Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Information on Fragrance-free Quaker Meetings, Churches, and Gatherings?

The Ministry and Counsel Committee at the Meeting where I am sojourning, New Brunswick, has brought forward a minute to Monthly Meeting for Business recommending that the Meeting become fragrance-free, as a matter of accessibility.

Meeting for Worship for Business is not yet in unity with the principle of becoming a fragrance-free Meeting.  The matter has been referred back to Ministry and Counsel, which would like to find out about other Quaker organizations which are fragrance-free, and if possible, see some of the policies of those organizations. 

So I am working with Ministry and Counsel to collect some of that information, and I was wondering if you all might be able to help me.

  • Do you know of any Quaker Meetings, Quaker Churches, or Quaker Gatherings which are fragrance-free?  Which ones?  
  • Can you email me any specific policies, or any language in announcements (stasa dot website at gmail dot com)?  (Or post a comment with links to any on-line policies?)

New Brunswick Friends Meeting, and I, would be immensely grateful. :)

Thank you, Friends!


staśa said...


FGC Gathering:

"Fragrance Sensitivities - The Gathering includes people with asthma and chemical sensitivities which are triggered by fragrances. Help these Friends stay healthy by doing your best to bring fragrance-free toiletries (or buy them at the Gathering Store). If you have fragrance senstivities or allergies, read about steps taken to limit air-borne allergens and fragrances at the Gathering."

LauraG said...

Baltimore-Stony Run's early meeting is fragrance-free (although the language in the request to people to refrain from wearing fragrances is _very_ weak). I don't know the wording of the policy, but here's how they word the announcement on the website and the schedule that goes in the written announcements each week:

"9:30 am: MEETING FOR WORSHIP in the Meeting Room. Those who attend are asked by Ministry & Counsel to refrain from wearing perfumes, colognes or other products that contain fragrances."

RantWoman said...

Hi Stasa

The Pacific NW Quaker Women's Theology Conference is fragrance-free, but the website seems to be in flux and I cannot see the policy tonight. Do you want to inuire further?

SMR said...

Twin Cities Friends Meeting is fragrance free. Every announcement sheet carries the following line: "TCFM is striving to provide a scent-free gathering place. Please refrain from wearing fragrances and scented products. Thank you kindly." That has been the case since before I started attending, so I don't know of the actual policy listing.

staśa said...

Laura, thanks. (Nice to see you here!) This is helpful. Do you know who I'd contact to get a copy of the policy?

RantWoman, are you offering to contact one of the 2010 co-Clerks for a copy of last Conference's policy or info? If so, that would be great. I can also sort through the email I might still have in that folder to see if I have that info...

SMR, thanks! (Nice to see you here!) This is helpful, too. Do you know who I'd contact to get a copy of the policy?

I'm in the process of looking up FLGBTQC's info.

Thanks, folks -- I really appreciate it!

staśa said...

Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns Mid-Winter Gatherings:


"In order to make Midwinter Gathering safer for those with chemical sensitivities, we ask that all attenders refrain from using scented personal care and laundry products immediately prior to or during the Gathering. Please note that not all “unscented” products are fragrance-free; avoid products with ingredient lists that include the word fragrance (including botanical fragrance and natural fragrance), or essential oils (e.g. oil of primrose, or sandalwood oil). For your assistance, below is a basic list of fragrance-free products (used without permission). Many of these products are available in ordinary drug stores; others are available from health food stores or online vendors. Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns.

"Please note that although we are asking participants to refrain from wearing or using scented products, [site] is not a fragrance-free facility. See our accessibility page for more information."


"Information for those with chemical sensitivities:

[site] is not a scent-free facility. Sheets at [site] are laundered by an outside professional service; while we will re-launder sheets for attenders housed in our scent-sensitive housing/bathroom cluster, this may not remove all chemical residue. Furthermore, [site] uses scented cleaning products; while we are negotiating whether they can change to fragrance-free products we do not know if we will be successful. We are also currently exploring the possibility of re-cleaning some areas using scent-free products, but this will not remove the residue of fragrant product. During our recent visit to [site], there was a strong fragrance from the cleaning supplies.

We are requesting that all Midwinter attenders refrain from using scented personal care and laundry products immediately prior to or during the Gathering; however, we cannot guarantee that all attenders will respect this request."


RantWoman said...

Friend Stasa

The 2010 Planning Committee laid ourselves down and passed the baton to the planning committee for the next conference. That is who I would talk to about the web presence and the policy. I was not really volunteering to make the contact but can put it in my schedule to aim for over the next couple days. If you are in more of a hurry than that....

Sterghe said...

Just an observation ... you already know I'm a *very* strong advocate of accessibility in general, and of accessibility for people with serious allergies in particular.

That said, do you have specific people in mind you want to accommodate with your new policy? It's not possible to eliminate all potential allergens from any environment. Often, I see efforts to eliminate the trendy allergen-of-the-moment, which does indeed make your space far more welcoming of those affected by it. It also makes your existing folk more aware of a kind of issue they may not have previously considered, and I applaud that.

On the other hand, I'm an example of a person with a different life-threatening allergy to a common airborne trigger--in my case, milk particles. I work in a large government office with a clear fragrance-free policy, regular e-mail reminders about fragrances, and posted signs banning fragrances, put into place to protect an employee who experiences hay fever-like symptoms when exposed to fragrances. I agree with protecting this employee, and don't wear fragrances to work. But, the same workplace severely limited the accommodations they were willing to make regarding my life-threatening allergy, and even still puts in a mass pizza order every Tuesday.

Accommodating an allergy that actually exists among your participants is laudable. Accommodating one that doesn't can actually create barriers to inclusivity, making your space less welcoming of people with different, less trendy concerns.

I'm not saying that's what your meeting is doing, obviously. I even think it's a good idea to make your space fragrance-free. I just also hope that, in wording your minute, you consider how to keep your space accessible and welcoming of others as well.

Weavre Cooper

staśa said...

Sterghe, thank you. Good points.

In this case:

One person who has had significant problems in the Meetinghouse wrote to Worship and Ministry, b/c this person has had to leave Meeting for Worship on more than one occasion due to breathing problems, pain, and neurological problems. This person has also found themselves avoiding Meeting b/c of this issue. This person made very specific suggestions.

M&C was very responsive, and wrote a detailed, short proposed minute and note about what specific products they request people not to use. They also had proposed language for a note for the lobby. (We don't have printed announcements.)

There are at least two other people I know of in the Meeting community with medical conditions exacerbated by chemicals in fragrances, especially asthma. Another person besides me spoke in Meeting for Business about how helpful it is for her for us to reduce fragrances at all.

This next part is going to sound a little bitter, and let me preface it by saying that the Meeting is still in process.

In Meeting for Business, it was the people who stated their opposition to the principle of becoming fragrance-free who threw in many other things, while sounding very sympathetic. "I have friends with chemical sensitivities, and it's not just the products on this list that give offense, it's things like scented laundry detergent..."

First of all, these things don't "give offense": they make me sick, and they can disable me for the rest of the day and for the next day.

Just like food allergies don't offend people, they make people sick, and they can kill people. (Someone did point this out in Meeting for Business.)

Secondly, throwing in every other possible scented trigger but the kitchen sink isn't going to give us an effective policy; it's going make it impossible for us to have an effective policy. And, it's going to keep our Meeting inaccessible to the person who keeps having to leave, and who sometimes just gives up on coming.

(And here's the part where I sound really bitter: That person's new, a Friend from the West Coast, is leaving this summer, and has not transferred their membership to this Meeting. Even though that person has not been named in Meeting for Worship for Business, it's a small Meeting, and a fair number of people at Meeting for Business are on M&C, so a lot of people in Meeting for Business know who it is. I suspect there is resistance to that person being any reason for change.)

Plus, I'm very aware there are undercurrents to the personality politics in this Meeting that I just don't understand yet.

Okay, that's my kvetch for now.

staśa said...

You know... I feel I do need to add that in my dealings with the Ministry and Counsel Committee of this Meeting, as well as several other times I've had to bring up similar issues with other Quaker groups, the response has been just wonderful -- grounded in Quaker process; leaving me with a sense that reasonable accommodations are just not that big a deal, or that even if they are, they're the least a group feels they can do; things like that. And those kinds of responses are really affirming.

staśa said...

from Twin Cities Friends Meeting:

From our weekly announcement sheet:
"TCFM is striving to provide a scent-free gathering place. Please refrain from wearing fragrances and scented products. Thank you."

and from a "Welcome!" brochure/flyer available to visitors:
"Please be aware that Friends in our Meeting with asthma and chemical sensitivities often are adversely affected by certain chemicals and other substances. Therefore, we appreciate it if you refrain from using scented products, including perfume and aftershave."

(No formal policy or minute.)

staśa said...

RantWoman, I have emailed the past Clerks of PNWQWTC but have not heard back; if you could contact the current planning committee or members of the past planning committee for information -- even just cutting and pasting information from the registration materials and sending it to me -- I would truly appreciate it. Thanks.

staśa said...

from http://toxicsinfo.org/canary/Northampton%20Friends%20Leaflet.htm

Northampton Friends

Creating a safe and inclusive Meeting for Friends with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities


MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities)

What Is MCS?

Imagine being so sensitive to noise that the drop of a pin sounds like a crashing set of drums. People with chemical sensitivities have a similar increased sensitivity to the chemicals that surround us and can have a host of reactions.

What kind of reactions might people have?

Skin, eye, and respiratory irritations, damage to the nervous system, allergy symptoms (sneezing, coughing, watery eyes), asthma attack, headaches, dizziness or nausea, trouble concentrating, sudden mood changes, muscle cramping, or even seizures or loss of consciousness. For people who have experienced these symptoms scents can create extreme anxiety.

What do scented products have to do with MCS?

Many scented products contain numerous chemicals which constantly vaporize into the air and attach themselves to hair, clothing, and surroundings of anyone who wears them. It’s not so much the smell itself as the chemicals that produce or disperse the smell. Scents are often the flag that such chemicals are present. There can be as many as 500 chemicals in perfume, for example. So, even wearing “just a little” can have a profound negative impact on someone nearby.

A new perspective

Most people are used to wearing and using scented products and may be challenged by the idea of changing their habits. We would like you to consider that the chemicals in some scented products may cause serious problems for some of us in meeting, even though the scents weren’t intended to harm anyone.

What can I do?

Do your best to avoid the use of scented products.

A Beginning List of Products That Some Of Us Have Found Helpful

staśa said...

Some helpful input from the FGC Gathering Access Needs Coordinator:

"ONe of the things [name] has made clear to me is to request that if folks do need to use slightly fragrant shampoo that they not do it the same morning they come to meeting. A dozen or so folks all outgassing different fragrances is a real challenge for her.

I hope there is little or no carpeting and there is plenty of ventilation in your meetinghouse. .

We discovered as we made FGC [Gathering] more fragrance-free that folks who had never realized what was bothering them were very appreciative of the fresher air. This is called Universal Design (like curb cuts and large print). Everyone benefits not just folks with a disability (or in this case an enhanced ability/sensitivity).

I think folks can have a hard time with change especially if it has to do with such sensitive areas as personal smell and disability. You might want to schedule a listening session (worship sharing?) where folk could safely share their feelings (a little like what happened re same gender marriages). If they feel heard, they may be able to hear better. Only "I messages", speaking from ones own experience should be allowed. No cross talk or judging one another.

It is terrific you are doing this! Please let me and the wider Quaker community know whatever you are able to accomplish.


staśa said...

Milwaukee Monthly Meeting, information forthcoming.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stasa - Eric Evans here (CPMM.)

A question for your meeting's M&C - how will you relay this to new attenders/seekers to your meeting, especially if they walk in the door wearing perfume or scented products?
In many religious communities, it's expected that people will "dress up" for church, and this can often include make-up & perfume for women.
I'm asking because I saw this happen in a Quaker setting, and was handled badly. In this case, it was a Quaker organization (no, not FGC.)
A new volunteer - an older African American woman from another denomination - wore perfume to that workplace and it set off an allergic reaction. The way this was dealt with really embarrassed & offended the woman wearing the perfume to the point that she walked out.
I found Sterghe's comment interesting for this reason. In making our meeting's accessible & welcoming to others, how do we lovingly get across our community's expectations to new people who may be crossing our corporate expectations &/or "personal boundaries" without realizing it?

staśa said...

Hiya, Eric!

The Meeting I'm working with this, which is also the Meeting where I'm sojourning (rather than the Meeting where I'm a member), has proposed language for how to handle this with visitors and newcomers, but is not in unity on the language or how to handle this with visitors/newcomers. Because they/we don't have printed announcements, there would be printed language in the entryway, and it would be handled by the greeter. They/we are not in unity yet, but the Meeting does seem clear that we need to make sure that visitors know they're welcome even if they wear fragranced products, un-knowing.

While I of course fully support helping visitors and newcomers feel welcome -- as you may remember from our time in a Meeting together :) -- I am troubled by the notion that there's by definition a competition and a conflict between welcoming newcomers/visitors and being accessible to people with chemical sensitivities.

First off, what about visitors with fragrance sensitivities?

Secondly, why the competition or conflict?

Thirdly, about the situation you describe:

I am really sorry that happened, and I wish it had been handled differently.

I used to be the volunteer director of a large, volunteer-driven non-profit, and we used to have to negotiate situations like that all the time.

I really wish that situation had been avoided ahead of time by clear communication, so that both people's needs had been addressed. That was an HR failure, a communication failure. The volunteer need never have been embarrassed, and the person with the allergy need never have been exposed to something that was a medical problem. How painful all around; I'm really sorry anyone went through that.

staśa said...

Eric, thinking a little more about something you said:

"how do we lovingly get across our community's expectations to new people who may be crossing our corporate expectations &/or "personal boundaries" without realizing it?"

A couple of thoughts:

First, something that's really important here is to realize that this isn't about "personal boundaries" -- it's about accessibility.

Second, Quakers are often really bad at communicating those "corporate expectations." We just somehow expect people to pick things up without us ever being explicit about what communal standards of good behavior are, and then we get really offended when people violate those standards. I have to laugh, but it's true, and it's terribly painful when it happens.

That's why it's doubly important, when it comes to this issue, that communication be clear, and communication be clearly about accessibility and not about people's personal choices.

(I had a rant in there, but I think that's something separate. *grin*)

staśa said...

Another thought, about what I mean when I say, "It's about accessibility."

Speaking for myself, it's about my ability to remain in the room during Meeting for Worship; to be able to drive home safely or get myself home safely on public transit; to be able to engage in normal activities the rest of the day (activities of the Meeting, activities of my family such as cooking, grocery shopping, paying bills, visiting with friends and family); and perhaps even to be able to function the next day (ie, be able to go to work or school).

It also brings in issues such as medications and money. If someone chooses to wear a fragranced product to Meeting, not only might I have trouble breathing or have a neurological incident, I may have to take medication to manage the breathing difficulty or neurological incident, even after I leave the room.

Those medications have side effects. Why should I have to subject myself to those side effects -- potentially dangerous ones -- so someone else can use smelly shampoo on First Day?

What's more, those medications cost money. My health insurance will only pay for so many doses of a particular medication every month. After that, if I need that medication, I either have to go without, get samples from my doctor if possible, or pay out of pocket -- if possible. With some meds, a single dose is out of reach if I have to pay for it myself.

Why should I use my allowed number of doses so someone can use smelly hand lotion on First Day? Why should I have to choose between whether to pay a particular bill and paying for medication out of pocket because someone "forgot" not to wear perfume?

RantWoman said...

Found it!

Here is the link to the Pacific NW Quaker Women's Theology Conference statement on chemical sensitivities, what to bring, as well as links for more information:


staśa said...

Wonderful! Thank you!

Morgan said...

Updated information at: