Archive for the 'Money and finance' Category

Counting the cost of division

I attended the North Carolina Yearly Meeting Representative Body on March 4th. If you’ve been following this blog, many recent posts have reported that the same spirit of division which has overcome several other yearly meetings has also damaged North Carolina Yearly Meeting.

I’m still a newcomer to North Carolina, but I see a real generational factor at work in the divisiveness at work among us. When I arrived at Representative Body, I estimated a little over 200 people were present. I looked carefully around the room, and I estimate that fewer than 20 people in the room were under the age of 40; the majority of the group were probably over the age of 60.

For readers who are not members of North Carolina Yearly Meeting, this report may help you to understand the stark cost of division among Friends. The figures quoted are from reports at Representative Body last weekend:

  • During the last 3 years, North Carolina Yearly Meeting has gone down from having 72 monthly meetings to only 46, a decrease of 36%. Four more monthly meetings have withdrawn from the yearly meeting since we last met in November.
  • Our membership has decreased from 7,565 members 3 years ago to 4,214, a decrease of 44%
  • As programs have been cut and staff have been laid off, yearly meeting budget askings have gone from roughly $923,000 5 years ago to about $432,000, a decrease of 53%.
  • Actual giving to the yearly meeting budget was only $303,000, an additional 33% reduction.

In every yearly meeting I have observed, division has a catastrophic effect on ministry and mission. North Carolina is only the latest example.

The pension fund for pastors is being discontinued; retired pastors and surviving spouses will receive a lump-sum payment proportionate to the years they served. Health insurance is no longer offered. North Carolina Yearly Meeting has become dramatically less attractive as a place for pastors to serve. This will affect the quality of leadership we can expect in years to come, and will make it difficult for many meetings to attract any new leadership at all.

During this difficult period, the yearly meeting superintendent, Don Farlow, has voluntarily reduced his own salary. This personal sacrifice has helped to keep the yearly meeting going – but it also means that it will be difficult to raise the budget again if we ever want to have a full-time person in the yearly meeting office.

Under the current scenario, this may not take place – if the yearly meeting becomes a financial “shell organization”, we may only have a single part-time staff person in the yearly meeting office, or perhaps farm out the responsibilities to an accounting firm. Each of the new “associations” which belong to the yearly meeting would be responsible for hiring whatever staff they can afford (if any).

Quaker Lake Camp currently receives about $160,000 – about 40% of its annual funding – as a subsidy from the yearly meeting. Quaker Lake is a very popular program which nearly everyone in the yearly meeting supports and does not wish to see hurt. At Representative Body, we had a first look at several different scenarios for how funding for Quaker Lake can be achieved:

  1. by diverting income from all possible trust funds to support the camp; this would drastically reduce income available for other ministries and missions
  2. by dramatically increasing the amount we take from yearly meeting trust funds each year; over time, this would drain the principal from the trust funds
  3. by undertaking long-term major fundraising for Quaker Lake to increase its trust funds; by my calculation, Quaker Lake would need a total endowment, including existing funds, of roughly 4 million dollars to fully replace the yearly meeting subsidy (assuming a 4% average annual income)

According to an outside attorney who has been hired as a consultant to assist with the legal and financial aspects of the breakup, Quaker Lake Camp may need to become an independent 501(c)3 organization, which would own or lease the camp property.

The advertising for the 2017 summer camping program at Quaker Lake takes no notice of the division. Seems as though kids aren’t interested in the squabbles of the older generation – and I sincerely hope that the camp will continue to be a fun and exciting place for young people no matter where they’re from!

On a more encouraging note, the North Carolina president of United Society of Friends Women International said that Quaker women plan to continue to work and worship together without regard for the division. This follows similar decisions in some of the other divided yearly meetings. Maybe Quaker women have more love, or more sense, than the rest of us!

Friends Disaster Service, another popular and much appreciated ministry, also plans to continue welcoming volunteers without regard to the division. Everyone celebrated a major bequest of $162,000 to FDS last weekend from a Friend who left most of his estate to the work of rebuilding homes after disasters.

The bottom line: division is already a devastating loss to many yearly meeting programs and ministries.

We do care about our children, and the camping program remains popular. Funding will be a big challenge in the long term.

Ministries and fellowships which are independent from the yearly meeting are continuing to do their own thing and are not allowing the division to affect them.

The next few months and years will continue to show whether division was a good idea – or not.

Have we learned anything?

