More Carolina Quaker Turbulence: One Meeting Stays; Two Quit
All three of the Friends Meetings expelled from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) have now issued formal responses to this action, which was taken by the NCYM Executive Committee on August 20 (they called it a “release.”) Among them, the statements go in exactly opposite directions.
On the one side is the statement from New Garden Friends Meeting, the largest and most visible of NCYM’s “liberal” groups. It is brief. Here is the full text:
New Garden Friends Meeting, responding to the action of the Executive Committee on August 20, 2015, in a called Monthly Meeting on August 30, 2015, rejects the Executive Committee’s offer of “release” of New Garden from NC Yearly Meeting. New Garden rejects the purported establishment of a rule against dual affiliations as done without authority and rejects the application of that rule to New Garden as done without authority and contrary to Faith and Practice and the proceedings in Representative Body. New Garden requests that the Executive Committee reconvene immediately and rescind its action. If the Executive Committee refuses to do so, New Garden requests that this issue be considered by Representative Body. If Friends gathered in annual session or Representative Body perceive a need for New Garden to appeal the Executive Committee’s action in order to have it considered further, please consider this an appeal.
We are assured that we may select a later time when Representative Body will consider these issues. We will do so.
Mary Louise Smith, Clerk
On the other side are the strongly evangelical Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring Friends Meetings. Today, September 1, each distributed a letter dated August 30 and 31 respectively.
As I have offered them the opportunity to make their case here, These letters are copied below in their entirety. A few comments follow.
First, from Poplar Ridge:
August 30, 2015
On Friday, August 21,2015, Poplar Ridge Friends Meeting was notified that we had been released from membership in the North Carolina Yearly Meeting. A representative from the NCYM Executive Committee met with Dave Mercadante (Senior Pastor), Mark Allen (Monthly Meeting Clerk) and Tim Vestal (Youth and Family Pastor) at the Poplar Ridge meetinghouse to deliver a packet of information from the Executive Committee . This information outlined the Executive Committee’s reasoning for the expulsion of our meeting, and also explained the Executive Committee’s self proclaimed authority to make such an extreme decision.
This letter is our attempt to explain and clarify the claims of the Executive Committee and to respond to the request regarding our decision whether or not to appeal. While it is impossible to correct all the hearsay and misinformation floating around, we believe the Truth of these matters should be known by all. Everyone will, in time, “judge the tree by its fruit” and hopefully the rumors and sweeping generalizations that have become commonplace among Friends in NC Yearly Meeting will disappear. We invite you to read the other attachments to this letter that also shed light on this action. They include:
- The Recommendation to the Executive Committee (by Thomas E. Terrell, Jr .)
- The Resolution of the Executive Committee on August 20, 2015 (by Wallace L. Sills, Clerk)
- Bill Eagles letter to Wallace Sills on August 26, 2015 (permission granted to include)
- The August 25, 2015 letter (by Wallace L. Sills, Clerk, NCYM Executive Committee)
- The August 25, 2015 email of our non-participation in NCYM (from Don Farlow, Interim Superintendent)
- The August 27, 2015 Appeal Process (by Don Farlow, Interim Superintendent)
[Editorial NOTE: Almost all these documents have been quoted and linked to previously, so they are omitted here.]
More answers may need to follow in time, but for now we will answer the most disappointing aspects of the NC Yearly Meeting Executive Committee:
1) “The North Carolina Yearly Meeting Executive Committee, in recognition that Poplar Ridge Friends Meeting and Holly Spring Friends Meeting have formed a new yearly meeting to which they have pledged their membership, their finances and their allegiance, hereby resolves that these two meetings shall be released from membership in the North Carolina Yearly Meeting and that their memberships shall be transferred to their new yearly meeting.” (see Resolution of the Executive Committee)
These claims are false. Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring have not formed a new yearly meeting. There is no way to pledge membership or allegiance to a body that does not exist. The entire basis for our expulsion was based on this incorrect “fact” (see Recommendation to the Executive Committee). Poplar Ridge Friends Meeting has not pledged our finances to a newly formed yearly meeting nor have we adopted a name, rules for membership, or statements of faith. Poplar Ridge has always paid our askings to NCYM in full. Our issues have never been about money, assets or power. They are instead about realignment with what NCYM believes, as clearly stated in NCYM Faith & Practice.
