Why is NC Quakerism Vanishing While Baltimore YM Flourishes?

Why is NC Quakerism Vanishing While Baltimore YM Flourishes?

Saw a stunning number yesterday. It was in The Interchange, the newsletter from Baltimore Yearly Meeting. It’s a number that’s especially timely for Quakers from North Carolina YM-FUM.

That number is 7000. It came up in an article by Bob Rhudy. Bob is the interim General Secretary for Baltimore Yearly Meeting.

And 7000 is now the overall membership number he reported for Baltimore YM. (or BYM). 


BTW “Baltimore YM” is misleadingly named; the body now covers much Friendly turf, from the far north of central Pennsylvania through most of Maryland, DC and all Virginia. 

In fact, while it’s 340 or so miles from Greensboro to the BYM offices in Sandy Spring MD, it’s a mere 50 from, say, Winston-Salem, to a lively BYM meeting in Floyd VA. And besides being next-door neighbors, NCYM & BYM are similar in age (318 and 343 years, respectively), both were visited by George Fox, and each suffered a lot in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.


The new BYM membership number caught my attention because I’d just done calculations showing that North Carolina YM-FUM’s tally for 2015. Formerly at around 7600, it just dived 1200 to about 6400, and is likely to fall some more.

This latest plunge is, of course, due to the exodus of purge meetings. But the downward trend was already well-established. Consider: in 2000 the NCYM tally was 10700. For Baltimore, in 1999, BYM membership totaled 4542.

Since then, NCYM has lost almost as many members as BYM had then. And now, BYM has more members and attenders.


That’s not all. Here’s another pair of striking numbers:

In 1999, BYM’s “Advancement & Outreach” Budget was $200; of this, the Committee only spent $80. 

In 2000 NCYM’s budget for ‘Evangelism & Outreach” was $7600;  and for Church Extension, $46,900 more; $54,500 in all.

Go ahead, admit it: these numbers and trends are stunning.

What, Carolina Friends might be asking, do they know “up there” that NCYM doesn’t?

I’ve attended many BYM annual sessions, been on its committees; I’ve also attended several NCYM sessions.


And my “expert” explanation comes down to this:

I don’t know.

But I have a few suspicions.

Here’s the top one: in BYM, they haven’t had any doctrinal purges.

Well– that’s not completely accurate. There was a very big one, back in 1827; Hicksites and all that. Pretty ugly it was, too. 

But after pondering the impact for about 110 years, they decided maybe it hadn’t really been such a good idea, and started a process of reconciliation that culminated in the late 1960s.


Then, while coming back together, they settled on a form of YM governance that’s strongly congregational: the YM doesn’t presume to tell the meetings what to believe and who they can associate with. I suspect that’s also been important.

A third was that, even in strongly “Christ-centered” meetings, most skipped the pastoral system. Yes, several meetings did hire “secretaries” who (being men at first), were somewhat pastor-ish. A couple of larger BYM meetings still have them, but the pastoral features have devolved to committees.

This mainly non-pastoral culture is hardly perfect. But viewed from the Carolina side of the border, it has seemed to help avoid some major pitfalls, two in particular: 

For one, it did not see the pastorate fill up with non-Quakers (or what I call “Quakers by employment”), too many of whom decide their meetings should become just like the community gospel church back home. 

And second, it did not nurture a network of mainly males with too much free time, some of whom are almost fated to start plotting to overthrow the established YM order. This is always explained as the way to become more Godly & Christian (tho I think it’s more about testosterone), and is guaranteed to pack the benches with eager converts, donating profusely for bigger buildings and, not incidentally, salaries. 

Then too, without pastor’s pay and benefits to bedevil treasurers, BYM meetings are much more economical to maintain.

ImpressionismOf course, without the spur of doctrinal purges, BYM’s theological landscape has become like an Impressionist painting, blending various shades of thought into what may or may not be a coherent whole. Indeed, it’s gone so far that the entire yearly meeting is, pardon my french, “dually affiliated,” with both Friends United Meeting and Friends General Conference, actively so. There have been some tensions over this, but so far BYM has made them into a constructive force, both internally and for FUM. (That’s a fascinating story in itself, but for another time.)

If there have been no purges, that does’t mean everyone in BYM is happy with its status quo. I have seen a handful of the strongly “Christ-centered’ decide BYM is too fuzzy-minded and tolerant, and move on. A few others, of a dogmatically “universalist” bent, couldn’t abide the (for them) all-too frequent mentions of Jesus, God and the Bible, and have sought safer shelter among the U-Us or the Church of the Sunday paper. 

Yet, as the numbers above demonstrate, this attrition has been steadily outweighed by robust immigration.

Again, how do they do it, especially while spending a mere pittance on “outreach”? 

Well one development worth noting is that, following some tensions with FUM in the previous decade, BYM decided not to split and decamp, but rather to get to know the other FUM YMs better. Thus they have sent volunteer visitors to several pastoral YMs, including North Carolina (including this month’s sessions).