Quakers don’t seem to learn. There have been several major divisions in the last few years over conflicts related to sexual issues and faith – in Western Yearly Meeting (2003-2009), Indiana Yearly Meeting (2008-2013), North Carolina Yearly Meeting (2016), and currently in Northwest Yearly Meeting.

I don’t know what your position is on these issues. Quakers are all over the map, which should be no surprise at all by now – an old joke goes that in any group of 10 Quakers, there will be at least 15 opinions.

What bothers me is that Quakers have refused to learn from experience – the experience of our own generation, repeated multiple times in numerous bodies. I’m not surprised that we don’t agree – I’m just surprised that we haven’t figured out that this disagreement is apparently normal, and that we keep hammering at each other in an effort to create and enforce a uniformity which isn’t about to happen any time soon.

I’m not pushing for anyone who reads this to agree with how I interpret the Bible on these issues. What I’d like to point out are the practical lessons which Quakers across the board in this generation haven’t figured out.

  1. Division means loss – fewer members for everyone. Friends who advocate division almost always claim that we will be stronger if we break into more theologically uniform groups. In practice, every division I’m aware of has led to a drastic loss of membership. When a yearly meeting divides, there aren’t just two groups – a bunch of Quakers simply leave altogether. In the two yearly meetings I’ve studied most closely (Indiana and North Carolina) there was an overall loss of nearly 30% of the total membership.
  2. In a division, many meetings choose to not to belong to any yearly meeting. We don’t know what their future will be. A few, with considerable effort, manage to retain their Quaker identity. Many eventually disband, or become generic community churches.
  3. Attacking individuals and meetings only makes things worse. I’ve seen a number of campaigns to “get rid of the problem” by attempting to rescind the credentials of Quaker ministers or expel local meetings which don’t toe the line. This makes sense to Friends who are intent on closing ranks and cleaning house, but it doesn’t work very well on a yearly meeting scale. Other Friends rush to their defense, and the whole conflict becomes personal and bogs down.
  4. When you start making threats to leave or withhold funds, the game is over. In several yearly meeting conflicts, large meetings have threatened to pull out if they don’t get their way, or groups of meetings have announced that they will hold back funds to the yearly meeting until the conflict is settled. These tactics are seen by other Friends as little more than playground bullying.
  5. Appealing to Faith and Practice as the “rule book” may work tactically, but it doesn’t fix the real conflict. I’ve seen this tried in almost every yearly meeting I’ve ever been a part of. It’s usually seen as manipulative by the losing side. Appealing to the rules may work for the moment, but it doesn’t bring Friends back together. Changing the rules to get what you want, or ignoring Quaker process altogether, is also always seen as unfair and makes division almost inevitable.
  6. In a division, ministries and missions always suffer. In spite of the fact that these are usually the most popular part of a yearly meeting, when Quakers start talking about division, funding and interest goes down, participation drops, and gifted mission workers and ministers and their families suffer. Youth programs, schools and cooperative efforts of all kinds which have taken generations to build can be destroyed.
  7. As a practical matter, time and generational change seem to be on the side of welcoming/affirming Friends. For most Quakers under the age of 40, this is a non-issue. And for many Quakers, it’s mostly about family or close friends or co-workers – they refuse to condemn people they love. They may not have any other agenda. Federal and state laws have changed, major employers pay no attention to sexual identity, a lot of society has moved on.
  8. Quakers aren’t the only ones dealing with these issues. Other denominations are having the same problems, and they’re often making the same mistakes and refusing to learn from them. Why we think we need to re-invent the wheel, have the same conflicts, and then be surprised by the outcome is really beyond me.

Here are a few positive lessons which I wish Quakers would pick up on:

  1. Being connected matters. Belonging and being active in some kind of organization is better than belonging to none. Friends may need to find ways to change or re-purpose our structures so that we can continue to pray together and to do ministry and mission together.
  2. Ignore the boundaries. When Indiana Yearly Meeting broke up, one of the first things that happened is that the United Society of Friends Women announced that they were going to continue to meet and work together. When everybody else is set on dividing, find new ways to work together, worship together, and get to know each other.
  3. Respect each other. During a conflict, Quakers usually try to follow this, but it often breaks down in private. I’ve heard a lot of vicious name-calling, demonizing and attributing of malicious intent during Quaker conflicts. Genuine respect for the motives of people I disagree with goes a long way towards keeping things on a more even keel.
  4. Choose your Bible texts carefully. Most of us are familiar with the texts having to do with sexuality, and we’re not likely to change each others’ minds about how they should be interpreted. If we want to find our way through conflict, maybe we need to look at some different Bible passages. My personal favorites which I recommend to Friends are Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17:11), the description of how conflict was handled in Acts (Acts 10 and 11, also Acts 15:1-35), Paul’s counsel on handling disagreement (Romans 14-15), and Paul’s advice on discerning what spirit is present in a group (Galatians 5:13-23).

