Monday, July 27, 2009

Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference.... and some other thoughts on Quaker community


I have heard bits of pieces about this group, this gathering, on and off for years. Since I didn't have much interaction with programmed Friends before, and since I didn't live out here, I thought it was neat, but I didn't feel much connection with it.

Assorted things have changed, and now I feel a live, electric connection.

One is my own ministry, particularly around Explicit Friends. (Click here for the background, and here for additional blog posts on this theme.)

Courageously Explicit
Three Friends walk into Meeting for Worship: a Christian, a Pagan, a Jew, and a Non-Theist. Each gives ministry from their own experience; they all experience gathered Worship. Come create the rest of the story: coming together, supporting each other, building community, helping each other be faithful, speaking explicitly.

I am certainly called to ministry among Pagan Quakers (and also Quaker Pagans). But I'm also called to ministry among Friends of different thea/ologies, to help us be in community together, to help us be faithful Friends together, to help us speak in the languages of our own experiences and listen to each other in our different languages -- coming together in our shared experience of and commitment to Quakerism.

Over the last two years, I'm coming to see that this includes Friends from different branches of Quakerism, not just within the unprogrammed tradition.

Another thing that changed was my feeling like I just couldn't understand programmed Friends, thanks to the 2007 Mid-Winter Gathering of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC).

In 2007, our Mid-Winter Gathering was held in Greensboro, NC. There are seven different kinds of active Quakerism in that area. Wow. (I can remember, and talk at least a little about, five of them.) During our weekend together, I learned quite a bit about other kinds of Friends, and also about their points of view. There were programmed Friends with us that weekend, for whom I came to feel respect, affection, and kinship.

I even attended programmed Meeting for Worship.

Now, you've very likely heard or read me say that I'm allergic to programmed Quaker worship. To me, as soon as you introduce programming, you almost always introduce dogma and/or conflicting theaologies, and this prevents me from being in spiritual communion/spiritual community with the other folks present.

One of the things I love about unprogrammed worship in expectant waiting is that we so often come into spiritual communion with each other across that combination of differing and shared experiences of the Divine. That's part of the deep magic of Quakerism for me -- that place beyond words, beyond theaologies, in shared experience and communion.

So, I hate anything that spoils that. But I was willing to experiment, and I also felt like it was a way to show respect for Agnes and Willie Frye.

So I went to programmed worship.

It's still not my cup of tea... But it didn't feel like it wasn't Quaker.

That had been my fear: that it wouldn't "feel" Quaker to me, that it would feel like any other Christian, Protestant service, where there would be no space for me as a Friend who experiences the Divine through the Goddess, who is neither Christian nor Protestant.

So that opened up a small space inside of me: I had this experience of programmed worship, and while it's still not my cup of tea or my preferred form of worship, it still felt Quaker. It still felt like family.

Another thing that's changed is living in the Pacific Northwest, and in North Pacific Yearly Meeting, this last year. You know what? There are a lot more programmed Friends out here than in the Delaware Valley or southeastern Michigan. So, it's much harder to imagine them as incomprehensible.

Another thing is the Association of Bad Friends, a notion of Brent Bill's. (Click here for information about the ABF; click here for the Facebook group. Heh heh heh.) There are programmed Friends in the ABF, too. And you know what?, many of them are Bad Friends in the same ways that I am a Bad Friend. We laugh quite a lot at ourselves in our Association, and the ABF has gotten me into more dialogue with programmed Friends than almost, but not quite, anything else.

Back to living in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to there just being more programmed Friends around, the fact that there are more programmed Friends around leads to more experiences with individual people. There's a Friend from Freedom Friends Church in Salem, OR, sojourning in my Meeting in Seattle. I can sit next to her in worship in deep delight. What's more, I have found that Ashley's not incomprehensible to me, spiritually or personally. We don't know each other very well yet, but I can definitely say that we have become friends as well as Friends. I know I look forward to her company and grow spiritually through our friendship. I've met several other Friends from programmed churches, like Sarah. They're not incomprehensible to me, either, and I really look forward to getting to know them better.

North Pacific Yearly Meeting (NPYM)is an unaffiliated Yearly Meeting. It's an amazingly diverse Yearly Meeting, and there's a deep commitment to that diversity -- including theaological diversity. Wow. There are many reasons, current and historical, for our being unaffiliated, but part of it is out of respect for and commitment to that diversity.

(A year ago, that would have seemed pretty odd to me; I couldn't have imagined a YM with a preponderance of unprogrammed Meetings not wanting to affiliate with Friends General Conference (FGC). But I get it now. (We may yet affiliate with FGC; things are in discernment.))

When I went to NPYM Annual Sessions this year, I also got to see firsthand the deep respect between folks in our Yearly Meeting and Friends who were sojourning or visiting from Northwest Yearly Meeting -- a programmed Yearly Meeting which overlaps with us geographically. They are not strangers; they are beloved family.

Ashley and Sarah are co-clerks of next year's Pacific Northwest Women's Theology Conference. I know almost all the women on the planning committee; several of them are from my own Meeting.

And almost everyone I know who's involved has asked me if there's any way I can come back out to WA next year for it. I aim to find a way.

These folks are not strangers. These women are my beloved sisters.

I don't understand it completely yet, but I have a leading here.

And I invite other women from the unprogrammed Quaker tradition along for the ride.

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