BYM Faith and Practice Listening Session Notes June 22, 2013 - Langley Hill Friends Meeting
Approximately 34 Friends were present from Virginia, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Friend Lamar Matthew convened the meeting.
Lamar welcomed Friends. He asked if Friends would agree to first having a worship sharing session and then a discussion session. Friends agreed with this.
Lamar read some quotations and gave some brief history about books of discipline and Faith and Practice. He noted that, over the centuries, it seems that these volumes tended to go from a general sense of greater openness in the earliest times to increasing exclusivity, but have cycled back to greater inclusivity.
He asked everyone to settle into worship sharing.
A Friend read a minute about the 2012 version of Faith and Practice, which had been approved by Alexandria Monthly Meeting on June 2, 2013.
Proposed Statement Regarding the BYM Draft Faith and Practice—
Approved by Alexandria Friends Meeting, June 2, 2013
On April 14, 2013, Friends gathered after meeting for worship to discuss our concerns about the BYM draft Faith and Practice, building on discussions and information sessions held over the past five years. Out of that meeting, the following statement of concern was drafted. We ask that Alexandria Monthly Meeting approve forwarding it to Baltimore Yearly Meeting and the Faith and Practice Revision Committee for consideration.
1) The BYM Manual of Procedure states that a Faith and Practice Revision Committee will be constituted when a Monthly Meeting or a Yearly Meeting committee has submitted a written proposal asking for changes to the existing Faith and Practice. This ensures that the initiative for proposing changes rests with the body, that changes will be incremental, and that new and old language can be compared in considering any proposed changes. The current Faith and Practice Revision Committee, constituted in the summer of 2002 to consider proposed changes in the section on marriage, was expanded and released from term limits in October 2002 without reference to this guidance, and apparently without any alternative guidance being provided.
We strongly urge Baltimore Yearly Meeting to return to its established practice of 1) only considering revisions to Faith and Practice when they are initiated by a Monthly Meeting or a Yearly Meeting committee, and 2) giving Friends the opportunity to study all proposed changes by comparing the old and new language side by side, to see what has been omitted as well as what has been added or changed.
2) In 2009, Alexandria Friends Meeting submitted comments on the proposed “Advices and Queries,” expressing concern that a number of important testimonies were missing, and asking that the traditional queries be restored. We believe that the traditional queries effectively define what is expected of us as Friends, and challenge us to live up to those expectations. The open-ended questions proposed in the draft do not.
For example: The 1988 Faith and Practice contains the query: “Do you search yourself for and strive to eliminate prejudices such as those related to race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation and economic condition?” The 2012 draft Faith and Practice substitutes the non-directive questions: “In what ways do we respond, as individuals and as a community, to prejudice and injustice? How do we show through our ways of living that love of God affirms the equality of all people, treating them with dignity and respect?" We are concerned that these questions do not make clear our testimony against discrimination based on sexual orientation or any other factor. They allow each individual to decide what he or she thinks is unjust, and to justify or overlook any prejudice he or she considers acceptable.
We believe that failing to name the injustices we are called to confront permits them to remain invisible, and thus affirms the status quo. It makes us vulnerable to the shifting winds of popular opinion, and undermines our witness to the world.
We strongly urge Baltimore Yearly Meeting to reinstate the traditional queries as a means of defining what we expect from ourselves as individuals and meetings within BYM, and to consider updating and expanding them only within the context of their traditional explicit and challenging format.
A Friend said that she had heard BYM members talk about beliefs sometimes in small groups, but rarely as a body of the whole. It was her sense that she had heard discussion about individual belief, but not so much about what the group believes. It is possible that all of us, or many of us, are thinking that Friends worship together and believe individually. However, her sense is that other Friends seem to think that we do have common beliefs but do not discuss them. It seems that we recognize the testimonies change over time and that this is an important conversation for BYM to have. However the discussion about Faith and Practice may not be able to contain the entirety of a discussion of this weight. There are real differences between Meetings, and between members within Meetings, that Friends may not realize.
