I’ve been thinking about how God gathers us today and pondering the experiences and questions sent by a few readers. A few days ago at West Richmond Meeting (in Indiana), I heard two different Quaker meetings share stories of faithful witness, and I was moved by the way they had been gathered more truly into community in the process. Both meetings are called to a witness that challenges the status quo. In the process of living their faith, they have been tested, and blessed.
Four members of Adelphi Friends Meeting in suburban Washington, D. C. traveled to visit West Richmond Friends Meeting. They came to give encouragement and to share their experiences of a common leading. In different ways both communities had been led to publicly welcome and affirm people regardless of sexual orientation. Members from each meeting told how and why they were led to take up the issue, to study what scripture has to say (and not say) about homosexuality, and to labor with one another to be honest about different views on the matter.
I and many of the forty people present were deeply moved to hear about the Christian love that motivated each meeting to address the issue and faithfully follow where they were led. In the late 80s, Adelphi Meeting had witnessed a devastating process in another Quaker meeting following a request by two women to be married under the care of the meeting. To avoid causing such pain to a couple seeking to be married, Adelphi Meeting decided to consider the issue before any such request came to them. The visitors from Adelphi spoke passionately about their desire to be a loving community to any young people growing up in their meeting who might discover they were gay. After years of study, workshops, discussion, and threshing, they approved a minute stating that they would take marriages of same-sex couples under the care of the meeting. Twenty years later they received the first such request; it came from two women who had grown up in the meeting. Recently Adelphi Meeting wrote an epistle to Friends everywhere testifying to the spiritual gifts that had resulted from becoming a welcoming and affirming community.
West Richmond Meeting’s story began more recently. Long-time members told how the meeting has always sought to welcome people who are spiritually seeking. When they became aware that God wanted them to expand the sphere of their welcome, they began a process that lasted for years. It involved scripture study, special meetings, and tender, honest communication. Indiana Yearly Meeting, of which they were faithful and committed members, is not affirming of gay people in positions of leadership and ministry. Striving to stay within the lines of what is outlined in IYM’s Book of Discipline, West Richmond Meeting did not propose to offer same sex-marriages, but came to unity to announce that they welcome and affirm people regardless of a multitude of differences, including sexual orientation. They are clear that they are open to appointing gays and lesbians to positions of leadership and ministry in the community, and they welcome committed gay and lesbian couples and their children as families.
Faith and Practice (The Book of Discipline) of Indiana Yearly Meeting states that monthly meetings can take a prophetic role within the yearly meeting. West Richmond Friends felt that this is what they were doing. However, the Yearly Meeting asked them to remove the welcoming and affirming statement from their website. Feeling it would violate their integrity to do so, they refused. This was followed by years of rejection by some of the leadership and membership of their Yearly Meeting, which recently resulted in a grievously painful split. A third of the former meetings in Indiana Yearly Meeting have chosen to become part of a new Association of Friends that is forming. Throughout the process, members of West Richmond Meeting have grieved the separation from their Yearly Meeting and the rupture of long-time bonds of love. In spite of all this pain, as a meeting they have never wavered in the clarity and integrity of their witness. They remain united, gathered in the spirit of Christ.
As I listened to the moving stories told by the members of both meetings, I was struck by the way Friends repeatedly used the pronoun “we.” They were describing something much more than the experiences of individuals. These were meetings that had been gathered by God, as faithful bodies. Aware that there are differences of opinion among them, both communities desire to give space for the expression of minority views. Yet they have also been gathered into unity on the issue of being welcoming and affirming communities. They testified to the sense of integrity that comes in clearly stating who they are as corporate bodies. Adelphi Meeting members said this is helpful to their young people, as well as to visitors. Their radiant faces testified to the power of the Spirit that has accompanied them through all the time and effort they have expended to be faithful to their leading. Blessings have come to the community in return. One member explained that it is neither the minutes the meeting approved, nor the epistle they sent, that is most important, but the ordinary daily ways they live together as community, their faith made plain in small things like giving someone a ride to meeting and the way they are with one another’s children.
Many felt that the evening of sharing these stories of faith in action was a “covered time together.” We felt the power of the Spirit present. For the members of West Richmond Meeting, it has been precious to know that Friends from Adelphi Meeting have been holding them in care and prayer during a difficult and trying time, and that Adephi Friends care so much that they traveled from Maryland to Indiana to spend time together. Forty people came together on Saturday night and again on Sunday morning to share and hear these stories of faith in action, and to encourage one another to take the next steps in faithfulness. In the process, God gathered us together and made us aware of being part of an even larger body.
The next blog post will share additional stories of how Friends today experience being gathered into community.
Gathered into Community Today: How have you or your meeting been gathered by God into community? How has that changed the way you live and love?
* * * * * This post is of a series about Ten Elements of the Quaker Spiritual Journey. The next post will describe more experiences of being gathered into community today.
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(c) 2013 Marcelle Martin