Monday, July 16, 2007

Worshipping Among Conservative Friends (again)

Ceal and I arrived home last night after attending the 310th annual gathering of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Conservative). Friends may remember me gushing about attending the meeting last year and wonder if I would have that same enthusiasm after another visit (I wondered this myself). I have to say my enthusiasm is different this year, it feels deeper - it wasn't all new to me, the sudden awakening experience of being among Friends who speak the same language as me was not much of a factor this year (upon reflection, last year was more a discovery of a language I had mostly lost or covered up). Instead, I found myself peacefully and joyfully refreshed by the ever-present spirit of worship.

There were remarkably few conversations about "what is Quakerism" or "liberal vs. conservative" or "theist vs. non-theist". For the most part, it was beyond that, and was at the place of "are we serving God as best we can?" or "how can we do better"? I felt that there was a good balance of inward-vs-outward service to God - there was a deep sense of care for our world and its inhabitants that permeated the meetings.

I found after the closing worship a sadness in feeling a little disconnected. I felt like someone from across the country attending a family reunion where the family members all live close to each other. It wasn't a feeling of abandonment or feeling unwelcome, there was a longing to have a more constant fellowship with them.

I know that once again this meeting changed me for the better, and in ways that I may not recognize for some time (maybe never). I'll probably have more to say about it in the days and weeks ahead.


At 9:07 AM, Blogger RichardM said...


I thought I saw a trace of sadness in your eye at the end there. I've been to twenty-one consecutive Yearly Meeting sessions and my experience through most of them has followed this cycle. Coming home from YM I'm inspired and "flying like an eagle" after a couple of weeks this is wearing off but I'm still running without getting weary. By the time next July comes around I am walking without fainting. Why? because my monthly meeting isn't full of weighty Friends who can lift me up. So I get seriously worn down in twelve months and desperately need the renewal of contact with people who are firmly grounded in the life of Christ. I've found that the succession of these cycles has led to a growth in me that has meant that I am less worn down and spiritually depleted by the time YM rolls around again. This year I actually felt pretty good and didn't feel like I was just limping in.

Keep faith. I will testify to the fact that regular contact with a spiritual community gradually strengthens a person.

At 5:47 PM, Blogger Mark Wutka said...

Thank you for your words of support. I certainly intend to keep up regular contact with NCYM-C. The people there are amazing - there was such a spirit of worship during the business meetings, and there was a point early on where I was just amazed at Deborah Shaw's recording. It seems so right that it is easy to forget how difficult it can be.

It was wonderful seeing you and the rest of the Miller family! Rachel did a great job with the bible study. I know we weren't always so responsive, but it wasn't for lack of interest.

With love,

At 7:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark, It was great to get to know you a bit. I look forward to future opportunities. In Peace, Andrew Wright

At 4:09 AM, Blogger Mark Wutka said...

It was great getting to talk with you, and your faithfulness to your calling, especially in the face of uncertainty, is inspiring.
With love,

At 7:54 AM, Blogger anj said...

Mark - I wanted to attend this Yearly Meeting this year, and was unable to. Your post has helped me to think about next year.

At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Mark, it was a great & unexpected pleasure to meet you, at last, at NCYM(C).

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Mark Wutka said...

I'm sorry you couldn't make it. Perhaps you can put 7th month 9-13, 2008, Guilford College, Greensboro NC on your calendar for next year. I certainly recommend it, or any other chance you get to worship with Friends of NCYM-C. There were a good number of Quaker bloggers there - I count at least 7 I know of: me, my wife Ceal, Richard Miller, Marshall Massey, Craig Fox, Claire ("Got That" and "Spiritual Journeys"), and Elizabeth Bathurst of The Quaking Harlot. That's pretty good for a gathering of just over 100 people.

Marshall, it was also a great pleasure for me to meet & talk with you. I appreciate your insights. Incidentally, in our last discussion, I remember mentioning something that I thought I read in John that I took to be a slap at the gnostics. It was John 18:20, specifically the part about "and in secret have I said nothing". I thought there was something in gnosticism about there being secret knowledge. I don't really know that much about it, though, and the quote makes sense as just being in the context of not hiding anything from the Jewish authorities.

I hope our paths cross again in the future. Maybe we'll make it to the Iowa-Conservative YM one of these days. I think Ceal would have gone last year if we could have afforded a ticket.