A Friend quoted from the handout for today a statement, which is also included in the draft document:
Quakerism has a three-fold role for each of us:
- To be intentional about following a spiritual path grounded in love, going deep within to find the ground of our being;
- To bring those findings back to our community, to share our experiences, to tell what has been revealed;
- To be a member of an intentional community of careful listeners, to hear without judgement what is being shared, to suspend our disbelief and allow the witness of our Friends to change our lives.
She said that if George Fox, Margaret Fell, or Isaac Pennington read these, they would not recognize Quakerism as it has evolved. She said that they were clear about belief. They knew that there was one living Christ. Using many words to describe God or divine love is “what it’s all about.” She paraphrased George Fox as saying, “Stop your seeking and experience the divine center.” This Friend has studied the section of Faith and Practice on the Life of The Spirit. She had expected to find there what it is to be a Quaker, but she did not feel that it reflected that. She admits that we haven’t talked to each other about this. The section may reflect what is true of us now, but it’s not what early Friends believed.
A Friend said that she had first come to Quakers in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and that the BYM Faith and Practice had truly spoken to her as a refugee from other religions. When she moved to Baltimore Yearly Meeting, she found that BYM’s 1988 Faith and Practice did not speak as fully, but was more cut and dried. She said however, that living the faith is what’s really important. She noted that the queries from the 2012 Faith and Practice of BYM really led Friends in her Meeting to speak to each other about what they believed in what had become an enriching and important conversation that she hoped other Monthly Meetings and the Yearly Meeting could have as well.
A Friend said that last month [May 13, 2013] Baltimore, Homewood Meeting approved a minute, which was read:
“Homewood Friends appreciate the hard work of the BYM Faith and Practice Committee over 10 years. After careful study, deep reflection, worship, and many meetings, Homewood Friends Meeting finds that we cannot come to unity regarding the draft Faith and Practice and, in fact, have serious divisions regarding it. In particular, we find that we lack unity on the statements in the draft regarding the essentials of the faith and practice of Friends and our common understanding of what it means to be a member of the Society of Friends. It appears to us that the question of unity on such essentials needs threshing by Baltimore Yearly Meeting as a whole. We recommend that all of us, as members of the Yearly Meeting, engage in a process of exploration and discernment regarding the fundamentals of Quaker faith and practice, beginning at the monthly meeting level.”
He said that Homewood cannot come to unity regarding Faith and Practice and senses division in issues such as membership. Friends felt that they saw wording that reflected changes which have not been thoroughly discussed in Baltimore Yearly Meeting. This Friend wondered if the body of BYM is moving too quickly. Maybe the process should start at the local Meetings, then go to Quarterly, and then to the Yearly Meeting.
A Friend reflected that we say we believe there is that of God in every person. However, we don’t have clarity on what “that,” or God, is. Many used to see it as the Christ. Today we tend to say that there is a spark of divinity within us. She said that now there are “multitarians” and individualism. She feels that it is hard to say that we are moving too fast, given that the Faith and Practice process has taken more than 10 years thus far. However she has found the process to be confusing, frustrating, and enervating. She compared the Committee’s experience to spending 10 years in purgatory, and said that it’s because we went so long without discussing the book as a body of the whole. This Friend said that she had sent 32 pages of material to the Committee and got no response. She said she stopped reading at page 98. She wondered if we need to find out who we are as a group. Are we one unified Meeting or are we an intersection of Meetings? Maybe we haven’t completed our reunification of Hicksite and Orthodox issues from decades ago since it seems like they keep cropping up. She said that she couldn’t unite with the pages that she had read. She grieves for the writing committee, and wondered if the Committee has clarified for the Yearly Meeting what BYM needs to face, and that perhaps we should see this as a gift.
A Friend said that she is sure that this draft is a gift to us as Quakers and as a Yearly Meeting. The sensitive and extensive changes in the latest version are powerful and show an eagerness to listen. The nature of the gift as revealed to us is that the gift is not as well-undergirded as we had hoped. There’s work to be done. The newest draft might be less of a gift to seekers and new Friends. In the past the only thing we had for new people was a simple, useful Faith and Practice. This draft has fantastic resources, but the length and complexity makes it less than suitable in the present form.