We have indeed been dreaming and visioning of what a new association of meetings would look like. Out of respect for the work of the New Committee, we have hesitated to make this information widely known. We had not made a “decision to leave” as Wallace Sills states in his letter on August 25, 2015. We were actually still praying for NCYM to choose “option 4: complete separation” and had hoped to work together with integrity at a fair separation that would benefit all. Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring have worked within the process set forth by NCYM for an entire year. It has been suggested to us from leadership in Representative Body meetings that this process of a divided yearly meeting (when and if it even begins) could take up to 5 years to implement. It also is apparent to us that the energy in business meetings and from leadership is actually in keeping the current yearly meeting intact as is. We find it unreasonable that we are expected to wait for years for a decision that may or may not happen. Our two meetings are the only ones being punished for having conversations concerning “what might a restructured or divided yearly meeting look like.” Poplar Ridge’s focus is on doing ministry for Jesus Christ now, not in talking about these issues for years.
Sensing that the Yearly Meeting was not moving in a meaningful way to renew, restructure or divide, our monthly meeting agreed to enter into a “process of separation” from NC Yearly Meeting at our March 18, 2015 business session. This was with the understanding that any process we initiated could be halted in the event the yearly meeting came to an acceptable realignment or separation of meetings. The decision to begin separation, which we believe is a calling from God, included the idea of exploring the possibility of a new association of like-minded Friends who share our spirituaI convictions of the atonement of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible. In the meantime, we agreed to continue paying askings in full and to continue our commitment to serve in NCYM. We have not been in “competition” with the Yearly Meeting, and we have not broken any “dual affiliation rule.”
After the June 6, 2015 Representative Body Meeting, we realized that it appeared that NC Yearly Meeting was not going to address these issues. Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring then agreed to hire a consultant (Daniel Thames) to investigate the possibility of a new association of Friends. Our consultant is not a superintendent or even an administrator. He was hired to investigate and ask nuanced questions concerning potential structure and legalities. The August 1, 2015 Called Representative Body revealed a civil but divided yearly meeting and served to affirm our leading to hire a consultant to investigate these matters. Of the then 70 meetings in NCYM, 1 meeting resigned from NCYM that day, 7 did not attend or respond, and 6 did not reach unity on a selection. Of the 56 meetings that did respond, approximately half of them selected options calling for some form of realignment or separation. This is not an insignificant number and served as confirmation to us that someone needed to be considering a process for this eventual separation. These ideas and conversations about a potential new association may be unsettling to many, but they are not cause for removal from NC Yearly Meeting.
2) Friends should know that the Executive Committee never contacted our meeting regarding any of these matters. The letter we received on August 21, 2015 was the first official correspondence we have received from the Executive Committee since we sent our letter on July 8, 2014. One phone call or email from them could have clarified these issues. They could have met with us and asked us to explain our ideas, eldered us in the manner of Friends, or considered a probationary status. However, this committee made a decision without verifying the facts. Past and present superintendents, clerks, and other leaders have been invited to gatherings we have had to discuss the future of a potential new association. In an attempt to work together, we frequently contacted NCYM leadership to keep them informed. In light of that history of honesty, transparency, and openness, it is disappointing to us that no one in leadership invited us to the conversation of our fate.
3) “Under our Faith and Practice, the Executive Committee has the ability to make any decision not inconsistent with its described authority. Although its described authority is vague, my years of service on the Executive Committee have, if anything, taught me that the widely accepted exercise of the Executive Committee’s authority is much broader. A decision of the Executive Committee, though, is ‘subordinate to’ the Representative Body.” (see Recommendation to the Executive Committee)
While it is hard to perceive the rationale and motive behind a move as drastic as expulsion, there should be at least one thing Friends across North Carolina Yearly Meeting can agree upon: the Executive Committee overstepped its bounds. The Executive Committee has absolutely no authority to expel or release a meeting. It is an administrative committee tasked with duties such as the oversight and hiring of staff members and the upkeep of office supplies at the Yearly Meeting office (see the NCYM Administrative Handbook). Over the past few years, the Executive Committee has gradually assumed the spiritual oversight of NC Yearly Meeting from Ministry & Counsel and now from the Representative Body. This recent decision on behalf of the Executive Committee has in part been a result of the Executive Committee granting itself more authority than it actually has. When the issue at hand was about the differences in beliefs held by NC Yearly Meeting in its Faith & Practice, we were told that no one had any authority to remove a meeting from membership.
According to a member of the Executive Committee, the original “Recommendation to the Executive Committee” did not include New Garden Friends Meeting. This recommendation was amended during the committee’s deliberation to include New Garden in the expulsion as they are on record as also being members of Piedmont Friends Yearly Meeting.
Bill Eagles (New Garden Friends) wrote an excellent summary regarding the Executive Committee’s overreach. Friends are invited to read his letter (see attachment). Whatever opinion you form of Poplar Ridge, we must insist that all Friends consider whether the Executive Committee has the authority to do what it claims .
