Archive for the 'New Association of Friends' Category

What, if anything, is a yearly meeting?

Early in the 21st century, many yearly meetings are in transition. New York and New England Yearly Meetings, where I worked in the 1970’s and 1980’s, claim to include both pastoral and unprogrammed Friends – but the number of pastoral meetings, and the percentage of members in pastoral meetings, have been dropping steadily since the 1950’s. They’re not as inclusive as they like to think they are.

A number of yearly meetings have divided or are in the process of dividing. In Western Yearly Meeting the “center” remained more or less intact, but they lost monthly meetings from both the liberal and evangelical sides. Indiana Yearly Meeting lost about 1/3 of its membership, now mostly joined with the New Association of Friends.

North Carolina Yearly Meeting is in the process of becoming a sort of umbrella organization, which will serve as trustee for the property and administer the investments. Most of the monthly meetings will become part of either the “authority” group (which favors a stronger central authority) or the “autonomy” group (which wants more freedom for monthly meetings in interpreting and applying Faith and Practice). A third group of North Carolina meetings were unwilling to wait around for the division to take place, or just weren’t involved very much with the yearly meeting, and have opted out completely.

Yearly meetings used to act a lot like denominations, with a central office, full-time staff in a variety of ministry areas (Christian Education, peace, youth work and missionary work were all common), elaborate training programs for ministers, health insurance and pension funds, the whole works.

Shrinking and aging membership, economic inflation, and new, rapidly expanding Quaker organizations competing for attention and funds, have all taken a tremendous toll on yearly meetings as they used to exist 40 or 50 years ago.

In one of the first studies I made of Friends, You Can’t Get There From Here (1985) I calculated that most yearly meetings needed at least 1,500 active members in local meetings in order to support 1 full-time equivalent yearly meeting staff person. That was an optimistic figure at the time, and most yearly meeting staffs have shrunk dramatically since then.

Many yearly meetings have given up having a central office, and full or part-time staff now work from their own homes or use space donated by a local meeting. Yearly meetings have been forced to drop health insurance and retirement plans, and many Quaker camps, schools, colleges, retirement communities and missions have been laid down or spun off as independent organizations.

It’s time for Friends to drop the charade and ask ourselves, “What is a yearly meeting today? What are we trying to preserve? What can we build for the next generation?”

In one of the earliest yearly meeting descriptions we have, Friends in Great Britain wrote in 1668: “We did conclude among ourselves to settle a meeting, to see one another’s faces, and open our hearts one to another in the Truth of God once a year, as formerly it used to be.” (Quaker Faith and Practice, Britain Yearly Meeting, 1995, section 6.02)

This is still one of the simplest and most heart-felt reasons for having a yearly meeting – stripped of the generations of tradition and controversy, without the heavy layers of financial and institutional commitment. Unless we have in our hearts a real longing to see one another, to worship together, and listen to each other, yearly meetings will continue to implode.

Friends in the newly-divided yearly meetings are being forced by circumstances to travel more lightly, to be nimbler and less institutional, to live with smaller budgets and focus on worship and fellowship as their primary activities.

In coming posts, I want to share some other ideas about what yearly meetings can be in order to serve a new generation.


Update on North Carolina Yearly Meeting – II

In my last post, I gave you the bottom line – North Carolina Yearly Meeting, after 318 years of more-or-less unity, have decided that separation is inevitable. Depending on your perspective, this is cause for either grief or relief. According to some Friends, the bickering and fighting have been building up for the last 20 or 30 years.

It looks like the breakup may actually be happening now. There’s a lot of pressure for meetings to choose sides, even though the “sides” are poorly defined. Some meetings still don’t want to choose, or are still longing for a way to stay together.

The wedge issue which is seldom mentioned out loud but which has been effectively used to break up the yearly meeting is homosexuality. Problems with this issue aren’t unique to North Carolina Yearly Meeting or to Friends in general; churches across the United States have been trying to find ways to unite or divide.

The pressure is on for the yearly meeting to split into just two groups, and for monthly meetings to choose sides if they haven’t done so already. From many conversations with Quaker leaders, I think that the reality is that there are really three groups, which is making things more complicated.

To draw the picture with a very broad brush, though, here’s my view of the groups in North Carolina Friends.

