Friends Summit and Yearly Meeting 2015

In order to raise enough money to be able to attend my Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions last summer, I offered to have sponsored blog posts through a GoFundMe campaign.  So many people where so extremely generous in their financial and spiritual support of me, and this positing will be in response to the last query that a sponsor and friend sent to me:
Query-What is your anticipation (hope) and trepidation (concern/fear) for this year's annual sessions.  What might we become together? And what if we don't?

Tomorrow begins the annual sessions of Northwest Yearly Meeting, which is a collection of Friend's churches spread across Oregon, Idaho, and Washington.  It might seem kinda silly to be writing a post in response to a query that was given to me in preparation for the trip last year, but here are my thoughts.

First, to the Friend who asked this question, I'm sorry for the extreme delay.  To be honest, I tried multiple times to begin a piece last year...and nothing I wrote down had any flow or felt real in the slightest.  I was writing words I didn't believe, and was feeling quite hopeless about the situation, and a key part of your question was about my hope.  However, my ability to answer that question now has changed, because I do have a tiny glimmer of sincere hope that I can write about.  So I hope this late response is better than none, it is important to me to keep my word and thank you again for your generosity!

Now to all my other dear readers : ) a little bit of context.  I'm a member of the one monthly meeting in NWYM that has minuted being welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ people. The discernment of this position has moved us out of compliance with our Faith & Practice, and the Elders of the yearly meeting are tasked with responding to concerns over non-compliance of monthly meetings.  So for the last couple of years, our denomination has been in the midst of an intense and at times heated discernment process.  Now ends the part where I try to distill an incredibly complex situation into a birds-eye view paragraph....Lord I hope none of what I write adds fuel to contention, I'm only mean to be descriptive, and desire unity and peace in my yearly meeting.

Back to the query....what might we become together? Well my answer came to that begins at the end of December 2014, at an event called Friends Summit.

Friends Summit is an gathering for young adults hosted by the North American section of EFCI (Evangelical Friends Church International) that takes place once every four years.  I heard about it in early 2014, and was immediately aware of a leading to go.  My church supported this leading by paying my way to go through our traveling ministers fund.  So early one cold December morning just a few days after Christmas, I found myself loading into a caravan of 60 other young people from across NWYM and headed down to La Jolla California. Down the rabbit hole I went!

Part of my desire to go on the trip was fueled by a desire to get to know other Evangelical Quakers.  I had felt like I'd involved myself in my own yearly meeting,  but had little exposure to other people from my own stream of Quakerism in different parts of the country.  I was intensely curious about them, and curious to see if the conflict and divide around LGBTQ people was being discussed by others as well.  I felt very welcomed on the long road trip down, and noticed that quite a few Friends who I didn't know that well were making efforts to reach out and engage me, which can be difficult to do with me sometimes thanks to my introverted tendencies haha.  When we pulled into the hotel where the conference would be, I was feeling extremely hopeful.  However, once I got all the paper and information about the gathering at the registration table, I saw something that felt like a punch in the gut.

Staring up at me from the list of workshops, was one about "homosexuality in the Church"...a cold shiver ran down my spine.  The rest of the description was predictably awful, and could have been lifted from literature from the Southern Baptist Convention.  This would clearly not be nuanced.

All I'd wanted to do was engage people on my own terms as a Friend...but I'd be forced to engage AFTER this workshop and all of its information....AFTER I had already been put forward as an "issue" to deal with.  Great...just great.

I tried not to let the specter of the workshop ruin my entire time, but even without it, Summit turned into quite a rollercoaster of emotions and learning experiences.  I learned that NWYM, strangely, is perceived as somewhat of the left end of the theological spectrum amongst North American Evangelical Friends.  Some of my peers from NWYM, myself included, were having difficulty translating the verbs and worship styles of our counterparts from across the country into something that felt meaningful on the first couple of days.  However, somewhere along the trip, each of us, inexplicably, found a point of meaningful connection.  We bridged the divide, found fellowship, and shared our visions and dreams for our future as Quakers.

One of my favorite memories from the trip, and one that speaks to my hope in this post overall, was in one of the least structured workshops that happened on all three days.  The whole idea was just about having some of the Superintendents of the various yearly meetings in a room to talk.  It was great to see how many young people from NWYM went to that workshop on multiple days, seeking wisdom and insight from our elders, but also taking ownership for our collective future.  It was like seeing a small window into the future of my yearly meeting in that room, and I imagined us decades later with families of our own spread all across the Northwest.  The imagination of my peers and their passion to live as Christ taught gives me great hope for what we could become.

Those workshops aren't what gave me greatest cause for hope though... I was standing by myself in one of the hotel hallways for a moment in-between workshops, and I saw my own Superintendent.  We chit chatted a bit about how Summit was going so far, and then she asked me if I was planning to go to that workshop on homosexuality.  I told her that I was going to go.

"You know A.J., you don't have to go to that." I could hear a protective concern in her voice.

"I do though, I do have to be there." She processed that for a second.

"Alright, would it be ok if I came with you?"

I was surprised, but gratefully accepted the offer.  I had heard about and seen the old Quaker practice of having an accompanying Elder with a minister, as both a source of spiritual support and accountability.  The workshop felt slightly less ominous now...slightly.

