At 10:58 Eastern time, Seventh Day (Saturday), Eighth Month (August) 5, 2017, at Quaker Lake Camp near Liberty, NC, Clerk Michael Fulp asked, “Do you approve?”
The assembled Friends, about 120 of them, responded with a surprisingly subdued, “Approve.”
And with that, they pressed the button that demolished a yearly meeting which had lasted 320 years.
There’s a notorious set of photos from St. Louis, of a public housing project called Pruitt Igoe, being brought down in a controlled detonation of high explosives. The story is that the project, meant to provide sturdy housing for the poor, had become toxic and uninhabitable. It could be a fitting parable for North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM – NCYM for short)
Such a demolition is what happened at Quaker Lake Camp today; only in very slow motion (debris will continue falling through the end of 2017). And the true character of the event was smothered in melting margarine and gallons of sticky southern molasseslike politeness, to deflect attention from the lingering taste of gall and wormwood, the biblical bywords for bitterness and decay.
There was a veiled reference to this in the body’s Concluding Minute, issued at the close of Saturday morning’s session, in references to the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter three, which speaks of a time to break down, and to cast away stones.
After the button was pressed, the meeting carried on as if nothing had happened: as was standard at NCYM sessions, they were then treated to a long promotional report for the camp, complete with a new music video.
In it, hordes of campers went singing and dancing across its green lawns, mimicing the frenetic choreography of the popular movie “La La Land.”
It was clever, slick, and landed with a thud. Quaker Lake Camp (QLC) was one of the three major prizes in the struggle that concluded today, and its fate still depends on what can be retrieved from NCYM’s rubble.
The two other outcomes were: 1. The rescue of NCYM’s failed pastoral pension plan, which was made insolvent by the collapse of NCYM’s income & membership under the assaults of a faction determined to purge it of “liberals.”
The trustees and committee members who salvaged it deserve credit: as they pointed out, churches are exempt from the laws governing pension plans, so NCYM could have left the approximately 100 beneficiaries completely in the lurch.
But they have corraled $5-plus million from reserves and asset sales, to convert the old pensions into private annuities which are set to yield about the same monthly amounts. (Important as this was, it must also be acknowledged that the pensions were always paltry: 30 years of fulltime service yielded only $450 per month.)
The other outcome, no doubt to be celebrated quietly if not in public view, was pushing the “liberal” meetings out into a new “association,” a quasi yearly meeting which calls itself the NC Friends Fellowship. Those who demanded this purge will have their own “Authority” group, as yet unnamed.
The only remaining connection between the two will be a new jointly-governed corporation, NCYM Inc (called “The Inc” in sessions), which will manage the former YM’s endowment and distribute its earnings to the two new bodies, in proportion to their numbers (currently about 3-1 evangelical-liberal). It amounts to a sanctified ATM machine.
That leaves the camp. It is expected to move toward autonomy (& maybe independence), but its board will be drawn from both new associations. Originally the new QLC board was to be 50-50 from the two new associations, but the evangelicals recently insisted that it be tilted their way, and they will have a majority.
Some QLC board members privately fear that the sectarian skirmishing that has now destroyed NCYM will soon migrate to QLC, with similarly dismal results. Despite official reassurances, that still seems to me a real risk.
But that’s in the future. For now, NCYM’s disappearance is the new reality. The demolition was complete, but finished so quietly that my mind strayed from Pruitt Igoe to some lines from poet T. S. Eliot, in “The Hollow Men”:
“This is the way the world ends,
This is the way the world ends,
This is the way the world ends,
Not with a bang but a whimper.”