Wilmington Yearly Meeting 2017 Session: A Personal View

Jones Meetinghouse

T. Canby Jones Meetinghouse

Many years ago, I was bit of a purist.  That rather stifling position was shaken out of me in 1991 as I was confronted by Friends of vastly different perspectives at the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) gathering in Honduras.  There, I was opened up, particularly by my encounters with Evangelical Friends whose lives had been transformed by welcoming Jesus into their hearts.  I remained fixed in my essentially universalist point of view, but my understanding was both broadened and deepened by new perspectives that I had not taken seriously before.  Now, Quakers purists, whether liberal or conservative, might read me out of the meeting because of my participation in a Magadi, a Tswana tradition that is absolutely out of step with Friends testimony of equality.

It is one thing to encounter differences in the context of a multi-cultural  FWCC event, where people come ready to recognize and respect foreign ideas.  Welcoming such differences into your yearly meeting, your home, is something else.  How do you even define who you are if you embrace such differences?  Those who yearn for uniformity and purity cannot make a comfortable home is such a setting.

The yearly meeting epistle beautifully articulates the controversies expressed in the yearly meeting session:

We disagree about the nature of the authority of Scripture. We disagree about how to balance the witness of Scripture with the witness of the inward experience of God. We disagree about the authority of the Yearly Meeting over Monthly Meetings. We disagree about the continuing nature of revelation.

However, what this does not capture is the broader cultural context in which we live.  In this context, both sides in the yearly meeting controversy are profoundly conservative:

  • We care about the institutions in our society.  We want to preserve them, strengthen them, and make them meaningful to the present and the future. Otherwise, we would not even bother with Wilmington Yearly Meeting.
  • We want to pass on to the next generations the ethical and moral codes that guided our forefathers.  Moreover, we want to transmit to our children the spiritual inspiration that underlies these codes, so that they become not a mere collection of rules, but the foundation for a full and vibrant life.
  • We read and study the Bible with an intensity that we accord no other book.
  • We look to the writings of early Friends for inspiration and understanding.
  • In particular, we care about marriage.  We think that human sexuality is best expressed within a covenant relationship, which, with Divine assistance, will last a lifetime.  Our meetings take seriously the opportunity to celebrate the beginning of such a relationship  and the responsibility of bringing it under our care.

Yes, there is a cultural divide in this country, and it is evident within Wilmington Yearly Meeting.  However, this reality is not just a problem to be solved: it is an opportunity.  Can we build on the love and respect for each other that we have gained over the years? Can we build on all that we have in common to bridge this divide?  What is the significance of the Peace Testimony if we cannot even deal with our first world problems with love and respect?

Clearly, some within the yearly meeting want their old meeting back.  However, even if they were to prevail, it would not be the same.  Those few Conservative Friends who adhere to plain speech and plain dress in the this century are very different from those in the 18th century whose tradition they are preserving.  The cultural context matters.  We cannot avoid it; we can only choose how we address it.

My own vision for the yearly meeting is that it continue intact, that we continue to engage each other with compassion and respect, and that we hold our disagreements in our hearts, fully acknowledging them, but refusing to disengage, knowing that God will be with us.  It’s a tall order.

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3 thoughts on “Wilmington Yearly Meeting 2017 Session: A Personal View

  1. Hello, Friend. Came across your blog while reading about Friends, specifically Conservative, in our area. Imagine my surprise. Still have found none.

    Sorry to hear about so much disagreement within Wilmington Yearly Meeting. Of course, no group is immune to such turbulence, and oftentimes the healthiest solution is to eventually disengage and start afresh. That’s been my experience in life, at least.

    Blessings,
    Erik

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is not just your experience, but the recent experience of a number of yearly meetings. My calling is to work for a different outcome in this case.

      As for a Conservative Friends Meetings in our area, I am not quite sure what area you are searching. The closest one I can find is Middleton Friends Meeting
      http://middletonfriends.blogspot.com. There are sometimes worship groups forming that are not yet established as separate meetings. You might contact Ohio Yearly Meeting
      http://www.conservativefriend.org/contactuspage.htm and see what they can recommend.

      Thanks for your comment,
      blessings,
      jp

      Like

  2. Thank you, Friend. I am actually in the process of becoming an affiliate member of the Salem-Upper Springfield Monthly Meeting, which meets with Middleton on the last First Day of the month. Unfortunately, I am not able to attend because of the distance.

    However, I have been worshiping on my own in my domicile. Due to work schedule, I am able to do so only real early on weekdays (4AM) or First Day evenings. If you know of any other Friend or observer on the west side of Cincinnati who would like to worship and perhaps Bible study with me First Day evenings, please put them in contact with me so that we might arrange a meeting.

    Yours,
    Erik

    Like

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