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20th Day of Second Month, 2023
To all Friends everywhere,
Members of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns gathered online for our Midwinter Gathering from Friday, February 17th, through Monday, February 20th, 2023. More than 150 people registered from all over North America and from Honduras, Australia, Sweden, Costa Rica, and England. Some Friends were attending their first FLGBTQC gathering; some had been involved for 40 years or more. Though age is difficult to discern over Zoom, we felt blessed to have attendance by Friends at many parts of the life spectrum and to have the children of some Friends join us at times.
Our theme was “Queer Hearts: Relationships, Non-monogamy and More.” In two keynote panels, Friends put their non-traditional relationships at the center, addressing the themes “Queer Hearts: More than Two ‘Bi’ Two”, and “Queer Hearts: Our Sacred Stories”. Panel members shared deeply from their spiritual journeys and their leadings to live authentically. Similarly, in worship sharing breakout rooms, Friends shared their experiences in relationships that don’t align with dominant cultural norms and examined their own values, needs, and leadings.
“I have been called to live in community.”
Although connecting virtually once again, due to the continued pandemic, the web of light was palpable as it flowed between us, from one heart to another, like mist between the distances.
“We will go wherever Spirit guides us, even if that’s apart.”
This Midwinter, we used storytelling to speak truth to power, to name harms within and against our community, and to deepen the connection to allow the Light to grow stronger. In 1999, FLGBTQC Friends wrote, “We are learning that radical inclusion and radical love bring further light to Quaker testimony and life.” This remains true to this day. Storytelling is the language of human experience, and this weekend we heard stories of Friends’ most tender experiences, pulled from the place where curiosity and compassion are born. Friends were invited to notice where in their bodies messages were landing and encouraged to offer compassion toward the person bringing the message; toward themselves; and to everyone else witnessing. More than once in our community, we harmed one another. We continue to practice naming, addressing, and owning harm that has occurred. We know we will never be perfect on our own. We lean on spirit and community as we grow. We are human. We are learning. We are unlearning. We are listening.
“I am neither the biggest nor the smallest thing in my life.”
Creative terms came to light such as “neurospicy” and “genderspicy” as we expanded our knowledge of identity and sense of self.
As always, we enjoyed a range of talents in the cabaret. Gentle persuasion by our wonderful treasurer helped the group collect $73 toward the purchase of a lovely gown displayed and modeled for us by a Friend.
“I want to feel like a ripple in a trans world.”
Coming together for the first Business Meeting since the restructuring of our group, we learned about past and future activities of the newly created Heart Team, Tech Team, Treasurers Team, and Worship Team. These teams offer Friends a way to hold the community in a way that is flexible and responsive to their needs. Friends were reminded that if they are present, they are community, they are wanted here, and we will hold them in this Glorious Light.
“I knew I could be something, but I couldn’t be everything.”
The Heart Team invited guests to Midwinter Gathering in light of significant current events across the US, including the introduction of 599 anti-LGBTQ bills (278 in 2022, and already 321 in 2023), most of which directly target trans folks. Friends held space at one of the breakout room “lunch tables” and also led an interest group on the following day. The Heart Team encourages everyone to consider their rightful place in relation to this effort. Those interested were asked to reach out further to the heart team via email to email@example.com.
The Midwinter Gathering Committee and the The Heart Team worked hard to create a joyful, affirming environment where people could connect through shared identities and interests in breakout rooms with names like, “Flirty & Fun,” “People of Color Affinity Space,” and “Nonbinary & GNC Affinity Space.” There was also virtual space for Friends to connect more intimately, one-on-one.
Friends came together bearing wounds, joys, and concerns. For some the gathering was painful. For others it was a time of self exploration, unearthing privileges previously unacknowledged, strengthening identities or new comings-out, and bringing light to the harm of privilege.
We were all gathered together; and in doing so we were called to learn how to better love each other. We are glad we could widen the embrace of our community this year to make more space for Friends with non-traditional relationships. We strive to seek justice and care collectively as we move forward. We continue to listen for how Spirit is moving among us.
Our affection for each other is palpable and we are so grateful to have had this gathering. On Zoom or in person we celebrate our relationships with each other, and we look forward to the future.
