For about a dozen years, Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) has struggled to produce a revision of its Faith and Practice (F&P) manual, a book that dates back to 1988. A proposed replacement book, created by a committee, was not accepted on second reading at BYM’s annual sessions in August, 2013. Instead, it was reclassified as a resource for revision of the 1988 manual, which was re-affirmed as the current BYM Faith and Practice. That agreement notwithstanding, the “resource” has supplanted the approved manual as basis for revision: a new committee, having announced that it “intends to work from the 2013 draft Faith and Practice as a base,” has solicited further comments on the 2013 candidate instead of the approved Faith and Practice.* Given the two books’ significant differences on fundamental matters, that procedure seems likely to lead to disunity and even more years without an updated manual.
That situation is a factor in my decision to draft a new Faith and Practice and offer it online. As a member and clerk of a constituent local meeting that has formally, if to little avail, expressed its concerns to BYM about the F&P revision process (see Homewood Meeting’s minute, below), I take seriously the responsibility to contribute a draft according to the agreed procedure: i.e., revision of the 1988 book. Further, I am aware of a need for materials on Quaker faith and practice that can be used elsewhere, both as guides for Friends and newcomers and as bases for discussion and educational activities such as “Quakerism 101.” Therefore, I plan to compose and publish here a Quaker Faith and Practice for the 21st Century. It will be published over time in relatively small pieces, which will be gathered into the proper sequence and hyperlinked on a separate page on this site. Revision will be ongoing, and comments are invited. When sections seem complete, I will forward copies to the BYM F&P Revision Committee.
The book, as the introductory section will state, will be intended for members of the “liberal” branches of Quakerism, but it is my hope that others may find it useful as well. My goal is to present the historic heart of Quaker life in a succinct manner that encourages Friends to conceptualize their experience in ways that are faithful to both the tradition — a unique matrix of spiritual power — and our postmodern circumstances.
The first draft of the Introduction will be posted here soon.
For those who are interested in the Baltimore Yearly Meeting situation, I provide below a copy of the minute that Homewood Meeting sent to BYM in May, 2015. The minute was approved and communicated after I had discussed Homewood’s concern with the clerk of the F&P Revision Committee, who had advised me that, despite the explicit instructions of the gathered BYM community in August of 2013,** her reading of the F&P revision section of BYM’s Manual of Procedure required the committee to work from the 2013 draft. Ironically, it appears to me that the constitution and methods of both the current committee and the committee that produced the 2013 book do not accord with that manual’s provisions for F&P revision: the manual does not address a wholesale rewrite because the 1988 book was designed to be a “living document,” to the point of being published in three-hole-punched folders, that would be updated piecemeal as necessary. In any case, the natural assumption was that in asking the “Nominating Committee to bring forward to us by next Annual Session a new Faith and Practice Revision Committee according to our Manual of Procedure“ (minute Y2013-56, quoted below), we were referring to the manual’s provisions for the conduct of the nomination process. Given the serious nature of the issue, the careful and unequivocal wording of the minute that expressed our united will, and our common trust in Quaker business process, few if any would have imagined that our reference to a procedural manual would be construed as invalidating the decision that included it. But that is what has happened.
In considering the situation, Homewood Friends felt that an apparent conflict between a major community decision and a procedural manual should be resolved by the gathered community. Consequently, the minute included a request that Homewood’s concern be an item of business during BYM’s 2015 annual sessions. BYM’s new presiding clerk requested that the issue be “seasoned” before then by means of a meeting between the Revision Committee and Homewood Friends. He and a member of the committee met with Friends at Homewood in late June. There was no further communication before BYM’s annual sessions in August. As some Friends would learn at the Revision Committee’s workshop during those sessions (the committee’s official report to the business meeting, scheduled for that week, would be postponed until the smaller “Interim Meeting” in October), no substantive change in the revision process resulted from that meeting, nor was Homewood’s minute included in BYM’s business agenda. At present, Baltimore Yearly Meeting appears to continue toward disunity on a path of broken process.
Homewood Friends Meeting
Minute on BYM Faith and Practice Revision
Dear Friends of Baltimore Yearly Meeting,
At the 2013 Annual Session, BYM concluded a 10-year process of revision of our Faith and Practice by discerning that we were not in unity with the 2013 draft revision that had been presented to us. Apparently, that situation arose in part from a lack of clarity and agreement about the revision process, which led, unfortunately, to disunity. Homewood Friends are concerned that BYM is again embarking on revision of our Faith and Practice with lack of clarity and agreement. Good process is essential to creating a document that expresses a unified understanding of our faith and practice. Our concern has two principal aspects.
First, the new BYM Faith and Practice Revision Committee has announced that it “intends to work from the 2013 [draft] as a base and solicit new insights from the Local Meetings” (I2014-54). That announced plan is inconsistent with the explicit direction of the minute, Y2013-56, which created the committee and expressed the careful discernment of the BYM community gathered in the 2013 Annual Sessions: “That Committee will bring forward revisions to our existing  Faith and Practice in segments small enough for meaningful discussion and discernment.” It is not in good order to begin the revision process with a step that contradicts the unified understanding of the Yearly Meeting; it diverts us from the path to unity.
Following is an excerpt from BYM minute Y2013-56:
We have a current Faith and Practice. It is the 1988 version, as revised in 2001. This stands as our Faith and Practice until we reach unity to revise or replace it. A proposed new Faith and Practice (…the “2013 draft”) has been brought before us. … We do not have unity to adopt this 2013 Faith and Practice as it stands now.
This lack of unity has two parts:
1. Substance: While some Friends whole-heartedly endorse the contents of the 2013 Faith and Practice, others cannot unite with many parts of it.
2. Process: Many Friends feel overwhelmed by the task before us, finding it impossible to have meaningful discernment on so large a document all at once. Especially with regard to matters at the core of our Faith, these Friends suggest the best process would be for discernment involving meaningful discussions on manageable amounts of material over the course of years.
Thus we cannot adopt the 2013 draft Faith and Practice as presented, and our 1988 Faith and Practice (as revised in 2001) stands as our current Faith and Practice …. We do not want to discard the 2013 draft. We would like to make it available to Friends as a resource, as long as it is clear to all that is has not been adopted as our Faith and Practice.
We ask Nominating Committee to bring forward to us by next Annual Session a new Faith and Practice Revision Committee according to our Manual of Procedure. That Committee will bring forward revisions to our existing Faith and Practice in segments small enough for meaningful discussion and discernment. The 2013 draft will be a resource for this Committee.
Second, it is our sense that the defined process to revise our Faith and Practice, as outlined in our Manual of Procedure, is not sufficient to meet the needs of the current situation and to serve as guidance to the BYM Faith and Practice Revision Committee. Our Manual of Procedure states the following:
The Faith and Practice Revision Committee consists of at least three persons nominated by the Nominating Committee and appointed by the Yearly Meeting. These persons are appointed only when proposed revisions have been presented in writing to the Yearly Meeting. The same provisions regarding rotation of members and term limits apply as for other standing committees. When no revisions are before the Committee and the Committee has completed all its responsibilities, the Yearly Meeting releases these persons from their appointment to this Committee.
The Committee receives proposed changes and circulates proposed revisions to all the Monthly and Quarterly Meetings in Baltimore Yearly Meeting with sufficient time that Monthly Meetings may prepare comments for a Quarterly Meeting session before Yearly Meeting. The Committee may help prepare proposed changes to ensure clarity and consistency with other sections of Faith and Practice. It is responsible for ensuring that changes approved by the Yearly Meeting are incorporated into Faith and Practice. Printing and distribution of Faith and Practice or of its revised sections are to be coordinated with the Supervisory Committee.
The Manual addresses what to do when proposed revisions have been brought to the Yearly Meeting; it does not describe a process to generate revisions for the existing Faith and Practice. Minute Y2013-56 from Annual Session calls for institution of a Faith and Practice Revision Committee to bring forward proposed revisions to our existing (1988) Faith and Practice, without guidance on how to generate those revisions. The question of reconciling those two documents has not been considered or resolved by the BYM community as a body.
Friends of Homewood Meeting believe that the BYM community’s Spirit-led discernment as documented in the Y2013-56 minute should be honored, and that any proposed changes to that decision as minuted should be explicitly presented for discernment by the gathered BYM community in Annual Session. We also believe that the question of how initial draft revisions will be generated should be resolved by that gathered community, and that the Manual of Procedure should be amended to allow for the proper implementation of the Yearly Meeting’s decision. We request that these matters be put on the business agenda for the 2015 Annual Sessions. We suggest that this situation may also be a call to clarify how committees should proceed when faced with apparently contradictory directives or insufficient guidance from the Yearly Meeting.
We bring forward this concern in a spirit of love for our BYM community.
Approved in Monthly Meeting for Business, 5/3/2015.
Baltimore Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Homewood
This post is a personal expression of the author. Although it reproduces an official statement from Homewood Friends Meeting, it is not as a whole intended to speak for that body.
* In 2014, the new F&P Revision Committee announced (Interim Meeting minute I2014-54) that it would be revising the 2013 book but would not be using the records of the earlier committee. Consequently, this writer was told, the intensive work that Friends in local meetings did in studying, discussing, and commenting on the proposed material, essentially the same material on which comments have been solicited anew, would have to be repeated if Friends were to have a voice — assuming, of course, that Friends were willing to set aside the agreement reached in spiritual unity at the 2013 annual sessions (namely, to revise the 1988 Faith and Practice) by participating in yet another attempt to revise the proposed replacement book.
** In addition to BYM minute Y2013-56, which is quoted in the Homewood minute, the BYM Website continues to display those instructions on its Publications/F&P page:
This section currently contains the complete text of the current Faith and Practice of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, as adopted in 1988 and revised in 2001.
Click below for a pdf version of the 2013 draft Faith and Practice. This volume was considered for adoption during Annual Session 2013. The Yearly Meeting’s discernment led to the decision to lay down the previous Faith and Practice Revision Committee and not adopt the 2013 draft. By no later than Annual Session 2014, Nominating Committee is expected to bring forth a list of nominees for a new Faith and Practice Revision Committee which will be instructed to use the 2013 draft as a resource for considering and proposing revisions to parts of the current Faith and Practice.