I don’t know what these visitations have done for the host YMs, but for Baltimore YM the effect has been quite influential: understanding “those other Friends” better, the sentiment in BYM has become more educated and irenic — and, I think, helped them manage their own diversity better.

So perhaps that’s the one concrete suggestion for NCYM Friends to consider, in light of the numbers this post began with: the NCYM membership trend is, clearly, ruinous. So suppose NCYM were to organize volunteers to visit in BYM, to get acquainted, and to uncover, if they can, just what’s happening there to make Baltimore YM Quakerism a growing concern, instead of a vanishing one.

When in doubt, there’s always Lucretia as a Quaker role model. She visited Baltimore YM too, in 1842.

Such a closer look could also serve to field-test a theory of mine, based on experience in both bodies: in today’s troubled America, I contend, Quakerism has many natural advantages as a religious path, among which a salient few are: respect for women; a real, if mixed record of work against war, racial and other oppression;  a healthy skepticism of creeds while maintaining definite religious roots; and more of a focus on personal spirituality and practical service than support for church bureaucracies and authorities.

I further posit that it takes much effort to blunt and obscure these points of Quaker appeal; but especially here in Carolina, it seems, some have been laboring long and diligently to efface them, with no little success. 

So maybe journeys among those strange neighbors in BYM could yield some aid in figuring out how to reverse NCYM’s process of group self-erasure. At worst, the travel expenses would be much less than a pilgrimage to, say, Kaimosi or the Bolivian altiplano, appealing as these places are. 

And after all, if George Fox could put up with Friends from both places, why can’t we?

23 thoughts on “Why is NC Quakerism Vanishing While Baltimore YM Flourishes?”

  1. Still looking at the shallow end of the pool, I see. Tony Lowe and I were invited to BYM Annual Meeting one year to do a Bible study – Actually, he was invited and it was approved that I fill in for him on the second class.

    As a Convinced Friend in NCYM (FUM) and having been involved in the layity and the paid pastorate, I was stunned by what I found at BYM. It was the very first Quaker gathering that I’d attended that was uplifting! It was completely without contention, friendly and (gasp) fun. I returned home having been blessed to be in the company of BYM’s Friends.

    I was amazed as BYM moved through business sessions without bitterness or back stabbing. I was pleased to observe the authentic and kind spirit of the people in general and I was enlightened when I heard comments from the floor questioning affiliation with FUM because of its constant dysfunction. Then, the clincher: BYM decided to continue to support FUM because – are you ready for this – they have much to teach and need support! To put it in post modern texting English “OMG!” So THIS is what it’s like to be among healthy Friends! Wow! It was a completely new experience for a 15 year veteran as a Convinced Friend. I wasn’t aware it could be done.

    So, NCYM (FUM) will continue to flounder around splashing and drowning at the shallow end of the pool throwing money at the failing numbers like throwing water at a drowning body.

    So sad, so sick.

  2. @Ken, not all Quakers in Carolina are thrashing around in the shallow water. My monthly meeting, Durham Friends, is affiliated with the other, smaller NCYM-Conservative (as well as having long-standing ties to the Piedmont Friends Fellowship, which flocks with Friends General Conference). Durham has experienced rapid growth, by Quaker standards, over the past 10 years since building a larger meetinghouse. We regularly fill all 130 seats, with 40-50 children in our First Day School. And we considering adding capacity to our building for more programming.

    We welcome Friends of all theological stripes… Christocentric, universalist, atheist, Buddhist, and I-don’t-know-what-all. 🙂

    As we discern whether to also affiliate with the new PFYM, our Yearly Meeting has opened its hearts and appointed a few Friends to support and care for us. Now *that’s* what I call LOVE!

    1. Of course, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) is not part of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM). Like Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), my understanding is they are more FGC-like than anything. Very tolerant, accepting of diversity, and spiritually motivated in all they do. I’ve attended VA Beach Friends Meeting numerous times (also part of NCYM-Conservative), and they seem very similar to my FGC meeting – with the exception of some terminology.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if within 50 years or so Piedmont and NCYM-Conservative merge. I’d be interested in your thoughts on that, Toby.

  3. Sorry, Chuck, but I think you’re talking “apples and oranges” in a couple of different ways. First, the “7000” figure for Baltimore is a bit of a stretch. It represents about 3800 “full members,” about 700 “associate members” and about 2500 “estimated attenders.” The Interchange article clearly says “members and attenders.” The last category is apparently defined entirely by the local meeting, varying from 0 in several meetings to several hundred in a half dozen meetings. It, obviously, does not represent “average attendance” as reported in all pastoral yearly meetings. So, has Baltimore Yearly Meeting grown? The “full member” numbers show 5% growth between 1996 and 2013 and 20% growth since the 1968 merger, but no where near the 50%+ that you imply in your post. Baltimore is probably the only yearly meeting in FUM that has shown any growth in the last fifty years. But, your conclusions about why may be called into question with another set of statistics. In the last quarter century, Evangelical Friends Church—Eastern Region, a yearly meeting that also covers territory in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia, has seen a modest increase in its “voting” (full) members of about 1% but has seen its average Sunday morning worship attendance increase by nearly 30%. And EFC-ER insists on a shared faith and a high level of centralized authority.

