New England Yearly Meeting is preparing to engage in discernment around their relationship with Friends United Meeting (FUM). The issue has been contentious in the past because of FUM’s discriminatory employment policy. They are creating guides to help Meetings engage in deep listening around our identity as Friends.
At Wellesley Friends Meeting, the experience of coming together in support of same-sex marriages under the care of the Meeting is often cited as a powerful example of finding unity and of the experience of God’s presence in the Body. I was blessed to serve as clerk of the meeting during that process. I was asked for a brief narrative of my experience of unity in that context.
I had written up our process in an article that was published in Friends Journal in 2001. [https://www.friendsjournal.org/2001069]. The following was excerpted from that article.
In 1999, Wellesley Friends Meeting called a special meeting for worship for business to test our leadings about same-gender marriage in our Quaker meeting. This was the culmination of seven long years of workshops and worship sharing, seven years of threshing sessions and small group meetings, seven years of wondering if we would ever come to clearness.
In January, we had convened a clearness committee for the meeting. Every member and attender was invited to participate, including our Young Friends. At this meeting, no one was to speak for or against same-gender marriage. We wanted only to determine whether we were clear that the time had come to formally bring this concern to monthly meeting for business. At this meeting we reminded ourselves of the work we had done together and sought for what more we should do. We held in worship that concern that some in the meeting may be hurt no matter how we proceed.
The gathered group was clear. The meeting was ready and needed to go forward. Ministry and Counsel labored and prayed over a draft statement to be used to focus the meeting.
Finally, the appointed time arrived. As clerk, I reminded Friends to offer messages in a spirit of love and community, while leaving time between speakers for worship and reflection. More than anything, we needed to keep in mind that we were not looking for unanimity with each other. We were striving for the almost unimaginable goal of discerning God’s will for our community about a concern that could become divisive.
Opening worship was longer than usual, and we centered very quickly. The clerk of Ministry and Counsel reviewed the process we had begun more than seven years before and read aloud the draft statement. The clerk of Young Friends read a carefully crafted statement urging us to support same gender marriage. We were impressed by the strength and clarity of their understanding.
People spoke of family members—sisters and brothers, sons and daughters—who were gay or lesbian and in committed partnerships. A woman spoke of the gay adults who had grown up in our meeting and reminded us of the joy we had found in them as children. A beloved older Friend spoke of her granddaughter who had married another woman a few months earlier; she had thought that a ceremony of commitment would be enough until she attended their wedding. People spoke from their hearts about feeling we should be open and welcoming to all people, even though some were personally uncomfortable and wishing for less controversial ways to accept them fully into community. We cried with each other and held each other in the Light.
After ninety minutes, I asked a respected elder of our meeting if he wished to speak. There was a collective gasp; everyone knew he was opposed to the issue. He told of his discomfort with seeing gay couples and of his belief that such partnerships are unnatural. He stated that he had come to this meeting prepared to prevent the meeting from accepting same gender unions. After hearing the heartfelt messages offered during this worshipful meeting, he would not just step aside but would join with the meeting in approving this minute. His personal transformation was a gift that brought closure to the meeting.
We were stunned, but we were clear. Our meeting had found its way past tolerant acceptance to embrace the diversity of human relationships. On this day, we opened our hearts to God, and we were faithful.