The time came for the workshop to begin, and go figure, the room was PACKED. A few people from NWYM who I knew were allies were in the crowd, and one of my best friends in the world was sitting next to me.  The speaker started his presentation, and from that point my memory starts to blur.  It was awful, one sided, and included a handout with references to all of the clobber passages. It was filled with insinuation and innuendo from debunked ex-gay theories....all presented as the only biblically supported fact.  What was worse was the agonizing use of Christian Newspeak, gibberish that has no meaning whatsoever, like "love the sinner and hate the sin". I was stunned...I'd never heard anything like this before, not even from more conservative people in my own yearly meeting.

It is also worth mentioning, that literally ALL of the information was delivered with the clear assumption that the audience would be straight and cisgender.  I sat in petrified horror as some heads of people who call themselves Friends of Jesus nodded in approval of the speaker, and then I felt the same feeling that I get during open worship.  I was being given words to speak, I felt like I was clearly being led to raise my hand and speak, identify myself as an actual gay person in the room, and speak a word of comfort to other LGBTQ people who I knew were in the room.  This leading was clear...raise your hand. speak. speak now! But I was afraid...and pushed my leading down.  I talked myself into waiting, telling myself that there would be a Q&A time, and then I would raise my hand.  The non-stop information assault from the speaker ended when he looked up at the clock on the wall.

"Well it looks like I've used up all the time that we've had scheduled for this workshop, so it looks like we won't be having Q&A time, but if any of you want to talk more about this find me sometime during the rest of Summit."

People immediately started to pour out of the room...the moment to speak comfort to any of the other people hurting in that space was gone...I sat there shocked, wounded and disgusted at my own disobedience to a clear leading.  I was 13 in Apostolic Faith Church again, too scarred and helpless to affect my own situation....I needed air.  I made it to the stairwell and started to go down with a flood of other people, and got onto the ground floor and pushed open the door outside as everyone else turned to go to dinner.  I didn't want to eat, I didn't want to do anything.  My Superintendent found me as a started to go outside and talked to me, but I couldn't really hear what she was saying, I felt far away from myself.  She gave me a hug and I walked away towards the street.

I was walking slowly away, not towards anything in particular, and I felt profoundly alone.


I turned to look at the voice behind me and saw a guy from NWYM who I knew a little but not super well heading towards me.  He caught up to me and was walking with me, asking me how I was, he was clearly upset about the workshop...I can't remember what I said to him, I was angry, but mostly sad....terribly sad.  My pace slowed, and eventually I realized I had stopped walking, and was just starring ahead into the night.  Then I turned and saw him still there standing next to me.  He reached out to give me a hug, and I started to cry, hard.  I cried on a street of California into the shoulder of a Friend I barely knew.  When I started to feel a little more grounded and aware of the situation, I was a bit embarrassed, and I told him he should go back in and get dinner and that I was just going to go up to my room and lay down.  He left a little reluctantly, but said he would bring me food if there was anything left.

I went up to the room and collapsed into my bed,  after laying staring up into the ceiling for a few minutes, still beating myself up, I heard a knock at the door.  The guy who found me on the street was there, as well as another NWYM Friend who I had seen in the audience at the workshop.  They had a box of hot food with them and asked if they could come in.  I went back to sit on my bed and they pulled up a couple of chairs.  I forget what I said to them, but I know that I vented, I cried, I shared my despair at denying my own leading.  What I do remember though, is them listening, and them telling me how if I needed to say anything that I could, but that if I didn't want to say anything, that it was important for them to just sit with me.

Something....holy... took place in that hotel room.  I wasn't just a lonely member of West Hills Friends Church.  I was a Friend sitting with members of West Chehalem Friends Church and Eugene Friends Church, and in that moment I felt like part of my pain was being held by them.  This feeling was unfamiliar, but welcome. In that moment, I felt like I understood part of what it meant to be in the same Yearly Meeting in a new way.  That kinship was a trend that I noticed for the rest of the trip, as NWYM Friends went out of their way to gathered around me and take care of my injuries.   I began the trip expecting to learn more about Evangelical Friends, but the most important things I learned were about my own yearly meeting.

So much more happened at Summit, enough to fill multiple blog posts, and eventually I'll get back to writing down those memories, but that story is the one that feels most important to answering this question of hope.  Do you see what happened there?  The fates, every normal paradigm, and all the conditioning of our childhood should have condemned the three of us sitting in that hotel room to meet each other as foes.  However, the Light broke through those barriers, guided an elder to protect someone who they saw about to be harmed, guided one young Friend out into the night to find another who was lost, and guided them together in holy communion in a small hotel room.  It sounds so impossible...but it happened.

Believe me, I go into this week afraid of a schism. I'm afraid that the darkness of anger and fear of a few will rip the yearly meeting apart.  Its a very real possibility....and staying engaged is exhausting, and so is remaining cool in my own spirit when part of me just wants to shake older adults by the shoulders and ask them what on earth they are thinking....that won't help anything though, and it most certainly won't help the other closeted and hurting ones in the yearly meeting who I care about so much.

I've seen a glimpse into the future of a vital community of people who call themselves Friends of Jesus living in the Northwest.  I've have hope that inevitable evil can be destroyed through an impossible in-breaking of the Light.  I have hope that the Light shines in the darkness, and that the darkness will not overcome it.

I covet your prayers for my yearly meeting dear readers, and leave you with a song that I learned at Summit speaks to my soul.


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