All I have ever wanted for the longest time is to feel equal, and again, here in this room, I don’t. I hear people talk all week about George Floyd but we are here now, in the UK, in your meetings, feeling like outsiders every day. This is not the experience I was promised.
At our Sessions (the American term avoids the confusion between YM as a group of Quakers and YM as a Quaker business meeting) we addressed the issue of racism among us, and this powerful ministry from my Friend, quoted in the Epistle, showed us where we are.
My ministry in the open worship before business was quoted at length in The Friend: ‘I know that black Friends’ experience of Yearly Meeting and Friends’ Meetings is different [from] mine, as a white Friend. I know that though I am committed to equality as a testimony that I see black Friends differently and treat them differently. This shames me. It is my intention to bring into consciousness all the ways that I do this, and to amend my life.’ The assistant clerk quoted it introducing another session.
The first part was summarised. I quoted QF&P 22.45 which appeared liberal in 1987, but has not aged well. “We recognise that many homosexual people play a full part in the life of the Society of Friends… We have found the word ‘marriage’ difficult… The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends.” That is, we are committed to Equality, but we need to do the work to achieve it, including work on ourselves. It took twenty years after that to get to our affirmation of equal marriage.
I was heard twice. On Sunday 8th, I ministered the commandment of God: “Love one another. We come to worship to meet with God and be changed.” This was quoted in the Minute. My heart is gladdened. I know I say valuable things because my words are valued. Perhaps I have value.
Should I claim the gift of prophecy? I have been thanked for my ministry, though some Americans would object to that, saying it is the ministry of Spirit through me. “The water sometimes tastes of the pipes,” said an American Friend. No; as a bassoon plays different music to a trumpet, so ministry is richer coming from Friends. Actually, I am moved to say what I have heard repeatedly from Black Friends, whose dignity among us whites is my example.
A Friend referred to a racist cab driver. I wondered if there was a difference between a racist wanting people to “go home”, and someone asking “Where are you from?” Often people add “No, where are you really from?” making it completely clear they think a Black person is a foreigner, an incomer, to be treated differently; but even without the addition it is treating someone differently because of skin colour, or perhaps accent. After 26 years in England I am no longer to be treated as an outsider from Scotland, and how much less for people born in England?
We should be aware of these things. Once they are pointed out there is no excuse. We treat people differently because of their skin colour, less well because their skin is darker, better because their skin is lighter, and this is not acceptable. It may seem worse if intentional, but negligence can constitute a crime. Experiencing others’ prejudice, I know that of those who imagine they are accepting can be as painful as that of those who are frankly intolerant.
We also addressed welcoming gender diverse Friends. I did not attend that session. I do not have the dignity of my Black Friends, or perhaps a clear view of the wrongfulness of some treatment gender diverse Friends receive. I am still developing self-acceptance- see above. The Epistle said, “Providing support can lead to greater self-acceptance, enabling Friends to flourish and contribute. Belonging is being accepted as one’s true self. Who are we to resist what God has created and continues to create in all their glory?”
The Quaker Gender and Sexuality Diversity Community led a session in which three trans Friends talked of their lives. They talked of coming out, self-acceptance and getting on with their normal lives. It was a beautiful, optimistic session. My inner critic, always on the hunt for new ways to beat myself up, said to me, “Well, they manage it.” My inner critic, which cannot accept that I might have any difficulty with anything, is part of my problem.
Sessions lasted ninety minutes rather than three hours. I found them tiring, unlike the longer sessions in person, but this is not long enough to discern complex topics. What we had instead was a moral challenge- do we welcome diverse Friends? Do we commit to living sustainably? Increasingly I feel the concept of a “personal carbon footprint” is pernicious. Friends beat themselves up over not doing more, yet there is always more one can do. Meeting God we are changed, and we live our lives better. I see the changes in my own life. Beating ourselves up does no good. Find joy in what you are given to do.
When Zoom brings all the raised hands to the top of screen one, it is harder to ignore people than if they stand in the large meeting house. Meeting in person I have stood and not been called and on balance been glad of it.
I hope we can meet in person next year. I feel with testing it should be possible, yet I would be sorry if Friends caught covid from our worship.
Worshipping with Americans, who sing, quote scripture, and exhort in ministry, I feel British ministry can be too rational/analytical. Often it seems like an argument. There may be a story to point a moral as if we could not just hear and accept a moral truth, speaking directly from heart to heart. One Friend, speaking in a way Quakers might have found rebarbative- not using the right words, or the right tone of voice- spoke of “snobbery”. That’s not quite the same as class privilege and internalised feelings of class inferiority, but close enough. Perhaps he was prophetic. More people than Quakers have spiritual experiences, and we would benefit from a wider demographic. And, when we enter the Stillness, we are so vulnerable!
There were lots of small groups to discuss matters of concern to Friends. There were also spaces for unstructured conversation, bumping into people, meeting new people. I have seen my Friends. I have seen the beauty of the Society I am part of. I am glad of it.
I was glad the Book of Discipline Revision Committee led a session for art work. I give you my connections wheel. You might draw the lines differently, or choose different words.