Thursday, July 9, 2009

Preparing for Yearly Meeting

Western Yearly Meeting Sessions begin on Friday, July 31. The Yearly Meeting Program Committee has put together a schedule of worship, workshops and times for fellowship along with the usual business sessions. The program for children and youth has been expanded. I encourage you to attend as much of Yearly Meeting as possible. Registration information is available at the Meeting House.

Keep our Yearly Meeting sessions in prayer. Yearly Meeting is not just a business meeting. It is, in Friends terms, “a meeting for worship with a concern for business.” Pray for Jim Crew, Clerk of the Yearly Meeting, that he will be sensitive to Lord’s leading as he prepares for the meetings and as he presides. Pray for all the others in leadership as well.

There will be one item of business that has already drawn a lot of interest and generated a lot of discussion. The Yearly Meeting Board on Christian Ministries and Evangelism is recommending that Phil Gulley's recording as a minister with WYM be rescinded because of substantial disunity with WYM Faith and Practice. This is the culmination of a process that began six years ago when concerns were raised about Phil's theology as expressed in If Grace is True, written by Phil Gulley and Jim Mulholland. This minute is scheduled to be presented on Saturday, August 1, in the morning business session.

Unfortunately, over the years this process seems to have generated more heat than light. There has been anger and name-calling. Motives on all sides have been questioned. This is all the more reason that we need to be praying for wisdom, patience and God's grace on all who are involved in this issue.

I want to share a few of my thoughts on this issue as I prepare for Yearly Meeting:

Some see this as a personality clash between people who just don't like each other or who can't seem to get along. This is not true. I know from my involvement that the people at the heart of this issue deeply care for each other.

Some see it as a power struggle – a battle for the control of the Yearly Meeting. While it is true that we all deal with control issues on some level in our lives, I have not met anybody in this process whose goal is to “run the Yearly Meeting.”

As I see it, the immediate issue has grown out of some some deeper questions about the nature of a Yearly Meeting, and about Western Yearly Meeting in particular:

  • Is the Yearly Meeting primarily an administrative body concerned with taking care of property, managing endowments and running programs, or is it a body with some degree of authority over constituent meetings and issues of faith? Historically, Yearly Meetings have had a fair amount of authority but beginning in the twentieth century that understanding began to change. Meeting autonomy has become a more important value. Is this a good thing?

  • Where does the “Faith and Thought” portion of the WYM Faith and Practice fit in? Is it a description of who we are? Is it a set of faith statements that we pick and choose from? Do we want to have a common expression of faith? There has always been a tendency to emphasize some parts and pay less attention to others. Our contemporary desire for personal autonomy runs counter to the idea of a common faith.

  • Is the Yearly Meeting structured for ministry or are we just structured for maintenance? There is a lot of good ministry going but a lot of resources, time and energy are spent maintaining the organization.

Connected to all of these questions is the bigger question of community. What kind of community is Western Yearly Meeting? Communities can choose to organize themselves around many things -- common beliefs, a common history, common tasks, or common needs. What kind of community are we and what are we organized around?

These are challenging questions. I'd like to hear what you have to say.

Wait, pray, trust

pastor Bill


Liz Opp said...

I found your website through QuakerQuaker, and for two weeks I've known about the upcoming sessions that will address Phil Gulley's recording.

I'm a Conservative-leaning Friend who is learning over and over again about standing in the Cross between being faithful and being loving.

I worry that in your post, there is so little about the place of God's love and Christ's authority in this matter. I worry that within the Religious Society of Friends--whether Liberal, Conservative, United, or Evangelical--that the American secular convention of individualism is undermining our ability or even desire to lay aside our personal preferences and "good ideas" in order to listen for the loving guidance of the Spirit.

What about new Light? What about being willing to be changed and transformed by the Inward Teacher?

I continue to hold Western Yearly Meeting and the situation in prayer. I can tell that a number of Friends are suffering the Cross and have been for some time.

Thanks for asking for prayers so openly.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Nate said...

"This has generated more heat than light."
In such a situation great care must be taken with processes, and Jim is facing a tough job. I think it is important to review the fact that it is a meeting for worship and that each person must be open to ministry from others and not be there to carry out an agenda. For that reason, special attention needs to be given to allowing time for each expression to be absorbed as ministry and not merely reacted to. I hope preparation along these lines has been or will be seriously noted in each separate Monthly Meeting, as well as stressed at the Meeting for Business.
I can't really speak to your perceptions of what underlies the particular situation, as it appears to be a simple question of orthodoxy and I have not been able to find out what are the points of "substantial disunity" with stated perceptions in WYM Faith and Practice. I don't even know if all the participants are in agreement that there is substantial disunity. Once that question is answered, the other elements may certainly come into play.
I will certainly be praying that Light be able to find its way into every heart involved.

In His Love,
Nate Swift

kevin roberts said...

Bill, what is the basis of WYM's "recording" of a minister?

I ask because traditionally in the RSoF, a minister's anointing was seen as being conferred by the Holy Spirit. The act of recording or recognizing a minister was merely a public acknowledgement of the workings of the Holy Spirit within a gifted individual. An individual could be disowned, but otherwise the ministerial anointing of the Holy Spirit would stay with him for life, so long as he remained a member.

If WYM is capable of revoking the ministerial status of a member, what does that say about the role of the Holy Spirit in the original recording? Was the Spirit wrong? Were the WYM committees mistaken in recognizing the anointing of the Holy Spirit? Do I just misunderstand what it is WYM considers to be a minister?