Breaking: North Carolina YM-FUM Shuts Down

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.”



17 thoughts on “Breaking: North Carolina YM-FUM Shuts Down”

  1. This all sounds eerily familiar compared to what happened in NWYM last week. God is doing something new… I hope we’re all willing to be a part of it rather than hold too tightly to our Quaker forms.

    1. Well, doing what we’ve been doing no longer seems to be an option. What comes next looks like a process of discovery, experiment & muddling thru.
      Bible verses that were evoked for me by today:
      Ecclesiastes 8:16 “Whenever I tried to become wise and learn what goes on in the world, I realized that you could stay awake night and day 17and never be able to understand what God is doing. However hard you try, you will never find out. The wise may claim to know, but they don’t.”
      [GNV= Good News Version]

      Isaiah 28:21: “The LORD will fight as he did at Mount Perazim and in the valley of Gibeon, in order to do what he intends to do — strange as his actions may seem. He will complete his work, his mysterious work.” [GNV]

  2. I wish you’d take care to note, early on, that this is not NCYM-Conservative. Otherwise, your headline is inaccurate and misleading, as is much of the article. At some point, way down towards the bottom, you identify it as the FUM body, but without remarking that there is another North Carolina Yearly Meeting to which none of this applies. Sloppy journalism.

    1. I made that change in the heading. And here is a piece of Friendly eldering: maintaining & projecting NCYMC’s specific identity is primarily NCYMC’s responsibility, and nobody else’s.
      This blog has been reporting on the NCYM-FUM troubles for three years. It has noted that the beleaguered body was the FUM version many, many times. If others don’t keep up with that, so be it. But to repeat: defining & projecting NCYMC’s distinct identity in the way you want it to be known is NCYMC’s task, not mine.
      The fate of NCYMFUM will likely be talked about, and widely, for years. If other efforts to combat the inevitable confusion are unsatisfactory to NCYMC, then take up the work of maintaining it, and be advised it involves more than carping.

      1. Chuck, I don’t think it is reasonable to expect others to keep up with the continuity of reports from an online blog. People send each other links, post them in Facebook, etc., and there will always be new people coming in mid-story. Might not hurt to reference previous blogs (See from xx/xx/xxxx).

  3. Chuck, when I was in college I worked for a summer at Pruitt-Igoe before it was destroyed. It was a terrible place. Many of the kids went barefoot and their was glass all over the place. One kid had is toe almost cut off by glass.


  4. This is an ugly post. There was caring and compassion – a desire to resist defaming the reputations of others. A recognition of ongoing fellowship and reaching out together to the world- ie NCUSFW and Friends Disaster aid which welcome all Friends. We are admonished not to judge.

    1. Even from far away, this is sad. If it means, eventually, that we get back to emphasizing what we do, rather than what we think, maybe the outcome of fights like this will be to make them unnecessary, but for now, gosh!

  5. It is edifiying to read the old association, that some could no longer abide in good conscience, has been laid down; giving birth to new associations, hopefully, for the blessing and nurturement of all.

    1. North Carolina Yearly Meeting Sessions 2017

      Just before I left to attend NCYM-FUM final sessions as a Yearly Meeting at Quaker Lake, 8th Month, 4th -6th Days, I read the following Isaac Pennington passage which remained on my heart as I listened and held the body in prayer:

      “And Oh, How Sweet and pleasant it is to the truly spiritual eye to see several sorts of believers, several forms of Christians in the school of Christ, every one learning their own lesson, performing their own peculiar service, and knowing, owning, and loving one another in their several places and different performances to their Master, to whom they are to give an account, and not to quarrel with one another about their different practices” (Rom 14, 4)

      I was blessed to be in such a body. These Christian Meetings/Churches and Quarters had recognized their differences and respected each other on their respective paths – . North Carolina Fellowship of Friends and Friends Church of North Carolina. They chose to incorporate NCYM, Inc to hold the Trust in common and continue a structure for shared works. Just as an amoeba must split in order to multiply, I sensed that in their separation each new association could take on the great work of offering to North Caroline, the deep Quaker truth that Christ is present today and teaches his people himself. He is available as comforter, savior, and model of the life God calls us to live.

      The prayer is that both groups flourish. There is still a great people to be gathered.

  6. Problems occur in life. The best chance for peaceful outcomes with one another is to have each Meeting retain its autonomy.
    We are not a religion by committee. Each of us seek the Light
    within, Love one another and be a seeker all your lives. There is that of God in everyone.

    1. Yes, very much yes. Quakerism driven by Spirit is a bottom-up process. That begins with people in spiritual community, and that is the Monthly Meeting or the Worship Group. The Yearly Meetings I have belonged to through my Monthly Meetings, Southeastern Yearly Meeting (SEYM) and Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association (SAYMA) are entirely that way. Faith and Practice reflects life in the Monthly Meetings, and is in fact specified to be a reflection of what is happening, rather than dogma to be obeyed.

  7. So sad. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale for Friends who (foolishly?) think their Fellowships/Gatherings would be more effective if they became Yearly Meetings. Condolences — genuine condolences on the demise of an important part of Quaker history in North America!

    1. Thanks, Arnold. I believe you’re right to wonder whether replicating yearly meetings is a good idea. Changes in technology, communication & finance, along with evolving, increasingly induvidualistic attitudes, raise questions about how much they’re needed/wanted. In NCYM-FUM’s constituency, it looks as if the stronger meetings will get along fine without it– and the many weaker ones, NCYM would not be able to save them, regardless of which faction was in charge.

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