With love,

At 3:44 PM, Anonymous Kent Wicker said...


It was good to see you there. As you know, this was my second time too, and I too experienced it as a bit less exciting (if that word can ever be used of a Yearly Meeting!) but with perhaps an even more profound sense of community. I think that perhaps, last year, I was regarding Conservative Friends as a sort of idea or proposition; this year, it is beginning to look more like a way of life to be travelled with others, and I may have some decisions to make about how I live this out.

Afterward, Claire Reddy & Debbie Parker & I had such intense conversations on the way back to Durham that were were literally there before I (the driver!) realized it.

I look forward to seeing you and Ceal, whether at some SAYF event or Yearly Meeting again.

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Liz Opp said...

Ooooh, I think I am coveting your yearly meeting experience, Mark!

Until recently, I was planning to attend Iowa Conservative's annual sessions--along with my partner--and now it looks like she is bowing out and I am suddenly finding myself in doubt of going. *sigh*

But reading your post at just this time is probably no coincidence so I shall have to stay alert and see if I am indeed being pointed to the road to Iowa.

I also appreciate that you've included the date for next year's sessions for NCYM(C). After all, the 2008 FGC Gathering in Johnstown, PA (which ends on 5 Seventh Month) might not be too far out of reach from Guilford College in North Carolina...

Big Smile.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

At 7:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark, it was a pleasure to get to know you and Ceal better this year. There have been times when yearly meeting has been more of a family reunion, than my own family (not Richard, but parents and siblings). My beliefs and faith and practice are not weird at yearly meeting. It was humbling to be appointed elder, even though I've done the work of an elder for years. come back


At 9:46 AM, Blogger Chris M. said...

Mark: Thanks for the report. Just for the record, Claire's new blog is "That God" -- pretty different name!

-- Chris M.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Elizabeth Bathurst said...


I, too, find our Yearly Meeting to be a bit of a family reunion. I was talking to one of the students who sat at the desk in the dorm lobby about how wonderful it was to have so many children about (I think they were playing a raucous game of musical chairs at the time) and she commented on how pleasant our group was. She said that she had no idea who was related to whom, but it was very clear that we loved each other.

Thanks for your prompt report on Sessions. It was very nice to meet you and your wife and I hope that we will all be able to make it to next years sessions as well.


At 5:27 PM, Blogger Mark Wutka said...

Kent, it sounds like our experiences of the second visit were similar, and it was great seeing you again. You did a wonderful service for the yearly meeting by working with the children's program!

Liz, if there is something worth coveting, it is this yearly meeting. I wish more Friends could experience yearly meetings like this. I hope we get to see you at the next one, and perhaps way will open for you to visit Iowa.

Mary, I enjoyed getting to know you and your family better, although I didn't get a chance to chat with Richard. There is something to be said for being in a place where you can have an open, honest conversation about your faith without having to guard it or hold back for fear of offending someone.

Chris, thank you for that correction. I had meant to type "God That", which of course is still incorrect. I knew it was supposed to be "That God", too, Claire told me herself. Sorry about that, everyone, especially Claire if she is listening/reading.

Elizabeth, we enjoyed getting to know you as well, and we hope to be there next year, Lord willing. That young lady doing the bible study seemed to be a big fan of yours, she kept writing quotes from you on the board.

With love,

At 6:27 AM, Blogger RichardM said...


Every few years I get assigned to teach summer school concurrently with Yearly Meeting and have to miss the first half of it. Along with that I had to focus on the YAF panel and help with Nominating Committee. This really cuts down on the number of Friends I get to talk with. I regret that but I'd also feel that I was shirking my work duty by cancelling classes to come to YM.

I missed having a serious talk with you and with Marshall and with David Eley and with Andrew and with several other Friends as well.

Hope to see you all again in Greensboro 2008, if not sooner.

At 8:22 AM, Blogger robert said...

Mark - I too have discovered Conservative Friends, and have been in e-converstion with Marshall Massey. I will be posting today on my current dilemma, the morality of nuclear power, and then again soon, becasue I just read "Tender Mercies" (Marshall's recent post on the same) and I have an even deeper sense of the issue. Check it out:

for the earth, occsaion of our measure of Light
Bob McGahey


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