Counting the cost

My last two posts have been about the conflict among Friends in North Carolina Yearly Meeting. At the last Representative Body meeting on June 4th, they approved the recommendation of the Executive Committee that the yearly meeting move towards a formal separation.

One of the things Jesus said was to count the cost before starting anything big (Luke 14:28). Here are just a few of the costs – some are financial, some involve relationships, some are spiritual, and all of them are important.

Things which will suffer immediately in a separation:

  • Support for missions will decrease – missions are one of the main reasons Friends gather in larger bodies, and mission support is one of the biggest casualties in any breakup
  • Youth ministry – the loss here will be both financial and in the numbers of Young Friends who are able to get together for camping, youth programs, trips and events
  • Education – yearly meeting support for Quaker colleges has been flatlined or declining for years, and the breakup will only make this situation worse
  • Yearly meeting staffing – every yearly meeting which breaks up winds up cutting staff dramatically. (In other posts, I’ve estimated that it takes roughly 2,500 to 3,000 local meeting members to support 1 yearly meeting staff person.)
  • Division of funds – hopefully there will be a fair division of the assets of the yearly meeting, which both sides can agree to. In many church break-ups, arguments over money have gone on for years, and the bitterness has lasted for generations.
  • “Lost” monthly meetings – during the controversy, some meetings choose to become community churches or become independent Friends meetings
  • Reputation of Friends – Quakers in North Carolina will no longer speak with one voice. This hurts us here in our own communities and in other parts of the Quaker world.

Other costs will show up more over the long term – say, in the next 5-10 years:

  • Long-term giving – until all of the legal issues and trusteeship of the yearly meeting funds are settled, very few people will want to make major bequests or large capital gifts.
  • Visitation between meetings – this has already declined, as people haven’t been certain about whether they’re welcome or not.
  • Leadership – one of the biggest casualties of this kind of breakup is when ministers and pastors are no longer accepted by each others’ groups. Retirement, insurance and education programs for ministers will also be a major casualty – which means that fewer people will be willing to commit to long-term involvement as pastors and ministers. As a result of this conflict, we may find it very difficult to attract talented Friends even to apply for leadership positions in our yearly meeting.
  • Burned out individuals – many of our best people, who have tried to mediate the conflict or who have stood faithfully, are simply worn out. We may lose dozens of our best clerks, ministers, committee members and staff people who have given years of their lives trying to build up and preserve North Carolina Yearly Meeting.
  • Young adult Friends – Quaker organizations across the country have been having problems for more than 30 years trying to get Boomers, Millennials and X-ers involved. North Carolina Friends have done better than most in this area, but it’s going to be much harder now. Where will our next generation of leaders, teachers, ministers and worshipers come from?

It may be a genuine relief for yearly meeting sessions not be dominated by quarreling, and I certainly hope that we will recover some of our joy again. Friends will continue, somehow. But we won’t be as strong, not for a long while.

It may be too late for North Carolina Friends to turn back – but I hope we count the cost!

Are Quakers wise givers?

This post is inspired by the article, “Doing Good Well” by Charles Schade, which appears in the February issue of Friends Journal. I think that many Friends organizations are long overdue for the kind of evaluation which he shares. It’s also very helpful that he presented the various organizations side-by-side so that readers could compare them (similar to my own post, What Does Your Yearly Meeting Web Site Say About You? ).

Quaker organizations don’t do transparency as well as we think – when I visited web sites like charitynavigator.org and greatnonprofits.org, not even the AFSC had a rating.

I have served for quite a few years in three different yearly meetings on committees which were responsible for setting the budgets for giving to large Quaker organizations. Charles Schades’s guidelines would have been very valuable to us. Many yearly meetings practice what I call “budgeting by inertia” – they simply give the same amount, unchanged year after year (sometimes decade after decade!) without question or discussion.

