Update on North Carolina Yearly Meeting – III

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in many of the more evangelical meetings have been calling for a separation, and at least 20 meetings have already withdrawn from the yearly meeting.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:

  1. That the yearly meeting remain intact
  2. That the yearly meeting hold title to the physical properties and financial assets
  3. 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
  4. 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.


3 Responses to “Update on North Carolina Yearly Meeting – III”

  1. 1 Bill Samuel August 16, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Thinking of precedent, I’m thinking of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. In 1968, the formerly two YMs consolidated but did not unite, primarily due to the opposition of some Hicksite Friends afraid of being swallowed by the much smaller Orthodox Friends group. It was one YM with 2 Sections, which in BYM was done by affiliation (FGC or FUM). The majority of activities and functions were done as the whole YM, but some were done by the Sections, which each initially had committees of their own and a separate business session at YM time. Over a period of decades, the amount of separate activity declined and eventually the Sections were dissolved. I’m not aware of another case of 1 YM, but divided into subgroups not based on geography.

    A very different set of circumstances – Friends in this case were moving towards more working together instead of the reverse as in NC. It was an awkward arrangement, but it served for a time. For BYM, it was basically a transition arrangement. I think the hope in NC seems not that it be a transition, but a new way where they can work together in some aspects and be separated for others. It is an interesting alternative to full schism.

  2. 2 swhin August 17, 2016 at 9:40 am

    This is difficult work and those hands working in it are strong Friends. I hold you all in the light and pray for softening of the hearts to find love and peace within the tension. We know in tension is where we grow. Standing still does not give us the education we need to support each other. You all are in my thoughts as you move forward. I offer you my Peace

  3. 3 A Friend August 19, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    I think our testimony of integrity bears pointing out that, when Indiana Yearly Meeting separated, 68% of the total membership and 78% of the aggregate attendance remained in Indiana Yearly Meeting, not “about 60 percent” as you cite. The meetings of the New Association comprised 28% of the total membership and 16% of the aggregate worship attendance of IYM before the reorganization not “about 40 percent.” The remainder of the members were in the three meetings that remained independent, the largest of which has since joined EFC-ER.

    In the case of Western Yearly Meeting, researchers might draw conclusions other than it “remained largely intact.” Since 2004, when large numbers of meetings began leaving, WYM’s membership has declined from a total of 4,955 to 2,661 reported last year, a loss of nearly fifty percent. In addition, WYM has lost 22 of its 62 congregations since 2004, four of which have now joined Indiana Yearly Meeting. At least nine evangelical churches are still attempting to function as independent Friends churches since leaving WYM.

    Perhaps North Carolina can navigate the issues better, but, if we’re going to use other yearly meetings as examples, we might as well use accurate figures.

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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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