Group A – meetings which were basically satisfied with what they see as a “traditional” yearly meeting. I’d call them the “centrist” group – many of these meetings have LGBT members but they’re basically keeping quiet and not making an issue of it.

Group B – meetings which embrace a more liberal theology; some are openly and enthusiastically accepting of LGBT members and are willing to hold marriages under their care without regard to sexual orientation.

Group C – meetings which want a much more evangelical statement of faith and want the yearly meeting to have both the ability and the resolve to kick out meetings and pastors which don’t agree with them. These meetings strongly reject homosexual practice and do not want to associate with Friends who tolerate or accept it.

Many of the meetings which were most outspoken in Group C withdrew early from the yearly meeting. Group B have mostly hung in, which has caused more Group C’s to withdraw or threaten to do so.

Originally, Group C wanted to kick out Group B, and drag the A’s along into their camp. A lot of the stridency in Group C appears to be coming from a fairly small group of pastors, while a lot of the cohesiveness in Group A and B seems to be rooted in the rank-and-file membership.

As this same kind of struggle has played out in other yearly meetings, the division has worked out differently, and a lot of the time it’s been a battle for the soul of the center. In Western Yearly Meeting a few years ago, some of the most outspoken meetings on both the liberal and evangelical sides left, and the center mostly held together.

In Indiana, about 60% of the members from the right and right-of-center managed to claim the title of “Indiana Yearly Meeting”, about 35% became the New Association of Friends, and about 5% of the membership wound up becoming independent.

Here in North Carolina, it’s unclear to me at this point how the numbers will work out. If monthly meetings were truly left to themselves to decide their own future, my guess is that Group A might be 40-50% of the membership, Group B might be 10%-20%, Group C might be 40%, and at least 10% might go independent.

Whether meetings will be allowed honestly to choose for themselves is still an open question. Most Friends are talking only in terms of 2 groups, not 3 (or more).

If Group A (the centrists) can agree to make acceptance of homosexuality a matter for local meetings to decide, or at least take it off the front burner, they could probably combine successfully with most of Group B for a while.

If Group C succeeds in making homosexuality the litmus test for the entire group, they may drag a few more of the Group A meetings along with them.

Most of the leaders I have spoken with from Group B meetings seem sincere in their desire not to split the yearly meeting. Their meetings’ support and acceptance of LGBT people is a matter of conscience and conviction, and many of these Group B leaders are widely respected outside their own monthly meetings.

Meanwhile, almost every time two Quakers from North Carolina get together, the question they can’t resist asking is, “What way is your meeting going to go?”

I believe in unity among Friends, to the greatest degree it’s possible to obtain, and I’ve spent most of my working career trying to bring Friends together. I’m still a newcomer to North Carolina, but I’ve seen similar struggles among Quakers from all across the United States, and they sadden me tremendously, almost beyond my ability to bear.

In my next post, I’ll be talking about the cost of separation – something which Friends only whisper about, but which deserves closer examination.

Dreams and Visions

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m the kind of person who likes facts and numbers. Wishful thinking, ignoring trends and blindness to reality are anathema to me. I don’t deal very much with dreams and visions.

So I was pretty startled last week when I woke up with one of those persistent dreams which don’t make much sense. For some reason, I kept dreaming that we were making saw horses at the meetinghouse – really good ones which would be capable of holding a lot of weight, strong and level to do good work.

The dream stuck with me when I woke up, and I wasn’t sure what it meant or what to do with it.

Then, a few days later, I was up at the meetinghouse early on Sunday morning. I usually get there by 7:00 or 7:30 to make sure that the heat is turned on, and then I go around unlocking the doors for when people start to arrive an hour or so later.

Our meetinghouse was built in 1916, and the front entrance was built more to be impressive than accessible – it’s up a long flight of 13 concrete steps. Almost no one comes in that way any more – people mostly come in the side door on SW 7th Street, or else through the door on the other side of the building under the archway, where we have an elevator.

As I was unlocking the doors, I looked out the front door onto the new-fallen snow. There were no tracks outside, and the steps hadn’t been shoveled. I thought to myself, “Why bother? No one’s coming in this way anyhow.”

I turned away, and then I stopped and came back. What if someone new, someone who’s never been to our meeting before, tried to come to worship and the front door was locked? Maybe it won’t happen this week, or next week – in fact, I think it’s pretty unlikely. But I unlocked the door anyway, and next time it snows, I’ll make sure the steps are cleared off.

Last month, the small group which prepares for worship met to start planning for the New Year. At our meeting, we usually let whoever is the speaker that week choose their own topic and whatever Bible passage they want to use. As pastoral minister, I normally bring a prepared message twice a month, and on the other Sundays one of the other folks form the meeting or a guest speaker brings the message. We like the variety of messages this system brings, and we also treasure the “freedom of the pulpit” which is a strong part of our meeting’s tradition.

This time, though, we decided to try something different for a change. For each Sunday from New Year’s to Easter, we chose a series of passages from the gospel of Mark. We’re inviting the speaker to take that week’s passage and wrestle with it, and share whatever they can.

What do moments like these mean? I’m no expert in interpretation. But if I had to make a guess, I’d say:

1) We need to be ready to do some kind of building. I’m not sure if it’s just our meeting, or the New Association of Friends, or Quakers in general. But we’ve been cutting back and scaling down for years. Maybe it’s time to change to a different attitude. Instead of laying down meetings, we should be building new ones. Instead of cutting programs, we should see what new programs would serve our meetings and our communities. If old ones have served their usefulness and need to be laid down, that’s OK. But what new things could we be building?

2) We need to make sure that all the doors are open and inviting, and that there are plenty of different ways for people to come to our meetings. Those “doors” may be real and physical – our meeting experienced real growth when we made the effort a few years ago to make our building more accessible to everyone. But open and inviting doors are often a metaphor for the kind of attitudinal work and program changes we need if new people are going to feel welcome when they come to our meetings. Very few people want to spend their religious lives in museums – they want a spiritual home where they can feel welcome, unpack the things they’ve brought, and be free to move the furniture around a little. Every Quaker meeting I’ve ever known needs to do more work in this area.

3) We need to spend more time with the stories of Jesus, and be willing to let new people take a try at explaining them to us. I’m convinced that people really are hungry for the presence of God, and that they won’t be satisfied with worn-out and recycled stuff. Tradition and testimony are important, but so is listening to what is in people’s hearts and minds today. And if we really want to be Friends of Christ, we need to be listening more to Jesus.

Best wishes for a blessed Christmas season, and for the New Year in 2014!

Thoughts on division

Quakers are always going on about our interest in peacemaking, and our practice of making decisions on the basis of unity. The truth is, we have a long and unhappy history of division, and maybe we’d be better off if we acknowledged it.

Here in our area, Indiana Yearly Meeting was formed in 1821. For generations, Indiana was the largest yearly meeting in the world. The yearly meeting had scarcely started when the great Hicksite/Orthodox separation tore American Quakers apart in 1828. It left a legacy of suspicion, bitterness and mutual intolerance which we’re still dealing with today.

A series of healthier separations took place in the 1800’s, as Indiana Yearly Meeting “set off” a number of new groups as Quakers grew and expanded. Western Yearly Meeting (1858), Iowa Yearly Meeting (1863), Kansas Yearly Meeting (1872) and Wilmington Yearly Meeting (1891) are all “daughters” of Indiana Yearly Meeting.

Less  happy separations happened in the mid-1800’s, as “conservative” Friends resisted the more evangelical theology of a new generation of ministers. Conservative Friends remain as a group of small but spiritually lively yearly meetings in Iowa, Ohio and North Carolina.

While most Orthodox Quakers in the Midwest joined in the trend toward programmed worship and pastoral leadership in the late 1800’s, there were battles over just how far towards the evangelical right Friends should go. The Richmond Declaration of 1887 can be interpreted as drawing a line to keep Friends from abandoning our traditional rejection of water baptism and outward communion.

Friends also divided over many of the ideas of modern science, and in particular over the teaching of evolution, and Earlham was the center of an attempted “heresy trial” in the 1920’s. Many Friends continue to be divided over the acceptance of modern Bible scholarship and less-than-literal interpretation of the Bible.