    A better theory about the decline in North Carolina would parallel the declines in Wilmington, Western, and Indiana: the high level of conflict and lack of clarity about what membership in the yearly meeting represents has been detrimental to all, especially the old, modernist, urban meetings. Unsurprisingly, three of North Carolina’s most liberal meetings, New Garden, Greensboro First Friends, and (now) Spring, have all shown declines in membership and attendance in the last twenty-five years. Further, if liberalism is the answer, one would expect growth in New England, New York, Philadelphia, etc., all of which have seen significant declines in recent years.

    1. Some interesting points here. And some challenging fruit metaphors. Apples and oranges? Maybe it’s kumquats and cranberries. Though I’ve looked at a lot of Quaker membership numbers over the years, and they move me to revise the old saw we adapted when I was a peacenik at Quaker House in Fayetteville/Fort Bragg: “There’s lies, damned lies, statistics — then Pentagon cost estimates, and bringing up the rear, Quaker membership numbers.” And this goes from the utterly fanciful data presented by FWCC about foreign Yearly meetings in countries where population censuses are utterly unreliable — and to reports from meetings in the supposedly high-tech first world setting of Baltimore YM and NCYM-FUM.
      It may well be that the numbers in the BYM newsletter are mostly speculative fiction. Yet after attending BYM sessions since the late 1970s, my judgment is that, however imprecise the data, that group has indeed been on the upswing, and still is. There are, for instance, several more BYM meetings now than in the 1980s, for instance, whereas in NCYM over roughly the same period there are several fewer, and numerous others just hanging on.
      Moreover, as pointed out by Ken Bradstock in an earlier comment, the atmosphere and morale at BYM sessions are much more lively, upbeat and generally cordial than the NCYM meetings (and other pastoral YMs I’ve visited). I’m not referring to bad manners, but rather to a pervading sense in NCYM proceedings of angst, more or less suppressed conflict, and chronic scapegoating. I’ve also been in NCYM Quarterly Meeting sessions, and heard the list of long-vacant pastoral positions, most of which are low paid anyway and clearly unable to attract the best talent. I’ve also seen that on these occasions, as in no others any more, I can still be often among the younger cohort.
      And I’ve been in some of the “liberal” NCYM meetings, and was not arguing that they are powerhouses bursting at the seams, though I find them in many ways appealing. i would agree that there are several evangelical NCYM meetings which have sufficient numbers to support their staff and pursue, at least to some extent, the kinds of programs they think are called for. With the right breaks (which seem unlikely but not impossible), one or another might someday become a modest mega-church.
      Yet overall I just think there is no denying the general slide in NCYM; the chart showing the descent from 10700 in 2000 to around 6000 now comes right out of “official” data: cranberries to cranberries. These are confirmed by Listening to the near-desperate pleas over several years now for donations to fund the pitiful retirement checks for aged pastors has been a wrenching and embarrassing experience, especially when the figures show how sparse the response continues to be. Thank God, I have breathed, that my modest retirement lifestyle does not depend on that weak, shriveling reed.
      As for the future, I am noting well-established trends, but not making predictions. And for that matter, I would not expect NCYM to become a clone of Baltimore. But I stand by the suggestion that the wiser folks in NCYM could learn much by visiting and paying attention.
      As for the ultimate sources of Baltimore’s vitality, I acknowledged that I don’t know what they are, and stand by that agnosticism. The items I mentioned — e.g., the lack of purges since the 1827 Separation –are mainly “negative,” in that they are disasters that did NOT happen, and thus had no chance to squelch the vitality. The same goes for escaping the ravages of pastoral cliques.
      The comparison to EFC-Eastern Region is intriguing, but I think, ultimately irrelevant: it is indeed centralized, essentially episcopal in fact, and looks to be hereditary at the top. That’s certainly one way to run a church. Except for the hereditary part, we could ask Francis for insights on it; and clearly his door is open. I’ve heard some of the NCYM dissidents talking of EFC with a kind of longing; tho frankly I doubt they are ready to bend their necks to its leadership’s yoke. After all, do you recall when the EFC leader there formally banned use of the term “Quaker” to better establish his “brand identity”? And pushed through a vote to remove all discussion of his salary from open sessions? What will his excellency want next? Well, it seems to have worked for him; but with these and other items, along with “Voting membership,” the gulf between Eastern Region and even much of more conservative NCYM Quakerism seems pretty deep, and I don’t see the bridges.
      But back to Baltimore: even the one spring of its vitality that does seem visible, indeed obvious to a visitor/newcomer — BYM’s now massive camping program — may more reflect the vitality than produce it. After all, NCYM also has a fine camp facility at Quaker Lake — but it’s not much more than another pawn in the ongoing maneuvers and conflicts; sadly reflecting its context all too well.
      To be sure, there are squabbles in BYM too: a couple years back, the session rejected an entire draft F & P which had been worked on for ten years. That was definitely a jolt for some; but not grounds for a purge or schism.
      Maybe Baltimore is simply demographically lucky: clustered in the broad orbit of Washington DC, with all that ever-flowing tax money making its constituency more or less recession proof, and undergirding the institutional “liberalism” of the associated massive bureaucracies, public and private, which works to muffle and deflect theological and social conflicts. I don’t discount those factors at all. Yet they don’t entirely satisfy either.
      Overall, Baltimore’s steady growth in this era is something of a phenomenon on the religious horizon. The liberal mainline churches have been declining for decades; and now the Southern Baptists, and many other evangelical groups, after gloating over this for a generation, find themselves sliding big time too. It is one of my diversions to read the reports from Barna, an evangelical,pollster, tracking their ever-more frantic Quest of the Vanishing Millennials, and go from shaking my head in disbelief to laughing in open derision.
      Where will it all end? Stand by. And go visit BYM, and pay attention.

