If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that North Carolina Yearly Meeting has been going through a major struggle for several years.
Leaders in many of the more evangelical meetings have been calling for a separation, and at least 20 meetings have already withdrawn from the yearly meeting. The yearly meeting’s finances have been in free fall, and there has been great anxiety about the future of Friends in North Carolina.
At the Representative body meeting earlier this summer, Friends agreed in principle to a separation into two group, with the Executive Committee to draft a proposal in time for Yearly Meeting on August 12-14.
Take a step back for a minute: internal tension and calls for separation have been taking place across yearly meetings in the U.S. for many years since the early 20th century. More recently, Western Yearly Meeting lost a number of meetings but remained largely intact, while Indiana Yearly Meeting split into two groups, about 60% keeping the old name and about 40% forming the New Association of Friends.
I attended the business session of North Carolina Yearly Meeting last weekend, and the draft plan for separation was presented. The plan received initial approval, and we broke into a number of small groups to discuss the plan before lunch.
After lunch, before the decision making resumed, we heard a number of reports – from Quaker Lake Camp, from mission workers, from Friends Disaster Relief – and it was clear that Friends are still deeply interested in continuing and supporting these efforts. No one wants to see our youth and mission work suffer because of a division.
When we took up the question of separation again, the clerk asked if the meeting would wait in prayer while the Executive Committee met to work on a modification of the plan. There was some visiting and conversation while the committee went out, but many Friends were praying quietly.
When the committee came back, they brought a rough draft of a new proposal:
- That the yearly meeting remain intact
- That the yearly meeting hold title to the physical properties and financial assets
- That two groups be formed, with each group being responsible for its own statements of faith and belief, as well as membership, recording of ministers, quarterly meeting organization, and internal administration
- That the yearly meeting continue to be a channel for mission work, youth programming, ministers’ retirement and other matters of common interest
In essence, the yearly meeting would become an “umbrella organization” or a “big tent” which will let us work together in places where we can agree, and which will let us work separately in areas where we can’t agree at present.
Neither of the two new groups would be responsible for the beliefs of the other or have disciplinary power over the other.
In many ways, North Carolina Yearly Meeting would become more like Friends United Meeting, which is a very diverse body of yearly meetings from around the world, which comes together to support Christian work in the name of Friends.
This new proposal was approved and will go back to the monthly meetings for discussion. It’s too early to tell whether this will allow us to keep together in a new way, or whether hardline Friends will insist on a complete separation.
I think that the new plan could work – but only if Friends are willing to make it work. It would allow each group to have its own space, and it would help us to maintain a measure of unity and allow us to support Christian work which we all value and enjoy. For many reasons, it may be better for Friends to re-organize than to divide.