Notes from Yearly Meeting Ministry

You are loved, now. I have such a feeling of Love, which is a fraction of God’s Love.

Should we feel guilty, asks a white man. Guilt is unhelpful, how should I act? Can we empathise across divides?

Can I be my whole self here? Will my hurt be met by compassion? Is this a community we can trust? Can we disagree well, with our power imbalances?

Stories of individual experience are the foundations of spiritual transformation. We become aware of unseen chains.

It is not about feeling guilty but learning to love who we are and act out that love.

Shame and guilt can lead to further violence- instead, we need Grief.

I am laying myself bare before you.

I am not interested in men’s shame or whites’ shame. I am unashamed. We need accountability and responsibility.

So much of privilege is about other people’s stuff.

Did class privilege, appearing educated, help me get ESA?

We are still responsible, even if exclusion is unconscious.

I freed myself from one set of chains and put on others.

A child said, “I don’t want to be a woman when I grow up. I want to be a person.”

We are not called to be good, but to be faithful.

Being broken, I learn my weaknesses. I cry at the anger in my meeting and elsewhere. Could we live with each other in our power and powerlessness? Our privilege makes people leave.

I am proud of being Quaker in our diversity.

I took these notes, frustrated and delighted, at Yearly Meeting in London, 24-27 May this year. I am at one extreme, resenting having to explain what “woke” means. I am quite clear we exemplify White privilege. At one point I thought that no white straight man has said anything useful. It is not a “privilege” to have a good brain, it is a gift, and privilege interacts with that: whatever level of intelligence you have, being white, male and/or straight will make life easier. I felt as frustrated with some of what was said as I do with the line in QF&P 22.45, The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends. That minute was ahead of its time, and now that line shows the opposition. What can I do with the distress of the privileged?

This is our Minute 33, on privilege:

We have embarked on an exploration of privilege, seeking to become aware of the unseen and unspoken chains that bind us, and affect our ability to act on our urgent concerns of sustainability and climate justice, and diversity and inclusion.

Through hearing personal stories and reflecting on our own lived experience, we have confronted our own privilege and lack of privilege. We have learned that we may be seen as privileged in some contexts and as disprivileged in others. Where we have privilege we can choose how to use it: we must choose carefully. We must each learn to love who we are, be authentic, and act out that love in the world, working in partnership to dismantle the institutions and transform the systems that marginalise people.

[A Friend objected to the word “disprivileged”, saying it was not a real word. The clerks confirmed it is in the dictionary.]

Exploring privilege can be challenging and it can be uncomfortable. We need to show each other compassion and trust. Quakers are all sorts of people with the capacity for both good and bad actions, and we find it hard to do the difficult work of looking at ourselves. As a religious society we face the obstacle of pride. Real power will come if we cease to be merely “good respectable people” and be a community that knows weakness and frailty. We must learn our weaknesses and those of our Friends to live with one another. Through our tears we can find power.

We have started our journey in different places and with different experiences. As we have laboured together on understanding privilege, we are journeying from guilt, shame and grief, to speaking of accountability and responsibility, and then to the desire for action. We are impatient: we identified both sustainability, and diversity and inclusion as urgent concerns two years ago, and we want to see change and growth.

[I am not clear we were at Unity on this. We “hoped” it was a good enough Minute. It included beautiful parts from much of the Ministry, and some of us did not seem to understand what privilege is, or see that it is an obligation to subvert it (to me, from my extreme position). “We find it hard to do the difficult work of looking at ourselves”- that was clear to me from some of the Ministry, and I don’t think those giving that ministry saw Privilege as it affects others. I don’t think all of us were committed to “learning our weaknesses”.]

We are fearful of the monsters of war and climate breakdown that are hurting our fragile Earth. We know there is pain around inclusion in our meetings. Fear is holding us back. We fear being misjudged or being seen as preaching, and so we fail to challenge the norm. We fear losing our status. We need to address our fear to begin to do something positive. We have seen signs of hope, but we have work to do, to transform ourselves, our communities and our world.

Our exploration and our journey are not complete. We have examined the privileges we have; the next steps are to see the effects they have on us, and how they make us behave.

We can take passion back to our meetings: our passionate connection to the Earth. We can take a desire to listen to those who do not share our own privileges, and to walk alongside people who are fearful of what we hope for. We can share the emotions from the inspiration and challenge we have felt as we have journeyed together.

[To me, the obligation on me as a white person is to recognise white privilege, and work to correct it- not just to challenge overt racism but to help remove barriers to full inclusion, recognise and welcome BAME leadership. I feel the “Where are you really from?” question others and excludes people, and Quakers ask it. One should not have to explain ones heritage to people on demand, even if sharing about our heritage can deepen our knowledge of each other.]

We call on Friends throughout our Yearly Meeting to continue this work in our meeting communities, to deepen and extend the work we have done, so that we can be the community we need to be to face the future. We encourage local and area meetings to share their insights.

[I stood to propose an alteration to the Minute, and was not called. I don’t know whether making our division more explicit, as I wanted, would have improved matters. I feel that combating privilege is our Leading, yet not everyone is united with it, any more than initially all Quakers wanted to divest from the profits of slavery.]

We ask Yearly Meeting Agenda Committee to discern further how we can take the next steps to meaningful action, to be put before our Yearly Meeting Gathering next year.

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