      1. I thought that the point of the post of this post prima facie was that Baltimore’s supposedly rosy statistics attest to organizational health. Now, we seem to be talking about anecdotal evidence of felicitous interactions at yearly meeting sessions as indications of good health. There are, again, some logical problems with this approach.

        First, no one has presented any evidence that liberal theology comports with happy yearly meeting sessions. In fact, a better conclusion is probably that basic theological uniformity creates happier sessions and healthier yearly meetings because it reduces the subjects over which to have serious conflict.

        Your cursory look at Baltimore history left out some key details. First, while the Orthodox yearly meeting, under the domination of what is now called Homewood Friends Meeting, officially disavowed the pastoral system, a majority of the local meetings had “workers,” originally pastors in everything but name, in the twentieth century. In fact, at least two of Baltimore’s local meetings had parsonages. During the era of “unification,” one must ask why it took Baltimore nearly a quarter of a century after the first merger to finally come together under a federated system. The answer? Because the evangelicals in the Orthodox yearly meeting resisted the merger for decades. And, in the ten years after the merger, all of the pastoral meeting left the supposedly diverse Baltimore Yearly Meeting for, yes, that’s right, North Carolina Yearly Meeting. One of them, Corinth, is among those calling for reform of North Carolina today. So, the post-merger Baltimore Yearly Meeting was and probably is, arguably, the least theologically diverse yearly meeting of the FUM-FGC group. With the pastoral meetings safely driven out, liberalism could reign supreme. In short, Baltimore Yearly Meeting is pretty clear about who Baltimore Yearly Meeting is.

        In other, theologically-uniform yearly meetings, like the already-referenced EFC-ER, the statistics certainly look like the health is better.

        The point of your blog, I realize, is to be polemical. But, in reference to North Carolina, we should not be shocked at the statistical trends of it, New York, Wilmington, Indiana, or Western, where the cultural wars have played out and which once had the most theological diversity. The recent Pew Study showed that the denominations hemorrhaging the most are those that are the mainlines, the most like these yearly meetings in decline (i.e. FUM). Evangelicals, you may recall from the Pew Study, are actually holding their own, the only group of Christians to do so. And, as the mainlines grow more liberal, their statistical reports have grown more dismal.

        So, what to do? It’s pretty clear that trying to maintain a “middle-of-the road” yearly meeting isn’t going to work in this era of increasing political and religious polarization. And, it also pretty clear that religious liberalism and religious orthodoxy do not exist together in the same organizations for very long because their essential views are mutually inimical.

        So, should North Carolina solve its problems with grace, patience, and civil discourse or with expulsions, vituperations, and recriminations?

