Eight-Plus Appeals of Northwest Welcoming Meeting’s Expulsion
The 30-day deadline for appeals of the expulsion of West Hills Friends Meeting from Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM) because of its LGBT welcoming stance, expired at midnight Sunday, August 23.
According to NWYM officials, only local meetings could file formal appeals. But they agreed to read and take into account other expressions and letters.
The final tally was impressive: eight meetings filed official appeals. Members of a ninth meeting, which failed to agree on an “official” appeal, sent a supportive letter anyway.
And an unofficial group “appeal” (more like a petition), posted on an ad hoc website, was also sent, along with the names of 230 signers from 25 monthly meetings.
The eight meetings we have identified are listed below:
Note: The first six meetings’ appeals (noted with stars) are posted online here.
*North Valley Friends
*Klamath Falls Friends
*North Seattle Friends
These two other meetings’ are not yet available online:
[Breaking UPDATE: Since the above was posted, the appeals from Spokane & Eugene HAVE been posted to the NWYM Unity site.]
Eugene Friends win the prize for brevity. Here’s their entire appeal:
Eugene Friends Church in its Monthly Meeting of August 23, 2015 (33 present), approved the following:
Eugene Friends Church Monthly Meeting respectfully requests, according to 1.03.04 of “Business procedures” in Faith & Practice, that West Hills Friends not be released or disconnected from the Yearly Meeting until a time when the Board of Elders may report their action to the Yearly Meeting “in plenary session…allowing time for prayerful consideration of issues raised by the report….”
Six Friends stood aside from this decision.
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In addition, Silverton Friends Meeting labored but was unable to reach “consensus” on the issue. So an informal Group of Silverton Friends wrote their own. A few excerpts:
We are disheartened by the lack of transparency. As a whole, Northwest Yearly Meeting does not seem to understand how we arrived at this juncture. Many details of the decision-making process are not widely known. We appreciate that there is often a delicate balance between privacy and transparency. But we are also seeing that with a decision that involves a whole monthly meeting (and affects the whole yearly meeting), a lack of transparency has created the soil where gossip and rumors can grow, along with twisted facts and general confusion.
Finally, we are concerned for the safety of friends who identify as LGBTQ. We believe that Christ’s love should not be limited. As stated in Faith and Practice, “We witness to the dignity and worth of all persons before God.” We believe the decision to release West Hills Friends sends a message to LGBTQ people that they are not safe to attend a church with us in the yearly meeting, because discussions about human sexuality are not welcome. It also diminishes their dignity and worth.
What message does our disfellowship with West Hills Church send to those outside Northwest Yearly Meeting? How can we be agents of Peace in this matter? Can we commit to having the hard conversations with each other, setting fears aside?
Silence can be interpreted as implied consent. We cannot remain silent, for we do not consent. We will not stand aside as one of our family is turned away.
And in the waning hours of August 23, one more minute arrived, from West Hills itself. But it was not an appeal. Here it is, in full:
West Hills Friends approved this minute at a called meeting for business on Sunday, August 23rd:
Minute from West Hills Friends, August 23, 2015
We are grateful to all who have extended words of love, encouragement and support to our community in the face of the Northwest Yearly Meeting Board of Eldersʼ decision to release/remove West Hills Friends from membership in our yearly meeting.
We are heartened by voices from within NWYM who say that our yearly meeting will be diminished by our absence. We hope that the reflection and discernment of those who have been led to appeal this decision will be received and held in a way that bears good fruit for NWYM.
We have been steadfast in our commitment to and participation in NWYM over the three years of investigation and discipline for our noncompliance with NWYM Faith & Practice.
With this new landscape, we find that as a community, we need to listen again for the guidance of Spirit.
In coming together to hear what rises around the NWYM Eldersʼ decision, we found that the allowed 30 day window does not offer adequate time for our community to come to unity in Spirit-led discernment on the question of appeal.
We note that we may be led, in time, to speak into this situation in new ways.
We note that membership and relationship are not identical, and hold hope that with or without membership, relationships between the people of West Hills Friends and NWYM will continue and evolve in new and life-giving ways.
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Other reports indicate that the WHF community includes quite divergent feelings about NWYM. WHF pastor Mark Pratt-Russum spoke with my colleague Stephen Angell about this, for a major report on NWYM. His report will be forthcoming in the next issue of the journal Quaker Theology, which published the first independent report on the West Hills/NWYM situation in 2014. (Watch for updates about the new issue’s completion):
“There is no way that a congregation as varied as ours could draft a letter of appeal in 30 days.” . . . .
“There are congregation members who have grown up in the yearly meeting, who have relied on the yearly meeting, and for them, the decision was extremely painful. It felt like a family split.
On the other end of the spectrum, many LGBTQ members in our congregation had looked at NWYM as an oppressor, and for many of them, the decision came as something of a relief. For other LGBTQ Friends, it was painful because they were once again being told that they are not welcome at the table. The majority of the members of the church fall in the middle and feel all of these emotions.”
They responded also to the statements of affirmation in the Elders’ letter: West Hill Friends “have listened to the Spirit of God for a long time, and the yearly meeting honored the process we went through in its letter.”
Pratt-Russum summarizes, “There is heartbreak all around, for many, many reasons. We’re doing our best to surround our LGBT Friends with love. We reassure them that nothing has changed about how we – or how God – loves them. The bottom line is that we’re OK – nothing’s really going to change.” (Pratt-Russum to Angell, 8/20/2015)
And the last item, as suggested in the graphic above, is: What Now?
Procedurally, the course is straightforward: the appeals will be considered and acted on by the NWYM Administrative Council.
But on what timetable? Here the response of YM officials has also been straightforward: No Comment. No timetable has been acknowledged. So it could take a month — it could take a year; it could take –??
This stonewalling reinforces the complaint heard in most of the appeals, about a lack of transparency and accountability by NWYM’s top councils. For those below, a strict appeals deadline was imposed and requests for flexibility denied.
But for those above? No deadlines allowed there. They will act when they are good and ready, and those subject to it are expected to wait patiently, then accept the decision, when it comes, and that will be that.
This corporate attitude also echoes the way the expulsion of West Hills was handled: announced just after the end of its annual sessions, when Friends were scattered and enroute home.
Most of the internal appeals couched their complaints about this “lack of transparency and accountability” at the top in NWYM in very euphemized terms. The just-now uploaded appeal from Spokane Friends was among the more plain-spoken:
The Board of Elders requested that they be held in prayer and not lobbied during Yearly Meeting sessions or in the weeks immediately after while they considered how to move forward in this matter. The request was taken seriously by our representatives, who were troubled to learn that within hours of the close of annual sessions, the decision to terminate West Hills’ relationship with the Yearly Meeting was made public. This curiously timed announcement asserted authority of the Yearly Meeting over a local church without the full participation and engagement of the whole Yearly Meeting membership. A small, select and self-sequestered body exercising greater authority than the collective body of the Yearly Meeting is not consistent with our understanding of Gospel Order. We must ask which of these ways of proceeding, (West Hills or the NWYM Elders) is more transparent and openhearted, which more Christ-centered? We believe that Christ will make his will clear to all of us in time as we carefully listen. The Elders, by sequestering themselves and making adecision in a matter as grave as this, seem to violate this belief.
We feel strongly that if the Elder’s decision had come as a recommendation to the floor of Yearly Meeting, the lack of consensus surrounding it would have been apparent to all.
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Spokane was speaking about the past. This outsider can be even more concise about the process from here: it stinks.