The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. If the foot says, "I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand," that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, "I am not part of the body because I am not an eye," would that make it any less a part of the body?
A few months back, I wrote about some especially significant problems with which my Quaker Meeting was struggling. They centered around the presence of a registered sex offender who wished to worship with us. Some Friends strongly desired to incorporate him into Meeting, with the inevitable caveats in place to guarantee child safety. Many parents, however, were much more leery of his presence among their children.
Meetings, churches, and houses of worship, I have learned, can have tragic flaws. Ours comes down to a matter of communication. We don't do it especially well. Often times, the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing. Different committees, task forces, and groups simply do not speak to each other. The emotional intensity of the debate blew the lid off of multiple pressures that had been building for years.
The consequences of this entire debacle have been highly unfortunate. Within the past two or three months, parents and their children have left en masse. At last count, 14 adults and 18 children have picked up and gone elsewhere. 32 total Friends have departed for good, or at least for a while. Because of this, we may not have a First Day School (Sunday School) program starting in September. We may very well be a childless meeting from now going forward.
As I've surveyed the names of the recently departed, I find that I know few of them. Our Meeting consigns each group to its own universe, its own orbit. I report, with great regret, that I was never formally introduced to anyone, parent or child, who was involved in First Day School. Old hurts were significant and increased the desire to go elsewhere. Parents felt that they weren't supported by the Meeting and that they had to do everything themselves. I don't doubt that this was true with some.
I find it difficult to know how to be impartial in this matter. Part of me wants to be critical of Friends who are not especially welcoming, nor seem to have that inclination. Another facet of my views entertains the fact that the sex offender, who agreed without complaint to significant restrictions, was never given a chance to plead his case. Many parents believed that they were shamed and guilted into being radically inclusive. On one level, they cannot be faulted for being instantly and immediately afraid of someone who they saw as a threat to the safety of their children.
What did not help matters was when it was discovered that three other registered sex offenders were regular attenders of Meeting. Their identity had been known by some for a long time, but they were not publicly acknowledged until very recently. One of them offered to supervise and take the children out on an activity. When his past behavior was discovered, already squeamish parents began to panic. Panic turned to paranoia. Paranoia and a perceived deficiency in how concerns were respectfully addressed led people out of the Meeting.
This entire ignoble chapter of our Meeting's history reveals many lessons and hard truths. If we truly practiced open communication instead of our usual stuffy, distant attitudes, things may not have reached boiling point. As a member of Ministry and Worship, I have to say that I do not understand the roles and functions of many other committees and task forces. Unprogrammed Friends do not have a called minister, instead consigning tasks a minister would perform to the laity. When I have called for greater transparency within the leadership structure, it has usually been provided in a half-hearted, reluctant manner.
That this happened does not surprise me, I'm sorry to say. It was a long
time coming. Chasing after people who are inclined to leave has been,
in my experience, wasted energy. I am one person and I cannot reverse
years of Meeting culture by myself. However, I do acknowledge that any
Meeting without children has cast its fate and will eventually die a
slow death. It pains me to observe how few members and regular attenders
appear to have no such reservations.
Every time I speak to someone, I learn new information and particulars, information that should have been public knowledge. I get a little bit more of a complicated context. As a Meeting, we simply haven't been talking to each other. No dialogue exists or has existed over time. The Young Adult Friend group of which I have been an active participant was initially formed because we felt ignored by the rest of the Meeting. I can understand how parents would feel the same way.
This post is, in part, my plea for change and for successful conversation. I may not be able to part the Red Sea by myself, but let this story serve as an example and a warning. For people of faith, your house of worship likely contains at least one sex offender, if we're playing the odds. If he or she is not an active member or regular attender, there is still a strong likelihood that one has worshiped with you as a visitor. How you choose to handle the situation is up to you, but I recommend you not take the same course of action.