Peg Bernstein, FLGBTQC Clerk
Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC)
July 2018, at Friends General Conference Gathering, Toledo, Ohio, USA
Dear Friends everywhere,
We send you loving greetings from Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns, as we meet together for worship, play, and business during the 2018 Friends General Conference Gathering in Toledo, Ohio. FLGBTQC is a faith community within the Religious Society of Friends in North America that affirms that of God in all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
FLGBTQC has been a beloved and vital community for many years and through many changes. Begun in the 1970s as the “Committee of Concern” because it was not safe to name the group more explicitly, the group later became Friends for Gay Concerns, Friends for Lesbian and Gay Concerns, and eventually Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns, as our spirit-led understanding of ourselves grew.
Unfortunately, we have found in recent years that it has been increasingly difficult, sometimes impossible, to fill the many committee roles we had created over the years. In February 2018, at our Midwinter Gathering, out of a desire for our stated intentions to conform to the reality of our recent practice, we reduced the number of nominated positions from 39 to ten: presiding and recording clerks, a treasurer and finance committee, and a much-reduced nominating committee. Some additional positions will be filled on an ad-hoc basis, for the duration of a Gathering. Other work will grow from the leadings of members as they arise.
The struggle to maintain the commitments of a past version of our community left us distressed and aggrieved, and unburdening ourselves has been a tremendous relief. It has allowed us once again to see the living core of our community, and we hope and expect that our paring-back will make room for new growth. Today, our community includes Friends who came of age before Stonewall, and young Friends who have grown up in the transformed world of the 21st century, and Friends of many ages and experiences in between. We have much to learn from each other. We see intergenerational cooperation, and leadership of the young, as one of our growing edges.
FLGBTQC has long been a central part of our spiritual lives. It has been a place where the gifts of ministry possessed by gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, and queer people have been named, nurtured, and expressed. The number of FLGBTQC members who serve or have served important roles at the FGC Gathering, within FGC, at American Friends Service Committee, at Pendle Hill, in the School of the Spirit, at Way of the Spirit, in Friends United Meeting, in anti-racist work, and in yearly and monthly meetings is a testament to the spiritual power we have helped each other cultivate, and the courage we have found in ourselves and in each other. We have valued the reciprocity of support we have come to enjoy with these bodies, and with individuals within them, as our wider Quaker communities have come to accept—and more than to accept, to celebrate–our lives and work. We are grateful for these connections and for the affirmation of our truth.
We can’t yet know the future of FLGBTQC, but we are heartened by the renewed spirit we find as we face honestly the changes in our circumstances. We come together in joy, in sorrow, in uncertainty, and in hope; in worship, in business, and in social companionship; in spiritual communion, in intimate friendship, and in love; and above all we come together in faith that God will guide us to new truths, new ministries, and new joys. We hope to remain together as a refreshed and growing Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns, but if that is not possible, if God scatters us like the colors of light passing through a prism, we will take with us the truth we have learned from each other, and enrich, and be enriched by, the places we find ourselves. This will be our legacy: whether we are together or apart, neither we nor the individuals and communities we have touched and been touched by can ever forget the truth we have brought radiantly into the world.
Dear Friends, we pray for your well-being, for your faithfulness, for your growth in the Light. We welcome your prayers in return. We hope that in our service to the Spirit we worship, we can be of service to you as well.
On behalf of the FLGBTQC community,
Karen Lightner (Germantown MM, PYM)
Robb Yurisko (North Columbus Friends Meeting, LEYM)
16 of Second month, 2015
To all Friends everywhere,
Members of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns gathered in Burlington, New Jersey from Friday, February 13 through Monday, February 16, 2015. The ninety-eight participants ranged in age from 2 1/2 to 82 years old including three teenagers, a mix of allies and people from other faiths. We met in the Burlington Friends Meeting and Conference Center which was originally founded in 1784, 231 years ago.
The theme, “Love Works 24/7” was developed by O and John Meyer over the course of three sessions. We came closer to embodying the concepts by becoming more aware of when and how we are channeling love. We first identified ten personal characteristics, claimed them and experimented with who we would be without each one. We then examined a mild conflict interaction to see how the other person reflected back a part of ourselves, teaching us how to better love those characteristics within us. We then learned how to apply these skills to difficult experiences to create space for Spirit to enter and transform the interaction.