A Friend said they could not imagine what it must have been like to be on this committee. He has concerns over the charge given to the Committee and their understanding of the charge. He said that we have varied practices about Meeting for Business and about the use of the Bible, for instance. The differences that we find are real and good. In the course of his life many things changed for him, including his understanding of the Bible, and including metaphorical truth. He pointed out that much in the Bible is not factually true, yet there is still great truth in it. He quoted the F&P visiting query, “Understanding that our faith is too deep for words, does the Faith & Practice adequately articulate our Quaker beliefs and testimonies, in order both to inform those new to Friends and to inspire and challenge those with long experience of Friends?” He commented that we have beliefs all over the place, but our experiences are common and shared. He pointed out a section in today’s handout: “Did we incorporate everything we heard? To do so would have been a book that would be very contradictory and confusing!” He suggested that that this is probably is where we are as a Yearly Meeting. He noted that the many uses of the word “should” in the book can sound doctrinal. His sense is that the Committee has looked for what we have in common and not illustrated our differences. The material on Meeting for Business appears to stress unity. One could infer that one individual could stand in the way of the Meeting and block unity, but his Meeting and many other sources in the Religious Society Friends say that it doesn’t work that way. He said that we have microclimates of Meetings and that that is good. He suggested that different kinds of Meetings attract different kinds of people, and that this diversity is beautiful. This needs not to be papered over to suggest a hoped-for unity.
A Friend said that perhaps our human nature may not have changed so much over a few thousand years. He noted that teacher/writer Joseph Campbell said that we are born with many animal spirits as well as a spiritual nature. This manifests differently in different cultures, such as in India, where spiritual growth uses the chakras as a reference. Faith and Practice tries to put you on a spiritual path and to take away the human and animal nature.
A Friend pointed out the Quaker process is famously slow, and that could be a good thing. The new draft includes entire new sections not seen in the 1988 version. The section on divorce is very helpful, as is the section on care for the ill. There is more that is that of value. Even in the context of what we’ve heard today there is valuable material that should be adopted sooner rather than later.
A Friend said that when he was young he read Barclay’s Apology and recalled the first proposition on truth. So much disbelief comes from a system not based on divine truth. Many understandings of the truth exist, and the speaker had found this to be hard for him to face. “I was trying to find God. I have tried to find the truth outside Quakerism. I had to ask myself, ‘Is the Quaker spiritual path sufficient?’ This version of Faith and Practice tries to talk about practice, but in Quakerism there is a serious lack of direction as to spiritual practices.” He said, “I can get who God is from the Bible or elsewhere.” He also said that trying to find community and Quakerism can be very difficult, and that at times he had started to give up. He said though, “My passion has been rekindled as I read this document. Not that I agree with it all, but it has challenged me in important ways. I want to work with this over a long time.” He went on to say that he did not see any way that BYM would come up with an orthodoxy. He added, “I love Friends United Meeting and Christ, but I have a deep respect for those who don’t believe the same.” He concluded, “We may have put the cart before the horse, but there is so much goodness in that cart!”
A Friend said that he was a bit disturbed at how people would not know what Friends and Baltimore Yearly Meeting stand for. He’d gone to Quaker school in Rhode Island and had become familiarized with Quakers through history. He referred to the “Great Quaker Debate” of 1672 between George Fox and Roger Williams, which listed 14 major points. He emphasized the question, “Is not the Inner Light the best teacher?” He recalled that when he was young he was out jogging and thinking about the Catholics, trying to imagine himself at the top of the hierarchy, and how uncomfortable that was. He noted how the Quaker way has led to a number of social advances, many of which may be attributed directly to Quaker meetings, work, and values.
A Friend said that the practice part of the book is very cogent. She said that the heart of the document is at issue. She said that the power of Quakerism is that it resists putting everything into neat little boxes out of respect for the truth. We have all grown from experiencing Quaker process. One person can disagree with the wider community and, through that, the individual and group can try to grow. Her experience of this kind of situation has helped her understand many new things. However, a few aspects of the book are important to address. One is that the Orthodox-Hicksite issue is rushed over, which is rather confusing. It seems like there is still energy around this in the present, but in the book it is submerged. Too, she knows of a Friend who identifies as both Buddhist and Quaker who was disturbed that very few Friends of non-European descent are quoted. Doing this could open the book to a broader range of seekers. There can also be great wisdom found by including teachers such as Lao Tzu.
