Ambushed & Sandbagged At North Carolina Yearly Meeting

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.

Oh. You back again?

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:



10 thoughts on “Ambushed & Sandbagged At North Carolina Yearly Meeting”

  1. Wow. Slow clap.

    So, we ready to leave on our own terms before they boot us out yet? Or are we gonna put up with more of being blamed for getting attacked by radicals who don’t follow the basic tenants of our faith?

    Does anyone really still think the NCYM cares about us and has our best interests at heart?

    1. Zach– the Spring YM Committee meets Tuesday about 6:30 at the meeting. I’ll have more to say then. As, I suspect, will others . . . .

      1. Chuck, I won’t be able to attend, but could I ask the big favor of reading a statement for me if I sent it your way? I’d greatly appreciate it.

  2. I’ve always thought that the Monthly Meeting was the cornerstone of Quakerism. The Monthly Meetings holds your membership, takes your marriage under its care. Quarterly and Yearly Meetings are associations where monthly meeting members may find support or probing questions. Monthly meetings appoint representatives, but the Yearly Meeting business is conducted by all Friends in attendance, not by proxy.

    My Yearly Meeting [Pacific] is unaffiliated precisely because of Joel and Hannah Bean’s reluctance to let College Park Meeting in San Jose be administered/censored by a Yearly Meeting halfway across the country.

    Monthly Meetings choose with which larger body to affiliate; not the other way around. The POWER rests in the Holy Spirit which is available to all. It wells up. It doesn’t trickle down.

    1. Pardon the book blurb, Farleys, but my “Remaking Friends,”
      ( ) shows how & why this meeting-centeredness was NOT the case til late 1800s -early 1900s, and when it did happen it was the result of much struggle, with my hero Lucretia Mott a major figure. Pacific YM is one of the beneficiaries of that effort.

    2. It’s precisely this misunderstanding of Quaker polity that has created so much of the consternation among/between Friends in very recent years. Orthodox Friends have long continued the tradition of subordination to yearly meeting authority, while more liberal Friends have largely abandoned it in what many scholars have termed the “reinvention of Quakerism.” Such an awareness of this history would likely help both sides to understand why they want such different things from a yearly meeting structure and why the “official yearly meeting position” on almost any given topic matters so much to Friends in the Orthodox tradition, while liberal Friends are content to allow local autonomy on almost every issue.
      In short, can two (or more) very diverse groups co-exist in the same organizational structure when one group has an historically-accurate view that the shared faith and practice is the raison d’etre for the existence of the organization, while another group sees uniformity as a detriment? Is it both fair and loving to stay together under the circumstances?

  3. Is North Carolina experiencing a delayed nineteenth century, with events out of order?

    The Hicksite-Orthodox split “shattered” Philadelphia, New York, New England, Ohio, Indiana, and Baltimore (with differing outcomes from YM to YM), but didn’t touch the southern meetings (in part, perhaps, because it happened at a time when southern quakers were moving to the frontier, then in the ‘western preserve’, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois).

    The Gurneyite tradition among the Orthodox eventually produced a reaction, associated with Wilbur in New England, and in some other meetings. Again, the resistance of the ‘plain’ folk to the increasingly protestant-mainstream Orthodox/Gurneyite movement wasn’t reflected in schism in North Carolina, though notably some meetings began to distance themselves from the evangelical/revival movement. As for the Progressive split, which divided Hicksites at about the same time, there was no constituency within the NC YM, so far as we have report of.

    The change in discipline to permit George Fox’s “hireling ministry”, a paid pastorate (note that the pastorate in NCYM is even now a significant economic issue, perhaps the major reason that askings are at the level that they are (and even so inadequate to support the retired pastors)) did create a schism in North Carolina, generating NCYM (FUM) and NCYM (conservative). One of the Conservative meetings is not far from Spring (or South Fork, which was once a preparative meeting part of Spring monthly), on Greenhill Road. Finally, around 1903, NC’s sort-of-Wilburite (at least close enough to ally with the existing Wilburite YMs and all label themselves together as ‘conservative’) did split (rather amicably, though).

    I’m not too clear on whether the Evangelical Friends Church meetings split from one of the NC YMs (FUM or Conservative), but that happened around the middle of the twentieth century. It’s not really spoken of much in the histories of NCYM. At about the same time (within a couple decades, anyway), PFF also appears, and attracts meetings from NCYM (FUM), NCYM (Conservative), and new, independent meetings. Again, though, no apparent hard feelings, for most of half a century.

    I’m a little surprised that the meetings in exodus aren’t joining EFC, but perhaps I shouldn’t be. They do seem to all be in approximately the same general theological position, although of course in times of stress the smallest filioque can become the excuse for much ill will.

    We seem to be seeing the Hicksite and Gurneyite/revivalist tendencies on the ends, when NC managed to avoid them a hundred and ninety a hundred and twenty years ago. Although arguably the position of the PFF-leaning is more Beanite than Hicksite (it’s at least Progressive, rather than the original rather authoritarian-with-bosses-we-like Hicksite). And in the middle, apparently some have decided that asserting uniformity is a way of achieving it, and that top-down discipline can (somehow) be made to work.

    It’s … kind of interesting to watch. Disconcerting, especially for anyone who knows themselves to be a potential source of conflict for a monthly meeting that they are attracted to.

    Perhaps those asserting their right or privilege to administer discipline or establish a creed and sacraments (to go with the priesthood?) are right, and doing those things will create a stronger body of believers. Perhaps. Not seeing it, at the moment; all of the splintered groups seem, instead, to be spending their energies on calumnies against those nearest (wars almost always happen between neighbors … harder to attack someone who isn’t within reach, after all).

    Here’s hoping that each of groups can find some Friendly consensus, and then begin to reach out in love and hope.

    (though there is, of course, biblical precedent for violent language and vituperation … so it goes)

    1. Good overview, Amy. The matters of affiliation and connection do seem to be widely in play. My crystal ball is in the shop, so I’m short on predictions about how this mess in NCYm is going to play out. But I think you’re right on one thing: the record shows that schisms and purges have A poor track record as “growth strategies.” Personally I doubt that the current turbulence in NCYM will be different.
      Oh — as for the meetings that have just split, a few are starting their own “association”; my guess is that some of the others will stay independent. These days, if you have enough members/donors to pay the light bill and support a pastor, the rest of yearly meeting overhead becomes increasingly dispensable. In fact, a member from one meeting that left spoke to the NCYM session last Saturday about this. He was very sad about its departure, and had spoken against it unsuccessfully; and he insisted that the members were not particularly worked up about the “hot issues” that we’ve heard so much about elsewhere. Instead, he said their horizon of interest had been steadily contracting, so that they simply cared less and less about NCYM and whatever was going on here. (They are located several hours away from Greensboro; but it didn’t sound like this was a matter of miles.) And the second, parallel factor, he said, was that they decided they did NOT want to send any more money to NCYM — which corroborates my notion of the dispensability of such superstructures. He expects the meeting will stay independent, because they have no interest in sending money to any other such body. (Ditto.)
      Sociologists have been telling us for years that this decay of institutional loyalty is all around us among churches and other civil society groups; nothin especially Quakervabout it. So maybe this is at work here too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.