Agenda items included responding to needs for justice in confronting racism. The conversation began with an invitation to reflect on the collaboration between FLGBTQC and the participants at the People of Color Center at Friends General Conference Summer Gathering. We approved a minute that empowered a working group to continue in this work. Ministry and Council seasoned guidelines for multicultural interactions given to us by Mariana Ruybalid and read them to the gathered body, with the intention to continue implementing these skills. We spent time in worshipful discernment to continue our ongoing work for radical inclusion.
Some business items exceeded the allotted time for discussion, and we accomplished a number of other things. We are considering support of the Quaker Statement on Climate Change in unity with numerous other Quaker organizations, monthly and yearly meetings. Long-range planning issues for sites, duration and accessibility for future Midwinter Gatherings were discussed. The Nominating Committee was challenged to find Friends who felt led to accept service in open committee positions. The Quaker Lesbian Conference, which received support since it began meeting in the 70s from the organization that would become FLGBTQC, has discerned that the need that called it into existence has ended. As QLC lays down this historically significant ministry, the Quaker Lesbian Conference has donated part of the remaining funds to maintain the QLC and FLGBTQC archives at Swarthmore College, and donated the remaining funds to FLGBTQC.
We celebrate that our community is about 40 years old, and we feel that Spirit has been preparing us for the upcoming challenges along the way to God’s Beloved Community.
On behalf of FLGBTQC,
Kathy Beth and Justin Connor, Co-clerks
Epistle from Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns
17 of Second month, 2014
To Friends Everywhere,
We have gathered again in our annual midwinter gathering, this time at Oregon’s Menucha Conference Center above the beautiful Columbia River Gorge.
Our theme expanded on our commitment to become a radically inclusive beloved community. We heard from plenary speaker Mariana Ruybalid, a person of color who lives with cerebral palsy. Other Friends too shared about the challenge of being differently abled and we began dialogue about how we can welcome all those whom society excludes as ‘queer’ for any reason. We challenge the entire Religious Society of Friends to develop their embrace for people whose needs are different; to support ministries that utilize the gifts of all whom God inspires, whatever their health, mental, and physical abilities.
We heard the struggles of two young adult Friends claiming their identities both as Gay and Christian and were inspired by their courage in speaking truth to power and remaining faithful. We are reminded to not turn our backs on these Friends or the communities in which they seek belonging.
We hear of meetings and churches that do not embrace the gifts of Friends’ sexuality, gender identity and sexual orientation. Our experience is that the diversity among the members of our body enriches and strengthens our community. In this gathering, we celebrate attendance of Friends of all branches of North American Quakerism, many Friends under the age of 50, Friends of varying family structures, and Friends of diverse ethnic backgrounds. As we express ourselves authentically and we accept the challenge of loving one another unconditionally, we manifest the testimony of integrity and are liberated to live and love in the Light.
We hold in the Light all those who suffer from oppression and those who consciously or not contribute to their suffering. We wish to be allies to sexual minority African Friends whose nations have laws against homosexuality.
We accept the invitation and challenge from some Friends of Color to share our gifts, support one another, and make our own space more radically inclusive. We joyfully look forward to our work together in future Gatherings.
We honored the life of weighty Friend, Joe Franko, a member of our community whose passing leaves sorrow but whose life inspires continued joy.
We experienced the Holy Spirit of Truth moving among us in many ways as we worshipped and heard the clear call to let our first motion always be to love, especially in response to fear and hatred.
In the Light, in and for the Gathered Beloved Community of FLGBTQC,
Ted Heck & Kathy Beth, Co-Clerks
An Epistle from Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns
Midwinter Gathering 2013
To All Friends Everywhere,
We send you love and best wishes from Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns Midwinter Gathering, held from February 15-18th, 2013, at the Bryn Mawr Mountain Retreat and Conference Center in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.
We unpacked the theme — A Place at the Table — in a series of plenary sessions under the skillful facilitation of Niyonu Spann. This theme proved to be a provocative metaphor that led us to examine how our experiences of power, privilege, and inclusion inform our perception of how big the table is, how it is set, who gets to sit at it, and how they are to behave. We were encouraged to notice individual, group, and societal patterns and tensions around race, class, gender identity, and sexual orientation – and beyond.
