Departures from Wilmington Yearly Meeting due to conflicts around same-sex marriage
Four monthly meetings left Wilmington Yearly Meeting (WYM) at its annual sessions, July 27–30, due to lack of unity around allowing monthly meetings to perform same-sex marriages. Wilmington Yearly Meeting, founded in 1897, comprised 27 meetings in Ohio and Tennessee before the departures. Several other meetings may also leave.
The meetings that are leaving believe that same-sex marriage is contrary to the Bible and the will of God. A letter from one of the departing meetings, Cuba Meeting in Clinton County, Ohio, stated, “Cuba Friends Meeting holds to the authority of scriptures and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Many in our meeting feel we are being asked by some in the yearly meeting to accept a compromise that goes against our beliefs in order to keep peace. We feel the need to take a stand.”
The departures follow years of conflict around the issue. In the 2018 yearly meeting epistle, Dan Kasztelan and Julie Rudd of the Epistle Committee wrote: “In previous years, much of our energy has been spent avoiding conflict, managing conflict, and praying and working for resolution and transformation. Our sadness at saying goodbye to those who could not in good conscience stay is joined with our hope that we will continue to be shaped and conformed into the image of Christ, our Teacher and Lord.”
The roots of the conflict extend back to at least the 1990s, when Community Friends Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, performed a same-sex marriage of two members. At the time, Community Friends was duly affiliated with both Friends United Meeting and Friends General Conference. The leadership of WYM proposed a statement that marriage is between one man and one woman, but this proposal found no unity. Some refused to stand aside, and Community Friends withdrew its affiliation from Friends United Meeting and Wilmington Yearly Meeting.
The issue came up again in 2016 when Cincinnati (Ohio) Meeting married a member to her same-sex partner without consulting the yearly meeting. Disagreements erupted over whether decisions about marriage belonged at the yearly meeting or monthly meeting level.
In January 2017, Fairview Meeting in New Vienna, Ohio, sent a letter proposing that marriage decisions be made by monthly meetings. The letter was circulated before 2017 annual sessions by presiding clerk David Goff, who asked for written responses. Responses were split fairly evenly between meetings believing the yearly meeting should not allow monthly meetings to perform same-sex marriages and meetings believing that each monthly meeting should discern its own leading.
No unity around the issue could be found at the 2017 annual sessions, prompting Cuba Meeting; Hardin’s Creek Friends Church in Leesburg, Ohio; Friendsville (Tenn.) Meeting; and Rafter Chapel Friends Church in Tellico Plains, Tenn., to leave at the 2018 annual sessions. Other monthly meetings who opposed the Fairview letter—Fall Creek, Knoxville, Leesburg, Martinsville, and New Burlington—may also be leaving the yearly meeting soon.
In July, Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio, announced the appointment of Christian Acemah as the new head of school starting August 1. Acemah most recently served as the executive director and special advisor to the board for the Uganda National Academy of Sciences (UNAS) in Kampala, Uganda.
Acemah, a 2001 graduate of Olney Friends School, has spent over a decade working in various higher educational institutions and international and nonprofit organizations. Prior to his role at UNAS, he acted as director of strategy and program development at the U.S. National Academies Institute of Medicine (now called the Health and Medicine Division); visiting professor of African studies at Quest University; senior research associate at Georgetown University; and executive officer of policy and research at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a partner organization with UNICEF.
“The board is . . . excited by Christian’s energy, enthusiasm, and professional experience not only in education but also in fundraising and outreach. He has been successful at achieving ‘buy in’ among a wide range of stakeholders to secure financial and programmatic stability at nonprofit organizations,” stated the school’s board of trustees co-clerks, Dottie Churchwell and Mimi Kramer, as reported by the Columbus Dispatch, a newspaper based in Columbus, Ohio.
In early April, Olney Friends School announced the completion of a successful emergency fundraising campaign that was necessary to stay open for the 2018–2019 school year (see Friends Journal May 2018 News column for more coverage). Over $360,000 was contributed to the “Defining the Future” campaign over a period of two months, surpassing the goal of $250,000.
Churchwell and Kramer also said of Acemah, “We are excited by his belief in the continuing importance of an Olney education and the difference Olney graduates make in our world. Christian believes many of his successes have been built on the educational and spiritual experiences he had as an Olney student.”
Olney Friends School is a progressive, independent college preparatory, co-educational boarding school located in Barnesville, Ohio. Rooted in Quaker values for over 180 years, Olney Friends School challenges students to grow, celebrates intellectual vigor, provokes questions of conscience, and nurtures skills of living in community.