Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Conservative? Radically: An essay on my first experience at North Carolina Yearly Meeting-Conservative

I’d never heard of Conservative Friends until sitting with my then new friend and fellow Friendly Adult Presence Mark Wutka at a Southern Appalachian Young Friends retreat 5 or so years ago. We were both members of Liberal Friends meetings and I did what most every Liberal Friend does when confronted by the word “conservative” in this context, I sorta bristled before asking Mark to explain what Conservative Friends means. He told me that Conservative Friends seek to follow a traditional Quaker path. Their worship is unprogrammed but it is more Christ-centered and Bible based than Liberal Friends. He said he feels much more spiritually at home worshipping with Conservative Friends than he often does among Liberal Friends. I trusted Mark to speak from a God-filled place and so was interested in Conservative Friends but filed the information away as a curiosity rather than anything I wanted to immediately pursue.

Fast forward to the present: Mark and I are married (it blows my mind to think of God preparing us for this from our first encounters!) and attended North Carolina Yearly Meeting-Conservative together this last month. I wasn’t sure what to expect but what I experienced was a blessing! It was a joy to me to see how well-loved and cared for Mark is in this community. In part because so many of his School of the Spirit classmates were there, it felt like a family reunion: Mark was hugged and I was hugged and introduced and then hugged again. It was lovely.

The community is small and it was easy to feel the intimacy and deep relationships between people who know one another as the Body of Christ. What impressed and thrilled me was the shared spiritual vocabulary and the unabashed acknowledgement of Christ actively working in folks’ lives. I was happily moved to hear people in casual conversation talk about obedience and following God’s will.

Meetings for Worship for the Conduct of Business are the heart and major activity and are well attended. They make it a practice of having each Monthly Meeting answer the Queries from NCYM-C Faith and Practice as a body and the clerks or representatives of each MM read the responses together. I can’t say I was always edified by the responses (some were exceedingly verbose) but I found the practice compelling.

Friday evening, one of Mark’s classmates from School of the Spirit, Charley B directed the 2nd performance of a play she wrote as a class project, The Call. Ashley W read the role of a young woman called to ministry. The play was about the challenges she faced, practical, emotional and spiritual and the support she received in the form of Friends who preceded her in ministry. I found the play to be well written and researched and deeply thoughtful.  It was well-received and good conversation was generated afterward.

On Thursday, during her workshop “Dance of Compassion”, I fell in love with Nanbee. Her open heart and guilelessness are a rare and amazingly beautiful gift in this world. Immediately we felt like Soul Friends and tried to find time to sit together to get to know one another better. Friday night after the play, my favorite time of the entire 5 days happened. Nan, her husband Tom, Mark & I got together at a table on the patio. After visiting a bit, Mark decided to go to our room to write a letter. Shortly thereafter, Lloyd Lee and Ashley joined us. It had rained at various points that day and while we sat at our table, it began to drizzle. We raised the umbrella just before the downpour started. Because several of us were newly acquainted and I wanted to know each of them and didn’t want to waste the opportunity making small-talk, I asked everybody questions. I like to ask the kinds of questions one only needs to be an expert about one’s own life to answer so everybody can share something and not feel ignorant or left out. Sitting in the our increasingly damp little island in the middle of a crashing storm, creating a wonderful intimacy while telling stories about ourselves was deep and rich for me. I feel we shared something rare with one another and I will, I think, remember it the rest of my life.

After having sat in business meeting for days, Saturday evening’s activity was exactly what everybody needed. We played “A Big Wind Blows” and “Four Corners” and moved a lot and laughed even more while sharing thoughts and ideas and bits of ourselves. It was great fun.

Sunday Meeting for Worship was followed by a reading of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Advices. Mark had been asked to read them, which touched him. Again, I’d never heard Advices read aloud before a body like that (SAYMA’s Faith and Practice doesn’t contain Advices and I honestly can’t imagine a body of Liberal Friends ever agreeing on Advices-seems too much like control). I can’t say the language of the Advices is completely comfortable for me but I tried to “listen in tongues” and hear the Holy Spirit behind the words.

Beforehand, I’d been feeling some serious trepidation about going to NCYM-C due to the fact that I wouldn’t know one person there and it being Mark’s (and Mark and Ceal’s) community. I wasn’t sure how people would respond to me, or if I’d be comfortable with the spiritual vibe. Turns out that I was nurtured and enriched in ways I never could have imagined and I’ve made at least one friend I know I will keep all of my days. I returned home with a renewed spirit and joyful heart and am humbly grateful for the experience.


charley basham said...

Thanks for your reflections. I was also a first-timer at NCYMC and share your impressions of the experience as being deeply nurturing and spiritually grounded. Charley Basham

Mary Linda (friendlymama) said...

Oh! I'm sorry I misspelled your name, Charley!
It was so nice to meet you and your fellow SotS mates. I appreciate being able to know the people Mark shared such a profound experience with. (And we'll never get to the end of the Samuel "Bonus" jokes around here, thanks to you!)