The theme for this year's Gathering of Friends General Conference is "Courageously Faithful."
Thanks to my Beloved Wife, I started attending Summer Gathering in 2001. And the Goddess made it clear right off the bat that She was calling me to active ministry among Pagan Friends, not just in my life in general, but at Summer Gathering: that year, I was asked to facilitate the Women's Center Full Moon Ritual; from 2002 to 2006, I facilitated evening interest groups for and about Pagan Quakers; and in 2007, I facilitated a week-long workshop for Pagan Friends.
This year, I am being led in an even broader, deeper direction.
For the last several years, I've been having conversations with Friends in different locales about who feels "most welcome" and "most at home" in our Meetings. I've talked with Pagan Friends, of course, but also Non-Theist Friends, Jewish Friends, Christian Friends, straight Friends, and queer Friends. These conversations have led me to conclusions I didn't necessarily expect, coming at first solely from my own experience and that of other Pagan Quakers.
It's never who we'd necessarily think.
Here's one example, from a large, East Coast Monthly Meeting:
In this Meeting, Pagan Friends feel that they are not welcome to give vocal ministry that's explicit -- that comes from their experience of the Divine, or comes in the language of how they experience the Divine. They feel that it's not okay for them to talk about the Goddess or the Gods, Samhain or Beltane, or the like. They've been eldered for it, they've been criticized for it, they've been told they have to give up the Goddess if they're going to be Quakers -- even though some of them are members of their Meeting.
These Pagan Friends have the impression it's okay for Christian Friends to give explicit ministry. They feel like it's okay for Christian Friends to talk about Jesus or Christ, Christmas or Easter, or the like.
I've heard from Christian Friends in this same Meeting, who were also told their vocal ministry wasn't welcome. I've heard from Friends -- including members of the Meeting -- who were asked not to return after giving explicitly Christian ministry during worship.
I felt an answering pain and anger.
But, they told me, Pagans can say whatever they want.
So, in this one example: The Christians think the Pagans are welcome to speak clearly and openly from their experience of the Divine, but not Christians. The Pagans think the Christians can speak clearly and openly from their experience of the Divine, but not Pagans.
And they've both got it wrong.
Here's my theory:
Friends who experience the Divine in explicit, specific ways rarely feel like we're the "most comfortable" or the "most welcome" in our Meetings.
Somehow, our explicitness is threatening. And folks have let us know that.
Now, I freely admit, when someone stands and speaks their truth, and makes it clear that theirs is "The One Right Way" and that they're prepared to act accordingly, that I feel threatened.
But all of the Pagan, Jewish, and Non-Theist Friends, and most of the Christian Friends, whom I've heard give ministry in the explicit language of their experience are not preaching theirs as "The One Right Way." Most of them are very clear: This is my experience. This is my facet of the whole.
A universal longing in spiritual/religious community is for a place where we can have these conversations about the Divine in our lives. "How fares the Truth with thee, Friend?"
It's time for explicit Friends -- and I'm using this term for lack of a better one, not because I think it's necessarily the best term -- it's time for explicit Friends to reach out to one another, talk with one another, support each other, lift each other up, help each other be faithful, have deep, chewy conversations with each other, build community together.
So, here's the beginning of the language I'm fantasizing about for the interest group proposal:
Title: Courageously Explicit.
Description: Three Friends walk into Meeting for Worship: a Christian, a Pagan, a Non-Theist, and a Jew.
What might the next sentences be?
They all give explicit ministry.
They all experience gathered worship.
Come help tell the rest of the story.
If you experience the Divine in a specific, explicit way, come build community and share fellowship.
I don't know yet what the rest of the language will be.
I welcome discussion on this.
(And yes, I know that's more than three: Jewish, Non-Theist, and Pagan, at least, are not mutually exclusive. *smile*)