WILMINGTON — Four congregations that have been affiliated with the Wilmington Yearly Meeting (WYM) of the Religious Society of Friends withdrew as members over the weekend during WYM’s annual sessions.
The separations stem from a disagreement over whether same-sex weddings are to be permitted in member churches, or as they are often called in the Quaker tradition, meetings. The churches leaving WYM regard same-sex marriage as against the will of God.
The meetings that now are separated from WYM are Cuba Friends Meeting in Clinton County, Hardins Creek Friends Church in Highland County, and Friendsville Friends Meeting and Rafter Chapel Friends Church, both of which are in Tennessee.
Previously, WYM consisted of 27 Quaker churches in Ohio and Tennessee, including 10 in the Clinton County area.
The exiting, apparently, is not over with. New Burlington Friends Church in Greene County has initiated the process of leaving Wilmington Yearly Meeting, said WYM Office Administrator Donne Hayden.
And there are other congregations expected to leave the WYM organization based on a document pertaining to the same-gender marriage issue and signed either by a clerk or a pastor of the respective meetings, Hayden said. Those congregations are Martinsville Friends Meeting in Clinton County, Leesburg Friends Church in Highland County, and Fall Creek Friends Meeting in Highland County.
A letter approved earlier this year by Cuba Friends Monthly Meeting 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 [Wilmington] 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 letter from Cuba Friends Monthly Meeting added, “The time has come to walk away and stand firm.”
A document regarding same-sex marriage that’s been officially approved by Martinsville Friends Meeting, Fall Creek Friends Meeting, and Hardins Creek Friends Meeting stated, “Wilmington Yearly Meeting has become increasingly tolerant of constituent Monthly Meetings openly endorsing practices that are in direct conflict with Biblical teachings. As a result of this tolerance, it has become impossible for us to remain in meaningful fellowship with those Meetings who try to define God’s Word as an outdated historical novel.”
WYM Presiding Clerk David Goff stated in a letter leading up to the annual sessions that “a majority of Meetings were clearly in favor of leaving the issue of marriage to the discretion of individual Monthly Meetings [local congregations].”
Goff also wrote in that letter, “Those with more progressive understandings of scripture must accept that Friends in meetings where the Bible is interpreted literally are not willing — or able — to unite with a meeting that conducts a same sex marriage or even a meeting that does not condemn such a marriage. It is clear that Biblical interpretation is at the heart of our uneasiness and distrust.”
Wilmington Friends Meeting Pastor Julie Rudd and Dan Kasztelan wrote in the wake of the withdrawals. Their writing states, “In the act of mourning our separation while blessing our disaffiliating Meetings, Friends surrendered our desire to lecture and judge, to make our own special points, to win over other Friends. We agreed that Biblical interpretation is at the heart of our uneasiness and distrust, and that we are not able to come to the same place in how we read the scriptures, or in how we view the autonomy of the Monthly Meetings and the authority of the Yearly Meeting.”
Campus Friends Meeting member Patricia Thomas attended the WYM sessions held in Tennessee this past weekend. She said, “It was a very powerful Spirit-filled weekend. Though painful for many Friends, the process was done in good order.”
She also noted that at the sessions after a monthly Meeting indicated its desire to disaffiliate with Wilmington Yearly Meeting, the WYM presiding clerk said a blessing on their ministry going forward and thanked each for the time together over the years.
In closing remarks on Sunday Goff stated, “… it would not be the end of the road for Wilmington Yearly Meeting. We will be smaller, but we have a mission for the future and a hope for the present.”
He also said, “… those of us who choose to remain [in WYM] have chosen love, compassion, openness, unity and humility over our flawed interpretations of the text and our incomplete knowledge and understanding of the Holy Spirit. We know that we ‘see now through a glass darkly’, and so we hold the more tightly to those who will walk beside us as we strive for the Light.”
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.