As a result of these controversies, Central Yearly Meeting split off from the mainstream in Indiana, and Ohio Yearly Meeting moved more to the right over the years, eventually becoming Evangelical Friends International – Eastern Region.

This weekend (July 27-28) Indiana Yearly Meeting is planning to split again, with 18 monthly meetings leaving. 14 of them have agreed so far to join the New Association of Friends.

Although Friends on both sides are trying to avoid bitterness and public blaming, I can’t help but be sad about this new division. Well-meaning Friends are trying to spin this as a positive development, and maybe some of us will emerge strong and healthy again. But Indiana Yearly Meeting is a shadow of what it was – in numbers, in energy, in effective ministry, in vision.

Differences of opinion, differences in worship, and differences in understanding of the Bible don’t have to be causes of division. The primary cause is Friends who say, “I’m right, you’re wrong, and if you don’t agree, you should leave.”

Quakers would be more honest if we would admit to ourselves and each other that a big reason we care about unity is that our history is one of division. And our perspective on peacemaking might change if Quakers admitted how often and how bitterly we have fought with each other.

I feel a little hope from the past. In 1843, Indiana Friends disagreed strongly over whether it was right to help escaping slaves to freedom or not. No one supported slavery – that issue had been settled for Friends back in the mid 1700’s. But one group felt it was a moral imperative to help escaping slaves, while the other side felt bound to remain within the law. Indiana Yearly Meeting and Indiana Yearly Meeting of Anti-Slavery Friends existed separately for 13 years, until they finally re-united in 1856.

Maybe, someday, something like that will happen again here in Indiana, as society changes and as we all have new experiences. But I grieve for our lost unity, however fragile it may have been.
I plan to do whatever I can to help Friends in my own meeting to survive and thrive, and I am giving my full support to the New Association of Friends.

Many readers have written to me here on these pages, expressing your care and concern. Please keep us all in your prayers.

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 ( 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


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


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


  • $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.

Update on the New Association of Friends

Friends from 14 meetings gathered at First Friends Meeting in Richmond, IN on Sunday, January 27th to discuss plans for a new association of Friends, to be made up of meetings which will no longer be part of Indiana Yearly Meeting.

At least 90 Friends were present, which means that more than 10% of the possible membership of the new association showed up. This compares with recent gatherings of Indiana Yearly Meeting, which typically draw less than 2% of the total membership at business sessions.

Some meetings sent representatives, while others came as observers. At the beginning of the session, clerk pro tem Catherine Griffith asked us to share some idea of where our meetings are in this process – fully engaged in joining the new association, still making up their minds, or just “dating” to see what the new group is like.

During a time of free and open discussion, we identified a number of goals for the coming year:

• transition out of Indiana Yearly Meeting
• setting up at least a minimum organization and a legal entity to receive startup funds from IYM
• have FUN together!
• worship and fellowship
• get to know each other better
• build up communications between our meetings
• work together on service and mission projects
• embrace the diversity of Friends in our new group
• pray for each other
• maintain the credentials of recorded ministers and pastors
• encourage new ministers
• explore ways we can be active in Friends United Meeting

There was much discussion about how much organization we need at this point. Everyone agreed that we don’t need to re-create the complex structure of the old yearly meeting. We appointed a nominating committee to find a clerk, recording clerk and treasurer, a “nuts and bolts” committee to work on legal issues, and a steering committee to work on long-term plans. The steering committee will include a representative from each monthly meeting which is involved in the new association.

The next gathering will be held in mid-March here at West Richmond Friends Meeting

What kind of leadership?

As we look toward the formation of a new group of Friends in eastern Indiana, we need to give serious thought to what kind of leadership we need.

Several Friends have written to say that they don’t want a traditional superintendent. (The title of “superintendent” was borrowed in the 1880’s from the Methodist church.) A few Friends have said they want to have a “field secretary”. Others have suggested a “released Friend”. Others have talked about someone who will be a “servant leader”.

These different job titles suggest that we need to ask ourselves what we want a leader/staff person to do. Here are some roles or tasks to think about:

• We need someone who will encourage communication and fellowship between local meetings. Most of our meetings are starving for meaningful contact with each other.

• We need someone who will encourage us to worship more deeply. Sometimes this means coming as an inspiring and inspired guest speaker; sometimes it means asking questions about whether what we’re doing on Sunday is really reaching people’s hearts and minds.

