Thursday, July 17, 2008

My third visit to North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

I asked for time to speak about my visit to NCYM-C at the upcoming business meeting at Atlanta Friends this first day, and between now and then we will be taking a van-load of teens from AFM to Lilli Manis' memorial service in Chapel Hill. Since I wanted to be able to give the clerk some form of a written report, I thought I'd try to do that here first.

The 311th annual gathering of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) was held on the campus of Guilford College from the 9th to the 13th of seventh month, 2008. We drove up with two other Friends from SAYMA - Austin Wattles from Atlanta, and Kristi Estes from Memphis (there were a total of 6 SAYMA Friends there this year). This was my first time staying at Guilford, although I have visited the library there several times. The dorm felt more like someone's house with old wooden doors and floors, and a nice porch with a swing. One of the things that impressed me most about the food, other than the good salad bar and vegan options, was that they didn't overcook the vegetables! I had snap peas that still had some snap, and asparagus that was crisp.

The session opened with worship, then after dinner was the meeting of Ministry and Oversight. The clerk, Charlie Ansell, asked me to share briefly about some of the things I have been doing - my workshop at SAYMA on George Fox's use of the bible (which I realize I haven't blogged about) and my work on making a print-on-demand version of Joseph Hoag's Journal, which is almost ready. I had given early copies to Lloyd Lee Wilson and Craig Fox, and that prompted Lloyd Lee to ask me to share about my work with the M&O meeting. After that, many people also shared what they had been doing, and it was beautiful hearing how the Spirit has been moving in the lives of Friends.

Lloyd Lee also invited us to the 6am "morning communion" and asked me to bring a bible passage to get the discussion started. I should explain more about how this came about. Last year, I posted a list of bible verses most frequently quoted by George Fox. Kirk Wattles (who is Austin's son) pointed out that many of the verses in that list were ones used to defend Quakerism against attacks from outside, so they weren't necessarily the ones most important to Quakers. Shortly before we left for NCYM-C, I made a new list that was drawn only from Fox's epistles, figuring that since the epistles are mostly pastoral in nature, it might be more interesting. When I mentioned this to Lloyd Lee, he suggested that maybe I could find something good in that list to get us started. After the M&O meeting, I went back to my room really excited about everything going on, and I identified several good verses, finally opting for Numbers 11:26-29.

But two men remained in the camp; one's name was Eldad, and the other's name was Medad. And the spirit rested on them. (Now they were among those in the registration, but had not gone to the tabernacle.) So they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!" Joshua son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his choice young men, said, "My lord Moses, stop them!" Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for me? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!"

It was the thing about the Lord putting his Spirit on all the people that really grabbed me. With that, the morning communion got off and running, and it was one of my favorite parts of the day. I didn't mind having to wake up at 5:30.

The business sessions were well attended, and felt very worshipful. Someone raised the question of whether the meeting had something to say about the perceived drum-beating with respect to Iran. An ad-hoc committee was formed, and came back with a proposed minute in the final session. Although the final minute was a bit wordy, it was approved with just a few changes. I was particularly impressed by the unity of the meeting, it really felt like one body.

Carl McGruder was the plenary speaker for 6th day, and he was an amazing, dynamic speaker. He spoke on our caring for creation, not so much from a "how-to" perspective, but rather from one of being faithful, as well as hopeful. Carl showed how the peculiar way we are called to live as followers of Christ extends into how we interact with the planet. Elaine Emily, Carl's traveling companion, remarked later about how she tries to hold a gathering in the light to get it settled before Carl speaks and how it can be difficult, but that this group of people just centered down almost immediately.

Elder John Blackfeather Jeffries and his daughter Vivette Jeffries (fire carrier of the Occaneechi band of the Saponi) spoke on seventh day. The original idea was to get us started telling our own stories, but a lot of it was them telling their stories, as well as talking about their relationship with all creation - which is not so much a relationship as it is a recognition of being an inseparable part of creation. John spoke about his tribe finally being officially recognized by the U.S. Government - "Isn't that something, the white man is telling me I can be an Indian". Vivette spoke about growing up black, not knowing that she was an Indian. Now as a "fire carrier", she carries the story of her tribe.

I also enjoyed meeting David Martin, who I understand started the morning communion about 20 years ago. He has had health problems the last few years and wasn't able to attend many sessions. He didn't speak much, but when he did, he really made it count with a perfect blend of deep insight and humor. He told a story about some sailors who saw a signal fire just in time to keep their boat from smashing against the rocks. They were so grateful that they stayed in the area and kept the signal fire lit all the time to help warn other sailors. Eventually, they built a museum that showed the history of the signal fire and the various phases it went through. The sailors got so busy with the museum, they forgot to light the fire. And that's what we have been doing to the Religious Society of Friends.

My memory is a little hazy, but I think it was Liz Oppenheimer who remarked that it was interesting how often we heard the word "corporate" during the yearly meeting, and it really showed in the way the yearly meeting acted as a unified body. There's an old query "Are love and unity maintained among you?" For this yearly meeting, I think the answer would be a simple "yes".


  1. Mark,

    Even though I was only able to stay for a few hours, I'm still glad I drove out there to be part of my Yearly Meeting. It's not just that I was able to check with Carol & Lloyd Lee on some committee business. It was so good to see you -- and Craig & David & Steve & Les and a bunch of other people. It's good to be with people with whom one can discuss Things That Matter. And it was good to be part of Meeting sessions, where we checked in on our Meetings and conducted business so worshipfully. Having that model helps me know how to do things in my own MM; already, Yearly Meeting helps me as I go through the rest of the year.

    (And yes, I too like "snap peas that still had some snap, and asparagus that was crisp"! Better food than at FGC this year...)

    And thank you for telling me about -- I'm already seeing a lot of potential there. Of course, I bought too many books at FGC, so I won't need any reading material for a while. I'm currently reading about radical thought during the English Civil War, and I've discovered that a lot of the ideas we think of as properly Quaker nowadays -- such as spirit-led vocal ministry at church, perfectionist ideas, Christ within -- were actually more widespread then. And from the beginning, there were Quakers who not only saw the Kingdom of Heaven as within, but rejected the notion of an afterlife in heaven.

    I'm so sad about the loss of one of our young people. I didn't know her, but I'm sure you did, and it must be hard to deal with. I'm sending prayers your way and toward Chapel Hill.

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