Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Freedom Friends Church

This Sunday, I traveled with Tyler Hampton and my grandmother, Elenita Bales, to attend meeting for worship at Freedom Friends Church (FFC), in Salem, Oregon. I almost missed the meetinghouse, since it didn't fit my usual stereotypes of Friends meetinghouses/church buildings. Freedom Friends' worships in a converted real estate office, and has several signs posted in its large front windows: One is a metal sign which reads, "Friends Church (Quakers)"; another is a neon sign, appropriate for a restaurant or bar, which simply says, "OPEN."

Arriving early, we were able to sit and chat with folks as they came in before the service began. The attenders of FFC that morning were an eclectic mix of people, about twenty or twenty five in all, spanning age, class, gender identity/sexuality and religious background. I was impressed to meet middle class folks, working class folks, queer folks, straight folks, those coming out of the wider Quaker tradition, and those who were raised in other traditions. There is a rich diversity at Freedom Friends, a diversity made possible by a radically inclusive faith rooted in an intimate encounter with the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

FFC describes itself on its website as, "passionately Christ-centered, passionately Quaker and passionately inclusive." From what I saw on Sunday, I would affirm this statement. Freedom Friends is a Quaker church, emerging out of the pastoral tradition of Friends. The pastor, Peggy Parsons, comes out of Northwest Yearly Meeting, but laid down her recording in that body to help found this new church. Unable to establish a church welcoming to queer folks within Northwest, because of the clarity with which Northwest's Faith and Practice denys membership, much less leadership, to "unrepentant" homosexuals (see page 64), yet too clearly Christian and pastoral to fit in with North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Freedom Friends exists as an independent monthly meeting and is currently preparing its own Faith and Practice. While Peggy Parsons indicated to me that she would gladly rejoin Northwest if that yearly meeting's position on homosexuality changed, it does not appear that this will be happening any time in the near future. And so, Friends at FFC forge ahead, alone.

Nevertheless, despite its independence from other Friends bodies, Freedom Friends is solidly rooted in the Quaker tradition. I was pleased to see the way in which Peggy guided the worship service, giving clear explanations of what was happening at each stage. For example, explaining the meaning of open worship in the Quaker tradition before leading us into silent waiting before God. She did use Quaker lingo (for example, "are all hearts clear?" at the end of open worship), but she also translated herself so that all would come to know what the expression referred to ("does anyone have anything on their hearts that still needs to be spoken?").

The service looked like this: We began singing a few hymns out of the FFC hymnal, which was composed of loose sheets bound together in plastic binders. The hymns chosen for the hymnal, Peggy explained, avoided "guilt and shame," as well as other types of "theologically destructive" language. After a hymn or two, Peggy introduced visitors, and we sang another hymn or two. Following singing, there was a period of what might be referred to in other contexts as "worship sharing," sharing about what we were grateful for. Once many had shared their gratitude, there was a similar time for prayer requests and sharing struggles with the community. Finally, there was about a half an hour of open worship, during which time folks were encouraged to feel free to sit at a table in the meetingroom where they could do art. Three Friends took advantage of that opportunity and drew with colored pencils during open worship.

I am very excited about FFC's potential for reaching out to unchurched people, and, in particular, to people who are excluded by most churches and meetings. Peggy's role as pastor during the service seemed to be that of guiding us through each step and explaining what was happening. This seemed to me to be extremely valuable for those who are coming into the Quaker stream of Christianity, orienting them as to why Friends practice and believe as we do, creating a safe and welcoming entry point into the world of Friends, solidly grounded in the tradition. We could use this kind of openness and clarity in other Friends meetings. I am encouraged by what I have seen at Freedom Friends Church, and look forward to hearing about their walk with the Lord and progress in serving the Kingdom in the future.

One word of caution: I was happy to hear Peggy say that she would like to rejoin Northwest Yearly Meeting if their stance on homosexuality in the Church were to change; and I appreciate that leaving NWYM was not a decision that Peggy and others took lightly. However, I hope that Friends at FFC and Friends elsewhere who find themselves similarly called by conscience to take a stand on these and other issues within the Religious Society of Friends will seek always for unity, keeping that hope and intention always in their minds and hearts as they move forward. I pray that this break can be a mendable one, like earlier splits between Indiana Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) and Indiana Yearly Meeting (Antislavery), and not like the Hicksite/Orthodox or Gurneyite/Wilburite splits, which have festered to global proportions.

7 comments:

Peggy Senger Parsons said...

Micah, Thanks for the visit and for the lovely write up. And I especially appreciate your bringing Elenita down with you. We just love her.

