Ambushed & Sandbagged at North Carolina Yearly Meeting
Have you seen moments like this in detective films, or in stories? When Sherlock, or whoever the sleuth is, hunches forward and shouts: “Good God, Watson! How could I be such a FOOL??” (Usually it means things are about to get very interesting.)
I had that kind of a moment Saturday morning, November 7.
It happened at Rocky River Friends Meeting, near Siler City NC. At the Fall Representative Body session of NCYM-FUM.
I wasn’t expecting it. Maybe it was because we’d heard a sermon full of cliches about peace (“God’s peace); then sung a hymn full of more cliches about God’s peace like a river.
And maybe I’d believed my own reporting: thinking that, with nine of the meetings having called loudest for a purge of “progressive” (i.e., LGBT-friendly) meetings having now left when they couldn’t pull it off, that we’d . . .
Crossed that river.
Turned the corner.
Were over the hump.
Through the worst of it.
Then a sheet was being passed out, which some very select few had seen before, but none of the rest of us had. It was from the NCYM Executive Committee. (Maybe this should have put me on my guard.)
On one side was a collection of cherry-picked hard-orthodox quotes from the NCYM Faith and Practice. Okay, no biggie; we’ve seen all this many times.
Then we turned the sheet over. And this text was just below the middle of the page:
I read it twice, as the light dawned, more like the movie cliche of a glass of ice water in the face.
In case the type is too small or fuzzy, here’s the key text again:
Past years and particularly the events of the last fourteen months have made it increasingly clear that positions and actions adopted by a very few meetings are serving to create much of the discord and unrest that we experience in North Carolina Yearly Meeting. These continued statements, positions and actions are threatening the very existence of North Carolina Yearly Meeting as we know it today. With that in mind, the Executive Committee would recommend we consider recreating the process existent in the 1967 edition of the Faith and Practice:
“The Yearly Meeting has power to decide all questions of administration, to counsel, admonish, or discipline its subordinate Meetings, to institute measures and provide means for the promotion of the truth and righteousness, and to inaugurate and carry on departments of religious and philanthropic work.” (Faith and Practice, 1967 Ed.,p.83, Jurisdiction)
We recognize that the Task Group has been charged with bringing its recommendation to the Representative Body and that this work is ongoing. However, we also recognize the increasing frustration regarding the perceived inaction of the Yearly Meeting. At the direction of the Representative Body, the reinsertion of the recommended statement could be temporary or could even potentially fulfill the task with which the Task Group was charged.
Wait — a section that was deleted from the F&P 48 years ago was to be magically reinserted on the spot?
Yeah. That would, among other things, get around the clear policy statement in the F&P that
“Such changes should be made cautiously and with an ample opportunity for prayerful deliberation.” (P. 105, 2012 ed.)
The F&P goes on to detail an elaborate, five-step process for considering proposed changes, which would take close to a year even in the best of times.
But not that Saturday. More details about that bit of, um, legerdemain will come in future posts. It only lasted half an hour or so. It certainly made hash of the F&P itself and that ever-romantic phrase, “Quaker process”; when the Clerk asked for approval, the shouts were loud, and the several vocal dissents were disregarded.
Soon I staggered out and headed home, pondering that the meeting I attend, and a few others, have suddenly had the targets hung on our backs again, maybe bigger than ever. Besides the damning text in the handout-now-policy, we were verbally referred to, more than once, as the few “stumbling blocks,” the main obstacles between NCYM and “peace and stability.”
(Oh. Is THAT what the sermon and hymn were about?)
Well, maybe I’m an old fool, Mr. T. But the morning’s ice water splash cleaned my glasses, and I’m pretty sure I can now read the handwriting on the wall.
There were protestations before we left that no one planned to kick out any meetings. While some no doubt spoke those words sincerely, this Friend finds such assurances considerably less than convincing.
Here’s one reason: I spent nine months doing research in top Quaker archives about the evolution of books of Discipline and the practices they embodied. And a key phrase in the old ones was
“The Yearly Meeting has power to . . . discipline its subordinate Meetings.”
Much unhappy Quaker history, purges and schisms galore, has come from that idea in action; enough to fill my two books on it, and many more. That phrase has been used oppressively so many times it’s beyond easy counting. Which is why, in many yearly meetings, it was finally deleted: Friends thought we could and should do better.
So there will be more to be said about this in days to come. And as preparation, one other cliche I am taking to heart, starting now, is this one: