Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Visitor Report

Report from Northwest Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions 2009

Meeting for Worship and Business

Each morning, we met for meeting for worship and business for about three hours, with a half hour fellowship break at 10:00. The meeting began with the explicit expectation that we would hear from God and that we would corporately be listening to God. The meeting had music and silence at different times each day. I felt that the music and silence were integrated into the business well and were not a formality, and I could feel the presence of God in the silence.

The meeting for worship and business primarily consisted of reports from the committees. I particularly enjoyed the reports from the Immigration Task Force and the Faith and Practice Committee.

The Immigration Task Force (ITF), under the care of the Board of Local Outreach, began last year after NWYM was unable to come to unity on a minute about immigration. Since then, the ITF has focused on gathering and disseminating information about immigration laws and resources, faith-based advocacy, and assisting churches in action. It was inspiring to see how the ITF is helping Friends work through their differences and laboring together, and it is clear that this is a way that God is moving in NWYM, taking what could be a divisive issue and bringing Friends together in love. Immigration is an important issue in NWYM because Latino churches are the fastest growing demographic in NWYM and it is important to Friends in NWYM that the Friends in these churches are accepted as part of the community. Friends in NWYM are also aware that struggling with the diversity of views regarding immigration will provide NWYM with an opportunity for leadership with respect to other churches on this issue.

The Faith and Practice Committee shared three substantive amendments to the NWYM Faith and Practice for second reading consideration. The revisions reflect Friends' discernment of what God is calling the yearly meeting to do and to be. It is clear that Friends in NWYM feel that the Faith and Practice revisions are important—the leaders of the Faith and Practice history workshop anticipated 30 people but had attendance of 70! I was moved by their Spirit-led process and noted that this is something NWYM shares with North Pacific Yearly Meeting as we continue to revise our Faith and Practice.

I appreciated the support the yearly meeting provides for families and Friends of all ages. Although I do not have children, I enjoyed seeing the child care program. I was impressed by the structure for junior high and high school Friends. It appeared that the young Friends had good process in their meetings and support for discerning leadership. I also thought it was lovely when the Board of Congregational Care recognized marriages of 50 years.

On the last day, Friends expressed appreciation to Lon Fendall for his years serving as NWYM clerk and welcomed Tom Stave as the newly-appointed clerk of NWYM. Friends also heard and approved the epistle, which is available online: http://nwfriends.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/2009epistle_final.pdf.


I attended two workshops: Being an Effective Elder and Effective Clerking. Being an elder and clerking are Quaker topics that interest me in general and I was interested to hear how Evangelical Friends addressed these subjects. I found both workshops interesting and informative.

A large number of people attended the workshop on Being an Effective Elder and the presenters offered to come host longer workshops for individual churches. The presenters stated that the role of elders is to nurture the spiritual life of the meeting and to address areas where a church is spiritually dying. According to the NWYM Faith and Practice, a church must have at least three elders on its Committee of Elders. The elders work alongside the pastor, engaging in pastoral care. The workshop covered characteristics and gifts of an elder and ways to avoid abuses of power, and referred Friends to the NWYM Elders Handbook (April 2009). The handbook is available online: http://nwfriends.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/elders-handbook-april2009.pdf.

The Effective Clerking workshop was also well attended. The presenters focused on preparation for clerking, creative ways for Friends to connect when gathering, and the need to recognize the truth that each person brings to the meeting. They suggested that the clerk can model truth seeking by asking, “What does God have for us in this?” Another useful point was that there are three levels when Friends speak in meetings: (1) proposals, where almost no one has the truth and we should let go easily, (2) beliefs, which we should change if there is better evidence, and (3) needs, where everyone has some truth. We were encouraged to think about our needs as communities and individuals and how we can address those needs. I was surprised to learn that many of the Friends in NWYM did not draft minutes for action in their business meetings. There was also some discussion about the need to separate the roles of clerk and pastor.