• We need someone to remind us of the wider Quaker world of missions, service opportunities, schools, gatherings, special events and organizations. It’s too easy for us to focus on the needs of our own local meeting and forget what’s out there.

• We need someone who will encourage all of our meeting’s leaders – the pastors, certainly, but also the clerks, youth ministers, committee leaders and emerging new ministers. A good leader keeps an “incubator list” of people to encourage, and helps them find ways to use their gifts.

• We need someone who can engage with our young people, and especially with our young adult Friends. This isn’t so much a matter of age as outlook and energy – we need someone who can hear what our younger members are saying, and encourage them.

• Most of all, we need someone who is a good listener – as one of my own mentors used to say, who can “listen us into our truth”. Sure, I’d like a great preacher and teacher – but I think we need a good listener most of all.

The old Indiana Yearly Meeting has an unbroken tradition of male superintendents. It shouldn’t matter whether the person who leads our new group is a man or a woman.

We don’t need a central office. A post office box can handle the paper mail. For many of today’s leaders, their “office” is wherever they can connect to the Internet or make a phone call. Let’s not build our identity around a single location.

We probably can’t start with a full-time person. In an earlier post, I said that most yearly meetings struggle to afford one full-time staffer for every 2,500-3,000 members. We will probably start out with 600-700, so we will either need a volunteer or a part-time person.

A couple of people have suggested to me that we might try to find an intern or seminary student. Although this idea has some good points, I think we need the continuity of a leader who can stay with us for at least 2 or 3 years. It would be great for us to make use of the gifts and talents of a seminary student or minister in training for short-term, focused special projects.

Finding the right person with the right mix of skills and attitudes will be challenging.

• able to help plan and organize exciting special events – gatherings for worship, workshops, leadership training and educational events

 computer literate – we can’t afford to hire someone who can’t use today’s tools

experienced with a variety of worship styles, and willing to participate in both pastoral and unprogrammed worship

knowledgeable about Quaker history and beliefs, the Bible, and the wider Christian church

be able to travel around our scattered meetings

• an extra language is a definite plus

non-defensive and open to the experiences of others

Good leadership doesn’t “just happen”. We need to ask ourselves what kind of leaders we want and need, and then start looking and praying.

What I’d really like

OK, let me dream a little.  We’re in the early stages of setting up a new association of Friends, and there are a lot of ideas floating around on various blogs and discussion groups. Here are some ideas for what I would really like.

I want worship to be the real center of activity and purpose for this new association. I want opportunities to worship with Friends from other meetings. I’d like these opportunities to happen several times a year, held at different locations so I can see their space and get a sense of their life together. I need to get out of my own meetinghouse, and stop thinking that the world of Friends centers around where I worship every Sunday.

Too often, in the old Indiana Yearly Meeting, worship times became just another battleground, another place for us to disagree. I want a sense that when we come together to worship, that everyone truly is welcome. Whatever style of worship we have, whether programmed, semi-programmed or unprogrammed, I want a sense each time that we are offering our best to God, and that no one there is judging the style of worship, the music, the speaker or anything else that day.

I want lots of opportunities for Friends of similar interests to get together. Some of these may take the shape of ongoing committees (hopefully few) while other opportunities may take the shape of workshops or interest groups which meet for a season and can be continued or laid down without a lot of fuss.

Regardless of their job description or task, I want committees where the main purpose is to encourage and advise, rather than regulate and control.

And while I’m on the subject of committees, Friends, we really need to change the culture of how committees function. I like the idea of committees being broadly representative, but I’m much more interested in having committees which are energizing and active. In my experience, smaller groups often function better than larger ones – half a dozen people are often more effective than twenty, if everyone on the committee works and contributes to the discussion.

I think that committees need their own life of worship and fellowship, and I think it’s well worth it for committees to spend plenty of time in prayer and getting to know each other at a deep level. The real “business” of a committee often isn’t what’s on it’s agenda.

That said, a well-prepared agenda is important, and leadership is crucial. I’ve wasted too many hours on yearly meeting committees which have no idea what they’ve done, what their business is, what resources they have, who they should report to, or even who is in charge of the meeting. Clerks should be nominated, and should be the best person available – if you leave it to the committee to choose its own leader, the clerk winds up being the last person to say “no” to the job.

