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Unity and the Reconfiguration of Indiana Yearly Meeting

What process did your meeting use to find unity concerning what to do about the Indiana Yearly Meeting Reconfiguration recommendation?

Editor’s Note: These two essays are intended to be considered – and discussed! – together. Once you have had the opportunity to read both, we encourage you to share your comments here, on this page.

Amy DennisAmy Dennis, a member of Dewart Lake Community Friends Church, writes:

“. . . This process was bathed in prayer by Friends in and out of IYM. I wish I knew how many hours were spent with the Lord on this issue, praying for his will and listening to his leading. It isn’t always easy to follow where the Lord leads, but I am one who feels that God has led us through this process. The prayer for all the meetings involved in this process does not stop now. Now those who will stay in Indiana Yearly Meeting and those who are starting something new must diligently seek the different ways that God wants to use us for his glory. We find unity in this desire: to serve Him.”

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Michael ShermanMichael Sherman, pastor of Raysville Friends Meeting, responds:

“. . . For Raysville Monthly Meeting this process of reconfiguration has been one of spiritual growth. The position in which we now stand makes some uncomfortable. As we discussed positions, possibilities and perspectives, we became frustrated and were in agony. This process took away from much needed worship and fellowship. Raysville’s history of rejection and pain underscored our response.”

“Thus far, because neither side truly offers us a home where we can feel the Spirit of God will be the primary voice of a healthy, life-giving future, Raysville Monthly Meeting has not chosen to reconfigure to A or B. Our members know choosing to remain in Indiana Yearly Meeting will not destroy us, but it may be a painful reminder of our rejection and hurt. At this point, we look to the possibilities which lie ahead. ‘Right now all the possibilities for catastrophic failure stand intermingled with all the possibilities for beauty, grace and success,’ is a theme many of us hold . . .”

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  • Bill Samuel

    I am perplexed, in view of the question posed, by Amy Dennis’ essay. I didn’t see anything in it about her meeting’s process on this question. It would be good to have that information added.

  • Pam Ferguson

    What I’ve learned (and hope to learn) from the reconfiguration of Indiana Yearly Meeting in 2013
    1. Community Matters

    Winchester Friends did not believe there should be a split in Indiana Yearly Meeting and could not/would not decide between the two choices in the reconfiguration. The faith community that meets at the corner of Washington Street and South East Street in Winchester, Indiana is diverse in their political and spiritual views. They are diverse in their age and background and economic status. They are not diverse in their commitment to Christ, their commitment to their Quaker heritage, to the local community, and to the wider body of Quakers. The decisions by West Richmond to be a welcome and affirming meeting, the decisions by Farmland Friends to do physical baptism at the local community pool, and the decision by Indiana Yearly Meeting to end a 192 year old organization as we’ve known it, have all had consequences on our local faith community.

    I am reminded our prophetic testimony as a community of Christians and Quakers is public. What we do and what we say as a faith community is a reflection of what we believe about God, about Christ, about community and about church. These public testimonies reflect on all who carry the name of Quaker or Friend. Decisions by our wider faith community have nurtured divisions and struggles within our local meeting. Rather than taking sides, the meeting chose to stand in the middle to open space to nurture community in the midst of diversity, to not judge who is right and who is wrong in this conflict, but to spend all our time, energy and resources nurturing community within our meeting and being the hands and feet of Christ where we’ve been placed at this time.

    I grieve the official signing of papers that end Indiana Yearly Meeting as we’ve known it and as Winchester Friends has supported it since 1873. I grieve even more the fact that this change for our local meeting will not have much of an effect on who we are at the corner of Washington and South East Street. Not being a part of Indiana Yearly Meeting won’t change who we are, what we do, nor will it really matter. This speaks of how ineffective the yearly meeting has been to many meetings in recent years. I grieve that loss to the wider body of Friends. Monthly meetings can exist without a yearly meeting; yearly meetings are an empty organization without active, participating monthly meetings.

    In the past 13 years (1999-2012), Winchester Friends members have served on IYM committees a total of 153 years. These were appointments from the Quarterly meeting or from the IYM nominating committee and they witness to our concern and care of the yearly meeting we’ve been a part of since our beginning days. We are sad to not invest in a yearly meeting after this reconfiguration, but we know this won’t be forever and we will seek to find places among Quakers where we can be of service and support.

    Winchester Friends is not a perfect community; it has flaws and failures and is always in need of forgiveness and growth. But it is community and will work together through this time of division in Indiana Yearly Meeting. Winchester Friends will continue to be generous to missions around the world and in the local community, they will continue to be generous in their service to those in the community who are in need, they will continue to listen to Christ in each gathering for worship, they will preach the gospel of Christ, they will continue to live lives that call people to Christ’s saving love and power, they will continue to live out the Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality and they will continue to nurture community and love for one another whether a part of Indiana Yearly Meeting or the New Association of Friends or neither.