The planning committee was determined that we would do more than discuss power, privilege, and inclusion; awareness of these dynamics would inform the process of creating an expanded and more inclusive Gathering. Our community was blessed by the extensive outreach done by the planning committee, which brought more children, young adults, people of color, allies, teenagers, racial justice workers, and non-Quakers to our Gathering, almost doubling our attendance over last year.
Spirit invites everyone to come to the Table of the Beloved Community. We are asked to participate as our authentic selves, with our wounds, and gifts, and imperfections. We were fed and challenged by the Spirit and each other as we wrestled with the reality that there are those who do not feel invited or feel they cannot bring their whole selves to the table. Many of us have had the experience in our religions of origin that to acknowledge our sexuality or gender identity would sever our relationship with the Spirit. We have found the opposite is true: that accepting and expressing our true selves only serves to strengthen our connection with the Divine.
We are determined to continue the struggle, knowing that we will be challenged by what it will take to be faithful to our vision of radical inclusion. As we continue our commitment to realize what radical love demands of us, we ask that you hold us in the Light.
On behalf of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns,
Wendy Sanford and Ted Heck, co-clerks
An Epistle from Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns
Midwinter Gathering 2011
To All Friends Everywhere,
We send you love from Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns Midwinter Gathering, held from February 18-21st, 2011 in Browns Summit, North Carolina.
There was a time when we could not say our name. We dared not say our name – even in the Religious Society of Friends. We were the Committee of Concern. This community has grown up around the concept of “radical inclusion” - the willingness to welcome new and different kinds of people into our community even when we had not expected them, recognizing the expansion of our understanding of who we are as a form of continuing revelation. Some of those who helped form this community continue to actively be a part of our community, for which we are blessed. Others have moved on. Still others have passed on. Yet all these Friends are still very much with us, standing in their own integrity, and calling us into our own.
We came together once again to witness to the power of radical love and radical inclusion to transform and sustain us spiritually - both individually and as a community and to discern how we are called to deepen our commitment to that call. Framed by our theme, “Reclaiming our Past; Proclaiming our Future,” we heard stories of what happens when we do this well. When we are faithful, we recognize that love is a practice, that in relationship we reveal and discover our true selves. We share the stories and truth emerging from our lives; when needed, we say to one another, “You’re standing on my foot! Please get off!” And then we talk about it. We experience the gifts of receiving and giving love that is shaped by the quirks and flavors of each of our individual essences; in so doing, we invite each other into wholeness, greater integrity, a fuller understanding of who we are as a community, and even greater integrity, and thus the cycle begins again.
As we shared our truths with one another in worship, Spirit revealed to and through us how wholeness, community, love, and integrity are intimately intertwined with each other. As one Friend said, “With Quakers, I cannot lie about who I am.” He spoke about how Friends from this community “kicked me out of the closet” - not through violence, but through holding him to a higher standard of integrity and by loving him for exactly who he is. Another Friend gazed into the eyes of each speaker on a panel of our elders, expressing how she could feel the flavor of each life moving through her, transforming her. A third urged that in an unsafe and sometimes hostile world, we must nevertheless go cheerfully where we are led, understanding that only as we bring our full selves forward can we make the world safer for those who will follow. A fourth speaker, an attender for whom this gathering was hir* first experience of Quakerism, spoke powerfully at the end of the gathering of how way had opened for hir* to be here, and a sense of how “I am supposed to be where I am right now. Life is overwhelming but I can do it.” Young and young adult Friends spoke deeply of the condition of a continuum of sexual and gender identities and the urgent necessity of a place of full and unconditional love and acceptance to call forth one’s true self. They spoke of the blessing of a safe space where they could be fully known, of the feeling that FLGBTQC was a place where there was no “card check,” where all were welcome, warts and all, where they could bring their whole selves forward.
We also know our own stories of the pain it inflicts when radical love and inclusion are absent - experienced within this community and others. We know that we have work to do to more faithfully practice radical love and inclusion with people of color and Young Adult Friends and Young Friends, and those who may yearn for but not be aware of or have access to our community.