I have a few comments on what you have written:

I am glad that you found our worship style, including the constant teaching to be informative and rooted in Quakerism. We run a Quaker 101 class every year or so as needed, but do most of our practical teaching on Sunday mornings. The result of this is that visitors often feel comfortable enough to speak, and there are very few people at FFC who do not participate and minister on a regular basis.

Last Sunday was very quiet for us. There is usually more ministry, but it was nice to have the extended listening.

I smiled at your description of my 'translating myself" I had not thought of it that way, but your description is accurate. I have a conflicted relationship with Quaker and Christian Lingo. I love so much of it, but it does raise the 'weirdness quotient" if it is too opaque.

The comments I made about NWYM, were personal comments, and not representative of Freedom Friends. Only a very small handful of us came out of NWYM, others have come from FGC and FUM, but most people you met Sunday are new Quakers, and have not left or broken away from anyone.

There are probably others in the room who would be more likely dreaming of joining the FGC type Friends. But our own F and P is about 85% done, and my best guess is that after this five year process they will like what they have written and not think about coming in under anyone else's book.

We have good relationships with both YM in our area, and send visitors to both annual sessions and receive visitors regularly.

It is interesting that you mention Indiana YM in the mid-1800's. The Friends who ran the underground railroad, did have to step outside their YM to do it, and they did go back in 14 years later. But they left as a group and returned as the same group. There are some echos of that for some of us, but really a very different situation from ours. The Gurney/Hicks split has even fewer echos for us.

As for myself. When I left NWYM, I had a clearness committee with the elders of the church that held my membership. (as well as Alivia's) It was a difficult meeting, but we all came to harmony on the direction to take. They held the memberships until we had the new Meeting set up and then they sent an offical letter of transfer. That letter included the affirmation that they believed that we had a true calling and were being obedient to that calling.

We also consulted with leaders of each YM. No one felt led to invite us to set this meeting up within either YM. There was no 'break.' And it all felt rightly ordered. A very different process than a schism. I believe you witnessed the fruit of that careful process this week.

Personally, it felt like stepping out of the boat. Peter did not have a falling out with the boys in the boat - He felt a calling to move closer to his master. A very personal decision. With all the incumbant risks.

Whether we walk or sink remains to be seen. For myself, it is "eyes up."

Peace to you friend, keep up your good reporting.

Yours, in Him
Peggy Senger Parsons

Alivia said...

Micah, you said: “While Peggy Parsons indicated to me that she would gladly rejoin Northwest if that yearly meeting's position on homosexuality changed, it does not appear that this will be happening any time in the near future. And so,Friends at FFC forge ahead, alone.”

Micah, although our position on homosexuality is the main & biggest difference that Friends from NWYM would challenge, we are not, nor have ever been “alone”.

We began the journey as at least a threesome—Peggy, myself & God. That doesn’t count the numerous people who were praying for us, meeting with us, and all the angels on our watch. As Peggy said, we also had a meeting for clearness, and when we met with our elders, they not only affirmed our calling/s, but also blessed us on our way. I agree with Peggy that this was not a “split” or a “break”. We have been on a different road from NWYM, but contention, and disagreement was not the cause. We wrestled deeply, and in community—we grieved deeply that we were being called to a different path for a time, but being blessed on our way meant to me, that we were being entrusted to God’s care, and God’s leading. It was a huge step outside of our comfort zones, but we didn’t do it alone, and it wasn’t a “break”. It was very much more like we were released to do what we were called to do even though our meeting elders didn’t feel our meeting and YM were called to the same path.

Micah, it was great to meet you. I realized you are a friend on my facebook, and now I know who you are—soooooo much better, and more fun that way! Blessings and Peace on you. Thanks for visiting us and writing about what you experienced. This is a good thing for us to be able to check and see if our hearts and our behavior are congruent.

Ashley W said...

Hi Micah,

Your post makes me homesick! I'm glad you had such a good experience at FFC. Thanks for sharing it.

--Ashley

Liz Opp said...

Peggy's and Alivia's description reminds me of similar misperceptions that Friends had regarding the beginnings of Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group.

The group never set out to "split" from anyone, and we've also held a Meeting for Worship for Healing, to address some of the emotional and spiritual baggage that seemed to be lingering for those of us in the worship group.

I'm glad some of these initial perceptions could be addressed so quickly.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

P.S. I've got to get busy on writing about Iowa Conservative!

Heather said...

This was a fascinating insight, Micah, thank you.

Kenneth Sutton said...

Wonderful post and comments. Thank you all!

Laurie Kruczek said...

Thank you, Micah, for taking the time to visit FFC and give the rest of your readers more insight. I live in Oregon and still haven't been, but am planning to attend now and again, when our family moves closer to the meeting (nowdays we are two hours away). I believe in the work FFC is doing, and really respect those involved. It is wonderful to see their commitment to being a truly inclusive meeting. May God continue to bless them!