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Unity In Indiana Yearly Meeting

By Amy Dennis

I grew up in Indiana Yearly Meeting. As a child I learned of the great things Quakers accomplished in the past through their personal faith in Christ Jesus. Early on I was taught to read and memorize scripture and to apply it to my life. I experienced great times of worship, heard the gospel and, at Quaker Haven Camp, made the decision to give my own life to Christ. With pride I heard stories of the work at White’s Residential and the Kickapoo mission. Yet, even in my youth there was often a shadow cast as the sessions of Indiana Yearly Meeting were discussed. It seemed that tension and fighting existed.

As an adult I witnessed this tension first-hand. It has been my blessing to know so many wonderful people in IYM, people of diverse backgrounds whose lives are devoted to God. But in the sessions there wasn’t always unity, and this led to frustrations. Through my experiences at Indiana Yearly Meeting, I came to realize that deep differences in worldviews were at work, creating discord and lack of unity.

As I reflect, I am reminded of a Christian singer/songwriter who spoke about his “bullet theology.” As a missionary taking Bibles to China, he and his team came to know which of their beliefs were worth taking a bullet for and which of their beliefs were not. Two of my “bullet theologies” are salvation coming only through Jesus Christ and the Divine inspiration of Scripture. In a Christian organization there is tension and an absence of unity when various bullet theologies differ even a little. As a member of the program committee and the Earlham task force of Indiana Yearly Meeting, I not only saw this lack of unity; I felt its pain.

I have been told that tension had been building in IYM for a very long time. Some have said it has been building for nearly 75 years. The lack of resolution with the minute brought forth by West Richmond Meeting made it clear that the time had come for the yearly meeting to decide what it is, its common values and beliefs and how to be more effective in spreading the Gospel of Jesus. It seemed IYM was spending too much time, energy and frustration dealing with internal problems, thus leaving little time and energy for discerning how to minister to a hurting world.

A task force had been formed to delve into the issue. What was found after much discussion, debate and prayer, wasn’t surprising. The task force found that the issue of the West Richmond “Welcoming Minute” is the catalyst that made those in IYM acknowledge that deep differences were non-negotiable for individuals and meetings. This insight ignited a desire to take action.

The task force presented several choices hoping to help the yearly meeting move past the differences. One choice was to attempt to keep unity by allowing a group or Meeting the freedom to express and act upon whatever was in its heart, even if at odds with previous IYM minutes of Faith and Practice. Another choice was to discipline West Richmond Meeting. After considering all options, the task force recommended that IYM reconfigure into two groups. Our differences seemed insurmountable and likely to continue to cause problems and frustration. We could not all honor our various consciences or how we felt the Lord leading. Our attempts at accountability were ineffective because our bullet theologies weren’t in unity.

Over the last year there have been many conversations, some painful, often marked with anger, frustration and sadness. For example, IYM has a Facebook page for its announcement on which, throughout the process, there have been conversations concerning homosexuality, the Bible, Quaker history, our faith and reconfiguration. Many times the conversation was extremely troubling to read. But, if nothing else, this page highlighted the real issue we were facing: that our deep differences have denied us unity.

Some in IYM called for more time to try to reconcile; others felt that 20 more years would not change a thing. Some felt the leadership of IYM was using authority to violate others’ liberties of conscience, while others felt that the IYM leadership was holding meetings accountable to scripture. Yearly Meeting Representative Councils, Annual Sessions and special called meetings were civil and respectful, but a clear divide was felt.

On November 11, 2012, IYM approved the recommendation of the task force to reconfigure. For many, it was a moment of relief. Instead of debating the same issues over and over, the yearly meeting was doing something to honor our consciences. For others, it was an acknowledgement that these problems would only get worse and that reconciliation was not going to happen. Reconfiguration was undesirable, but necessary to set all free. For still others, it was something they did not want, but they realized that they needed to stand aside for the benefit of all.

The task force assigned to reconfiguration had researched, discussed, debated, talked with Friends, lost sleep and prayed through this issue, as had many others. Unity in appreciating its work was reached, although for some with difficulty, for their recommendation was to reconfigure Indiana Yearly Meeting.

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.

Amy Dennis lives on Quaker Haven Camp where she is “the woman behind the man,” supporting her husband in ministry and creating a home for their family of three children. They are members of Dewart Lake Community Friends Church where she serves in children’s ministry.

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