“Let's move on! I've got some great plans for you!" --- God
The unknowns of life can be scary. If you are like me, stepping out into unfamiliar territory can be daunting. But for the people of God, it's not an option. In that regard I'm sure you will recognize the following words from the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel languishing in exile.
"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19 - NIV)
The “new thing” is God’s intervention on behalf of the exiles to bring them home, and to give them a new hope and a new future.
Some may say I am pushing the envelope applying these words to the present situation facing Indiana Yearly Meeting. But I suggest they can be applied to the Friends meetings that find themselves in the non-B category of the reconfiguration issue, wondering if there is for them any hope and any future. In fact, if reconfiguration eventually happens, I suppose those that move on as IYM-B meetings may also claim these words. And that’s fine. It wouldn’t be the first time Christians have found the same passages of the Bible speaking to more than one side in conflicted situations.
But in this blog I am applying them to non-B meetings. That may seem premature, since there still hasn’t been a final resolution to the reconfiguration question. However, in spite of the pleas and prayers for unity and reconciliation from around the yearly meeting, there are strong voices that are determined to see reconfiguration happen. If it does, that shouldn’t mean these groups cannot find ways of fellowship and worshiping together. At least we hope not.
Joyce and I happen to find ourselves in a non-B church, not because we looked and looked until we could find one, but because after a year of visiting different meetings, and lots of prayer for discernment we felt led to Winchester Friends following our retirement as pastors at Friends Memorial Church in Muncie. Upon joining in with them we found Winchester Friends to be dealing with this issue, as were all of the rest of the meetings of Indiana Yearly Meeting. But that is why I use the pronoun “us,” to include Joyce and me as part of the non-B Friends on a possible exciting new journey.
Christian history is a story of multiple schisms and splits, and Quakers within that story have had their share. Some have been without great rancor. Others have been rather boisterous. On one of my trips into Ohio with some IYM Training and Recording candidates to get in touch with our Friends roots we visited the meetinghouse where we were told there was an Ohio Quaker split years ago. If I’m not mistaken (I was once before) we saw where, in the midst of this Quaker row, the Presiding Clerk’s chair was tossed out of the window. Fortunately the Clerk was not still in it.
But along comes the prophet’s call to get past the past---at least to not keep dwelling on it. Frankly, Isaiah, that’s not always easy to do. There are ties and co-involvements in a myriad of ministries that are a part of that past. There are memories of meetings and conversions and conversations that are precious. You can't just shelve those easily. Therefore it doesn’t mean that these must be erased. It does mean they should be placed in proper perspective. The reason: we are otherwise liable to miss what God wants to do---to us and through us---in the present and the future. I have read some really exciting words on that infamous medium called Facebook from some persons who feel God could be calling non-B Friends back to Christ-centered holistic missions, with spirit filled meetings reaching out to a new a generation of seekers. God can certainly be pleased with that!
But if we are too absorbed in issues of financial assets, we can miss God calling us back to other kinds of assets, such as ample gifts waiting to be used. If we are too absorbed in matters of formal identity, such as whether we will be called Indiana Yearly Meeting “this or that,” we can miss the calling to the most important identity of all: the people of God through whom he wants to do a new thing.
If reconfiguration happens, this is not to minimize the importance of financial assets and formal identity, and there are other issues that will require trained and patient minds. But it is to encourage those non-B meetings who are interested in travelling into a new future together to plan a gathering where there can be celebration in praise and prayer, worship in silence and vocal expression, all to the end that we can discern the new way forward. Who will pick that up?
After all, when God told the people of Israel in exile that he was “making a way,” he didn’t expect them to just sit there and stew. They had to get up, put one foot of faith in front of the other one, and move into that new future. And to us God is lovingly saying: “Get the point?”