Diversity, inclusion and Quakers

How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

Do Quakers welcome everyone? Do they feel welcome? An area meeting committee considered the possibility of putting the Inclusive Church statement on our website, or something similar: We believe in inclusive Church – church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality. We believe in Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ. That is probably too Christocentric for us in its language. “Gospel” means “Good news”, which I would prefer in case there was any misunderstanding. We don’t need you to know our jargon yet. It also has the ring of a paragraph designed by a committee, to please the people inside rather than those outside. I have read Marcus Borg, so think a “scripturally faithful” church is liberal not conservative, but that could be off-putting.

Roll up, roll up! Get your spirituality and mysticism here!

Ten years ago I was inspired by City URC in Cardiff, which had a welcome sign outside: now, their website says We are an Open and Affirming Church, made up of and welcoming people from all communities regardless of race, colour, gender, age, nationality, economic circumstance, marital status, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability or emotional condition. I like that. It says we welcome, without making any requirements. Yes, we still need to talk about economic power, though James worked that out two thousand years ago.

Some of my Meeting do not know what “intersectionality” means. Oppressive institutions are interconnected, so misogyny and racism together oppress the woman of colour; more generally, there are harmless or worthwhile parts of ourselves which we keep quiet about, as we fear they will not be welcome in any social group. At a Greenbelt session on intersectionality, I heard

When they enter, we all enter

-that is, if the most marginalised person can thrive in a group, everyone can. Every part of ourself is welcome. If my Friend does not know the word, I could quote Jesus: just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

All the chairs in my meeting room have arms. We are replacing them. They are sturdy enough, but getting a bit shabby-looking, and I feel my respect for the worship requires, if we can manage it, attractive chairs. But I was embarrassed today when someone who worshipped with us for the first time, having been thinking about it for a year, had those chair arms pressing into her flesh. They simply were not wide enough for her.

We are considering getting two or three of the firmer sort of easy-chair, supportive of the back, high enough to ease getting up, as we have older people who find our existing chairs uncomfortable, which makes them less likely to want to come. We are considering painful backs, poor balance, difficulty getting up from a chair and we could also consider the range of sizes people come in, if we get over our prejudices. We have so many unspoken ways of doing things, what we’ve always done, and people who don’t fit in can learn to like it or leave- just like any other community which has not thought about these things.

I went to talk to her afterwards, but that breached a rule against personal remarks. It is intrusively personal to comment that someone does not fit a chair, because it is seen as a criticism of her rather than of our welcome. I couched it as an apology. I explained that we were getting new chairs- and fat-shaming is so prevalent that it was still seen as a personal remark, as “You don’t fit our chairs” rather than “Our chairs don’t fit you”. The personal remark is the usual thing in society. The apology and pledge to make amends is revolutionary.

I was introduced to my first Quaker meeting by a lesbian, and because I had learned of Quaker action for LGBT folk I chose Quakers when I left the Anglican church. I was a stranger, and you took me in– because of this, I have a need to be an ally to any group disadvantaged among us. We need similar positive work on behalf of all disadvantaged groups. And we need a careful audit of all the things we don’t notice, imagining ourselves as the people who don’t come to meeting.

With a content warning on sexual assault, violent assault and abuse, here’s Whippoorwill, a self-described gender freak… existing somewhere between intersexual and trans-gendered. They have been able to pass, sometimes, as one sex or the other, but hiding was killing them: and “owning their peculiarities”, no longer seeking to pass, they feel less fear. I hope this delights you.

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