Carolina Quakers: Is The Potboiler Season Over Yet?
Has this happened to you too?
I put a pot on the stove, turned the burner up to get it going.
Then that kinda urgent phone call came. Or a supercute cat video popped up on Facebook.
I was laughing at the paws, or getting the phone business done, when–
That smell! Something was burning! And the hissing sound–
If I didn’t get to the kitchen in time, the smoke alarm started shrieking, and–
Crazy! Not to mention a big mess, and dangerous to boot.
But relief is close at hand.
Well, that’s how it felt about North Carolina Yearly Meeting much of this past year.
A few weeks ago, NCYM was boiling over with the ruckus about proposals to break up (or chop up) the body; then steaming with fury at annual sessions after three meetings were unexpectedly expelled. Followed by worry over what to do about “The Way Forward,” the plan being developed to placate the urge to purge all meetings deemed “liberal.”
But that was then. Now, today, news came that two more meetings, pillars of the militant purge-faction, have left. And it felt like no big deal. There may be more exits. That’s too bad; but something has changed: the steam is dissipating. The smoke alarm is quiet.
Part of it was how one meeting, Plainfield, did it. Long gone is the bluster of their letter of a year ago, unfurling the battle flag of the purge-the-liberals crusade: in it they decried “severe Theological differences, integrity, stewardship, and the lack of Christ centeredness, among some of our Meetings and among some of the leadership within NCYM.”
They vowed to withhold their Askings after April 1 of this year (tho in fact they didn’t), unless by then their demands for a purge were not “dealt with”; except they said it DEALT with, using bigger type, bold and italicized, all caps and underlined, to give it fivefold emphasis and urgency. Boiling over.
Yet their good-bye letter sounds almost like a thank you card from a polite house guest who has had a great time; not a peep about grievances. Not with a bang but a goodbye kiss.
They are the seventh meeting to go, all but one from the hot center of the purge faction. And with each of these departures, I’m now recognizing it as relief: each one was like turning down the burner under that overheated pot another notch.
And we know what happens then. In the kitchen the steam and bubbling subside to a manageable simmer, from which something wholesome might still be cooked up, even out of the same disparate ingredients. (Even if this metaphor is a little overdone . . .)
So how bad is this exodus for NCYM?
Here’s a quick summary:
7 meetings gone (from 72 total) = -9.5%
1201 members gone, out of 7565 total = -16%
$46370 in outstanding “Askings” (dues) lost
from a budget total of $581075 = – 8%
[For comparison, in late 2014 one liberal meeting, Fancy Gap, withdrew. It had 15 members, and its 2014 Askings were $1770. Source: 2014 Minutes, page 84.]
This is a significant hit. But hardly calamitous: it’s about one-sixth of both the membership, and the 2015 budget. And it’s a far cry from the trumpeting we heard over the last year about how the “overwhelming majority” of NCYM was ready to bolt any minute, unless the liberal meetings were all immediately consigned to the outer darkness, weeping and gnashing their teeth.
Even before all this erupted, NCYM was already struggling to cope with a downward slide in both membership and funding. Between 2014 and 2015, one year, membership dropped by 202, almost 3%, from 7767 down to 7565. And the budget underwent radical surgery, from $1041092 in 2014 to $581075 for 2015, a cutback of 44%.
Is there a chance that with the cooling off of the purge frenzy, NCYM could turn its attention back to the issues of community health that formerly filled its agenda? There ought to be better prospects then for Friends of varying outlooks to find some common ground for constructive cooperative effort. And there’s plenty of non-confrontational work to do.
In any event, to get metaphorical again, the winding down of departure drama is also like the change of seasons:
Up the block from my place, a tall maple suddenly has a spray of yellow in the rippling green of its upper branches.
It’s cool, cloudy in Durham. Supposed to rain. Haven’t heard the A/C’s hum all day.
And just that fast, the outward seasons change.
The heat of summer is passing. The colors of autumn wrinkle and flutter into the stripping cold of winter, with a promise to follow. Can NCYM get back into this cycle?