        1. Indeed I do think that BYM’s growth is correlated with its overall good internal morale. And such observational data is as reliable as formal numbers in this and most other Quaker cases. To repeat what was said about this in an earlier comment: “There’s lies, damned lies, statistics — then Pentagon cost estimates, and bringing up the rear, Quaker membership numbers.”
          This fuzziness is not only a Quaker feature. Social scientists have established repeatedly that Americans (and their churches churches) lie — yes, LIE — about church attendance and involvement, repeatedly & chronically, across denominational lines. (Here is one article that points to some of the documented conclusions: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_hidden_brain/2010/12/walking_santa_talking_christ.html )
          For BYM, my sense is that the poor quality of its numbers represents lazy record keeping rather than intentional falsehoods. Yet the undeniably “soft” character of such data makes it legitimate and even unavoidable to add non-numerical observations. There’s nothing illogical about this; one is doing the best that can be done with very mushy data. And from this, I believe it is quite possible to discern trends with some reliability. And the trends of BYM up and NCYM done, seem to me to be well-established.
          Moreover, I have attended BYM sessions for at least thirty years, beginning in the late 1970s. This was through “good” times and “bad”; it included years when my ideas and contributions were welcomed, and years when they were not. The result is a large body of data, which I do not shrink from interpreting. Those years BTW, even the toughest, do not include any purges or threats of schism, and this is not insignificant. In that time the number of meetings increased measurably.
          Whether this relative harmony is due to “liberal theological uniformity” is another matter. I know dedicated BYM Friends who are Bible-believing Christians; and some who are atheists, and many with ideas in between, and shifting. Given this variety, we are presented with a problem of definition: does “liberal theological uniformity” equate to “people with different theological ideas (Bible-believers and atheists) who are able to get along in the same organization”, or does it mean a certain variety of mainly Protestant-Unitarian-influenced theological thought, as charted for instance by Gary Dorrien of Union Seminary in his enormous three-volume history of American liberal theology (all of which I read, as it happens)?
          Personally I consider the first formulation, that those who stay in BYM are prepared to get along with others whose theologies maybe very different, to be much closer to the truth. In BYM there are indeed some whose views would fit into Dorrien’s categories of “liberalism.” But in my observation, other non-theological factors are more important to the group’s record of avoiding the kind of poisonous atmosphere which has dogged North Carolina for so long. The same goes for feeding the pathologies in NCYM.
          What factors? Social. Demographic. Temperamental. Economic. Political. A mix. All reinforced by the experience of getting along in the yearly meeting: doing it and managing the conflicts with some success becomes self-reinforcing. Same with chronic conflict, but in reverse.
          Now, this expansive range of doctrinal acceptance is not unlimited. It would exclude those who fall into the first category, which I have identified before, of people: those who divide people into two kinds, and those who don’t. Those who come to Baltimore insisting that the body is illegitimate or unsustainable unless all in it adhere to their particular views — those will encounter steadfast, if individually expressed, opposition. I’ve seen a couple such; they were not disowned or expelled. But their notions were definitely not accepted, and they either modified them or moved on.
          Now let’s turn to other groups: it’s a matter of history, across many denominations, that theological uniformity is no guarantee of internal harmony. There are many other matters churches can feud and divide over besides doctrine: money, power, sex, property, race — all the weaknesses to which flesh is subject. As but one example, take a look at East African Friends, where what was one YM in the early 1980s has become something like twenty. Lots of that proliferation came in the form of “schisms,” but after considerable reporting I could find no real division over theology. They were about power, money, and ethnicity, among other factors. No less troublesome for that.
          I smile at your version of BYM history. I have both volumes of its history before me, the Orthodox book by Anna Braithwaite Thomas, and the Hicksite volume by Bliss Forbush. In my time, it was not the surviving elderly Orthodox who were still doggedly resisting the last pieces of reunification, but rather the hardcore Hicksites, centered in Baltimore’s Stony Run Meeting.
          And when it is said that following the merger, “ALL of the pastoral meetings left” (my emphasis), that “All” amounted to exactly two. Of those, today one might be supportive of a purge; but the other, Somerton, which is not reluctant to claim its distinction as the oldest meeting in either Yearly Meeting, is firmly anti-purge. I have before me the letter they read to the NCYM Representative Body on August 1. Here is the operative section:

          “Friends in our area have worshipped and served the Risen Christ for over 340 years without the need for confessions of faith or adherences to creedal statements. Statements requiring members to assent, or confess, to one particular theory of atonement, or other similar doctrinal statements have not been a necessary part of our Discipline for over three centuries and we believe that these serve merely as superficial litmus tests for discerning a supposed orthodoxy that is foreign to the walk Christ calls us to follow.
          Some of the statements regarding Biblical doctrines we found problematic and inconsistent. We love the Bible but caution Meetings against locking themselves into one school of thought or method of interpretation while condemning other genuine and historically-grounded approaches. Generally speaking, we worship Christ and serve our community well under the current Faith and Practice, and would encourage any member who feels led to make a change in Faith or Practice to bring it to their Monthly Meeting’s Ministry and Counsel and Quarterly Meeting’s Ministry and Counsel, and then if still feeling led by the Spirit to make a recommendation for a change to the Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice Revision Committee.
          We find it challenging to have a genuine theological discussion in truth and love under the threat of financial boycotts, or your meeting removing itself or kicking out our meeting simply because we may not interpret and apply all scripture in the same manner. It is hard to feel love of God and love of neighbor when the mood is sown with bullying and threats.” (I broke up the paragraphs for an easier visual layout, but have not altered the text.)