I’m willing to experiment with alternative ways of holding committee meetings and interest groups. I’d rather use Skype than conference calls, so we can see each others’ faces as well as hearing voices. But I’m also willing to experiment with holding retreats and weekend work/worship gatherings. Anything to get away from the pointless, clueless, lifeless meetings I’ve attended for 20 years, sitting on tiny chairs in Sunday School rooms, where no one is excited about being there and no one has done the things they signed up to do last time.

Frankly, Friends, our work ethic sucks. We often bring concerns half-prepared to business sessions, and then expect other people to take over our concerns, fund them, publicize them, and make them happen. “Support” is a very cheap word, and I’d be happy to ban it from general use for a few years till we rediscover the reality of what it means.

I want to contribute to Quaker mission and service work, but I’d like to change what that means. I have spent more than 30 years on committees which sent money to Quaker organizations, and most of the time we simply sent whatever amount we sent the year before. It would be fun – and sobering – to be on a group responsible for promoting mission and service work which spent most of its time understanding what that work is about. And I’d like to see us emphasize sending our own people on mission and work trips to see with our own eyes, and worship there in person, before we send money.

I’d like us to do a few things really well, even if it means sacrificing a lot of things we’ve traditionally done. This is our golden opportunity to re-invent what a group of meetings can do together. I understand (and love) Quaker tradition, but if all we do is replicate the old yearly meeting, I’m not interested. Let’s do something new.

The Ghost of Denominations Past

Denominations are a Protestant thing. For hundreds of years, Protestants have divided into groups based on distinctive practices, writings, worship styles, and ethnic, economic or social backgrounds.

Quakers started out as a denomination. We trace our roots back to 17th-century England and to 18th and 19th-century America. We spend a lot of time talking about how “we are not like those other churches.” We have a collection of famous Quaker writers we like to quote, a distinctive style of doing church business, and several closely-related styles of worship.

Most of all, we enjoy identifying ourselves as Quakers or Friends. We may not agree with what those “other” Quakers do sometimes, but we have invested a great deal of energy and effort into our identity and self-image as Quakers, and we get upset whenever anyone else tries to monkey with it.

For most of the 1800’s and 1900’s, being a denomination meant outward signs of group success – holding large conferences, having a publishing house, a mission organization, schools and colleges, youth programs, institutions for the training and recognizing ministers. Denominations also usually need a good deal of money to build and maintain. It also implied having a strong central authority which could define and enforce what being a member of that denomination means.

Denominations have been beaten up for the last hundred years by theologians, economic forces, evolving worship styles and changing social attitudes. There has been a lot of new competition from independent groups and megachurches, which emphasize that they’re “not denominations” (and don’t have to pay denominational dues, a big plus for their finances).

Indiana Yearly Meeting tried for many years to have its own denominational ministries – we had our own college (Earlham), our own seminary (Earlham School of Religion), a camp (Quaker Haven), a retirement community (Friends Fellowship), a conference center (Quaker Hill), and a social ministry (White’s Family Services). We often shared ownership of these ministries with other Quaker groups in order to spread the cost. In recent years, nearly all of these ministries have gone independent. We also had a central organization with an office, staff, and committees for missions, publishing, youth work, and so on.

Quakers in Indiana have never really been large enough to play in the denominational big leagues. Early in the 1900’s, Indiana Yearly Meeting claimed a paper membership of over 12,000, which was probably about double the number of active Friends. Today we claim less than 4,000 members, and it’s been increasingly impossible for us to continue to be a denomination. We don’t have either the money or the members to stay in the game.

Most of all, the current struggle in Indiana Yearly Meeting shows that we don’t have the ability to enforce what it means to be a Quaker. We can’t do it with definitions, with minutes, with threats or with pressure politics. There’s no Quaker pope or high court either side can appeal to, and no network of alliances strong enough to make the other side knuckle under.

It’s time for us to give up the ghost of denominations past. It’s time for us to come up with something more workable and realistic, affordable and adapted to today’s needs and interests. We aren’t a denomination any more. What can we be together?


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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