Hope is arising in me on this uncommonly grey morning in July. Northwest Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions begin today as I meet with the Board of Global Outreach (what we used to call the Mission Board). In a sense this is a time of closure as Hal and I are officially retiring from our service under this board, a service we began with great hope and anticipation in 1971. At the concluding banquet on Thursday evening, the yearly meeting will honor us. I hope (that word again) it will be a gentle celebration, not too much hoopla. Not any loud cheering. A few quiet handshakes, a mutual thank-you to all concerned. After all, we don’t plan to stop serving and traveling and writing and living this incredible adventure God called us to so many years ago. We just won’t do it officially any more.
But of course this yearly meeting time is about more than us. We find ourselves, as do so many other parts of the Body Christ, embroiled in the controversy surrounding human sexuality. In particular, our positions on gay, lesbian, and transgender issues are being called into question. And we are a divided people. Many meetings strongly affirm the traditional position that the Scriptures only allow for marriage between a man and a woman, and that any deviation from this position means we are in danger of compromising the faith. Fear combines with sorrow for these dear people. Many people, and at least one meeting, believe the Spirit is leading us out into a brave new world where we can affirm committed same-sex relationships. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. We’re all longing for a clear word from the Lord.
Part of my nature as a poet embraces the ambiguity and basks in God’s silence. But that doesn’t work so well when we’re faced with the concrete need to revise Faith and Practice. And the longing to stay together, even in the midst of controversy.
We don’t know what will happen during this year’s sessions, and I sense that many outside of our community are watching and waiting. That’s why I find this hope that’s twirling around inside me so strange, illogical and lovely. “Hope and a Future” also happens to be the theme of the sessions, and I anticipate what our special speaker, Noah Baker Merrill, will bring.
As I’ve been praying for us all this last year, the words eventually come down to two basic requests:
Lord, have mercy.
And, Holy Spirit, come.