We ask for the prayers of all Friends everywhere as we do our work, and we ask you, as way opens, to support us and join with us in our struggle. We offer you our unfolding witness and testimony to the power of radical love and inclusion in this community and an invitation to join in this experience at gatherings in the future.
Co-clerks can be reached via telephone at ###-###-#### or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our website is flgbtcq.quaker.org. [ed: contact info included in this minute is out of date]
On behalf of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns,
Deborah Fisch, Co-Clerk, Kody Hersh, Co-Clerk
- Many people who identify as neither men nor women prefer to be referred to by non-gendered pronouns, and this attender is among those people. The word “hir” in this case is grammatically equivalent to “her” as the possessive (“this is hir [item]”) and object form (“I gave it to hir”) but carries no connotation of a female or male gender.
Midwinter Gathering 2009
Dear Friends General Conference and Friends Everywhere,
We send loving greetings to you with this letter, as well as an invitation.
We are gathered at Camp Adams near Molalla, OR for the 2009 annual Midwinter Gathering of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns. During our time together, we have been exploring this year’s theme “Faith Calls for Justice on the Same Terms”. On our first evening together, we heard stories from and about our spiritual pioneers (both in modern and biblical times). We spent time in worship and worship sharing. We tended to the business of our beloved community. We participated in interest groups on a variety of offerings including trans and other queer concerns, Walt Whitman, Love Makes a Family, singing and others. On Saturday evening, we were blessed with a one-person play by a member of our community who has written about trans folk in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. During all of these times, as well as in fellowship around meals, during walks in the woods surrounding the grounds, and in private conversations we found a blessed time to renew our spirits and support each other.
During our meeting for worship with attention to business a letter from the clerks of the 2009 FGC Gathering was read. While we were glad to learn of the work being done to help ensure the safety of our families who are planning to attend this year’s gathering in Virginia, we were also saddened that once again the Gathering is being held in a place where state laws and constitutions have been re-written to take away our civil rights, including freedom of religion and equality. It is with great sadness of heart that we realize how difficult it is becoming for FGC to find a site for the Gathering where this is not the case. More and more, our families fear that they will not be allowed to make medical decisions about their loved ones or they fear that authorities may not recognize their adoptions, civil unions, and legal marriages. We continue to face the nightmare that loved ones may find themselves alone, while we are prevented from being with them at the times they most need us!
We remembered with gratitude that FGC joined with us in creating opportunities for witnessing to the power of God’s Love in our lives and in our marriages the last time the Gathering was in Blacksburg, and that they stood with us and spoke out for us at that time. We also remember with gratitude the loving minute approved by the FGC Central Committee a few years ago affirming “Our experience has been that spiritual gifts are not distributed with regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. Our experience has been that our gatherings and Central Committee work have been immeasurably enriched over the years by the full participation and Spirit-guided leadership of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer Friends. We will never go back to silencing those voices or suppressing those gifts. Our experience confirms that we are all equal before God, as God made us, and we feel blessed to be engaged in the work of FGC together.”
We acknowledge and appreciate the many times FGC and our meetings have stood for us and with us by approving minutes of support and acknowledging and celebrating our unions and families. We still have work to do. We are now led to invite you to explore ways you, our meetings and faith communities can walk with us in witnessing to the World what we know experientially; that God’s love is indivisible and is not withheld from anyone or any couple seeking to live faithfully in holy union. Our silence and the silence of supportive faith communities make it easier for those claiming to speak with the authority of faith to insert their religious doctrine into the laws that govern our lives, as witnessed recently with the passing of Proposition 8 in California.
Today we are called to:
- Invite FGC and our meetings to join us in bringing Quakers together to help us all understand what is meant by “that which God joins together.” Many meetings struggle with the issues marriage raises. What are the differences between marriage as a civil institution and as a “God anointed” union? How can Friends help in the struggle for full marriage equality for same sex couples?
- Invite FGC to join with FLGBTQC to consider together how and when to bear witness to our experience as a faith community concerning queer marriage and civil rights in part because many sites (like in Virginia) will give us Opportunities to witness to the power of God’s love in our lives and in our families.
