Behind our building, construction continues
last week's post on Friends United Meeting's search for a new general secretary. To make it easier, I'm just going to reproduce them right here, hoping that if you've got things to add, you can do it on this page's comment facility rather than having to go back and forth between posts. It was very encouraging to have Jeremy Mott comment extensively, with his extraordinarily broad perspective, and the counterpoint from Bill Samuel, whose reality checks are based on hard-earned experience both locally and within FUM leadership. (And many thanks to Bill Clendineng, who got the discussion started.)
So here goes:
Bill C. said...
Big Picture: Denominational structures no longer work.Johan said...
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.
10 June, 2010 05:55
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.Bill Samuel said...
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?
10 June, 2010 09:59
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.Bill C. said...
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.
10 June, 2010 12:34
To expand on my earlier comments:Jeremy Mott said...
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.
10 June, 2010 18:53
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 withJeremy Mott said...
(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.
15 June, 2010 23:55
I'll continue, with qualities for an FUM general secretary:Johan said...
(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
16 June, 2010 00:26
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...
16 June, 2010 00:37
(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.Jeremy Mott said...
(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
16 June, 2010 00:47
(7)Clearly, Kenyan Friends need to be encouraged to do more for themselves. 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 QuakerBill Samuel said...
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 fundraisers 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.
16 June, 2010 01:32
Jeremy, you have a number of good insights. There is one point I would question based on my experience.Jeremy Mott said...
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.
16 June, 2010 02:21
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 silent 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.Jeremy Mott said...
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.
16 June, 2010 08:17
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 primarily 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 thinkingJeremy Mott said...
they have a monopoly on Truth.
I'll continue. Jeremy Mott
16 June, 2010 10:02
As to place of worship, I imagine there are several solutions. On the Sandy Spring school property, there is an old Orthodox meetinghouse. 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 well 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.Bill Samuel said...
Peace to you, Friend You may some reward for all you've done for Friends.
16 June, 2010 10:47
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.Jeremy Mott said...
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.
16 June, 2010 12:37
I'll omit any further discussion 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.Johan says today: Jeremy and both Bills have made important additions to the stock of ideas and visions that might encourage future Friends United Meeting leadership. I am really interested in seeing the conversation continue. Among other points, here are some specific things I'd love to see addressed:
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 Christianity 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
17 June, 2010 00:30
First, back to Jeremy's point (2) of an FUM leader's characteristics: 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. Don't we need someone (perhaps not the paid executive, but someone to say enough is enough? It's not that the issues are unimportant, but the style of dealing with them has been terrible. The 2007 identity retreat in Plainfield was supposed to look directly at this issue, but I don't see that it made much difference, because the style of conflict is both ingrained and dishonest--it's factionalism, pure and simple. If the constituent yearly meetings did the hard work of defining their boundary issues in writing, in the form of minutes, and sent their representatives to FUM's deliberative bodies with clear guidance from their constituencies and an expectation that they are to gather to seek God's will, not the approval of their factions, you'd have a lot less righteous heroism and offstage politicking. I don't think a new FUM general secretary has to be abrasive or arrogant in confronting the old behaviors, but I don't think he or she has to meekly accept it, either.
Second, I doubt FUM can administratively reverse the decline of local and yearly meetings that don't have a local vision for growth, or who simply, through nobody's fault, face the prospect of a natural death. FUM has sometimes seemed nearly paralyzed by the expectation that it must maintain its existing program and structures. What if it primarily became a prayer anchor and think tank for a revival of Quaker vision and new initiatives, new partnerships? Isn't it time for FUM to ask what Jesus is doing in the world, and where our particular heritage of discipleship would strategically do the most good? In the service of such a priority, FUM would be looking to attract representatives from the yearly meetings, and staff and volunteers, who understand the urgency of confronting the world's bondages rather than perpetuating our internal conflicts and quakerly conceits.
It's not either/or, of course. The stewardship of existing resources and relationships will always be important, and we will still need some Friends who are gifted to attend to that stewardship. But that ministry is not attracting new money and new energy. I'd love to see Friends United Meeting catalyze Quakerly attention to such opportunities as these:
- creatively expressing prophetic Quakerism in new media, directed toward real people experiencing real bondage (spiritual, social, economic)--not a message primarily concerned with how wonderful we are, but what God wants to say through us to those facing crisis;
- confronting (in the USA, especially) the apparatus and economy of permanent warfare, and exploring the evangelistic and political dimensions of refusing to live in fear;
- supporting each other in economic and ecological discipleship;
- envisioning a whole new era of functional ecumenism, as all the old denominational and ecumenical structures continue to fade at the same time as creative grassroots connections spring up among diverse believers;
- equipping our increasingly mobile Quaker population to be seeds of new worship groups and churches wherever they might find themselves;
- learning what it means both to welcome immigrants and to be immigrants.
I've run out of time--so here are just a few links from the past week:
Does Russia need a memory law? And from the same source, Why are Kyrgyzstan's slum dwellers so angry?
Maybe your grace period has expired.
A Russian friend asked me why the USA had turned down an offer of help from Russia for the oil disaster. I hadn't heard that the USA had in fact done so, but this article made me wonder.
Community gardening in Northwest Yearly Meeting.
If you'd like to make your own Hayabusa amigurumi.... (Context.)
A book on how not to change the world. 'The irony is that there is no phrase more beloved to a certain kind of Christian than "to change the world." But in [James Davison] Hunter's persuasive account, the strategies those very same Christians have pursued are, by themselves, woefully incapable of changing the world.'
Rita Engedalen, "Where Does Everybody Go?" (See here for other videos from grammofon.no.)