Monday, June 21, 2010

Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference - Seabeck, Washington

Yes, that is a mouthful. The PNWQWTC has been around for a number of years and brings together Quaker women in the northwest United States and Canada for worship and conversations. I just attended this conference last week and had an amazing time. I was asked to be on the epistle committee, this time as the clerk. There were just three of us on the committee and we had much more time to work on the epistle. I really enjoyed working with Erin and Iris.

I guess I'm not comfortable sharing my own personal experiences of the conference in such a public space. If you're interested, drop me a line or ask me in person. The epistle does a pretty good job, as it should, so here it is:

To our Quaker family,

Surrounded by the waters and wildlife of Hood Canal and the snowy peaks of the Olympic Mountains, sixty women gathered in Seabeck, Washington from June 16-20, 2010 for the eighth Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference. Begun fifteen years ago to promote dialogue and build relationships among different Quaker traditions, this conference continues to be deeply Spirit led and enriches the lives of women who attend.

Though we represent different backgrounds and branches of Quakerism, the lines between these seemed very thin and blurred. No one avoided talking about her home meeting or church, but our membership didn’t have as much weight as our personal experiences shared in love. Even as we attempted to be open and accepting, at times we misstepped and unintentionally hurt each other. Many of us felt broken open and left this conference changed.

Through reflection papers we wrote, plenary sessions, home groups and discussion, we each connected personally with the theme, “Walk With Me: Mentors, Elders, and Friends.” Each plenary brought us back again and again to the awareness of the need for support and mentorship in our lives. We identified places in which we are being accompanied and are accompanying others and places where we feel the absence of that loving presence. Many of us made commitments to seek those relationships in our meetings, churches and beyond.

Despite colds, more serious illnesses and concerns for the health of loved ones, we drew strength, support, and encouragement from one another. Many think of the Women’s Conference as a reunion and newcomers found they were welcomed into the family with open arms.

In keeping with the testimony of community, we opened ourselves to another group, Interplay, also staying at the conference center. We described the kind of work that we each came to do, invited them to join us in worship, and likewise were invited to experience their ministry and we shared grace together before meals.

We celebrated the gifts of many through plenaries, workshops, singing and readings by several published authors. During one plenary session, several young adults shared personal experiences of their ministries in relation to the theme of the conference. We were thrilled to hear stories of women being supported and held sacredly in their ministry. However, we were deeply saddened to learn that some are not empowered or recognized in their ministries. We were thus reminded of the reality of sexism in the Society of Friends. Encircling the young adult women, we joined together in heartfelt prayer and were moved by its healing and supportive power. This experience deepened our worship and fellowship together. We challenged ourselves to be aware of internalized sexism, as well as the sexism in our churches and meetings, and to work toward true equality.

During business meeting on Saturday, we reaffirmed the work of this body of women and our leading to continue meeting together as an intra-faith group. We look forward to the next opportunity to join in fellowship.


sta┼Ťa said...

Many thanks to you and the others on our Epistle Committee!

Tmothy Travis said...

Reading this epistle I shared the sadness expressed at the lack of support for women’s ministries in the Society and at the continuing sexism that divides us.

It may well turn out, when we reach a situation in which it is possible to have some hindsight on this struggle, that overcoming the self-comforting illusions to which we cling about ourselves will turn out to have been as important to success as the Other overcoming the illusions they use to limit and control us.

Our Society is in unity that we must work through the issues of sexism and come free of them. It is not, however, the devil that is in the details of getting that difficult work done. It is, rather, walking in God’s ways that will lead us to this as to all other iterations of salvation. This transformation will be a fruit of the Spirit, not a fruit of the flesh.

When that happens we (or perhaps our grandchildren) all will have been transformed into something different than we are now, having laid down, among other things, the stereotypes we held that limited the Other. We will also have laid down those stereotypes with which we limited ourselves.

Joe Snyder said...

Dear Norma,
Like Timothy, I am saddened to hear the plague of sexism still affecting our body. Living out here in splendid isolation with my empowered and empowering wife, I am unaware or have forgotten that this scourge still stains our ministry .... and probably at some level it still stains me, though I can't see it now.
Many of us wish the theology conference included those of the male gender; but your record of having still to deal with sexism gives me some better understanding why we are excluded.
I hope the flourishing of the Spirit at the theology conferences that I have witnessed from afar does not lapse into "reunions", as our all too human selves are wont to have it.
You go girls!

RantWoman said...

As someone who has been on the conference planning committee three times, I would like to speak to the issue of a single-gender conference.

First, the question of including men has come up in one way or another every time I have been on the planning committee. I do not think one Business Meeting comment was quite as blunt as the following but the gist of it: if men want to get together and do narrative theology, they are free to organize something.

Personally, I would say I feel no leading to deprive men of the joys of working together and working things out as women have. Women and men tend to have really different ways of presenting information, telling stories and framing questions. I cannot presume to know whether working things out among men would look different for men than it has for women, which is one reason for my statements above.

At this point in the Northwest there are both mixed-gender FWCC gatherings more or less on alternat years from the Women's conferences and some other very intentional intervisitation involving people of both genders.

But I think how we meet is only part of the issue. I felt like the Women's Conference had lots of important themes about how we learn and pass along our customs, practices, theology between people of different generations and levels of experience with Quakerism.

Those issues affect all of us but in that context there has to be ongoing conversation about the dynamics of sexism among ourselves. Probably people who want to know more waht I think about this topic should ask me in person, for example at the upcoming NPYM Annual Session.

Liz Opp said...

The epistle says, in part, "During one plenary session, several young adults shared personal experiences of their ministries in relation to the theme of the conference. We were thrilled to hear stories of women being supported and held sacredly in their ministry. However, we were deeply saddened to learn that some are not empowered or recognized in their ministries. We were thus reminded of the reality of sexism in the Society of Friends..."

I wonder if this is about ageism in addition to (or instead of?) sexism, since there's no mention of the gender or age of the Friends who perhaps stood in the way of the ministry of these young Friends to emerge. Perhaps more was said during the panel than what this epistle can describe.

I support having a separate space for women to gather as long as we continue to look at whether such separation bears fruit. Of course, non-participants may have a different answer to that question, but I would give more weight to the participants in this case, since it sounds like there is a great deal of trust and accountability already built into the conference and its preparations.

For what it's worth.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

RantWoman said...

Epistles are by their nature snapshots.

Here is a RantWoman piece about that issue that also gets at some of the questions you post:

Honestly, for some readers the epistle may imply that the main sexism discussed was in the panel of Young Friends though the conference involved, for me, several opportunities to discuss observed and internalized sexism as well as some other opportunities to reflect on freedoms I take for granted.

I am presently seasoning a set of queries about sexism which at some point will probably get posted by RantWoman.

Ageism also turns out to be a complicated issue: there were a couple panels reflecting the realities of what women of different ages even need or want that I personally am still seasoning.