          Not exactly a ringing endorsement of “theological uniformity,” enforced from above.
          One thing I agree about is that YMs whose membership has ranged across the “culture war” divides in U.S. society have been subject to internal conflict, which has adversely affected their membership. There is a “sorting” process well underway in American culture, which is feeding social and political polarization. Personally I think part of Friends’ religious calling today is to work across theses lines as best we can. But that is admittedly not easy.
          Nor does “theological uniformity” guarantee freedom from such troubles. The prime current example is Northwest YM, solidly evangelical, creedal, with an enforcement structure in place, which has recently flexed its muscle and expelled an “errant” meeting. Yet the “culture war” is roiling its ranks. That drama is still underway; and anyone who claims to know the likely outcome is whistling Dixie.
          I haven’t followed Eastern Region’s fortunes in recent years, but I did have occasion to examine its F&P for procedures regarding any such contingency. There the process is easy to explain: the Superintendent (aka bishop) can intervene at his option, and take any steps he sees fit, including disbanding an errant church. From such decisions the appeal process is even simpler — there is none.
          As I said before, this is one way to run a church. To those who prefer it, I say, bon voyage. But it’s still not a model I see many in NCYM moving to adopt.
          So what to do in NCYM? Personally, I think the situation is now proceeding in a constructive way: those meetings which are unwilling to coexist with those of varying outlooks are exercising their liberty of departing; after the fiasco of the Executive Committee’s (reversed) action of August, no one is being forced out.
          My own expectation is that there will be meetings choosing to stay which have strongly Christian beliefs, and that they will be those which reflect some of those other factors — temperament, etc. — which make it possible for them to “bear one another’s burdens.” My hope is that those which stay can turn some attention to the work of learning to do that. It’s possible — if rare in our culture.

          1. I think you’re forgetting Bethel, which joined NCYM, and Sedley, alas, discontinued rather than continuing in a united BYM. Check your history, Chuck. 🙂

          2. If Bethel moved after 1970, it would not be included in Bliss Forbush’s account. And as for Sedley, it is mentioned in the Orthodox history as existing in 1938; but there is no mention of it in Forbush’s summary of the proceedings which saw Corinth and Somerton moved to NCYM. So its fate remains a mystery to me; though numerous meetings in the region have been laid down from “natural causes”.

          3. Any chance you know when Florida Avenue Meeting (Friends Meeting of Washington) stopped being pastoral? The history I’ve seen of DC-area Quakers includes mention of Florida Avenue hiring their first pastor, but the resignation of the last one isn’t mentioned.

          4. My sources on this are ambiguous. FMW has had paid staff, I believe continuously since its founding. But I was not aware that any were formally known as “pastors.” I rather think that there were some who were what might be called “quasi-pastors,” minus the title. In the Orthodox Baltimore YM, there were numerous meetings which for some years had what their historian calls “paid workers,” who were in much he same “quasi-pastoral” role.

  4. My meeting, Midlothian Friends Meeting (in VA just outside of Richmond) is part of Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM). And I do think the 7000 estimate is not only correct – but perhaps under-estimated!

    Many (if not most) of the newer meetings in BYM (being formed during the last 30 or so years) are like my meeting in that they do NOT emphasize recorded (formal) membership; because a requirement for membership to be a full participant in the life of the meeting, is considered to be unspiritual (if that’s a word). Likely, 80% of Friends at my meeting are NOT recorded members. Yet, these are very committed to the meeting and consider themselves Quakers. They serve in every role/committee within the meeting: committee clerks, treasurer, all committees, and even clerk of the monthly meeting AND meeting Trustees.

    This “abandonment” of a requirement of membership is a strong trend among FGC meetings. And modern seekers do seem to not relate to such a requirement – even though they feel a strong commitment to BYM and their local meetings.

    I would also like to verify that BYM is a wonderful yearly meeting filled with lots of spiritual diversity – yet unity in the Spirit. This diversity is not just from one meeting to the next. Within any given meeting there is a wide spiritual diversity amidst a wonderful atmosphere of Love and Light – which is the basis of spiritual unity with BYM, rather than doctrines (“notions” to use an old Quaker word).

    The only drawback at BYM are the apportionment rates. Yet, even though our meeting has been unable to pay our full apportionment for years – BYM has been nothing but supportive. Never any negative action or statement to us about it. I also admit that I am unaware of the rates at other yearly meetings – so maybe BYM’s rate is just fine.

    I find it ironic that both FGC and the yearly meetings associated with it – seem to be able to exhibit the Spirit of Christ in all their dealings, even though some individuals in these may not consider themselves Christians. What does that say? Perhaps the Spirit of Christ is more powerful than labels, and in the end is what really matters.

    1. Howard, I’ve long wanted to visit Midlothian! And the discussion of Quaker membership statistics is fascinating– and only beginning, I suspect.

    2. Neither of the monthly meetings I’ve been involved with in BYM since my convincement have had much emphasis on membership. Only a handful of committee positions (clerk of the whole meeting, personal aid) have membership as a requirement. So, I’d agree with Howard that attenders really do count for an awful lot of BYM.

