By Michael D. Sherman
Raysville is an interesting place. In many ways it is a prototypical small Friends meeting, aging, struggling with issues of viability and sustainability. I have been their pastor for almost nine years, now. They hired me deliberately as a young man to reach out to a younger demographic, at that point the meeting’s foundation rested in seven couples who had all been married at least 50 years and they like many meetings wanted to get younger. These are people who have made commitments and stuck with those commitments through a lot of thick and thin. They know how to deal with conflict. They know how to compromise. Another interesting thing about the people at Raysville, myself included, is, with only a couple exceptions, have all come to Raysville after experiencing deep and divisive conflict in other local Friends meetings. They know what it’s like to be hurt and sometimes rejected by their local meeting. They know what it’s like to be excluded. They also know how to stick together in times of trouble. So, in their time at Raysville, they have found a meeting and fellowship which they love and where they feel comfortable and safe being honest internally with themselves and externally with each other.
However old Indiana Yearly Meeting is it has had a contentious existence. This current argument is one in a long list of seemingly increasingly contentious argument within the yearly meeting. Meetings were asked to respond to West Richmond’s welcoming minute. I and we have approached this conversation with questions about health rather than comfort. In considering where we stood on the issues of body living we responded with the following statement, holding tightly to be responsible and accountable to that which Christ has called us heavenward. This minute grows out of the meeting’s identity as refugees. Knowing the hurt and pain of rejection coupled with the joy and grace of commitment drives this group away from divisiveness.
We believe there is that of God in everyone. All bear the image of God Almighty Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. God promises whosoever believeth in Him (Christ Jesus) shall not perish, but have everlasting life. We also believe the expression of that promise was shown while we were yet sinners, demonstrating a love amazing both in its immensity and our own individual unworthiness, Christ died on the cross for each of our sins. Do we afford others the same grace we have received?
Because of this we, out of a sense of humility, knowing our own depravity, do not have the authority to exclude, recognizing our ways are not God’s ways and our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. We also understand our responsibility in this world as defined by Christ: The first is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. The second is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these (Mark 12:29-31). Understanding this to mean we are called to love our neighbor in the way we wish to be loved, the way God has loved us.
We believe this discussion may have begun upon a specific issue, and have seen it labeled beyond the issue, but it is our contention the issue at hand is not the authority of
Scripture, but rather an issue of trust. If we trust God what do we have to fear? All of us are insecure in the law. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God Romans 3:23. Because Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, because Christ lays out for us the life worth living, because in Christ the curtain is torn we have assurance to boldly approach the thrown, there is no fear and no insecurity.
We ask ourselves…Do I trust God? Do I trust in the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus? Do I trust a God bigger than my own understanding? Am I freed to love unconditionally in that trust? Or… Do I trust what I know of God? Do I trust in the religious practice of my local meeting? Do I only love those whose experiences mirror my own?
One Sunday morning I was preaching on perspective, using the phrase: “Different isn’t necessarily wrong it is just different.” I had been reading How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins. He uses dual pictures, like the combination young woman and old lady and specifically the duck/rabbit picture, to illustrate how something can represent two distinct truths. One person in the back row spoke up saying she couldn’t see the rabbit. She knew the duck was there and when I pointed out the rabbit she gasped. That moment was a turning point for ministry at Raysville. It signaled a willingness to listen, an openness to engage the other rather than reject, patronize or assimilate. Potentially the perspective of their young, often ornery pastor might be true, too, so it could no longer be ignored.
For us this process has been a process of spiritual growth. This position is not a position with which everyone is entirely comfortable. It has been frustrating and agonizing, often taking time away from much needed worship and fellowship together as we discussed positions, possibilities and perspectives. Raysville’s story plays a part in its response. They are used to living with people who disagree with them and they are aware of what it feels like to be rejected. There’s a lot for which they have been forgiven.
So far Raysville has not chosen A or B because we feel neither A or B offer Raysville a home where we feel the Spirit of God will be the primary voice of a healthy life-giving future. We know choosing to remain in Indiana Yearly Meeting will not kill us. It may be a painful reminder, but not death. We look, at this point, to the possibilities which lie ahead for the as of yet unformed group of IYM refugees. Can this group be the healthy, life-giving future? As some have said, “Right now, all the possibilities for catastrophic failure stand intermingled with all the possibilities for beauty, grace and success.”
Raysville as a body knows what we have “always” done is not working. If something doesn’t change then Raysville, in the very near future, will cease to exist. Right now our hope is for a larger fellowship in which its member meetings and individuals can be comfortable and safe being honest internally with themselves and externally with each other.
Bio: Michael Sherman, husband and father of four has been the pastor of Raysville Friends since
Michael D. Sherman is married and the father of four. He is the pastor of Raysville Friends Meeting in Knightstown, Indiana.