Friends General Conference

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Exploring Quaker Diversity

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"Exploring Quaker Diversity" was the theme of a gathering held at Community Friends Meeting on August 16th.

A collection of photos from the event is available, as are audio recordings of the introduction and each of the speakers (Dale Graves, Dan Coppock, Frances Taber, and Carole Spencer).

Paul Buckley reports:
About fifty Friends from eight yearly meetings gathered to participate in “Exploring Quaker Diversity,” co-sponsored by Community, Cincinnati, and Eastern Hills Friends Meetings. They heard presenters from the four largest branches in the Religious Society of Friends in North America: Dale Graves from West Newton Meeting near Indianapolis (Friends United Meeting); Carole Dale Spencer a recorded minister in Reedwood Friends Meeting (Evangelical Friends International) and currently sojourning with West Richmond Friends in Richmond, Indiana; Frances Taber from Stillwater Meeting in Barnesville, Ohio (Conservative); and Daniel Coppock from Eastern Hills Meeting (Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting). Shannon Isaacs of Community Meeting was the moderator.

The speakers were well-prepared and well-received. As might be expected among Friends, their presentations were based on their individual experience than on religious doctrine. All were well acquainted with Friends from more than one branch of the society and were able to comment on the diversity both between and within our subdivisions.

Dale set the tone for the day, remarking that “for many Friends, ‘Quaker’ is what it has been in my meeting for the last generation.” Most Friends don’t travel much, so they tend to think that what happens in their local meeting each week is common across the society. They may be surprised, he said, to find out “this may not be true.” The other speakers in turn illustrated from personal experience the variety of beliefs, practices, and behaviors that are found among Quakers in the United States.

Although topics were treated respectfully, there was also room for humor (perhaps an overlooked source of unity within the society). Dan was especially adept, describing his beloved fellow worshipers as “dithering” and a “hodgepodge” to immediate recognition and laughter.

Questions and comments from the audience were thoughtful and heartfelt, indicating real interest in understanding what each was saying. Moreover, people gained insight into how the outward manifestations could be so heterogeneous, but the essential, inward motivation bore a common stamp.

Lunch provided an opportunity for small-group discussion. The participants were assigned seats to ensure diversity at each table. Discussion was sparked by two questions: 1) How do you personally define “Quaker”? and 2) Are there any beliefs, values, or behaviors that are incompatible with being a Friend? These led to deep sharing on what it means to be a Quaker. Even though the lunch break was scheduled for an hour and a half (and ran over), the conversation could have continued much longer – it was hard to pull people back together afterwards for further comments and questions.

The day closed with a period of exultant waiting worship.

The twenty-five evaluations turned in – a very good response rate for this kind of event – were very positive. They described the presentations as “informative,” “thought-provoking,” “inspiring,” and “enlightening.” One commented that the day was “Surprisingly lively yet peaceful.” It was clear that there is a hunger for more events like this (“This should happen more often”).

This event was a great success, and opens an opportunity for more such offerings. Other dimensions of diversity (e.g., race, national origin, non-Christian Friends, etc.) could be explored in future events.

We should celebrate what we have achieved, while asking what can we do next?