THE HISTORY OF THE NEW ASSOCIATION OF FRIENDS
Fifteen Quaker meetings (church congregations) departed as a group from the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends in 2013, and these fifteen meetings joined together as the New Association of Friends. A major reason for the formation of the New Association was that these meetings had a different conception of the way that authority should be exercised within an association of church congregations than did the other meetings in Indiana Yearly Meeting. The New Association recognizes both a legitimate role in the Association speaking for, and acting from, the combined membership, and also the freedom of the individual church congregation (meeting) and the validity of their prophetic voices, as described in Ephesians 5:21, where Christians are urged to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ Jesus.
New Association Friends are proud of their roots in Indiana Yearly Meeting, a church organization founded in 1821. In their earliest decades, many Indiana Yearly Meeting Friends were a strong part of the anti-slavery movement and other reform movements. Levi Coffin, known as “the President of the Underground Railroad” and a Quaker from Newport, Indiana, (now Fountain City), was a member of Indiana Yearly Meeting. In succeeding decades, Indiana Yearly Meeting partook in many renewal and revival movements, from varying evangelical, holiness Christian, and modernist perspectives. All of these spiritual movements also affected the 15 meetings that formed the New Association of Friends. The New Association of Friends has no creedal statement to which its members must adhere. It identifies strongly as Quaker, and it is a member of the Friends United Meeting, an international association of Quakers made up of 30 yearly meetings around the world, and committed “to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved, and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.”
One meeting that was part of Indiana Yearly Meeting, West Richmond Friends Meeting, of Richmond, Indiana, approved in 2008 a welcoming and affirming minute that affirmed gay and lesbian persons, among many others. Other meetings in Indiana Yearly Meeting objected to this minute from West Richmond, feeling it to be contrary to a statement of the yearly meeting as approved in 1982, which had declared the practice of homosexuality to be sinful. As Indiana Yearly Meeting wrestled with this issue, and, in 2011, adopted a process of “reconfiguration,” many Friends felt that the way yearly meeting authority was exercised was a critical issue. Some felt that a monthly meeting like West Richmond should be free to utilize its prophetic voice to adopt a minute on an issue where other Friends do not necessarily agree. The 15 meetings that joined the New Association, set off in 2013 from Indiana Yearly Meeting as a result of this reconfiguration process, have united around the freedom of meetings like West Richmond to be prophetic in this manner, not around the content of West Richmond’s minute in itself. There is much more detail on this recent history in articles written by Stephen Angell in the online journal Quaker Theology, issues 18 to 24: http://quaker.org/quest/QT-Issue-list.html
New Association Friends have come up with a variety of pithy ways to describe themselves. Two such attempts follow:
We (New Association Friends) “are a bunch of Orthodox, Jesus-loving Christians who want to follow God’s will.” Margaret Fraser
“If we don’t live out the admonition to live in love, with each other and all those out there, than nothing else we do has any more meaning than a clanging bell or crashing cymbal. We are to become a people of love, forgiveness, and acceptance.” Joe Kelly