4) The Executive Committee made their decisions during one meeting. Most of its members had not seen Thomas E. Terrell, Jr.’s Recommendation prior to their meeting on August 20, 2015. There was no additional time set aside to meet back after prayer, discernment, contacting the meetings involved, or checking the “facts” of these accusations. In addition, the representative from the Executive Committee told us that they had not asked to hear back from us after we received this news. As a result of the Executive Committee’s hasty decision, which stepped outside of its authority,there have been some consequences that we want people to be aware of:
a. Quaker process has been compromised. Now we have a precedent for letting a small group in the Yearly Meeting exercise power that they do not have over local congregations.
b. This action has resulted in the loss of approximately13% of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting’s membership.
c. Seven recorded ministers from Poplar Ridge (and more from the other meetings) have lost their Recording with NCYM since they no longer have membership in a meeting in NCYM. These include: Winfred Crouse, Leslie (Toth) Lomax, Becky Memmelaar, Barney Pierce, Darlene Pittman, Randy Quate, and Sarah Vestal. Margaret Riddle is also going under the care of the recording committee through membership with Poplar Ridge.
d. Our members are no longer allowed to serve on committees or lead in the yearly meeting. This includes upcoming projects, ministries, and missions that they were currently working on. Even if Poplar Ridge were to appeal in November 2015 or March 2016, we were removed from any possible nominations that were to be approved at this upcoming annual session to serve in 2016.
e. These efforts have exhausted our membership. We have spent considerable time in discernment, prayer, discussion, and meetings.
f. We have no yearly meeting, association, or organization in which to transfer our membership.
g. We have lost all representation at business sessions, even during the appeal process. We have been told in an emailfrom Don Farlow, dated August 25, 2015 (see attached), that members from Poplar Ridge “would not be recognized in our business sessions.”
h. We have received inconsistent information from the Executive Committee. “The Resolution of the Executive Committee” (approved on August 20th and signed by Wallace L. Sills, Clerk, NCYM Executive Committee) states that “Poplar Ridge Friends Meeting and Holly Spring Friends Meeting have formed a new yearly meeting.” However, the August 25th letter from Wallace L. Sills, states that the purported new yearly meeting is still in “formation.”
i. Our appeal date keeps changing. On August 20, 2015, we were told in a document signed by Wallace L. Sills, that we could appeal “to the North Carolina Yearly Meeting at its next annual session.” (see Resolution of the Executive Committee) . Then a week later, on August 27, 2015, we were told in a document signed by Don Farlow (letter attached) that “no appeals will be heard during the upcoming Annual Sessions in Black Mountain… at your meeting’s choice, the appeal can be heard at either the November 7th, 2015 or at the March 2016 meeting of the Representative Body.”
Poplar Ridge Friends Meeting disagrees with the decision handed down from the Executive Committee. Considering the spirit in which all of this information has been given to us, and with great prayer and caution, Poplar Ridge Friends Meeting has decided not to appeal the decision from the North Carolina Yearly Meeting Executive Committee to release our meeting. The expulsion is regrettable for several reasons (some of which we have mentioned in this letter) and it displays a lack of discernment by the Executive Committee and the leadership of North Carolina Yearly Meeting. However, this expulsion has clarified many things for us. The attitudes and decisions being made by NCYM over the past 13 months further convince us that no reasonable progress is in the foreseeable future. We have been sensing a leading to leave this yearly meeting and to form a new association of Friends, and now, we have confirmed that this is a true calling. With Paul,we find ourselves “. . . hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” We are without a denomination but not without a vision. We know that “God will supply all our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” With God’s help and direction, we will continue to serve and produce fruitful ministry to God’s glory and for His Son, Jesus Christ.
So it is with a heavy heart that as of August 30, 2015, we acknowledge the end of our one and a half century ministry partnership and membership with North Carolina Yearly Meeting.
While we are parting ways in ministry, this does not mean we intend to sever long lasting friendships that have been fostered through the years. We look forward to contact and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ from North Carolina Yearly Meeting in the years to come. These conflicts may eventually be forgotten or lost to history, but the bond of fellowship among the Body of Christ is eternal. If anyone has any further questions of us, we ask that you seek your information from Poplar Ridge and not from rumor or false “facts.”
Further still, we wish North Carolina Yearly Meeting the very best in its ministry ambitions. North Carolina Yearly Meeting has had a long history of fruitful service for the Lord and we pray its best years of ministry are ahead. Our hope is that the Yearly Meeting will serve faithfully and courageously in a world that desperately needs the Light of Jesus Christ to shine brightly in the darkness. We pray for the ministries of North Carolina Yearly Meeting; that they will thrive and expand continually, and that there will be a renewal to follow Jesus Christ and His Word.