Keynote Speaker: Colin Saxton

The theme for NWYM annual sessions was “We Are Witnesses.” Colin Saxton, yearly meeting superintendent, gave the keynote address on Monday evening. He said that as he labored over the message, the word God gave him was “deeper.” He encouraged us to be a witness instead of to witness—to be a witness of the personal encounter with Christ that has changed our lives. Saxton said there were many things that he would like NWYM to do more and better, but if we go deeper, Friends will find unity that transcends diversity. He cautioned us that we are just as liable to do harm as good when we act under our own power and strength. Instead, we need to work through resistance and give time to God, wait in silence for God to speak, and make time to read scripture and be in community. Saxton urged Friends to confess and forgive one another and to ask God to stretch us and allow love and healing light to transform places of darkness into beauty. A video of the message is available online: http://nwfriends.org/yearly-meeting-sessions.

Guest Speaker: Bob Adhikary

Bob Adhikary, a missionary with Evangelical Friends Mission, gave the plenary addresses on Tuesday and Wednesday evening. The theme of Adhikary’s message was the power of the Gospel, based on Romans 1:15-16. He began by reminding Friends that Christians in other countries do not expect to be blessed for living out their faith, and that we need to hold firm to Christ in hard times. Although I found some merit in the spirit of this message, for the most part, I found the tone and the content of the presentation alienating. When Adhikary began talking about God’s wrath, I felt that I had to leave. I did not feel that his presentation represented NWYM or my friends there and I felt clear not to attend his address on Wednesday night.

Even though I had a strong negative reaction to the messages, it was fascinating to talk to Friends in NWYM about their responses. Several people said that they were upset by the condemnation of homosexuality and the description of God in the message. It seemed clear that many from NWYM did not agree with what Adhikary said, and I heard that some Friends engaged him in conversation about their concerns. The analogy that came to mind was of a cell phone ringing during silent worship—sometimes an interruption that is clearly out of place can serve to bring the group together and make everyone go deeper.

Meetings with Friends

On Monday evening, Sarah P and I made a presentation to the NWYM Administrative Council (AC) about the 2010 Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference. Sarah and I are serving as co-clerks of the planning committee for the conference and plan to travel to meetings and churches in the northwest to encourage women to attend the conference. We informed the AC that NPYM had provided me with a traveling minute and asked for a similar minute from NWYM for Sarah. Sarah shared her special concern for encouraging Evangelical Friends to come to the conference. We were very glad that the AC decided to give Sarah a traveling minute on behalf of NWYM and touched that the women of the Administrative Council offered Sarah support and guidance as we travel.

By Tuesday morning, I began to find it difficult to be present in business meeting as a woman. The majority of presenters in business meetings were male, as well as most of the Friends speaking from the floor, and I felt that the responses to men and women were different. I commented on this to Sarah P and she felt similarly. Fortunately, we had an opportunity to meet with Colin Saxton, yearly meeting superintendent, and Tom Stave, incoming yearly meeting clerk, to discuss how we felt. They were both quite open to listening to our concerns and asked if we had any suggestions. I said that it appeared that pastors are the individuals with the most autonomy in the yearly meeting and receive the most support from the yearly meeting and their churches, and most of the pastors were male. The women who were pastors seemed to frequently either be co-pastors with their husbands or are in gendered leadership roles (i.e. working in education, or with seniors or youth). I was glad to see that the new youth superintendant is a woman and I hope that she will be a role model and mentor to women in ministry. Although this is a difficult topic, I was glad we had a chance to voice our concerns, and I felt that we were heard.

Suggestions for Future Visitors

I learned while I was attending annual sessions that it tends to be held during the hottest week of the year in Newberg. During annual sessions this year, the temperature reached 107° Fahrenheit. Although the buildings where the meetings for business and workshops were held had air conditioning, the dorms do not. I highly recommend bringing a fan.