- Invite FGC to convene a Gathering or small conference whose theme would be “Who so ever God has joined together” which would address issues of marriage, family and relationships of all orientations and gender. We would suggest that Friends from all “sides” of the marriage question be invited to participate.
- Invite our meetings to provide support committees for LGBTQ members and their families when meetings are discerning whether they can or cannot take their marriages under the meeting’s care or when those Friends are made vulnerable because of faith-based witness around civil and constitutional rights in the wider community.
- Invite meetings to participate fully in civil discussions and legislative activism to help speak Truth of our experience of God’s Love for all. Our work can minister to others as we share our own ongoing process as models for other faith communities. We see this as an Opportunity for our meetings to speak publicly to our deeply rooted experience that God calls us to lives of Love and that Love takes many forms.
- We ask FGC, monthly meetings and yearly meetings to raise up the issues of equality and the ways in which our LGBTQ families are most in danger when they travel or seek help, whatever those meetings’ views on LGBTQ marriage.
We want to affirm to you all the power of the witness that our straight allies bring to our own lives and in the wider community. We do not experience this issue as simply a matter of marriage rights, but as a need to affirm and recognize that it is the richness of diversity that has strengthened and nurtured this country and our faith communities through the ages. Friends have long witnessed to a testimony of equality and we ask Friends to join with us in asking our government for equal protection and equal rights for all people.
God has been joining members of our LGBTQ community in loving marriages and relationships for long before these modern times. We are certain that some day civil laws will be enacted that legalize and recognize LGBTQ marriages and other civil rights. We have faith that God will continue to bless our lives. We have hope that civil rights will be in our life times. We know that Love, radical Love, will prevail.
With love and on behalf of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns,
Karen Lightner and Neil Fullagar, co-clerks
Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC)
An Epistle from Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns
The Summit Conference Center at Haw River State Park
Greensboro, North Carolina
February 18, 2007
To All Friends Everywhere;
Once again, we are called to testify to the love we find moving among us. It is a testimony of radical inclusion. It is a cause of great pain to our corporate body to know that there are some Friends for whom our message is deeply disturbing; indeed, apparently, in contravention of their strongly held beliefs. It would gladden our hearts if Friends could soften their hearts to hear us out.
We met here in Greensboro, North Carolina, in this land rich in Friends’ history, hoping to forge new connections across the spectrum of Quakers practicing a living faith tradition, a tradition with currents in the history of the civil rights movements and the movement for religious freedom. We numbered over 100 adults and a rich and lively mix of “little Friends,” “young Friends” and “young adult Friends” as well. In the midst of winter, we noticed the beginning shoots of the crocus outside our plenary building, a sign of the promise of New Life and continued growth. Friends with histories in programmed, un-programmed, and semi-programmed branches of Quakerism came together to share our faith in continuing revelation and our desire to go beyond our separateness into the fullness of our communion.
After dinner together on Friday evening, we were welcomed by the planning committee of North Carolina Friends who had invited us here to experience the diversity of Friends in this region. After the welcoming, we watched a video titled, “Can We All Be Friends?” a question many of us had on our minds coming to this weekend. Are the differences between Friends so deep we cannot talk with each other, learn from each other? Are we willing to be in communion with each other, open to our differences yet secure in the one Spirit that calls us all to be Friends?
After our opening worship together on Saturday morning, we heard a talk by Max Carter, Director of both Friends Center and Quaker studies at Guilford College. Max spoke of the rich heritage of five different branches of Quakerism in this region. With humor, Max pointed out some of the differences within Friends, today and throughout history. As he talked, many of us began to smile at the differences between us Friends. We marveled at learning a history of Friends that some of us were unaware of (Fighting Quakers and Quaker General Nathaniel Greene!), and began to sense some of what unites us as Friends, but also to acknowledge some of the real differences we have as Friends. We were reminded that to reach real unity of Spirit requires an acknowledgement of our differences before we attempt to seek a Way beyond our differences.