    I long for a yearly meeting that really matters to our faith community and attending yearly meeting sessions is about building and nurturing community in addition to doing business. I long for a yearly meeting that helps us as Quakers remain connected in spite of our diversity and finds ways to gather the community together to do things that greatly matter to our world and to the wider body of Christians.

    That should be community that matters.

    2. Clergy should not matter.

    In June Ron and I participated in the memorial service for our friend, neighbor, and pastor of the Presbyterian Church across the street. Before the service, we engaged in a long conversation with the executive of the Presbytery, a gathering of churches about the size of Indiana Yearly Meeting. We asked whether they had another pastor for the church in the works. What followed was a fascinating look at paid ministry through the situation of another denomination. While they have about 4 ordained clergy available for every church opening, few of their churches pay enough to provide pastors a living wage that covers health insurance. So the Presbytery is investing in “lay ministers”: spending time and energy training lay people with full time jobs to pastor a church, provide ministry through the pulpit and to do communion and baptism on a part time basis. They plan to ask a lay minister from a neighboring area to come to Winchester on a weekly basis to fill the pulpit on Sundays.

    I couldn’t help but wonder if Quakers have lost their testimony of the ministry of every believer. Since the Richmond Declaration in 1887, pastors have become more prevalent and in turn, have assumed more and more leadership in yearly meetings. The reconfiguration of Indiana Yearly Meeting was pushed heavily by four recorded ministers on the task force who repeatedly called this action the “will of God”. There were people sitting under their ministry in the local monthly meeting who had little knowledge of the impending split and changes in Indiana Yearly Meeting being led by their pastor.

    Some yearly meetings have depended on pastors for leadership and have neglected nurturing and encouraging the ministry of every believer and engaging every person who sits in meeting for worship week after week in the wider body of Friends. Are yearly meetings investing as much in the ministry of every believer as they are in clergy? In Indiana Yearly Meeting and maybe in other yearly meetings, assessments have been paid to build and maintain an organization and staff with less and less connection to many of the members or attenders in local meetings who sit in the pew and put money into the offering plate. Yearly meeting sessions were attended by one or two representatives (often the pastors) from about 2/3rds of the local meetings and few know the names or faces of other members of Indiana Yearly Meeting. Yearly meetings are in trouble when monthly meetings have to ask what benefit they have for the assessments they pay on a regular basis, year after year. Yearly meetings are in trouble when only paid clergy represent monthly meetings and do the business of the yearly meeting.

    3. Compassion, charity and consensus matter.

    On a personal level, I am relieved this ordeal is over. It will take years to heal and overcome the distrust, suspicion, and wounds of the past years. Yearly meeting sessions were full of conflict: harsh unkind, unchristian words were said year after year about others on both sides. Those pushing for reconfiguration continually said they were tired of the conflict, but were the ones who rejected any ideas of reconciliation. There was conflict in yearly meeting sessions because we chose to be in conflict. Compassion and charity are also a choice. There were many who tried to be compassionate, tried to see things from another s point of view, but few were willing to extend grace and charity to those from the “other” side. In the end, reconfiguration was approved, not with a spirit-led consensus, but with a resignation that the leaders of Indiana Yearly Meeting were going to make it happen regardless. Opposition to reconfiguration was pointless and those against it were offered more money and pushed into “standing aside”. This is a shaky foundation for two new yearly meetings. Both will be a shadow of what Christ intended for the people called Quakers.

    We live in a world where the gifts of compassion, charity and consensus are not practiced enough by Christians. All three are connected and all three should be the foundation for any faith community among the Religious Society of Friends.

    4. Connectedness matters.

    Through these difficult years of conflict, chaos and confusion, my meeting and I have been strengthen and upheld by the wider body of Friends beyond Indiana Yearly Meeting who extended grace and comfort, words of encouragement and sympathy, and challenges for hope and faith for the future. It is to that place we go in the wake of reconfiguration. We have close ties with several meetings in both the new Indiana Yearly Meeting and the New Association of Friends. We will find ways to remain connected and nurture our relationships with them. We as a faith community will find ways to support and connect to Friends United Meeting and find ways to support and be involved in Friends organizations within Indiana and around the world. This becomes our Community; it is to this gathering we will remain connected and accountable.

    None of this matters unless our first priority as a faith community at the corner of Washington and South East Street in Winchester, Indiana is to be connected to Christ, our present teacher, Lord, Savior and friend. This will be the connection that really matters at the end of this reconfiguration process.

    Pam Ferguson July 28, 2013