Anyone who saw this year’s New England Yearly Meeting sessions schedule (PDF) might have assumed, as I did, that yesterday’s 7 pm meeting for business session on “Our relationship to Friends United Meeting“ might have produced something newsworthy.
It was a great session, but it wasn’t actually a business meeting; no action was even considered, and it wasn’t even led by the clerks.
Instead, for the first half hour, Lisa G (yes, of Lisa G fame) gave a wonderful whirlwind tour of the relevant Quaker history, using the Young Friends as her “slideshow.” Photo to come. Aside from conflating the New England Wilburites with the (virtually non-existent in New England) Hicksites, it was very well done. After that we broke into small groups of about 15, and talked for about 40 minutes. There was a general consensus of hurt and concern, but beyond that there were a wide range of views expressed in my group, and I’m sure most groups. For the rest of the time, we reconvened and gave mini reports from our smaller groups. The balance of sentiment was probably slightly on the side of staying, though still pretty mixed.
For what it was, it was wonderful, just the kind of thing we need to better sort through this controversy.
But I have misgivings. As I said, it wasn’t actually a business meeting. And there appears to be no time on the agenda when we will intentionally consider it. I say “intentionally” because it cannot fail to arise, which means it will probably come up in a less controlled and thoughtful fashion, quite likely during consideration of the budget tonight. Which is the worst possible time, because it frames the issue around money rather than the real issues.
Unless I’m missing something, this seems like a huge oversight by the planning committee and/or clerks, perhaps with a dose of good old-fashion Quaker conflict avoidance assisting. I may say so at the “Open Meeting to Hear Concerns” later today.
UPDATE (Tuesday morning): It still seems like an oversight in terms of planning, but it also seems like now that we’re here there’s a real attempt at dealing with the issue. Apparently, as I understand it, a special, open meeting of the Ministry & Counsel Working Group on the FUM Personnel Policy was planned at the last minute for for those who were concerned about this, at the same time as the general “Open Meeting to Hear Concerns”. It seems to have been poorly advertised, however, because only 20 people showed up. We didn’t reach any unity, but we agreed to meet again last night at 9 and today at 12:30.
Then at 7 last night, at the business meeting devoted to finances, it erupted just as I expected, with one Friend upset that the “powers that be” seemed to be trying to keep it off the floor of the business meeting. The clerk (Christopher McCandless) at that point emphasized that these working group meetings were going on, and that he hoped the threshing could happen there and that they would return with a minute, and asked Friends to go to these meetings.
Now that’s some real publicity — and this time over 80 people showed up. We didn’t actually get going until 9:30 pm, and went until almost 11.
I won’t attempt to recount all that was said at the meeting, but I’ll tell you what I said at the end:
That this has dragged on for 5 years, and it’s past time that we did something decisive to reflect our disapproval of this discriminatory policy. But it’s clear that this yearly meeting does not yet have unity about leaving or defunding FUM, and that we won’t find unity in the next few days either. Accepting this (unfortunate) reality, we should therefore put our energy into figuring out what other kinds of meaningful action we can take in the meantime.
Some Friends had already suggested we minute at the YM level our support of same-sex marriage, something we haven’t done yet (and which Philadelphia did last year). After I spoke, two Friends seemed to feel the same way, one suggesting we might more extensively send traveling ministers to FUM yearly meetings carrying our concern, since they haven’t responded to letters from the clerk.
I feel sure enough that this is the direction we’re going in that I don’t think I’ll attend the 12:30 meeting, though I’ll report on this blog any significant news I hear in conversation.