We began each day, as is our practice, with worship. For many of us, our First Day worship was the first time we had experienced the richness of semi-programmed worship, in a worship service led by retired pastor Willie Frye. Willie and his wife Agnes Frye are old friends and allies of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns. Willie thanked us for being here and reaching out, and called on us to continue to reach out by sharing our light with the world. He pointed out what we all know because we have grown up as different: It is easier to demonize those you do not know. Bigotry requires ignorance and thrives on separateness. The process of coming out, no matter how painful- for ourselves, for our families, for those around us - is an essential witness to the truth of our lives, and our love.
Some of our first messages in worship were about fear, our own fears and the fears others have of us. In his prepared message, “How To Love In A World of Hate,” Willie pointed out that it is so much easier to understand our own fear of others than it is for us to understand their fear of us. He also urged us to seek for the “third way” that Jesus talked about, the way that goes beyond our differences and into an area to which Spirit is calling us all. By getting beyond our differences, we dare to believe that we can bring about a Kingdom of God on earth, where we transcend our differences, not ignoring our disagreements, but finding a way to go through them and beyond our fears. We recognize that this is not easy work, but have faith that this is our work, and it is work that we cannot rightly lay down.
On Saturday night we joined for a Fireside Chat, a panel of Friends from different branches of Quakerism talking of their history and movement through the different kinds of Friends. We were especially moved to hear from a North Carolina Friend who talked of her struggle to reconcile Jesus’ radical love with a history of Friends’ participation in discrimination and oppression. One Friend from Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) talked of her struggles with marriage equality, but more importantly shared with us her personal journey, begun when an Epistle Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (then called Friends for Lesbian and Gay Concerns) came to her Yearly Meeting. We had wondered those many years ago when we drafted our epistle whether conservative yearly meetings would even read our epistle. It seems our prayers had been answered. A third Friend shared his experiences of discovering he was gay, though married with children, as both he and his wife sought support from their Meeting, as many other divorced Friends had done. A fourth Friend shared her history with evangelical churches and her experience in Oregon where she helped folks get beyond hurtful language so that they could talk with each other. She spoke of living in a world so violent that even our speech is militarized and of trying to overcome that violence by “Opening Hearts and Minds.” She urged us in a talk the next day to “Listen, Affirm, Respond, and Add to the discussion.”
On Sunday night we had another Fireside Chat around the past, present and future of equality struggles. We heard about historical struggles and personal history. Willie and Agnes Frye spoke in moving terms of their deep, painful struggle around their support of FLGBTQC and their gay son. Also, a young adult Friend spoke of the struggle of being faithful to God’s call and the emerging ministry she carries. Their words gave us a glimpse of the power of living Truth and were followed a lesbian Friend who spoke of her struggle to answer her deeply felt call to ministry within North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM). This was followed by a presentation by Peterson Toscano, “Queer 101.” With laughter, we were brought back to the importance and the radical idea that being who we are called to be can change the world!
At the end of our brief time together, we have discerned a deep truth: that we have been given a taste of being called to table, a table to which Jesus called all people - including the despised: prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, priests, women and children - people who somehow would find the faith that love is stronger than hatred and would learn that non-violence must be practiced in deed, as well as word.
We go forth from this weekend with the joy of having spent time with many different kinds of Friends. We also carry with us the pain of knowing that other Friends who were invited either could not or would not join us. We acknowledge our own responsibility for some of this, and for the fact that our community does not seem theologically “safe” to some Christians. We continue to struggle as a community with radical inclusiveness and our own continuing-to-be-revealed form of Quakerism. We continue to commit ourselves to not to let our language, our ignorance, or our own unconscious racism separate us from each other and commit ourselves to seek for deeper unity.
We also share with Friends everywhere the irony of this weekend, that our desire to experience One Spirit was first met with exclusion. When we sought for this gathering to use Quaker Lake Camp here in North Carolina, owned by North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM), we were denied the use of the camp. We do not respond with rage or anger, but with deep sadness. Who knows how deep our wounding? We acknowledge our sadness that in many respects it feels like 35 years ago when lesbian and gay Friends first came together to show a presence in the Friends community and to say, “We are your brothers, your sisters, your husbands, your wives, your pastors, your sons, your daughters, and your Friends. Let us rejoice in our diversity!” Friends, there is much work yet to be done to bring us all to Jesus’ table.
