What are the choices?

In the popular Harry Potter series of children’s books, when new students arrive at school they are divided into residences by a device called the Sorting Hat. When the hat is placed on their heads, it magically reads their minds and discerns their characters, and decides the house they will belong to. As each new student emerges from the discernment process, the members of their new house greet them with thunderous cheers.

Friends in Indiana Yearly Meeting are about to be divvied up in a different way. According to the decision of the special called meeting of Representative Council last October 1, we are starting a Deliberative/Collaborative Reconfiguration, described as “ a year-long process of seeking a future that honors each other’s consciences and understandings of scriptural guidance, and that is life-giving for all of our monthly meetings.”

We are asked to “discern whether they want to be part of a yearly meeting that, as our current Faith and Practice provides, has the power to set bounds and exercise authority over subordinate monthly meetings; or whether they wish to be part of a yearly meeting that is a collaborative association, with monthly meetings maintaining considerable autonomy and allowing great freedom in matters of doctrine.”

It’s not at all clear how meetings will decide which way they will go. And from the discussion at the regular meeting of Representative Council in November, and in many discussions and forums around the yearly meeting, it seems that many Friends are not happy with being forced to choose in this way.

When you ask Friends to describe how they want their meetings to be aligned, a minority in Indiana Yearly Meeting express a great unity with our existing Faith and Practice, together with a desire for more freedom in specific matters of conscience. A somewhat larger group, often led by their pastors, express a desire for more doctrinal rigidity. And a great many meetings, when pressed, say that they wish we could just continue as we are, and find a way to get along.

Various speakers and writers in our yearly meeting have implied that they are the real Christians, and that their interpretation of the Bible is the only valid one. Scratch just below the surface, and they’ll say that Friends who disagree with them are not Christians at all.

Who does the sorting? Who decides? Old labels don’t seem to work very well – left, center or right; liberal, moderate or evangelical. Are you a Gryffindor because you think our yearly meeting ought to be a “big tent”? Are a Slytherin because you want to cast out people who don’t agree with your point of view? Are you a Hufflepuff if you wish things wouldn’t change?

We all want to be considered “real” Friends. Several speakers at Representative Council demanded, in effect, that the Orthodox Friends stand up and be counted. But most of us have strong roots in the Orthodox Quaker tradition. And many of us don’t want to draw a line in the sand which would exclude relations with Holiness Friends who we love and respect, or with Hicksite or unprogrammed Friends with whom we have worked and worshiped for generations.

If each local meeting is going to be forced to choose, it seems only fair that each local meeting should be allowed to describe the kind of yearly meeting or larger group they want to be a part of. The choices we are being offered may not accurately reflect the way we see ourselves or who we want to be.

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3 Responses to “What are the choices?”


  1. 1 d. suess December 8, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Thanks for your helpful thoughts … our yearly meeting is also struggling with some similiar concerns. We hope we too don’t end up with sorting hats on our heads. blessings, Deborah Suess

  2. 2 Sue Axtell December 9, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Perhaps local monthly meetings could take responsibility for themselves by using this time to survey their membership and find out what vision the meeting has of a “user friendly” yearly meeting.

    I think much of this conflict stems (like that in our democractic country) from members sitting back and letting others define them. I’d like to see a spirit led search for a yearly meeting vision begin in each local meeting.

  3. 3 Keith Esch December 9, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    Re: faith and Practice setting “bounds” and exercising “authority”, I am under the impression that there is room for truth to come from monthly meetings which sounds much more collegial. I continue to believe that assuming a so called “yearly meeting structure” is to assume too much at this point.


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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.

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