Say Hello to the “Atlantic Friends Mission”– Baptism, Anyone?
Late last week, the other shoe dropped in the exodus from North Carolina Yearly Meeting-FUM.
Three of the meetings that most loudly demanded a purge of all NCYM meetings they did not approve of, and which then left NCYM when that purge did not happen, have formed the Atlantic Friends Mission.
The meetings are Poplar Ridge, Holly Spring, and South Fork. And one its founding church’s first acts was to offer water baptism to members. (See below.)
As has been chronicled in this blog over the past year, Holly Spring’s pastor, Todd Brown, was the one who insistently demanded at the 2014 NCYM annual session that all Friends and meetings associated with Piedmont Friends Fellowship, a group he disapproved of, should resign from NCYM immediately.
And when “immediately” didn’t happen, he and his cohorts pressed for forced resignations (i.e., expulsions) by one means after another. As a backup, beginning in March 2015, the meetings began frequent informal sessions to lay plans for an exodus of their own, and the formation of a rival “association.”
This process came to a climax of sorts, when two of the three purge-seeking meetings were abruptly “released” (i.e., expelled) by the NCYM Executive Committee in August, for what the committee described as an intolerable conflict of interest between their sitting in decision making sessions for NCYM while deeply engaged in setting up a rival body.
Although the Executive Committee’s expulsions were overturned by the annual session in early September; Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring decided they would not resume their NCYM membership, but go their own way. South Fork Meeting soon followed.
NCYM sources confirmed to me that as of the first week of November, six more monthly meetings have formally notified NCYM that they are leaving NCYM, for a total of nine. Here they are, for the record:
Poplar Ridge; Holly Spring; South Fork; Bethesda; Pine Hill; Plainfield; Prosperity; Trinity; Upriver.
These nine meetings account for 1442 members, or 19 per cent of NCYM’s stated total of 7565 members.
Together their yearly meeting payments, or “Askings,” total $113406, a loss of 19 per cent of the YM’s overall total Askings of $703545. (Membership and “Askings” fgures from NCYM Treasurer’s Reports)
The organizational formalities of the Atlantic Friends Mission (AFM) are still obscure; a query for these details got a No-Comment response. But on October 29, a Facebook page for a joint youth event was renamed the “Atlantic Friends Mission” page.
And in 2015, how many things are more definite indicators of actual “existence” than a Facebook page? (Well, staff, funding and buildings/property, to name three; but the group had pieces of the first two last summer, and no doubt the rest will come.)
The group was spoken of as an association by early October, in weekly bulletins for Holly Spring. And other things were spoken of too:
Baptism, for one. Traditionally, Quakers have not practiced water baptism or communion, seeing these as outward rituals that had been replaced by inward religious experiences. (It is, indeed, prohibited by the Richmond Declaration of Faith, to which the “immediate resignation” advocates claimed to want to impose full adherence on the rest of NCYM.) However, the more strongly evangelical branches have long been attracted to these “ordinances,” and beginning to practice them has usually been a marker for when an group leaves the tradition definitely behind.
And now it has happened. The “We” in the notice below is Holly Spring Friends, from its October 11 weekly Bulletin:
“Todd” is Holly Spring pastor Todd Brown.
(Optional water baptism was included in the proposed new Faith & Practice drawn up at Poplar Ridge and circulated last spring.)
The AFM is also taking at least two additional steps that are recorded in their own sources: On November 12-14, the three member churches will hold a youth gathering at Poplar Ridge.
The event’s official poster is quite, um, modest in identifying the new sponsor. But with aid, this can be discerned.
The group will be addressed (preached to) by a District Superintendent from the Nazarene Church, a strongly evangelical, holiness-oriented, and pentecostal-influenced denomination.
And on November 16, the three will hold a “Joint Ministry & Counsel” session at Holly Spring. As Ministry and Counsel sessions are typically a kind of executive committee, this suggests that the project is going forward steadily.
One other point that caught my eye. There was much discussion before the summer-fall exodus about the fate of NCYM’s Quaker Lake Camp if, as Poplar Ridge and the others insisted, NCYM was to be broken up. That hasn’t happened; the nine departures were all individual Meeting decisions, maxing it a kind of exodus by attrition. And Quaker Lake has stayed put, under the aegis of NCYM.
But Poplar Ridge, the largest of the three departed groups, has not let this outcome slow down its frequent rustic gatherings. Since summer it has held a “Family Day” gathering, a senior high weekend, and plans a week-long year-end youth assembly — all at Camp Caraway, a Baptist-owned property near Asheboro.
So the Atlantic friends Mission is underway. And on November 7, NCYM will hold its autumn Representative session, the first since the upheavals of the past year seem to have crested.
Among the nine departures are most of the more militant voices which demanded the purge and breakup of NCYM in the name of some kind of doctrinal purity. Could it be that with them, some or (hopefully) most of the urge to purge has gone also? Can NCYM, reduced by 19 percent — a substantial loss, but hardly fatal — begin to move past this turmoil, leave the Atlantic Friends Mission group to follow their leadings, and turn to rebuilding their own community?