At its 2011 annual sessions in August, New England Yearly Meeting held a panel discussion to advance Friends’ discernment of NEYM’s relationship with Friends United Meeting.
Friends United Meeting (FUM) is one of the three "umbrella organizations" of Friends in the United States, along with Friends General Conference and Evangelical Friends Church International. FUM was formed in 1902 as an effort to unify Friends; New England Yearly Meeting was a founding member. FUM now describes itself as "an international association of Friends Meetings and Churches, organized for evangelism, global partnership, leadership development and communications." FUM’s website says that "Friends emphasize the living presence of Jesus Christ in our midst and try to organize our worship and our lives around that reality."
A long-standing concern of many members of New England Yearly Meeting (as well as Friends in other yearly meetings) has been a provision in FUM’s personnel policy, adopted in 1991, about its employees’ sexual conduct. This policy states that FUM "holds to the traditional Friends testimonies of peace (nonviolence), simplicity, truth speaking, community, gender and racial equality, chastity, and fidelity in marriage. It is expected that the lifestyle of all staff and volunteer appointees of FUM will be in accordance with these testimonies. FUM affirms the civil rights of all people. Staff and volunteer appointments are made without regard to sexual orientation. It is expected that sexual intercourse should be confined to marriage, understood to be between one man and one woman."
The intention of this summer’s New England Yearly Meeting panel discussion was to give a few Friends a chance to share a longer version of their experiences, while asking the meeting to sit deeply with them. It was designed with the hope that deeper listening and reflection would better prepare New England Friends to face the challenges of their relationship with FUM, and with each other. The panelists—whose remarks we are presenting on the following pages—were asked to speak to the following queries:
- Where and how might I be stuck and hurt?
- What do I need from my community?
- What do I have to offer my community?
- How do you think we can be more open and honest with each other?
- Do you think we can do that while striving to be a loving community? How?
Hannah Zwirner, who organized the panel, and whose own remarks are shared on page 8, explained in a note to yearly meeting members that "these individuals’ experiences are not intended to represent the thoughts and feelings of the whole yearly meeting; rather they are jumping-off points. I ask you to think deeply about what panel members are saying and whether this format (listening without response or dialogue, followed by silent worship) makes it easier for you to take in their messages. My conviction is that deeper listening and reflection will better prepare us to face the challenges of our relationship with FUM, and with each other. And I hope that these lessons might be a helpful starting place for other issues with which the yearly meeting struggles."