WYM Ministry and Counsel, 7th month, 2019
“Wilmington Yearly Meeting declares its experience of unity in Christ even when we are not united on issues.”
The impetus to make such a statement originated last November, as we acknowledged another wave of disaffiliations. The question arises: What is it that holds us together? We charged an ad hoc committee to draft an answer. That committee went through several drafts, with references to the Bible, to Barclay’s Apology, to George Fox, and even to Thomas Kelley, for whom the college hall where we meet is named. The draft finally submitted to the yearly meeting Ministry and Counsel included a Trinitarian statement based on our Faith and Practice. However, this only inspired more discussion, which we eventually interrupted to take care of more mundane matters. On the second day, after considerably more thrashing around, someone simply restated the charge that had been given to the committee back in November. “Approved!”. One Friend behind me laughed, saying.“We are such a peculiar people.”
If our little yearly meeting has any significance beyond our now diminished membership, it lies in the theological and political diversity that it still spans, as evidenced by our inability to come to unity on a more detailed expression of our faith. Certainly, within the Religious Society of Friends there are yearly meetings that would not have found unity on even this statement, while others would have found it far too nebulous to even consider. The controversies listed in our 2017 Epistle still apply: “We disagree about how to balance the witness of Scripture with the witness of the inward experience of God.… We disagree about the continuing nature of revelation.” And we still disagree on same-gender marriage.
Nevertheless, our differences are dwarfed by what we share. We worship together. We respect each other. We care for each other. There is a genuine fellowship among us that enables us to deal openly and honestly with our points of disagreement without descending into acrimony. It is not that our theological notions are unimportant, but that they are subordinate to what Christ has taught us: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” [John 13:35].
Whatever stumbling blocks we encounter in our contemporary culture, our community of faith will thrive so long as our lives testify to the Good News that we profess.