I recently had the privilege of attending the 319th sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting August 12-14. I traveled there, to quote from my travel minute, “with a concern for living sustainably in the context of deepening connections among diverse groups of Friends.” I found Friends open and friendly, ready to share in fellowship. I think I may have found an elder to travel with me to NCYM monthly meetings to share this concern laid on me with monthly meetings in North Carolina Yearly Meeting..
I found the program was completely full with one concern, the future of their yearly meeting and how to continue to carry out their calling as Quakers. It was a difficult time for the faithful Friends who were gathered there. They acknowledged that “the challenge of bridging their differences had become an increasingly daunting task” and that the weight of this challenge was sapping energy from the many good works of the yearly meeting. Unlike the Hicksites and Orthodox in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in the early 1800s as described in Quakers in Conflict by Larry Ingle, they approached each other with respect and love. I could feel each person being rooted in their measure of the Light of Christ and searching for that Light in each other. They spoke and listened. They prayed and sang. They broke bread together. The clerks and executive committee were true servants of the meeting, searching for the will of the meeting without trying to wield power or hold on to their personal interpretation of what needed to happen. They faithfully attempted to record the sense of the meeting, hearing all voices.
The yearly meeting decided that over the next three months each monthly meeting will chose to join one of two associations under North Carolina Yearly Meeting, the difference between the two being the basis of faith. The basis of faith for one “is for each monthly meeting to have autonomy to interpret and apply scripture as it determines.” The basis for the other “is for each monthly meeting to interpret and apply scripture under the authority of the Faith and Practice of NCYM (subordinate to the yearly meeting).” The quarters will be realigned into the new associations.
Watching the process of discernment over the two days left me deeply humbled. These Friends have been able to do what our troubled nation so needs – to talk together, listen profoundly, and then find a way that is appropriate conduct of disciples of Christ. Can each of us reach out to our neighbors, those we experience as “others” in our community, to approach solutions “after the manner of Friends”? Those gathered together were allowing themselves to be searched by the Light of Christ, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” As I follow the call to minister about our responsibility for stewardship of Earth’s resources, these North Carolina Friends have taught me that change takes time and trust that the Spirit of God will continue renewing the Divine Covenant.