Many of the Friends in NWYM have strong relationships with each other and I found it sometimes difficult as an outsider to get to know people in the yearly meeting. I was glad that I already knew several Friends from the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference and FWCC. I also found traveling with Sarah P helpful in processing my feelings and responses during the annual sessions. I was pleased to hear messages throughout the annual sessions encouraging Friends to work on reconciliation and expressing the hope that NWYM would become a yearly meeting where everyone feels welcome.

Thank you for the opportunity to visit NWYM on behalf of NPYM. I enjoyed seeing Friends I already knew and meeting new friends. It was hard work and some of the issues that came up were difficult, but I felt well used and I am very grateful that I could go. I am also glad that NWYM and NPYM have such a friendly relationship and I hope that the yearly meetings will continue to send visitors to each other’s annual sessions and learn from one another.


  1. Thanks for this report Ashley. It was moving for me in many ways - mostly because it's my home YM, I grew up attending, and I miss it!
    I know kind of what you mean about the close-knit connections and being an "outsider." Do you know Patty F. from NSFC? She refused to go to YM for years saying it felt like going to someone elses' family reunion. But then, for some reason I forget, she started going and she loves it now. =)
    Also, on a funny note, they moved the date of YM this year by one week. Ironic that the week they changed it to was the hottest one of the year! I do remember a YM many years ago when it actually rained and was cool. Doesn't happen often. I would recommend in addition to fans: bottles for water, a pitcher to keep some cold in the dorm fridges, and ice cube trays! =)

    Again, I really appreciate your report and your insights about NWYM sessions this year.

  2. I'm thankful for the faithful work you and Sarah are undertaking, particularly Sarah's concern to encourage Evangelical Friends to attend the conference.

    Quakeumenical events are such a learning and growing opportunity. I've found great blessings through the presence of Evangelical and Conservative Friends at such gatherings.

    Jay T.

  3. Aimee - I do know Patty. In fact, I got a ride with her to and from NWYM! It was fun to hang out with her and to hear her perspective on the annual sessions. I am glad that you responded to my post. It makes me nervous to write about communities that I am visiting and it is nice to hear that it made you miss NWYM instead of being mad at me. Also, thanks for the tips on what to bring!

    Jay - I just recently met some Conservative Friends for the first time and I agree that meeting with other kinds of Friends provides a wonderful opportunity to learn. Not only do we learn what others believe, but it forces us to clarify what we believe. Thank you for your support.

  4. Thanks for posting this. As a member of NWYM I'm very glad to hear the viewpoint of someone not of our yearly meeting. It's interesting you mentioned women being treated differently. I have always thought that it was because the women in ministry in the yearly meeting tend to be more liberal in their outlook than the male ministers. It can be a pretty closed minded bunch - and at the same time it can sometimes surprise you. And I definitely share your discomfort with the evening speaker!

  5. Karen - Thanks for your comment. It hadn't occurred to me that women in the ministry being more liberal would affect the way they are treated, but that makes sense. It is nice to hear positive feedback on my report from you and others in NWYM.

  6. Ashley, thanks so much for this reflection on NWYM and our sessions! I find it very valuable to see it from a guest's viewpoint. I love the people of NWYM and am excited about what God is doing among us, but I'm also aware that we have some weaknesses...and am blind to others! I feel your report is a helpful (and probably quite accurate) reflection.

    I enjoyed meeting you, and hope that NWYM and NPYM can continue to strengthen our relationships. (As Communications Coordinator for NWYM, I immediately wonder about cross-pollination of newsletters nwfriends.org/connection and such. Let me know if you have specific ideas).

    I'm also moving into a role of helping facilitate a deepening of our ability to be good discerners of God's voice as a body, so your insight on the workshop and business sessions are helpful.

    It was an honor to host you and meet you. And do you mind if I share your report more broadly with our people?

    Bruce Bishop

  7. Bruce - Thank you for your comments. Feel free to share my report with anyone you think might be interested. I like the idea of the meetings sharing newsletters; I always enjoy the compilations of newsletters from FWCC. It was wonderful to meet you too and I hope we get a chance to talk more in the future.


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