Excerpts of the 2012 Western Yearly Meeting Quaker Lecture
By Sylvia Graves
What Does Jesus Say About Unity?
…You are familiar with the prayer in John 17 in which Jesus prays for not only his disciples, but all believers, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be
brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
…In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) Jesus states that God’s power (my interpretation of the word “blessing”) will come to those people who hunger and thirst to do the right thing, to those whose whole being (mind, will and emotions) is centered on the will of God, and to those work for peace. Not only does he teach us to love our neighbor, he expects that we seek what is good for others more than ourselves, that we trust God do the judging, and that we walk and talk with humility and not be arrogant.
From the Scriptures about Jesus and the parables told by him, we know that Jesus modeled behaviors that are the basis of peacemaking. They include: treat evil with kindness; love others as much as we do ourselves; open yourself to relationships with people of cultures and values different than yours; show mercy and trust God.
Referring to John 13:34 -35, Friends United Meeting General Board agreed to this statement in 1980:
The Church consists of those gathered by and in the power and presence of Christ and is a spiritual union with Christ and with one another in the covenant life of Christ. This visible unity of the church is found in the fellowship of those who love Christ and love each other. “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” In relation to the Church, Christ is Lord, Savior, Priest, Prophet, Teacher, and Comforter. Wherever these ministries of Christ are experienced in the presence of one another we have a true Christian fellowship.
I came across a paper written by Lorton Heusel when he was FUM’s General Secretary and which was presented to the Executive Council (what we now call the General Board) of Friends United Meeting in March of 1969. In reference to the 1887 conference, he wrote, “Recognizing the weakness caused by separatism, fragmentation and individualism, Friends nearly 75 years ago (now 125 year ago) were moved to strive for some measure of unity. While there was no desire to thwart personal freedom or individual responsibility, it was becoming clear that the work and calling of the Church must transcend local interests and personal preferences in an effort to try to weld them all together in a work of wider scope and united purpose. Without some common allegiance, we are not even
a branch of the church.”
The need was recognized for a coordinating center where Friends who share common interests could have the opportunity to work together to respond to God’s call to build his kingdom in ways we cannot manage on our own. While Lorton was describing the beginning of Friends United Meeting, it is a fitting description for how we come together in our local meetings for serving in our community. It also applies to our yearly meetings, especially if we can see the benefits of a wider fellowship and greater spiritual and educational resources than we can manage on our own.
In June of 2010, Jonathan Vogel-Borne wrote a piece on unity for SEEDS, a publication of the Good News Associates in Seattle. . . . following his 2010 visit to Nakuru, Kenya, as a member of the planning committee for the Friends World Committee on Consultation World Gathering that was held this spring. In it, he shares about the extreme contrast between the powerful singing, enthusiastic prayer, passionate preaching and shouting of praises he experienced in the Nakuru Friends Church compared to his deep roots in unprogrammed silent waiting during worship. Jonathan wrote, “I observed that if I am given the grace to encounter the same deep sense of God’s presence in the din of ‘praise worship’ as well as in silent waiting, it is there that I find unity. Anything less than that (measure of grace), I become judgmental, defensive, self-righteous and fearful — coming to the conclusion that these people can’t really be Quakers. Experiencing deep unity of Spirit, in the stillness of all hearts dwelling at God’s altar, is a wonderful gift, and a core mission of the World Conference.
Later in the article he adds, “Today, FUM and indeed all Quakers around the world, have an opportunity in this to move beyond our internal squabbles, to proclaim a powerful, life-changing message to the world, that Jesus Christ is here, now, available to us all. Rather than seeing our diversity as an impediment to this proclamation, we can remember our essential unity — a unity beyond any style of worship or outwardly defined theology — and see each facet of the various expressions of this message as a doorway into a revived, worldwide Quaker movement. Each local Friends’ group has its own special character and gift. Some are pastoral, some are wealthy, some are semi-programmed, some campaign for human rights and social justice, some are farm communities, some are emphatically Bible-based, some are working-class, some are unprogrammed, some are urban, some nurse religious refugees back to Christ. Our testimonies of simplicity, peace, equality, community, and integrity speak to a world hungering for an end to war, and an end to the polarized politics of our day, for the healing of our environment, and for the affirmation of a life lived with God at the center…
It seems to me that in the incidents of conflict that have occurred in our yearly meeting over the past decades, and not just recently, the tension has been wrought with fear, mistrust, insults, false assumptions, resentment, power struggles and even dirty tricks. We don’t seem to handle things with spiritually mature attitudes and with love in our hearts or actions. Now I wasn’t there in 1827 or in all those times of conflict and schism . . . , but I haven’t read much of anything in Quaker history that says, “And in a loving Spirit, feeling blessed by God, and with prayers of thanksgiving, Friends agreed to go their separate ways.” Instead it feels to me as if God must be weeping at our divisions.
Of course, it’s really difficult to work for unity at times. William Penn is remembered for saying and living with this profound thought: “Let us see what Love can do.” I believe that Love sometimes has to come from the head and not necessarily from the heart. We may be called to select behaviors contrary to how we feel because we know they are the right things to do . . .
We are not alone in theses struggles. We are part of a very large population of people trying to be faithful to the will of God as struggle to find unity especially when we are bombarded with sexuality issues and authority issues. Many of us are afraid to bring up topics that cause conflict — afraid that our very faith foundation will be shaken and maybe even broken. We are afraid of hurting our relationships. We are afraid we might be separated from those we love. We are afraid and unsure of change. Our organizations are afraid of the effects in finances and program. I pray that God grants us wisdom, maturity, and the fruits of His Spirit as we seek unity in his work.
One Sunday (during the Christmas season) our children (during the children’s message) opened a colorfully wrapped box and found in it a candle for each person present. The children distributed the unlit candles to represent the gift of God’s Light, which is present in each of us and which he wants us not only to accept but to share. Each of us was invited to come to the manger that was on the center table to light our candle and then place it on the table surrounding the crèche. Later, out of the silence, Steve Mills shared that he had noticed that before we lit our candles, the ceiling fans were perfectly still, but after we all lit our candles, the one about the table began to more and it had stayed in motion as long as the candles stayed lit. He said, “Sometimes when we rely on our own light, not much moves, but when we put our Lights together, there is enough power to make things happen.”
That is what unity is all about; putting our spiritual, mental, physical, intellectual and emotional energy together in love to do the work of the church. George Fox had a vision for a people who, in seeking the will of Christ, we would be in unity. May God help us to patiently seek his Unity, forgive our selfish and untrusting motives, and empower his work through us all together.”
Queries for Discussion
1. In your experience with Friends, when were you a part of dissension? What were the points of the disagreement? How did in conclude?
2. If the above situation resulted in division, are the two sides now better off? In what ways has God’s peace prevailed?
3. In your experience with Friends, what is a time when you felt God’s unifying Spirit bring a fresh wind into the
situation? How can you testify to the Business process of Friends who seek God’s will together.
4. What are the hard things for you to talk about? How shall we as people of the church go about facing the hard conversations?
5. What are some lines that have been drawn that you are willing to explore from the other side’s point of view?
6. In the whole big picture, how important is it that we stay together as a monthly meeting, yearly meeting, Friends United Meeting, and as the universal church of Jesus Christ?
7. What can your yearly meeting do to help your meeting trust the Quaker business procedure the way George Fox envisioned it?