  5. Related to Bethel and Corinth meetings in Franklin and Ivor, Virginia, respectively: I had the good fortune to spend time with Friends at both meetings on two occasions in the late 1980s. Part of our “First Day” School program was to introduce the Middle School kids from our meeting to different types of Quakers. Since I was the teacher then, I and another Friend took two car loads of kids about 60 or so miles south to pay these pastoral (Orthodox) Friends a visit. They were so excited to host us and on both occasions went out of their way to make us comfortable and answer all of our questions.

    I went away (both times) with the distinct impression that the decision to transfer from BYM to NCYM was their choice simply due to current realities. And there was some lingering regret among Friends there that they had made that choice. The older Friends clearly missed BYM and its environment.

    They told me that it just seemed reasonable at the time that they change to NCYM because they were located so close to NCYM meetings and were located far away from the hub of BYM activities. Also, they were thinking that they would probably get good support for their pastoral system from NCYM; whereas in BYM – they were somewhat of an “oddity” and there was no programs for pastors.

    I even sensed that some Friends at these meetings still questioned if they made the right decision – because, as they told me, they were treated so “lovingly” by BYM Friends.

    Was this an attempt to cater to a guest from BYM (me)? Or, was it sincere expressions from their hearts. I have always thought it was the latter.

    1. Howard, Good to hear about these meetings. In Bliss Forbush’s history of BYM, it speaks of “some years of conferences” between Corinth & Somerton and the respective YMs, in a process that sounds pretty calm and deliberate. Certainly neither was forced out. Much of the region they are located in was and is very poor and sparsely populated. Both meetings were quite small then, and are quite small now.

  6. Sorry, fellows, but you are again using anecdotes instead of evidence. The minutes of Black Creek Monthly Meeting for 1-13-66 say, in part, “Black Creek Monthly Meeting desires to united with Corinth Monthly Meeting in seeking release from its membership with Virginia Quarterly Meeting and Baltimore Yearly Meeting (Homewood) to join Eastern Quarterly Meeting in North Carolina Yearly Meeting. We believe that Baltimore Yearly Meeting (Homewood) is steadily moving towards uniting with Stony Run Yearly Meeting and the General Conference of Friends. Should this happen we would surely dis-associate ourselves with such a move. Our faith and deep convictions in Orthodox Christian Truth, which we believe is fundamentally sound in North Carolina Yearly Meeting, would urge us to seek membership with that Yearly Meeting.” The minute even written by Sedley’s beloved pastor, James A. Coney, who had been a key part of the 1945 merger in New England but wanted no part of the 1960s merger in Baltimore. As for size, Corinth and Bethel were, respectively, the second and third largest meetings in Balitmore that we’re dually-affiliated new meetings at the time of the merger. Only Homewood was larger.

    I realize the blog and comments are meant to pique, but let’s use facts and evidence if we want to be believed.

    1. Very interesting minutes; where can I read them? Besides, if Coney was a veteran-refugee from the New England merger, he’d been through the movie before; a couple of evangelically-oriented meetings there declined to join the new New England YM, and ended up, as I recall, in Eastern Region.
      I don’t see where the minute quoted contradicts the comments cited in my previous reply about “some years of conferences.” Nor does it discredit the memories recounted to Howard Brod, informal as they are. It’s not at all clear from your quotes what kind of false narrative you think we are retailing here.
      Even with some like Coney itching to be gone, I can well imagine that there were such “conferences,” which could well have extended over some years, and all three meetings, even if Coney’s mind was already made up. It seems quite possible that some others wanted to take time and season the proposal. And is it some sort of falsehood if some had mixed feelings and nostalgia years later? Please.
      And there are also dueling statistics. In the Bliss Forbush history, page 159, is a list of the meetings, with numbers, for both 1960 and 1970; in 1960 there were nine meetings with more numbers; in 1970 there were eight. I’ve no way of further checking these numbers; but there they are.
      In any event, those meetings are tiny now; NCYM sources make clear that they are unable to pay even the small “Askings” allotted to them. But I wish them well, and am especially grateful to Somerton for its eloquent witness against the purging spirit and the abusive behavior it spawned. Their Christianity has endured; but the spirit of James Coney seems to have moved on, or been “released.”
      And for the record, today brought formal notice from Holly Spring Meeting that they are firm in their decision to leave NCYM, even though their expulsion was rescinded in annual session. My view is that this is indeed the proper course for them. Where they will end up is beyond my crystal ball’s capacity. If I were to break the Discipline and bet, tho, my money would be on the proposition that they will not end up in Eastern Region. Maybe in a new association with the other purge meetings which have left. Or perhaps they’ll just stay an independent community church; that’s a pretty large “denomination” in these parts already, in which the “Askings” are affordable and the paperwork burden minimal.

