Something new is being born in North Carolina this spring.
If you’ve been following this blog and listening to news on the Quaker grapevine, you know that North Carolina Yearly Meeting is breaking up after 300+ years. The reasons for the breakup go back for many years, and many Friends strongly wish it weren’t happening.
There are at least 3 groups of meetings:
- A large group of meetings which want a strong, authoritative yearly meeting, with power to discipline monthly meetings
- A small group of monthly meetings which want to work together, but want freedom to interpret Faith and Practice according to their conscience (more about this group in just a minute)
The first two groups will maintain ties with North Carolina Yearly Meeting, which in August will become a foundation type of body, holding title to Quaker Lake Camp and distributing income from various trust funds. The two groups will otherwise be completely independent of each other. There is also:
- A large, disorganized group of meetings which have withdrawn completely from the yearly meeting. Some may affiliate with more evangelical yearly meetings; some will simply be independent.
I’ve been following developments with the second group, which is calling itself the North Carolina Fellowship of Friends.
In its first meetings, they have found unity and approved the following statement of principles:
- We are a Christ-centered fellowship of Quaker meetings. We affirm the autonomy of each meeting in Quaker faith and practice
- We will operate using the 2012 version of North Carolina Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice, as printed, for reference and counsel
- We will worship and serve our local community without interference form other meetings or a higher level organization
- We will respect the right of other meetings to do the same
- We will focus on common ministries rather than theological nuances
- We will closely resemble North Carolina Yearly Meeting in its most peaceful form
- We agree that we will have differences, but they will not stay us from our common Christ-centered fellowship
The Fellowship of Friends is starting the process of legal incorporation, has appointed co-clerks and a treasurer, is meeting regularly and forming task groups to deal with various challenges.
During the conflict, the finances of North Carolina Yearly Meeting have been in free fall. The yearly meeting has promised start-up funds to both groups, but these may not be available for a while. Neither group is likely to be able to afford much in the way of staff. The Fellowship of Friends is taking this opportunity to re-envision itself as a less centrally-controlled, less staff-dependent and more volunteer-driven body. It probably won’t look much like a traditional yearly meeting, and may function more like a large quarterly meeting.
Encouragingly, a number of other groups have not taken sides, and Friends from both sides of the split continue to be involved with ministries of common interest. The United Society of Friends Women, Quaker Men, Friends Disaster Service, Quaker Lake Camp and other ministries are continuing to meet and function as though the split hasn’t happened. If Friends United Meeting follows the precedent it set when Indiana Yearly Meeting broke up, both of the North Carolina groups will be welcome to participate in FUM.
Both of the two organized groups are planning to continue using North Carolina Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice. Early indications are that the first (authority-centered) group may adopt a few changes to tighten discipline and provide a clearly-stated process to eject dissenting monthly meetings.
Recognizing that there are many individual Friends who feel cut off from their preferred group by the division, the Fellowship of Friends welcomes individuals as well as monthly meetings as members. At its April gathering, they also approved monthly meetings which want to have dual membership. There is no word yet whether the “authority” group will allow dual membership or not.
It will also be interesting to see how the two groups will handle recording of ministers, and whether they will allow recorded ministers to transfer from one group to the other. If both groups follow Faith and Practice this will not be a problem, but much of the conflict among Friends in recent years has centered around whether certain ministers and their ideas are acceptable or not.
Things are still shaking out in North Carolina and among Friends in many other parts of the United States. Stay tuned for developments!