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After annual sessions of NW Yearly Meeting in 2012, we realized that it would be helpful to publish a brief history. This document covers the journey of discovery within our meeting and our ongoing conversations with NW Yearly Meeting. Hopefully, this information will help answer questions about our process.

This history was accepted as a minute in September, 2012. A more up-to-date version of this history is available here.


History of Process

West Hills Friends held its first "public" meeting for worship on March 5, 1989. We were one of five NW Yearly Meeting churches planted at this time. From those earliest days, some who came to visit our church asked whether or not gays and lesbians would be welcome in our fellowship.

Then, as now, prominent Christian leaders loudly proclaimed their condemnation of the "homosexual lifestyle." Many of the people who came to visit West Hills Friends wanted to know if we shared those views. During those first years, people didn't necessarily ask about gays and lesbians because of their own sexual orientation; they asked because they knew that they would never feel truly welcome in a place that didn't welcome everyone.

We soon realized that our yearly meeting's statement on homosexuality (as written in the Faith & Practice) was a barrier to building relationships. As a meeting, we agreed that the statement was poorly worded, but we had no clarity on what we would say instead. For roughly a decade, we agreed that Christ would have us welcome everyone, and took no further action to resolve our different perspectives on same-gender sexuality.

As the years progressed, the framework for this discussion shifted. People who were very dear to us identified themselves as gay. Not only did we love these Friends as members of our spiritual family, we knew them to be deeply Spirit-led people with clear gifts of ministry. This was no longer a front-door question; it was a question that went to the very heart of our community.

Does God prohibit all same-gender sexual relationships? Even when this question landed at the heart of our community, we could not agree on an answer. We delegated the task of discernment to our Elders. We trusted that the Elders would eventually find unity, and that their process would be a model for the rest of us. For over 12 years, the WHF Elders labored to produce a statement about human sexuality, which could be included in our meeting's Advice and Queries. Whenever they realized that they were not making progress, the Elders set the matter aside to work on other things. From time to time, the Elders invited people from the meeting to express their individual leadings and concerns. Since Elders typically serve a three-year term, those who labored in this work changed over time.

Eventually, the Elders came to realize that they wanted to make two distinct statements. The first was indeed on the topic of "Human Sexuality." In that statement, we express the characteristics of healthy sexual relationships regardless of sexual orientation. In the second statement, on "Authority," we declare: "It is our experience and testimony that God works through people without regard for race, age, gender or sexual orientation." The meeting as a whole approved these two recommendations in 2008.

We consider our discernment process to be a success. During the dozen years of active listening, we were careful to treat every person with love and every concern with respect. Rather than force an outcome, we gave room for the Spirit to work among us. We allowed for long periods of seasoning and discernment. Even so, we acknowledge that the process did not work for everyone. Some people left the meeting because we were not quick enough to embrace gays and lesbians as full participants in the life of the community. We know that one family left because of our final decision. We mourn for those who left, but remain deeply grateful for the palpable sense of God's guidance that we experienced. Without God's help, we could not have done this at all.

Superintendent Colin Saxton made the reasonable request that we keep him fully informed during our discernment process. He wanted to make sure he was equipped with the truth, so he could answer any rumors that arose. We were happy to honor this request. When we made the decision to welcome gays and lesbians as full participants in the life of our community, we immediately informed Colin. Colin informed the yearly meeting Elders.

For two years, we waited for the yearly meeting Elders to communicate with us. As we waited, we repeatedly heard, "The yearly meeting is not ready for this conversation." We heard, "WHF is not the only church talking about this." We heard, "There is not unity among the Elders on this matter." After our own 12-year process, we were not disheartened by further waiting. Our experience at WHF has made it clear to us that a healthy process takes time.

We also understood that there was still work to do in our own meeting. There's a big difference between wanting to do something, and knowing how to do it well. We needed training to better extend the welcome that we felt in our hearts. In 2009, we created a committee for this purpose. This committee eventually became known as "Welcoming Ways." It remains a vital part of our community.

We were eager to learn what other welcoming churches had already discovered. To this end, we joined the Community of Welcoming Congregations in 2010. As you can read on their website: "The Community of Welcoming Congregations (CWC) is an Oregon and SW Washington interfaith ministry and advocacy organization working toward full inclusion and equality for transgender, lesbian, bisexual, gay and questioning persons. Our work brings together people of faith who believe in the inherent dignity and worth of every person." We have been very grateful for our connections with CWC, and the guidance they have provided.

In 2011, Welcoming Ways invited Colin Saxton and Becky Ankeny to meet with us. At the time, Becky was clerk of NWYM Elders and nominated to be our next Superintendent. After this gathering, Becky invited Welcoming Ways to meet with yearly meeting Elders during annual sessions. We wanted the Elders to know about the successful process we had enjoyed at WHF, and to offer ourselves as a resource to the Elders as they discerned how to facilitate a conversation at the yearly meeting level. At that gathering, we reiterated our commitment to NW Yearly Meeting. We provided Elders with a handout on the history of our process, and a statement of our core values as embodied in our version of the Benedictine Cross.

Welcoming Ways sent another letter to yearly meeting Elders before their midyear gathering in January, 2012. In our letter, we advocated starting the work of pastoral care for LGBTQ Friends and their families, even before we adopt a policy.

In their reply, the Elders stated, "YM Elders with consultation with the AC have been working on a framing document on the broad and inclusive topic of Human Sexuality. This is in response to West Hills and others in the Yearly Meeting. The purpose of this framing document is to help us (the whole YM) to begin the discussion about Human Sexuality in entirety." Once again, we accepted the wisdom of waiting for the conversation to proceed according at the pace set by Elders.

In March of 2012, an alumni group called OneGeorgeFox wrote an open letter to school administrators and NW Yearly Meeting, asking for acceptance of LGBTQ students. We at West Hills Friends are very grateful for the work of OneGeorgeFox, and the on-campus student organization, Common Ground. We believe their call for dialogue is healthy and appropriate. Ready or not, the conversation has landed on the doorstep of NW Yearly Meeting.

Some in our yearly meeting are alarmed to find themselves in a conversation about same-gender relationships. Some perceive questions about welcoming gays and lesbians to be an intentional disregard of Biblical authority. For some, it is a shock to discover that one church in the yearly meeting has already declared itself, "Welcoming."

At West Hills Friends, we have felt the backlash of those who reject our position. Some have suggested that we have "broken covenant." Some have suggested that we would have more integrity if we left the yearly meeting. Some accusations have been harsher still. Although these voices can be hurtful, we remain committed to NW Yearly Meeting. We believe that we have acted in good faith at every step. We found ourselves called to this conversation by the work of God's Spirit among us. Instead of ignoring this call, we did the work of discernment together. Throughout the process, we communicated honestly with Superintendents and Elders over a span of years.

We are very grateful for work done during annual sessions in 2012 to create a safe space for Friends to speak from their own experience on matters of sexuality. Often, these gatherings were tender and loving, even when they revealed our different perspectives. We have seen God's hand at work in the process.

At WHF, we encouraged people from our community to participate in the discussions at annual sessions. We also made it clear that our goal in participating was not to win a debate, but to listen with loving hearts (and thereby model what made our own process a success). We remain committed to the process of listening for the guidance of our Inward Teacher in the wider fellowship of NW Yearly Meeting.

We also continue to deepen in our understanding of what it means to be a welcoming community. Our life together is enriched by the LGBTQ people in our community. We see the Light of God in each of us.