When I served as clerk, I tried to get Friends to think a little more about their giving to Quaker organizations. Here are some of the questions I ask:

  1. Has the group asked us for financial support? Have they asked for a specific amount? Have we given to this group previously?
  2. If we’ve given to them before, did they send us a receipt, thank-you or acknowledgment? 
  3. Did they send us a copy of their budget or a financial report? 
  4. Are we making a meaningful contribution? Does our gift make a difference? Or is ours just a token gift? 
  5. Do we help publicize their work in our meeting? Are we educating ourselves about the work of this group, or about the conditions they are trying to help? 
  6. What percentage of their budget is being spent on fundraising? 
  7. Is the group effective? Has their work made any difference, either in the lives of individuals served or in the problems the group is trying to address? 
  8. Are the goals or mission of the group in harmony with those of our meeting? Do any Friends have serious reservations about the goals, mission or activities of the group? If so, are we willing to labor with them? 
  9. Have we had any personal contact with the group? Has anyone from our meeting visited there recently? Are they willing to send someone to visit with us? 
  10. If our support for the group is ongoing, has our giving to them kept pace with inflation? Have we given the same amount for many years? What rationale is there for the amount we give?

Charles Schade’s article is addressed more towards the clarity and transparency of the receiving organization, while my questions are aimed more at the process and self-evaluation of the donor organization. In my experience, Quaker meetings tend not to be thoughtful donors (which means we aren’t very good stewards).

I hope Charles Schade’s article read and discussed widely, both by local and yearly meetings and (hopefully) by the organizations which ask us for support.

What does your yearly meeting web site say about you?

I started looking at yearly meeting web sites out of curiosity. My monthly meeting is part of the New Association of Friends who are no longer part of Indiana Yearly Meeting, and we are setting up a web site this spring. I thought I’d look at what other yearly meetings have done and see what works and what’s attractive.

Nearly all yearly meetings in North America have a web site – that’s a big change from 10 years ago, when web sites were still new to many church organizations. There’s a lot of variation among Quaker sites, both in appearance and features. After visiting 8 or 10 yearly meeting sites I started making notes, which turned into a full-fledged review.

I wound up visiting the web sites for 34 yearly meetings in North America, most of them several times. I covered Friends from all across the spectrum – FGC, FUM, Evangelical, Conservative and independent, plus Britain Yearly Meeting for good measure. If I missed yours, I’m sorry – let me know, and I’ll be happy to check it out. Click here for a chart of all the features I checked, or click here for specific comments about each site I visited.

Full disclosure: I am not a professional web site designer, or even that much of a computer geek. I spend a lot of time on the Internet, mainly on religious/spiritual sites.

What are the differences? Some yearly meeting web sites are more visually attractive than others. Some have more features. Most of all, some web sites have a better flavor – after visiting them, you feel you’d like to meet the people connected with them. Other sites are a total turn-off – which is a pity, since the Friends behind them are probably quite nice.

Think of me as a “mystery shopper” – someone who drifts in quietly and makes notes, sort of like the Michelin guide. Most of my comments are subjective, but they’re not personal. If I didn’t like your yearly meeting’s web site, that doesn’t mean I don’t like you.

In today’s world, your web site is your front door. It’s the first place people look for you! They want to find basic information, and they usually want to find it quickly. If it isn’t there, they’ll go away in a matter of seconds.

Appearance matters. With the tools available today, any site can be colorful, well-organized and visually attractive. There’s no excuse for unreadable print, photos which are out of focus, or text which scrolls off the edge of the screen.

So does navigation – how you find things and move from one section of the site to the other. As a rule of thumb, most professional designers say that nothing on a web site should be more than 3 clicks away. If you have to burrow down through layers of links which don’t make intuitive sense, your visitors will leave. Many of the yearly meeting sites I visited also have links which are outdated or lead nowhere – there are simple tools available to check this!

Who is the site for? This is the single biggest question a web designer needs to answer. Is the web site mainly for members of the yearly meeting – “insiders” who already know the organization? Or is the web site mainly there to attract seekers, visitors, or new Friends – “outsiders”? Most yearly meeting web sites are hybrids, trying to serve both groups on a single site.

Many sites would make little or no sense to a non-Friend – they’re filled with acronymns, Quaker jargon, and references to programs and gatherings which mean nothing to an outsider. It’s a good idea to have a skeptical non-Quaker look over your site and say, “What’s that mean? What do those initials stand for? Who cares about that?” Pay attention, and make some changes. Your site will improve!

The sites for Evangelical yearly meetings tend to handle this issue better. Theologically and practically, they want new people to join, and they don’t mind if visitors aren’t already Quakers – in fact, they expect it! It’s an attitude which is reflected in the whole look and feel of their web site, and it’s something which other Friends need to work on. Visit MidAmerica Yearly Meeting to see how welcoming a web site can be.

Some hybrid sites have a login area which can be used by clerks, leaders or committee members to access documents and reports which are not for general circulation. “Member login” is unfriendly; “User login” is better. Better still is a navigation feature which directs this kind of user off the main page into a special area.

