Since I can’t be at Meeting this First Day when those who attended Summer Gathering this year are talking about their experiences, I am sending a written report instead.
I’d like to start with the Gathering Mission Statement, which was new to me this year:
“It is the purpose of the Gathering of Friends to help Friends know and deepen their relationship with the Spirit and with each other; to strengthen their identification as Friends among other Friends; and to testify to the continued presence of unprogrammed Friends as a vital and unique faith community.”
- approved by Long-Range Conference Planning Committee, 2 November, 2002
I first read the Gathering Mission Statement at the final meeting of the Gathering Planning Committee in May, which I attended as one of the Healing Center Coordinators. The Mission Statement resonates deeply with my experiences of Gathering, and, since I’ve discovered a fair amount of confusion among Friends about the point and purpose of Gathering, I decided to make it available in the Healing Center and my workshop room. It became an important framework for my work at Gathering.
This year was the seventh time that I’ve attended FGC’s Summer Gathering, the seventh year I’ve been involved with the Healing Center, the fourth or fifth I’ve co-Coordinated the Healing Center, and the seventh I’ve been involved in Pagan Quaker ministry. It was the first year I facilitated a workshop or performed in a formal concert.
The Healing Center
The Healing Center “provides a space for Spirit-led Friends to explore, practice, and experience healing modalities from many traditions.” My work with the Healing Center has been a deep gift in my life. I became involved during my very first Gathering, in Blacksburg in 2001. I had no idea why I was drawn to be there, and at first felt very much out of place. That feeling didn’t last an hour; not only was everyone very welcoming, but to my surprise and delight, the Goddess had plenty of work there for me to do. My experience that year led me to discern a leading to become a chiropractor. Within two months, I’d returned to school to begin my pre-medical coursework. Being part of the Healing Center each year helps keep me grounded in my leading and in the spiritual nature of the healing work I’m called to do. It also gives me the chance to work with other Spirit-led Friends in healing, and to experience the immense amount of Grace with which we are gifted every summer. The Healing Center is an amazing experience for practitioners, seekers, and coordinators alike. Our experiences this year filled us with awe and gratitude.
Another ministry which has been part of Gathering for me from my first year there is among Pagan Friends. One way to think of Pagan Friends is as Friends to whom the Divine makes Itself known most clearly through nature, the seasons, the Earth, the Goddess, the God, and/or the Old Gods, as well as the Divine-Within and community. This is a fairly approximate “definition,” as no two Friends, Christian, Pagan, or otherwise, experience the Divine in exactly the same way, or use the exact same language to describe that experience. During my first Gathering, members of the Women’s Center, who knew I had experience facilitating public ritual, asked me to facilitate their Full Moon ritual; in subsequent years, at the request of other Pagan Friends, I facilitated Tuesday night interest groups on Pagan Quakerism. And for several years now, Friends have been asking me to facilitate a week-long worskhop at Gathering. I did feel that leading; but for many reasons, and in spite of having facilitated many shorter workshops, I did not feel ready to meet it. During the 2006 Gathering, I did a lot of discernment around the issue of a workshop and my not feeling ready, and finally concluded that while I had not, in fact, been ready in the past, my current hesitation was really just nerves. Last fall, with the support of Pagan Friends both locally and around the world, I submitted a workshop application, which was accepted by the Workshops Committee in their worship.
So this summer at Gathering, for the first time, I facilitated a week-long workshop. It’s very difficult to get workshop titles into the allotted five words, but I eventually came up with “A Neighborhood of Pagan Friends.” The theme of this year’s Gathering, “…but who is my neighbor?,” resonated deeply with many Pagan Friends, who too often feel belittled and treated as less-than in our Meetings. This echo was present throughout the week. We did deep healing work around this issue, helping us re-ground in our spiritual integrity, in our leadings to live our lives as Friends who experience the Divine in the ways each of us does. We noted that we have heard similar things from Friends who are radical Christians and non-theists, as well, and talked about how we might build bridges with other marginalized Friends.
Our workshop was primarily for Pagan Friends, a place where we could come together in a spiritually and emotionally safe space, experience the Divine together, build community, and be whole; and, from that grounding, be in a more integrated way in the larger community of Friends – Monthly Meetings, Yearly Meetings, FGC – and the even larger community of people of faith. In a way I hadn’t anticipated, workshop participants were challenged to do this each day right there at Gathering. One of the first questions Friends ask you at Gathering is, “Which workshop are you in?” The participants in my workshop had to “come out” again and again during the week when they answered this question. Some had positive experiences; some described discriminatory reactions similar to those which they had faced as LGBTQ or Native people. These were painful. Nonetheless, our overall experience together was one of joy, community, deep spiritual groundedness, and gratitude for the opportunity to share this workshop with each other. The Spirit moved among us, gathered us tenderly, nourished us, and challenged us. Our time together refreshed and recharged us for our work in the world.
Singing the Goddess
At the last pre-Gathering meeting of the Planning Committee in May, during our final worship, someone sang one of the songs she’d learned from A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual. Several Friends who’ve been involved in Threshold Choirs and other forms of music ministry were moved by it, and asked that we find a way to present live music from the book at Gathering. So a group of six of us who’ve been involved with SpiralSong Feminist Spirituality Vocal Ensemble gave an hour concert at the Limeade Cabaret. Singing together at Gathering was a blessing, both nourishing and fun, and we very much enjoyed performing in a F/friendly, supportive, enthusiastic environment. Most of all, we enjoyed singing worshipfully together; it was a delight.
I am grateful to the Meeting for providing financial support which helped me attend Gathering. [note: I received financial support from Friends General Conference, Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, and Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns.]
Yours in Friendship,