Lamar thanked everyone for their sharing. He said that he had heard that:
- We are appreciative of the Committee, and that there are many good pieces in the book.
- We are grateful as a community to have the opportunity to come together and discuss these issues.
- The document says where we are, but not necessarily who we are.
- There is plenty of diversity among us. He quoted a former Clerk of Baltimore Yearly Meeting as saying that we are a consolidated Yearly Meeting, not a unified one.
This concluded the worship sharing session. Friends went to lunch.
Friends reconvened for the discussion session
Lamar announced that this would be a conversation about what we had heard earlier. The members of the Faith and Practice Revision Committee who were present were introduced: Jim Rose, Mochiko DeSilva, Sheila Bach, Martha Gay, and Margaret Stambaugh.
Other Friends in the room introduced themselves as well, although not all Friends had returned yet. Fred Leonard of Stony Run, Bess Keller of Homewood, Susan Kaul of Bethesda, Betsy Meyer of Sandy Spring, Bill Hecht of Alexandria, Howard Fezzell of Shepherdstown, Tad Jose of Alexandria, Kevin Caughlan of Sandy Spring, Virginia Colin of Langley Hill, Meg Meyer of Stony Run, Leada Deitz of York, Georgia Fuller of Langley Hill, Nancy Clark of Homewood, Herb Clark of Homewood, Alan DeSilva of Sandy Spring, Susan Russell Walters of Homewood, Kevin Douglas Olive of Homewood, Sarah Bur of Homewood, George Amoss of Homewood, and Gary Gillespie of Homewood.
A Friend suggested that the book might be more usable as two documents. A committee member responded that there had been various suggestions of this nature, but that the Committee had been cautioned to let the Yearly Meeting act first on this.
A member the Committee reported that visiting Meetings was a very valuable experience and recommended that we all do it, saying “you don’t see how diverse BYM is until you go.”
A Friend cautioned about dividing the book into different volumes, referring to the Bible’s Book of Acts. At a meeting of the disciples, the Greek widows protested that they were not getting enough help, so the deacons were formed to provide care. This Friend advised against separating our concerns with faith from our concerns about practice, since they need to be grounded in each other. She said that it’s important to recognize and respect the presence of tension in a community. She said, “Warm and fuzzy doesn’t get to this.” Tension can bring a dynamic energy to a community. She suggested that we need to understand and commit to dealing with tension, pointing out that diversity brings tension.
A Friend pointed out that some Friends had suggested that working on this book is “a fool’s errand.” She herself concludes, however, that we need to talk about what could be or is divisive. We need to embrace difficult talk.
A Friend said that some of us are actually called to fool’s errands, and that he is drawn to writing things down. However, our way of doing things in BYM does have problems. Today, most of us are rather old here, and this is possibly due to our process as we now carry it out. We now have at our disposal the technology to put writing online and to allow people to comment on it, but the process for Faith and Practice is been rather closed. Everything we do should be inclusive and enable participation. Also the glossary seems incomplete, but that may be because we don’t have a common vocabulary for key terms such as “God’s will” or “God.”
The Committee member referred to a Friend who had spoken earlier about truth. He said that as he had traveled to Monthly Meetings, and particularly at the Monthly Meeting were visiting today, he’d heard some deeply thought-out views on Faith and Practice. In the advices, we had been lying on occasion when we said that Friends (implying all Friends) do or do not do this or that about a particular concern. A Friend had strongly pointed out to him something that they did not support - and so to imply that all Friends supported something with no explanation or qualification is often untrue. The 2013 version tries to recognize that speaking for all Friends is not a given. He asked, “Can we do that truthfully? Can we avoid a litmus test?”
Another member of the Committee responded to the concept of online comments, saying that some comments are better than others, but also that entire comment streams are easily derailed. Sometimes online comments can come from a moment’s impulse. The input for this book that had been best seasoned was input either from an individual who had spent a lot of time in reflection or was material submitted by Monthly Meetings who had seasoned it as a group.
A Friend asked, “What does God want?” saying that God doesn’t care what we say we believe. It matters to us to have a document that is useful to us, so let’s decide how many uses we really need. The precise wording is not necessarily the most important thing.
