Monday, July 19, 2010

My Fifth Trip To NCYM-C

I got back last night from my fifth visit to the annual sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) - the 313th annual gathering of that body. In one respect, you could say it was the same old thing - the same old deeply gathered, intentional, loving community that I continue to experience every time I visit. There were some differences, too.

We met on the campus of Guilford College, but stayed in a different dorm and met in different meeting rooms than in the past. This was the first time for me that these sessions weren't clerked by Sid Kitchens and Deborah Shaw. Richard Miller is now the clerk, and David Perry the recording clerk. I thought they both did a beautiful job, and I appreciated the way Richard conducted the sessions.

There were quite a few visitors. In fact, when the registrar announced the numbers during the last business session, we learned that visitors accounted for a little more than 20% of those in attendance. On one hand, this says that a lot of people are hungry for what NCYM-C has to offer, but on the other hand it suggests that many within the yearly meeting don't realize what a treasure they have.

One of the activities I really enjoy is "Morning Communion" which, while it does not involve the drinking of wine/juice or the eating of bread/wafers, does include the imbibing of coffee. It is just an informal gathering for conversation that occurs before breakfast. I woke up at 5:30 every morning so I would have time to shower and dress before morning communion - and it was well worth it every morning. Lloyd Lee and Susan Wilson, Janis and Charlie Ansell, and David Eley (of Keystone Fellowship, OYM) were there every morning, as were Ken Randall and Pat Bradbury of Britain Yearly Meeting. Ken and Pat were first-time visitors last year, and were obviously as taken with the yearly meeting as Ceal and I were four years ago.

The theme this year was "Spirituality and the Arts", and explored Friends' history with the arts from the rejection by early Friends' through the gradual softening of that stance, to discussions of what aspects of the arts do we hold dear, and what things might we still reject. On seventh day evening was an arts fair in which Friends displayed various creations. The young Friends (including all three of my grandkids) put on a shadow puppet show on Quaker testimonies which was a big hit. Oliver, a young Friend from Durham, also did his own shadow puppet show "Afghanistan: Land of Shadows" that was fantastic.

I had wonderful chats with Chuck Fager and Bill Geary (of Mullica Hill Friends Mtg). At lunch on first day I sat with Patricia Loring and had a fabulous chat about various topics. Ceal was incredibly patient with me for delaying our departure as long as I did. I could have stayed talking to Patricia all day.

I was invited to lead the bible study this year, and I chose the theme of spiritual warfare, using the title "Being Valiant for the Truth Upon the Earth", and exploring Ephesians 6:10-20 (which includes the spiritual armor of God). Earlier in the year, I had commented on Facebook that I thought "Christian Militia" was an oxymoron. Susan Jeffers replied that perhaps the abandonment of the language of spiritual warfare by the historic peace churches has left a void that is being filled by those who think of it as physical warfare. This is not an easy thing to discuss, even for those steeped in the bible, but it was a very enriching time. While I did a lot of preparation ahead of time, I knew that I could rely on Friends from the meeting to enrich the sessions far beyond what I could do, and my trust was well-placed. Friends shared deep insights, and touching stories, and for me the burden was light. I deeply appreciated being held in prayer by my wife and two members of my School of the Spirit k-group (while the others in the k-group held me from afar, as did my care committee).

The bible study was mentioned in the summary of exercises at the end of the sessions, and after they were read, Patty Levering asked if "and beloved friend of this yearly meeting" could be added after "Mark Wutka of Atlanta Friends Meeting (SAYMA)". I had tears in my eyes upon hearing that, and found that afterwards that I was so choked up I couldn't even get out a "thank you" to Patty. To Friends of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), I love you too! Here come the tears again..