Two weeks ago I did indeed travel to Indiana Yearly Meeting, got my letter of introduction endorsed by the Recording Clerk (none other than Tom Hamm, Quaker historian super-hero), visited cheerfully with sundry Friends at IYM's Quaker Haven Camp, and attended every worship session, every business session, and especially every meal!
Then I flew home to Rindge, and the next day hosted two Friends from Kenya in their stop at the school (as they traveled New England between the USFW Triennial and NEYM sessions). Four days later, after doing some actual work on school administration, I left for New England Yearly Meeting.
At NEYM I wore a sticker on my shirt saying "Ask me about Indiana Yearly Meeting" and many friends (and acquaintances, and strangers sitting with me at meals) obliged. And what did I say?
Everyone at IYM was kind and welcoming to me. I felt very included, and I learned a lot. Of course, I knew that most of the worship would be programmed. But they also had an hour of fully unprogrammed worship every day, first thing in the morning. And each programmed service had some open periods of silence when anyone could speak. I've been to programmed worship services before, with Catholics, Methodists, Congregationalists (UCC), and Unitarian-Universalists, but never before with Friends (except once at Pendle Hill!). I will say that the style was more evangelical than I expected -- oriented toward praise hymns and stories of conversion. And I didn't agree with the theology of every message. But that's okay. And I wept for joy during some other parts of the services. The Holy Spirit blessed us, I would say, several times, and not only during the "services of praise and worship" but with spontaneous prayer and song during business sessions! I have been present for such during NEYM business sessions, and I was privileged to be present when IYM found similar centered-ness.
Friend, hast thee read Samuel Bownas' A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister? Okay, okay, I've come clean now: see, I was emulating someone I admired from 250 years ago. I'm a history teacher, go figure. Or maybe --maybe the same spiritual stream runs through the Society from then to now. Anyway, I brought the book with me and read over his advice for how I should act. Some of it was surprisingly applicable. And I wondered whether some events during my journey were signs of way opening: after I missed my early-morning flight (my fault!) the attendant at the ticket counter found me an option that hadn't been available on the Internet (way opening?). I found IYM's Quaker Haven Camp driving from Detroit with no directions. (Now that's guidance...) On my way home, the attendant at a different ticket counter told me that my ticket was technically invalid and he could have charged me $900 for a new ticket, but that he'd let me through anyway (way opening?). In truth, one has to be super-careful in ascribing events to Providence (no, not Rhode Island), since it could lead one out of humility --but it's fun to speculate; and just maybe... I was grateful, too, that while no traveling companion had appeared for me, I was assigned lodging with another traveling Friend from Baltimore YM, which gave me some of the debriefing, support, and daily clearness that a traveling companion traditionally offers.
Back at New England Yearly Meeting, I found myself using explicitly-Christian language much more than I normally do. (Or, as they might say in IYM, "witnessing to Christ.") It felt a bit funny, because I usually use much more metaphorical language. But perhaps we were all prepared for that by our Bible Half-Hour speaker, Benigno Sanchez-Eppler, who spoke movingly about the translation we need to do when speaking and hearing about the Friend of Friends. In any case, I quoted the Bible in my worship-sharing group -twice!- and attended a workshop on missionaries hosted by Eden and Jim Grace (they're awesome!). It felt very natural among my NEYM friends, who know how liberal I am. And it felt natural to be at IYM, gratefully listening. Here on the Internet, trying to explain it to unknown readers with unknown commitments, it's so much harder. But my thoughts about inclusivity, universalism, and the "Christian" label, will have to wait for another post.