POPLAR RIDGE FRIENDS MEETING
J. Mark Allen
Monthly Meeting Clerk
Ministry & Counsel Clerk
= = = = = = = = = = =
A couple of comments: The Clerk of the Executive Committee, Wallace Sills, specifically said to me twice in an interview that no recordings would be affected by the committee’s action. That’s at odds with Polar Ridge’s contention (in item 4.c.) about the loss of recording by numerous ministers there. I am working to sort out this discrepancy, and don’t have clarity yet. But I am clear about what I was told.
Elsewhere, the lengthy account of their “dreaming and visioning” about a “new association”, based on a decision of last March to “enter into a ‘process of separation,'” which included numerous “gatherings” to which various selected “leaders have been invited . . . to discuss the future of a potential new association,” but about which which “[they] have hesitated to make this information widely known,” is a veritable recipe for misunderstanding. It could just as easily be plausibly interpreted, as the Executive Committee did, as a semi-covert effort to undermine and split NCYM as a whole.
While I agree with their contention that the Executive Committee had no authority to expel (aka “release”) their meeting, this account, closely examined, makes it unfortunately understandable why many in the NCYM leadership had become alarmed about what was underway. It was striking that thePoplar Ridge letter even raised the possibility of their accepting a kind of “probation” as an alternative to expulsion, as if they might have been ready to admit to some dubious behavior.
Now to Holly Spring, which just came in late this afternoon (Sept. 1), which is much briefer:
HOLLY SPRING FRIENDS MEETING
2938 Holly Spring Road Ramseur, NC 27316
Todd Brown, Pastor Jennifer York, Associate Pastor
August 31, 2015
In response to the Executive Committee’s resolution on August 20, 2015, to release Holly Spring Friends Meeting (along with two other meetings) from membership in North Carolina Yearly Meeting, we offer the following clarifications:
1. We have not “formed” a new yearly meeting. There is no new yearly meeting into which we can move. We have simply participated in hiring a consultant on a temporary basis to explore the feasibility of forming a new association of like-minded meetings . Since there is no need at this point in our investigation for an “administrator ” in these endeavors, one has not been hired.
2. We had representatives present at the Representative Body Meetings in March and June of 2015 when the proposal/idea that a meeting could not be “dually affiliated” was clearly rejected.
3. Regarding being “released ” from, “expelled” or “booted out” of NCYM, the result appears to us to be exactly the same. Holly Spring Monthly Meeting has certainly not approved for our membership to be removed from NCYM . In addition please know that to the date of our expulsion, we have fully paid our askings, as we always have. We fail to see justification of our release from NCYM under Faith and Practice procedures .
4. In our letter of June 24, 2015, Holly Spring did recommend that our NCYM Superintendent, Clerk and the new “task force” be authorized and empowered to obtain objective legal counsel and work towards a complete and fair separation of NCYM resulting in two separate associations or yearly meetings. We have not threatened or pursued any litigation on our own.
5. Lastly, we are puzzled as to why Biblical procedures were not followed in removing us from NCYM. Jesus clearly laid out a procedure in Matthew 18: 15-17 for dealing with conflict, beginning with a one-on-one encounter. No person or committee made any attempt to discuss or confront us with these matters prior to releasing us, nor was any attempt made to clarify the facts.
We offer these facts in light of the Executive Committee’s decision to remove us from membership. While we were initially disappointed and hurt that the Yearly Meeting leadership, in particular the Executive Committee, misinterpreted our intentions, we are now at peace with the release and are pleased that our ministries will go forward unimpeded by the issues that rankle North Carolina Yearly Meeting. We have been open and forthright in our communications stating our position, even to the point of being chided for bullying. We recognize that an appeal process is available; however, we do not plan to appeal this decision. We love all of you and will continue to pray for NCYM and all of its members .
HOLLY SPRING MONTHLY MEETING OF FRIENDS
William J. Allen, Monthly Meeting Clerk
Todd Brown, Pastor
Todd Greene, Clerk of Ministry and Counsel
= = = = = = = = = = =
The one comment I’ll offer here is that much of Holly Spring’s letter makes almost identical points about the removal process as were raised by Bill Eagles, a member of New Garden, in his letter to the Executive Committee. This suggests that the Executive Committee could well encounter challenges from both liberal and evangelical Friends about its action.
A member of First Friends Meeting in Greensboro, which released a fiery letter denouncing the “overwhelming sense of betrayal” they saw in the Executive Committee’s “release” of the three meetings.
So that’s the latest, as of about 6PM EDT. Who knows what will happen next? There are, for instance, meetings that have been sympathetic to Poplar Ridge & Holly Spring, but whopper not mentioned by the Executive Committee. Will they follow them out the door?
And will these departures change the prospects of New Garden for winning some kind of reinstatement?
Stand by for more updates.