Writing a Faith and Practice

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 [1988] 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.

8 thoughts on “Writing a Faith and Practice

  1. Oh, George, what a mess. New York Yearly Meeting took 17 years to approve the core draft of its current Faith and Practice, and I began attending its sessions faithfully as this period was coming to a close. Back then (the late 1980s), it was gay marriage and allergic reactions to Christ-centered Quakerism that drove the discord.

    I was there for the final approval, which many declared a gathered meeting covered by the Holy Spirit. To me, it seemed a triumph of exhaustion of spirit and Spirit, just this side of a railroading. I was exhausted myself, and I never even served on the committee. But I refuse to honor the process as approval under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Still, the book of discipline is not too bad.

    So I commiserate. Your efforts and that of your meeting seem right ordered to me. I have a phrase I invoke sometimes: To hell with Quaker process when hell is where it takes you. Nevertheless, BYM seems to have gone off the process rails. In my experience, a lot of Friends who think they know what they are doing really don’t. Oh, well.

    I also have felt like writing my own Faith and Practice. So I eagerly await your work as it comes to us. It’s a big project, and I hope you do not bow under its weight. I shall pray for you. And I shall follow it and comment, as I feel led, and, inevitably, I suspect, I will parallel your work with my own. I don’t think I have the stamina to keep it up; my own blog has become a bit of a burden to me lately, and I find my spirit being led in other directions than Quaker navel-gazing. But . . . I care so much about this movement as a vessel for G*d’s love and inspiration. So I keep being drawn back.

    Yours in G*d’s love, Steven Davison

  2. Thanks for your comments, Steven, and your empathy. I do want to note that we have seasoned Friends working on the revision, so it’s not a matter of people not knowing what they’re doing. Nor is it a matter of ill intent. I think there’s been significant misunderstanding, and I hope that this post, although I understand the difficulties an essay like this can raise, might help to clarify the situation and lead us to unity, if unavoidably via a rough path, rather than contribute to further disunity.

    I look forward to reading your work as well as your comments on whatever I may be able to produce here as we work toward finding appropriate expression of the Quaker experience in our times.

  3. I am grateful to report that yesterday at BYM interim Meeting (October 17, 2015 at Goose Creek Meeting) the question about process of revision of our BYM Faith and Practice was clarified reaffirming our minute in 2013:
    1) The BYM Faith and Practice is our current F&P;
    2) The 2013 draft F&P (around which we could not come to unity) is a resource for future revisions;
    3) We will be revising the 1988 F&P.

    The vitality of BYM was palpable at our meeting yesterday — so much creativity and energy was displayed in report after report some of which is highlighted below.
    —We are moving quickly upon receipt of the Shoemaker Grant “Growing Diverse Leadership in BYM” and have hired an extraordinary person who grew up in our camps and currently serves as the Director of Catoctin Quaker Camp to serve as our Outreach Inclusion Coordinator, Dyresha Harris!
    – Bob Rhudy, our Interim General Secretary is doing an extraordinary job reaching out and meeting with Friends within and beyond BYM — “connecting the dots”.
    – BYM signed on to the Shared Quaker Statement: Facing the Challenge of Climate Change and many monthly meetings are signing on.
    –We had over 500 campers last summer and over 300 paid and volunteer workers in our 3 wonderful Quaker camps and Teen Adventure Program. A third of our campers are children of color.
    –We are a third of the way through raising funds for an new solar bath house with compost toilets — not only a much needed construction but a statement of how we should build to save the earth.
    – The Program Committee for Annual Sessions has announced that we have two amazing plenary speakers for Annual Sessions (Aug 1-6, 2016); George Lakey (currently working the very effective Earth Quaker Action Team) and Christina Repoley (founder of Quaker Voluntary Service).

    With all this evidence of spiritual vitality, I am confident, that if we are faithful, that way will open for us to produce a Faith and Practice that we not only can unite with but can celebrate.

    My recommendation at the meeting was to start with small practical aspects of faith and practice that need updating–the nuts and bolts of how monthly meetings function–and experience some small successes as we start this long process.

  4. Hi I am just looking in from the outside here. Can I ask how many people make up the community as a whole? Is there a committee and if so how many people are on it? How many communities are part of the Baltimore community as a whole? How do those numbers compare with 1988 and 2001?

    • Those are interesting questions, but I don’t have answers for all of them. A recent estimate put the BYM community at as high as “around 7000,” but my guess is that the actual number (could it be determined) is lower. There are about 4700 recorded members, some of whom may be inactive. BYM comprises about 53 meetings and worship groups. The current F&P Revision Committee includes three Friends. I have no numbers for the previous years.

      • Thanks. It’s just that an American friend of mine who, amongst other things, lectures on Religions in America told me that there are only around 100,000 Friends/Quakers in the US. I was quite surprised and disappointed to hear this. Their online presence suggests that it would be more but maybe it’s just who I like to follow?

  5. George, i just re-read your posts above in light of the ongoing problems in many YMs with Quaker practice of “beyond majority rule” being abrogated by end-runs and administrative decisions by small, executive groups (with obvious power-issues). I know that the F&P Revision Committee of my YM (NPYM) after 13 years of labor is bulldozering ahead with draft chapters faster than the MMs, or even those of us compulsive enough to read them all, can respond. I know they want an end of their labors, but i have eldered them that their purpose is to describe our united, agreed, consensus faith and our default practices, not to finish or publish a book. Fortunately, our YM will have as many years as it wants to discern bit by bit whether the complete revision they decided (and YM tentatively approved) to undertake of our much appreciated 1993 F&P speaks for all of us. So the process has a pressure-relief valve. But i note that historically, when small groups have ignored even small minorities (viz. InYM 2013) and rammed through supposed consensus ignoring Gospel Order, there has been hell to pay afterword. I hold all BaYM in the Light that you may stay low and work collaboratively.
    In the meantime, i hope that the RSoF can get back to letting the Light guide us and not individual egos.
    en paz, ~dps

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