Many yearly meeting web sites have problems with consistency in appearance across all their pages. This happens when you try combine an “old” site (maybe only 3-5 years old) with a “new” home page. It may save time and effort, but it’s visually confusing for visitors who feel they’ve been booted off the site into a different place. Good sites use themes or style sheets to make sure all their pages have a similar appearance.

What’s under the hood? Most people who aren’t designers don’t care about the hidden computer code which powers the site. But there are significant differences, and to some extent you get what you pay for. The top-rated sites are custom built and professionally maintained. They’re expensive, and they’re full of well-designed features. The sites for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and Britain Yearly Meeting are good examples of expensive, complex projects where professional design and maintenance has paid off with a great site.

A large proportion of yearly meeting web sites today are built using pre-made or slightly customized themes from companies like Microsoft or services like WordPress. These can look very good with a little thought and effort. One of the best Conservative sites, Ohio Conservative Yearly Meeting, uses a WordPress design which perfectly and attractively expresses the simplicity which is dear to these Friends.

Color schemes can be too subtle as well as too garish. A number of sites use very pale colors to indicate hyperlinks, which can cause problems on laptops or when viewing the screen from an angle or in strong light. Give it a little contrast.

How long does it take your site to load? Several sites froze or locked up when I re-visited them. Some sites may be hosted on someone’s home PC or on a badly-run server, rather than on a commercial or institutional server. If the site crashes, locks up, doesn’t load or generates error messages, guess what? People won’t come back.

Another big distinction is whether a site is static or dynamic. Does it just sit there like a billboard, unchanging from month to month? Or is there new material being posted all the time? Give people reasons to come back to your site – articles, newsletters, online surveys, and other resources. A small number of sites include .MP3 audio files to share talks, sermons and lectures, or include links to YouTube videos of special events.

One important reason for people to visit a yearly meeting web site is to find a local meeting near them or where they’re traveling. Nearly all the sites do this in some way. Most use Google Maps, which allows the web designer to use colored “push pins” to mark the exact location of all the local meetings, or even color-code them by quarterly or regional meeting. Better yearly meeting sites also include links to the local meeting site, a map, information about worship times and First Day/Sunday school, e-mail and phone number, handicap accessibility, and other things which first-time visitors want to know about.

One of my pet criticisms is sites which are stuffed with PDF files, which are widely used because they can be read by nearly everyone using the free version of Adobe Acrobat Reader. (Several sites include a link to download Adobe.) However, .PDF files take up a lot more file space than web pages, which means they load slowly. Also, a .PDF file is a “dead end” on a web site – you don’t usually go forward from a .PDF, you have to back out. Only use .PDF’s for large, long files like reports, minutes and back issues of newsletters.

Don’t make your good stuff hard to find! New England Yearly Meeting has a really exciting resource page of visiting Friends and Quakers offering workshops, but it’s in tiny print and it’s buried far down in the site.

Most sites include a master calendar of yearly meeting-sponsored events, and the majority of them use Google Calendar. Unfortunately, these calendars wind up with a lot of empty space, giving the impression that there isn’t much going on. Better web sites list upcoming individual events with bars or banners which you can click to learn more.

All but a handful of sites include a link to their Faith and Practice, and most of them aren’t very useful. Many are in .PDF format which creates ginormous files. Some sites have their Faith and Practice broken down into sections to make it load faster – and makes it that much harder to search. Take the next step and convert your Faith and Practice to .HTM which is much smaller and loads faster. Most important, please include hyperlinks throughout the whole document. To see what I’m talking about, visit Faith and Practice on the Canadian Yearly Meeting web site.

Nearly all sites include contact information for yearly meeting clerks and staff. Be careful about including personal contact information – names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mails. Consider setting up generic e-mails for yearly meeting staff and leaders (clerk@youryearlymeeting.org) so that their personal e-mail account at gmail or yahoo isn’t flooded with spam.

What makes your yearly meeting unique? Your web site should help people know who Friends in your yearly meeting really are. Well-chosen photos, short quotations, headlines for current news and events, can all help visitors get a taste of who you are. Be selective! Several yearly meetings have home pages which are stuffed with randomly chosen, out-of-date material. Others have photos showing only older Friends – intergenerational pictures are fine, but a couple of sites look like advertisements for Quaker retirement communities.

Many sites include a “make a donation” link. I can’t evaluate how much money these yearly meetings are raising this way – only your yearly meeting treasurer knows for sure. However, I predict that sites which are visually boring, static and feature-hungry are probably not helping their yearly meeting’s budget along.

Your web site probably has external links to missions you support, schools or colleges, other Quaker organizations like FUM, FGC, EFCI and so on. It’s great to include links to them, but make sure they return the favor – if you support a mission or concern and help to publicize their work, ask them to put a link to your yearly meeting on their site.

Here’s a surprise question: does your yearly meeting have an entry on Wikipedia? Less than a quarter of the yearly meetings I surveyed have Wikipedia entries. Wikipedia free, and it’s where a lot of visitors will look for you first. Wikipedia entries are editable, so you can update them easily – but they are also can be changed by any reader who takes the time to do so.

Plan on giving your yearly meeting site a complete makeover every 3-5 years – update your appearance, re-do the navigation, ditch sections which aren’t being used. Choose the features you really want. Don’t skip the ones you really need. All sites can be improved!

Let’s talk about money

Quakers in Indiana would almost rather talk about sex. Money is such a non-subject for discussion, but it’s been building up almost as much tension over the last 10 or 20 years as the battles over sexuality which are the “official” reason for our division.

For the last hundred years we have been locked in to a system of assessments based on the number of members in each local meeting. As assessments have relentlessly gone up, this has led many meetings to reduce the number of members, or even discourage people from joining, because each new member also meant adding another $150 to the yearly meeting assessment.

This is the first time in a generation when we have really been free to start over and think fresh. We are free to imagine a new organization, a whole new way of being Friends. We have no budget, which means we are free to think about what we really want to do.

There was general agreement that we don’t want or need to re-create the old structure, staff, and programs of Indiana Yearly Meeting. For years we heard Quakers complain, “What has the yearly meeting done for us?” Now we need to turn that around and plan a new organization which will do what we want. We need to live within our means, but also spend mo more than we are ready and willing to.

Not all yearly meetings are funded by a per capita assessment based on the number of members, though that is the most common practice. Some ask for a percentage of the local meeting’s budget, while other yearly meetings ask meetings to pledge whatever they can.

I’d like to suggest that instead of continuing with a tax based on the number of members, that we use an average of membership and worship attendance. This would help to remove the disincentive for meetings to add members, and include the folks who come to worship but haven’t joined yet. (To see what these numbers might be like, see “What Numbers Are We Talking About?”, posted last November.)

I’m not suggesting that Friends go all the way to zero. Most of our meetings have a long-standing interest in missions, and Quaker missions depend on steady funding, no matter what conniptions Indiana Quakers are going through.

The Indiana Yearly Meeting budget for the last few years has been built on an assessment of $75 for yearly meeting expenses and $75 for missions. As meetings move out of Indiana Yearly Meeting, they’re asking what they should be doing during this time of transition. Some meetings are probably calling it a “tax holiday” and enjoying a little relief in their local finances. Other meetings are including the old assessment in their 2013 budget and setting the funds aside, assuming they will contribute a similar amount to whatever new group they join.

As the New Association of Friends (that’s at least our interim name) start thinking about who we are and what we want to do, we could simply continue the old pattern of $75 for organizational costs and $75 for missions. But here are some other possibilities:

  • $50 for organizational costs
  • $50 for missions
  • $50 for development – intervisitation, scholarships to attend workshops and conferences, visiting speakers, advertising, programs for youth and young adults

Or:

  • $50 for missions
  • $50 for local programs
  • $50 to build up some new long-term funds

Or:

  • $50 for missions
  • $25 for Quaker organizations
  • $75 for organizational costs

Or:

  • $50 for missions
  • $25 for youth and young adult programs
  • $25 for outreach and advertising
  • $50 for part-time staff

Whatever we decide, let’s have some lively discussion from our meetings about what things we really want to do and want to support. Let’s see what we’re willing to contribute, and plan what we positive things we can do with the funds we have. Let’s think about growing, not declining. Let’s not be tied down by the past, but freed for our future.

What numbers are we talking about?

As Indiana Yearly Meeting moves toward a formal division, our focus needs to be on the new group which is emerging, not on apportioning blame for the problems of the past.

Just how big is this new group, and what kind of things can we do together? From informal conversations and postings, it looks as if there will initially about be 10 or a dozen meetings in the new group.

Please note that joining or not joining the group is a decision of monthly meetings for business. The discussion here, or elsewhere on the net, does not take the place of the decisions which are made by individual monthly meetings. Please do not be offended if your meeting’s name appears here (or does not appear).

Meeting Members Worship
attendance

Average
(Members + Attendance)/2

Dublin 10 22 16
First Friends Richmond 118 91 104
Friends of the Light 48 30 39
Muncie Memorial 103 67 85
New Castle First Friends 101 82 91
Raysville 28 20 24
Salem 14 24 19
West Elkton 22 18 20
West Richmond 91 65 78
Williamsburg 23 15 19
TOTAL 558 434 517

It looks as if the new group might start out with roughly 558 members. That’s a lot of good Quakers! All of us live and worship within 60-90 minutes of each other – a compact group.

Perhaps more important, our meetings have a very high ratio of membership to actual attendance at worship. If you compare our membership with our average attendance at worship, it varies from one meeting to another but it’s pretty strong – in some cases, there are actually more people worshiping on Sunday than there are members of the meeting!

Nationwide, most Protestant churches figure they’re doing pretty well if 1/3 of their members turn up on an average Sunday. Overall, it averages out to 77% – more than twice the national average. In my thinking, that kind of loyalty and interest far outweighs our numbers.

And as we look toward the future, let’s be looking for ways we can grow. Perhaps the conflicts and tensions which have been grinding away at Indiana Friends’ energy and enthusiasm for years can be laid aside, and we can find new avenues for growth.

What about retired Friends?

Dividing the yearly meeting may seem like a neat and tidy solution to our conflict — but as we’re already finding out, it isn’t. Problems and challenges keep cropping up, and here’s another one.

Pastors and ministers serving in Indiana Yearly Meeting are eligible for two special sources of financial assistance when they retire – the Friends Ministers Fund at Friends Fellowship Community, and the Disbursing Fund of Indiana Yearly Meeting.

What will happen to them if Indiana Yearly Meeting divides? Will both yearly meetings respect the service of their pastors and recorded ministers? Or will the spirit of division lead to recriminations against those who have served our meetings faithfully?

Here are descriptions of the policies for the funds. From the FFC web site:

“The Friends Ministers Fund, created in 1995, provides financial assistance to Friends ministers, missionaries, and their spouses who have faithfully served Friends in Indiana Yearly Meeting for a minimum of 10 years as a recorded minister and whose resources may be insufficient both for entry fees and monthly care fees. Availability of assistance from this fund does vary, since it is dependent on the number of individuals receiving assistance at any one time.”

From the IYM Pastor’s Handbook:

“1. To be a recipient, the applicant must be a member of the Society of Friends and shall have served as a minister, missionary, full-time Christian worker, or spouse of same, in Indiana Yearly Meeting, and must be at least 65 years of age or in poor health as certified by a medical doctor, or are in need.

2. At the time of application, applicant must have given no less than 10 years of service to Indiana Yearly Meeting in capacities stated above.”

Before any plan for division is approved, Friends should agree how to handle this issue fairly. Many ministers in Indiana Yearly Meeting have not taken sides in this conflict. Others have labored to prevent division from taking place. Years from now, it may be difficult to judge what part individuals have taken, and it would be unfair to penalize our retired ministers for the actions of Friends who have sought to divide the yearly meeting.

A formula for handling this issue should be created before any final plan for division is approved. It should be communicated in writing to the management of Friends Fellowship Community, and the guidelines for the Disbursing Board should be updated to reflect it.

Here are some suggestions for such a formula:

  • all ministers and their spouses will be eligible for assistance from the Friends Ministers Fund and the Disbursing Board who have served a full 10 years in Indiana Yearly Meeting before the time of the division, regardless of which yearly meeting their monthly meeting chooses to join
  • ministers and their spouses who have served for less than 10 years in Indiana Yearly Meeting at the time of division will also be eligible for such assistance, without prejudice as to which yearly meeting they serve in, providing that they complete at least 10 years of combined service in the original Indiana Yearly Meeting and either of its successors
  • both yearly meetings will be encouraged to continue to contribute to the Friends Ministers Fund
  • IYM should take appropriate legal counsel to make sure that the wording of any changes protects the interests of all of our ministers, whatever monthly meeting they have served in, and in whatever yearly meeting they complete their service

We need someone neutral

In nearly all of my posts on this blog, I have tried to make a case for Indiana Yearly Meeting not to divide – and I haven’t given up yet!

However, the level of anger, dissatisfaction and dissent on both sides keeps rising. The latest plan for division proposed by the Reconciliation Task Force (a name which surely is no longer appropriate!) is so unfair that even some Friends on the “IYM B” side are questioning it.

Indiana Yearly Meeting has, according to most reports, roughly $5 million in assets. Under the proposed plan of division, only about $300,000 (designated by some unexplained formula as “liquid assets”) would be divided between the two new yearly meetings, based on the number of members in each group at the time of division. So, for example, if 20% of the members are in IYM-A and 80% in IYM-B, IYM-A would be given $60,000, and IYM-B would get $240,000 – and all of the rest would remain with IYM-B.

Many of the other assets of Indiana Yearly Meeting are tied up in some way – as endowments for specific purposes, scholarship funds, in real estate, receivable debts, and so on. However, in any kind of a divorce, this division of assets would not be approved by a fair-minded judge.

To prevent the kind of generations-long bitterness that this plan will generate, I recommend that Friends agree to get an outside mediator or arbitrator – an experienced, neutral person who can be impartial in setting up a legally binding agreement.

An arbitrator must be acceptable to both sides, and in my opinion should not be a Midwest Quaker or have any stake in the outcome of this decision. While arbitration fees may seem high, it’s a price well worth paying to avoid the kind of hateful bickering and charges of bias and unfairness which are what we’ve got now.

Some worth checking:

  • American Arbitration Association – best-known group in the field – http://www.adr.org
  • National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals – maintains a directory of qualified mediators -www.nadn.org. One of their members in our area is Michael Bishop – attorney/mediator based in Indianapolis (317) 573-8888
  • Alban Institute – highly respected non-denominational organization -www. alban.org
  • Peacemaker Ministries – http://www.peacemaker.net

Other Friends may suggest other mediators and arbitrators who they are familiar with, but the basic idea is simple: we have demonstrated that we can’t solve this problem on our own, using our own members as resources. We need outside help, either to resolve this dispute and stay together, or to find a fair formula for division.

Who’s in? Who’s out?

When you come down to it, the controversy which has split Indiana Yearly Meeting is all about membership. Who can be accepted as a member – and who will be excluded?

The current conflict in Indiana Yearly Meeting rose because some monthly meetings have assumed that homosexuals are barred from membership, while other monthly meetings have expressed their willingness to welcome and accept openly gay and lesbian people as members.

The meetings which oppose homosexuality feel strongly that being a gay or lesbian person is sinful, and they do not want to be associated in any way with sin. In effect, they want to exercise veto power over the membership decisions of all monthly meetings. If they don’t get their way, they want to divide the yearly meeting so that they will not have to associate with monthly meetings which welcome and accept homosexuals.

The Quaker “rule book”, Faith and Practice, says, rather dryly:

“Friends accept into adult membership those whose faith in God and in Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord is manifest in their lives and who are in unity with the teachings of Christian truth as held by the Religious Society of Friends.” (Indiana Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice, 2011 edition, p. 51)

The decision about who to welcome and accept as members always rests with the local monthly meeting – not with the yearly meeting or with anyone else. Some meetings organize classes for new or prospective members, while other meetings offer reading material or have no formal training or exploration of beliefs.

Faith and Practice recommends that Friends  meet with applicants for membership. However, the guidelines are very vague:

“The point of the conference is not to conduct a pointed examination. It is to share views and to ascertain whether the applicant seeks a fuller understanding of the basic principles of Christian living, finds satisfaction in the faith and meetings for worship of Friends, and desires to join with Friends in corporate and continuing search for Truth.” (Faith and Practice, 2011 edition, p. 79)

Reality check:  when assessments were fairly cheap, there was a lot of prestige attached to having a many members in your meeting. In recent years, though, many meetings have been cutting their membership rolls, in order to reduce the amount they have to pay to the yearly meeting.  In 2011, the assessment by Indiana Yearly Meeting is $150 per adult member — meetings have a very strong financial disincentive against adding new members!

In addition, studies for more than 40 years have shown that formal church membership is not a high priority for many people – they come to worship, participate in activities, and give generously, but “being a member” just isn’t as important as it was to earlier generations.

So, in some ways, this whole conflict seems pretty silly. Membership decisions are local, and Faith and Practice is nearly silent on the issue of homosexuality. Formal membership in general is declining in popularity. And splitting the yearly meeting will only lead to a further decrease in membership on all sides.

And yet, the issue still generates a lot of heat among Friends. The right to be inclusive, or the right not to associate with people with whom we disagree at a deep spiritual level, seems to be very fundamental – so fundamental that Friends are willing to break a fellowship which has existed for over 200 years.

Other Friends around the country (and even around the world!) are watching Indiana Friends closely. How the question of membership plays out, and the spirit in which we proceed, will have a tremendous effect on our future.


Disclaimer

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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