  7. I’m glad you mentioned BYM camps, Chuck. I agree that we shouldn’t underestimate their power (sounds like a Star Wars quote!). I’d like to muse on the question of how the camping program may contribute to growth and health within BYM. I think this could/does happen in a few ways: literally through convincement, secondarily by keeping Quakers connected, and then generally by contributing to the (mostly) healthy culture within BYM.

    I wish we collected statistics about the convincement power of the BYM camping program; alas, we don’t, and it’s a shame, because I believe its power is significant. Despite some of your commenters distaste for anecdotes, I shall deploy some: I have seen, time and again, families drawn into BYM (and other YMs) monthly meeting communities because of their children’s experience at camp. Kids are transformed (and I don’t use that term lightly) and parents want to know how that happened. We don’t know how often this happens, or how it may happen generationally (that is, parents stay whatever they are, but kids “become” Friends through their experience at camp.), but it surely happens.

    There is one place to look and see, definitively, the convincement power of the camps at work: in its leadership. At least five or six of the eight leaders in the camping program (that is, camp directors and administrative staff at the offices of BYM–all of whom, arguably, are also the pastoral leadership in the Yearly Meeting as well [but that’s an argument for a different day!]) were not Friends, per se, until their experience at camp. Not surprisingly, seven of the eight went to or worked at a BYM camp sometime in its 90+ year history. This trend, of our “convincement success stories” (if you will) going on to become leaders in the program and in BYM is a long-standing one.

    Undoubtedly, apart from convinvement, the camps also help retain Friends. I think I’m actually a good example of this: I’m a 12th generation Quake who, although not a member of any meeting (earlier points about BYM friends being non-joiners confirmed; What AM I waiting for?!), has had the incredible good fortune to be involved with the BYM camping program for 28 years, in one way or another. My experience suggests that although I dutifully attended meeting (Hopewell Centre represent!), first-day school, Young Friends, and Earlham, it is actually the camping program that has done the most to keep me a Quaker. Now that my peers from camp are having kids who are going to camp, it’s drawing them back to Quakerism.

    I have seen the best and healthiest Quaker community-building and decision-making happen at camp, and most of my deepest friendships started there. And camp is not just for children either. Camp is often, for the 120 or so adults/parents, who trade a week of work at camp (cooking, maintenance, etc.) for lowered camp tuition, a re-fueling stop in their otherwise hectic year. I imagine that at least some of these adults (those who are BYMers anyway) then return to and enrich their home meetings.

    Many of my Quaker camp connections consider camp their spiritual home (and some have argued for the camps to be considered indulged meetings by BYM, ironically arguing something like this: “if Catoctin were a meeting, I’d totally join!”). Something for BYM to consider, speaking of apportionment.

    I have to imagine, given all this evidence, albeit anecdotal, camp has contributed to BYM’s health and growth.

    1. Friend speaks my mind. And the fact that several of my kids & grandkids are BYM Camp alumni does not skew my perspective at all . . . .

    2. I know at least one Friend who was introduced to Quakers in Friends School, but his identity as a Quaker was cemented at a BYM camp. I’ve heard that Quaker kids telling their non-Quaker friends about how great their summer camp is (and no really, it’s great! there’s no bullying, and everybody’ll be fine with you letting your freak flag fly, and we go on all these hikes…) has a tendency to result in those non-Quaker kids attending camp and becoming convinced Friends in the process.

  8. Partially prompted by the comments here about “hey, that’s members AND attenders!” I finally requested membership in my Meeting (which is part of BYM) a few months ago, and it was approved last month.

    In March and April alone, my Meeting gained 9 new members.

    Yes, I think we’re growing.

  9. This Sunday Homewood Friends will be hosting Chesapeake Quarterly Meeting. Doug Gwyn will be speaking. Our Quaker Book Club recently finished his book on sustainable faith.

    In the past year or so we have 30 new attenders under the age of 38. I’m trying as a member of M& I to nurture this community as I remember how valuable it was I was in that age group.

    Meetings for worship are often quite grounded and covered. Vocal ministry is along the lines of Pennington and other early Friends. I think reading Gwen, Marcel Martin, and Friends has really stirred us corporately to try to be faithful and yield. Several times a season these words come up from Pennington:

    Give over thine own willing
    Give over thine own running
    Give over thine own desire to be or to know anything

    That’s in meeting.

    Outside of worship it’s Green Organizing Action Team (yes GOAT), Black Lives Matter / We are all one people vigils at the meeting house, Peaceable City forums, Art Shows, Congressmen activists speaking to a packed meeting house…

    My sponsor visited the meeting house to see an art exhibit that’s going on there; I showed him the meeting room, where all benches face inward. He’s a Christian and so am I. But I told him, “here no one will ask you if you are saved. We really don’t care, not in the way other Christians do. We’ll ask you how you are. And we will teach and learn from each other on how to be faithful and do good works. The words we use are less important than the life we live.” He wants to visit.

    We’re growing, people are interested, but the key will be whether we embrace the newcomers and offer them pastoral care and friendship.

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