A Friend said that there are things of enduring value here that we should publish. How do we do this?
A Friend said that he was intrigued by an earlier comment about “that of God or the Light in everyone [without definitions].” He suggested that we should not be saying this if we aren’t sure that it’s true.
A man quoted Rufus Jones, saying “A saint is a saint because he gets help from above.” We may not ever hear or see all that we need to.
A Friend said that we have not talked to each other about what we believe. Talking about this book has helped us to know each other better. We have a rich faith heritage from original Friends. She commented that she doesn’t see Friends having the impact now that they’ve had in the past. We must engage young people. She suggested that we lay down the book and talk to each other about what we can do together. We celebrate individuals who do good work, but there’s not a lot that we do together.
A committee member pointed out that they’ve been working on this book since 2002 and that only now that they have brought the book for approval are we coming to have strong dialogue. So putting down the book may not be the answer.
A Friend asked how long the last Faith and Practice took to develop. The answer was that the actual work on the book took many years, but in the larger sense it took the entire 20 years from consolidation until the book was published in 1988.
A Friend asked if BYM youth had participated in the writing about the material about them. The committee member responded that that was in fact true, and talked about visiting with young Friends.
Another committee member commented that working on the book has been a wonderful experience. At the start she called New England Yearly Meeting and New York Yearly Meeting about their experience with revision. The advice she got was to keep the committee the same and to not rotate the members. “In that way you get to know and trust each other.” She said that the Committee had met about 10 times per year, although more recently this had gone to two times per month, and in the last few months to every week. She emphasized that each member did not individually own what they wrote, but simply put pieces of writing out in front of everyone for consideration. She said that they did get to know each other quite well.
A Friend from Alexandria Meeting said that he regretted that their minute did not apologize and appreciate the Committee’s work. He then asked, “What’s next, and how to Friends prepare for it?
The Presiding Clerk of the Yearly Meeting responded that this day is seasoning for our discernment at Annual Session. She said that we would listen to others at Annual Session and discern the way forward. She said that she had been thinking about possible scenarios for moving forward, including adoption of the book, adopting part of the book, forming a new committee, or working on the book piece by piece.
A Friend said that she noted that the binders with input from Monthly Meetings were out on the table. She felt it would be good to bring the Monthly Meetings together and have this input available more widely. It was pointed out that these materials could be put on the web. Friends agreed that it would help us know each other better. It was suggested that that the new redline version of F&P, currently at the website, be clear that it highlights the material that is new since 2012. The Friend felt that the 2013 version is an advancement over previous ones. It might be important to modify the introduction to say that the document is a work in progress, and that we know it doesn’t cover all the views. It was suggested that the website could have sections of the book and allow for online comments.
A member of the Committee pointed out the copyediting is still going on, so the current version at the website is from the end of May, but is not the final version that will be handed out at Annual Session.
A Friend recommended against using the redline version for study, saying that clean versions are easier to digest.
It was also recommended that the minutes from Alexandria and Homewood be put up at the website. The request is made that if meeting notes are going up on the website, please remove the names. It was affirmed that the tradition of Friends is to not include names and minutes.
One Friend was very grateful for the redline version and said that it really helped her to make clear what the changes were the document.
A Friend asked how we and BYM can bear each other’s burdens. She said that for herself, “I’m aware of the sacrificial death of Christ, but I’m aware that others have been battered by the Bible. How do we be do justice and be peaceful and humble? Emotions rise when we want to be activists. Can we be caring and respectful of each other and can we accept each other’s differences? There’s a huge benefit to this.”
A man said that the concept of challenges is important. We want people to become aware of where they want to be, and to suggest how they could get there. What do people want and need and how can they get it out of Faith and Practice?
Lamar closed with a quotation from Christ in You, the Hope of Glory, by Bliss Forbush:
“The early Friends taught that Christianity was not a scheme of doctrines but an inward experience which led to a way of life. They held the generally accepted theological beliefs of their day, yet, as Arthur J. Mekeel says , “It was not the doctrines themselves , but what they did with them, the place they gave them, that mainly distinguished Friends from other Christians. On occasions the Society stated its collective beliefs, but it was always understood that assent to doctrines was not the test of being a Quaker.”
Riley Robinson, notetaker