And we conclude by acknowledging our deep appreciation of the gifts of support by those North Carolina Monthly Meetings who were able to be with us in love and support and who helped to make this gathering so spiritually rich and deep! You have given us your gift of love and we send love in return! Please consider joining us for worship and fellowship when we next gather as a part of Friends General Conference Summer Gathering in River Falls, Wisconsin, June 30 - July 7, 2007.
An Epistle from Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns
Midwinter Gathering 2004
We write to you for the first time as Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns. We have struggled for the past several years over what to name our community. We are happy to report that we are moving to a place where we are relaxing into the joy of our diverse fellowship.
One hundred and twenty-five Friends, across our generations, gathered at the Burlington Meeting House and Conference Center in Burlington, New Jersey, 13 - 16 Second Month, 2004, under the theme “Inward Work / Outward Mission.”
The joy of our community manifested itself in many ways. We experienced the delivery of valentines, the giving and making of gifts, the presence of women sharing the work of their hands and hearts and the sharing of our laughter. Our children danced and played with us, requiring our attention and bringing a renewed vision of our lives. We felt and rejoiced at the increased presence and leadership of young adults in our midst. We practiced how to be with, and care for one another.
Many Friends experienced a renewal and diverse depth to our spiritual sharing, in worship, in workshops, in conversation and in fun. Our worship was strong and varied from nearly silent to rich vocal ministry.
As we experienced the warmth and spiritual depth and affirmation of our community, feeling our gifts named and used and appreciated, we were reminded that God loves us as we are. God calls us to use our talents and experience to do Love’s work in the world. Our keynote speaker Tracye Peterson called on us to receive the good news that God loves us deeply and asked if we were prepared to accept God’s invitation to dance with Her/Him.
We learned that understanding our pain and being in touch with our tender places is part of our inward work to prepare us for our further ministry and witness to the world.
One of the recurring images that Friends noted in our experience of the weekend was that of the wounded healer. We are challenged to do the inward work of exploring and expressing our own woundedness as the opening through which we learn to experience the pain of the world. We awaken our deep compassion for all wounded people - even those who wound us.
With grace and humor Lamar Matthews spoke to us of his experience with the withdrawal of his invitation to serve in leadership in the 2002 Friends United Meeting Triennial. We were heartened by the continuing work of Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s response but remain aware of the continuing wounding that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer Friends suffer at the hands of our own Religious Society of Friends.
We celebrated the events of our lives: weddings - new and to come -, births and other transitions. Several Friends shared the pain of being unable to share their lives with family who do not accept them as God made us.
Peterson Toscano shared his truth with us in a humorous and poignant performance piece dramatizing his struggle for self-knowledge in a residential program to transform homosexuals into “ex-Gay Christians.” He portrayed the journey of denial and conformist death to the inevitable triumph of the Spirit that affirms the truth of who we are and calls us to dance with God as we are.
In her keynote, Tracye Peterson reminded us that the liberation we all yearn for always takes struggle. She urged us to prepare ourselves for ministry by using our awareness of our own oppression to notice and pay attention to the oppression of others. She asked us to look for openings as they occur and to use our creative imagination to accept God’s invitation to partner with us to bring about a just and merciful world.
Reminded in our morning Bible study (in I Corinthians 12) with Tracye Peterson that “we are all baptized into one body” and that “when one member suffers all members suffer with it,” Friends gathered in worship with attention to Racial Healing on First Day evening to acknowledge how our Blessed Community is diminished when we are divided along racial lines, or unconscious to each others’ pain. In worship, we prayed for faithfulness and patience to persevere in ending racism’s power over us. Many of us also prayed for guidance to know when and how to use the power of our white privilege in the service of racial justice.
An opening that has come to us as a community is an invitation to join the Pendle Hill Peace Network. We agreed to join the Network recognizing that we have gifts to give in the service of peace through the Network, including our diversity and our own experience with violence and our struggle in response to it.
Our time together in this place-both historic and recently renewed and rededicated-allowed us to do our inward work as a community. As we go forward in the love of God, we call to your attention our outward mission: “It is our hope to offer an oasis to those who have been spurned by the world at large. We are learning that radical inclusion and radical love bring further light to Quaker testimony and life.”
In the light,
Petra Doan and Charlie Layman
Co-clerks, Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns