mid-America Y.M.
is abandoning its support of the Hispanic Friends churches in Kansas; the Emporia church is trying to carry this work on, but
surely can't do this all by itself.
Great Plains Y.M. is a member of
Friends United Meeting, and it's
a Quaker emergency.
I'll continue. Jeremy Mott

Johan said...

Thank you, Bill and Jeremy. I'll do my best to direct some attention to Jeremy's thoughtful list of desirable qualities for FUM's general secretary.

Jeremy Mott said...

(5) There is other home mission
work to be done as well. Clearly
a pastoral Friends meeting is needed in Washington, D.C., or in
that area. FUM should help Baltimore Y.M. to found it, by
seeking a pastor through ESR or
elsewhere, etc.; Baltimore Y.M.
has plenty of money for this.
A pastoral meeting in Washington
would serve Friends from all over
the country and all over the world
who come to live and work there.
It's even more needed than the
pastoral meeting in New York City
that New York Yearly Meeting started, with the help of FUM, about 15 years ago.
(6) I'm sorry that the Associated
Committee of Friends on Indian
Affairs laid itself down a few
years ago. The Quaker Indian
schools around the United States,
and their mission churches too,
need attention from beyond their
own yearly meetings. We need a
Native American Quaker Education
Fund, or something like that, modeled on Bolivian Quaker Education Fund, which has been a
tremendous success. In NAQEF,
individual Friends and meetings
could sponsor Indian students at
different schools and colleges,
and Quaker pastors and camps on
reservations; a group of mostly
American Indian Friends would decide how to distribute the funds otherwise. The yearly meetings
which were formerly part of ACFIA
(and all have Indian missions) should join; also Philadelphia and
Baltimore Y.M.'s (which have internal foundations for Indian
missionary work); also New York
Yearly Meeting (which has always
done Indian work); and Alaska Y.M.
(EFI), which is all Eskimos, should be invited. I think it
could be made to work very well.
I'll continue again. Jeremy Mott

Jeremy Mott said...

(7)Clearly, Kenyan Friends need to
be encouraged to do more for them-
selves. Kenya is a far wealthier
country than Bolivia, where Friends
are self-supporting except for
their educational efforts. So why
not set up an East African Quaker
Education Fund too?

All this is an ambitious agenda.
It would take two or three people,
I'm sure, and quite a bit of money. Yet I'm sure that if we
really need the money we can raise
it. Newton Garver (BQEF), and
Nadine Hoover (FPT--Indonesia
Program), and David Zarembka(FPT--
African Great Lakes Initiative)
and the Friends at Center on Conscience & War and Quaker House
of Fayetteville have taught me that. (I mention here, on purpose, only Friends probably too "liberal" for the FUM job.
I'm sure that FUM has good fund-
raisers too.)

The search committee should read,
and probably will, the new FUM
edition of the Autobiography of
Allen Jay. He was a firm proponent
of Quaker unity (at least among
the Orthodox of his day), and a
gifted fundraiser. We need someone like him.

I don't expect for FUM to always
go my way or to be "pure." I do expect it to be useful, and I think it has a lot of work to do. even now in its second century.

I have aged before my time and
am not very well. But I hope and pray that Quaker mission and
Quaker Christian educational work will continue. After all, it's
FYM/FUM missionary work, along
with EFI missionary work and even
considerable missionary work by
liberal Friends, that have made
the Religious Society of Friends
a worldwide church, of which we
in the U.S.A. are just a small
and squabbling part.
Jeremy Mott

Bill Samuel said...

Jeremy, you have a number of good insights. There is one point I would question based on my experience.

I was part of an effort to explore establishing a semi-programmed meeting/church in the DC area a couple of decades ago, which the BYM Gen. Secy helped with. We contacted all pastoral YMs in the US to try to find folks from them who were now in our area. We also had some contacts with Friends from Kenya in the area.

It sounded like a good idea, but we were unable to find pastoral Friends in the area who would put energy into it. I don't have any real reason to believe the situation has changed much.

Also, I do not think it could be connected to BYM. While BYM might accept a meeting with a different style of worship, this meeting would also have to have a different faith basis. That is basically unacceptable within BYM.

This I was told directly by the then Clerk of A&O, a former BYM Clerk. When our subsequent Friends in Christ effort talked with BYM leaders about possible affiliation within BYM, they said it would split the YM. Quite recently, another Christian Friends worship group in Baltimore had their request to be taken under the care of a MM turned down, altho the group was founded by the then current clerk of that meeting's M&O.

From the other side, affiliation with a liberal YM would be the kiss of death to many Friends who might be attracted to a pastoral meeting.

FUM couldn't really help much because it is hamstrung by BYM being affiliated altho it clearly does not share FUM's purpose. The only possibility would be if NCYM would take the lead, and it is too dysfunctional to be able to do so. (Friends in Christ explored that possibility before.)

So any such effort would either need to be 1) clearly independent of existing Friends structures (which makes it really difficult to get going), or 2) a project of Eastern Region. In either case, what would be needed to start, I think, would be some Friends in the area who themselves strongly wanted a pastoral meeting.

Jeremy Mott said...

Thank you Bill, I thought you might write something like this.
The truth is that Baltimore Y.M.
is not, and never has been, a
truly united yearly meeting.
The two yearly meetings "reunited"
about 1967---some 12 years after
Philadelphia and Canadian and New York Y.M.'s, and 22 years after New England Y.M. In Baltimore
Y.M., Homewood was never pastoral,
and despite its Orthodox heritage
it quickly turned anti-FUM. In
Richmond, Va., the pastoral meeting
became a non-pastoral and "liberal"
meeting at about the same time
the two Baltimore Y.M.'s were said to have reunited. (I am a graduate
of Sandy Spring Friends School, the class of 1963, the first class to graduate. The son of the pastor at Richmond was in the next class.)
Of course, the Orthodox meetings
of southeastern Virginia found
the reunited Baltimore Y.M.so
uncongenial that they left and
joined North Carolina Y.M. (One of
these meetings, Somerton, was
pastoral but had and probably still
has stilent worship.) The funniest
but actually saddest of these stories is the meetings in Baltimore Y.M. at Fishertown and
Dunnings Creek, Pa. They were both very small in 1967; they both
were silent meetings; but they
did not re-unite locally, laying Fishertown down, until 2009---
some 42 years later. Attendance
is now six, instead of three each.
The only place like this at all
in New York Y.M. was Chappaqua,
where the two unprogrammed meetings did not re-unite until
1967, 10 years after the y.m.

I think that the trouble in Baltimore Y.M. is that they
caught the anti-pastoral and anti-
programmed-worship and anti-Jesus viruses from Philadelphia Y.M.,
and by now are just as sick
or worse. I'll continue.
Jeremy Mott

Jeremy Mott said...

Still more, Bill. I really appreciate hearing your terrible
story about trying to set up
a semiprogrammed meeting in the
Washington area. First, there's
the matter of who might join.
Times have changed. There's a
group of young Friends, outspoken
Quaker Christians I believe, who
meet at an otherwise disused meetinghouse on Courtland St. in Baltimore. Now, admittedly this
is Baltimre, not Washington, but
it's not awful far away. Also,
there are a lot of Burundian refugees in the U.S.A. now, and they include a number of Burundian Quakers. In Baltimore, Burundian
Quakers have joined the Hispanic
(EFC-ER) Friends church, which
is looking for a church building.
(Why haven't they been offered
the use of Courtland St, I wonder.
Who owns this building? Is it a
group of Friends who will let
white people use their old meetinghouse but not black people?)
Yet in both Louisville and in Atlanta, there are Burundian Quaker refugees who have joined and are participating fully in the
"liberal" Friends meeting, regardless of differences in theology. These Burundians have
brought wonderful music and a lot
of hard physical work as their gifts to their new meetings. And
Atlanta meeting has something
else, semi-programmed worship, not
primarily for Burundians but pri-
marily for European Americans,
every week (I think on a weekday
evening). The Atlanta meeting newsletter is available on the web.
So Louisville and Atlanta meetings
are in fact united, spiritually
united despite their lack of
theological unity and their FGC-
only affiliation. A united meeting
can be a wonderful thing, if it's
truly united, with no one thinking
they have a monopoliy on Truth.
I'll continue. Jeremy Mott

Jeremy Mott said...

As to place of worship, I imagine
there are several solutions. On
the Sandy Spring school property,
there is an old Orthodox meeting-
house. And wouldn't your church
rent, for a reasonable fee, on
Sunday afternoons or evenings?
As to affiliation, that is much
more difficult, but not impossible. Maybe Indiana Y.M.
would return to its old role of offering affiliation to distant meetings that didn't want or couldn't use another way to gain FUM affiliation. From 1910 or so to 1948, Puget Sound Quarter in
Washington state was affiliated
with Indiana Y.M., not Oregon
Y.M., because Oregon Y.M. was
much too fundamentalist for Friends in Washington state. Or maybe North Carolina Y.M. no longer is so problematical, I don't know. Of course, FUM would
be well within its rights in setting up an Eastern Assn. of
Friends, on the model of Western
Assn. of Friends in California,
which allowed Whittier and now
Berkeley Friends Churches to stay
in FUM when California Y.M.withdrew. This would cause
a lot of friction with FUM; let
Indiana Y.M. be your affiliation
instead. There are advantages
as welll as disadvantages in the
fact that every yearly meeting is
independent. What would Philadelphia y.m.(FGC) have to say
about programmed worship in Northern Y.M., in SAYMA, and in
Ohio Valley Y.M.? And Burundian
evangelical Friends in the last
two places; a meeting that left
Iowa Y.M.(FUM) in Northern.
Peace to you, Friend
You may some reward for all
you've done for Friends.

Bill Samuel said...

The Baltimore group - Old Town Friends - meets at the Aisquith St. Meetinghouse. This is not owned by Friends, and another church meets there Sunday morning & afternoon. I think the gay issue would be a significant barrier for it to work with the evangelical Friends groups, as it was founded by gay activists.

In Washington, a mostly young Christian Quaker group meets a couple of Wednesdays a month at William Penn House, organized by Micah Bales. That timing is difficult for many. I'm sure Micah would be interested in contacts with Burundian Friends in the area, but how many could make 6 PM on Wednesdays I don't know.

Jeremy Mott said...

I'll omit any further discusion of
where attenders of a new Quaker Christian fellowship in the Washington area might come from,
and where it might meet. I just assume that if such a fellowhip is in God's plan, attenders and a
place to meet will be found. Maybe
not many attenders, maybe a few
inadequate places to meet. But they will be found somehow, if such a fellowship is a right leading.
I think it is. I also think that
you were right in determining that a Quaker Christian fellowship affiliated with FUM was not a right
leading for you, and probably not
for anyone; because Baltimore Y.M.
is not a genuine member of FUM
and will try to keep such a
fellowship from existing. I'm
glad that you sought and found another church which seems to meet
your needs. If I had been in your place, I probably would have joined the Church of the Brethren.
Yet it sounds as though there
are still some Quaker Christians
in your area who wish to be affiliated with a yearly meeting. This is important for spiritual
reasons as well as practical ones.
Might these Friends consider a
Conservative Yearly Meeting? Ohio
Y.M.(Conservative) would probably
be too strict: not only no pastors, but no semi-programmed
worship, no gays and lesbians recognized in any way, etc. However, North Carolina Y.M.
is known as the most open of the
Conservative Yearly Meetings. Of
course, in that yearly meeting one
could not have a pastor (but a
group might hire a pastor elsewhere for counseling, I suppose); one would be encouraged
to develop and record ministers;
gays and lesbians are already
permitted; African-Americans are
already present, military veterans
and political radicals. And who
knows? I think that they would
accept a meeting which had semi-
programmed worship. All they would
really require would be an attempt
to worship in the Spirit of Christ.
See if your acquaintances might be interested in this. It
is a small project, not grandiose,
but that may be what is needed to
root Quaker Christinaity in the
Washington area. North Carolina
Y.M.(Conservative) meets, according to the FWCC calendar,
from 7/14/2010 to 7/18/2010.
Attending the sessions might be
a useful experiment.
Peace, Jeremy Mott

Johan said...

I've reposted all of the above comments in the body of today's new post, "Leading Friends United Meeting, continued." Thanks to all three who've commented so far.