Creating an Inclusive Space
Quakers seek to see that of God in everyone. Spiritual Deepening is a chance to connect with one another deeply and to see the unique light of each participant. However, many of our meetings are struggling to fully embody the beloved community we hope for. Here are some tools to help you create a space that welcomes everyone.
“Look around your meeting. You probably will observe that most members are white and middle class. But look closely for those who do not fit those categories. How do we harm them and the Religious Society of Friends when we refer to Friends as a white, middle-class group?”
- Moving Toward Wholeness: Addressing Race Among Friends (Vanessa Julye and Patricia McBee)
It’s true that in North America the majority of Quakers are white. It is also true that there are fewer young Friends than older Friends. But we must not forget that there are also many Friends of color, many young Friends, many Friends who do not fit the image of a Quaker we may have in our minds. Many who do not fit into this typical mold have felt their Quaker faith undermined by those who assume they are visitors or new to the religion.
Ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making based on race/class/age/gender/sexuality?”
Spiritual Deepening is an opportunity to build diverse community. Take some time to think about who is in your group. Are you convening with only those you are already familiar and comfortable with? Have you sought diversity?
Some things to consider in bringing your group together:
Who have you invited to be a part of the group? Are there new attenders you don’t know as well who might be interested? You might ask someone from outside the meeting--maybe someone from a neighboring church or community center. In return, you could join them in their worship or events they’re involved in.
Many people of color and young people have expressed feeling tokenized in their meetings; their presence is valued only because of their “diverse” identity. This is very different from being welcomed because their gifts are seen and valued. When inviting participants, ask yourself “Am I seeing ____ in their fullness?” “What do I admire, enjoy, respect about _____, and why do I want them to be part of this group?”
Pronouns are words that function in place of a name (such as she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, he/him/his and others). Most of us have been socialized to believe we can identify someone’s gender from their appearance, and that everyone fits into either masculine or feminine pronouns. This is not the case for everyone. To genuinely welcome everyone, it’s important to refer to every participant with their correct pronouns.
When participants introduce themselves, make clear that anyone who would like to is welcome to share their gender pronouns. No one should be required to share, but it is helpful to create space for those who would like to and explain the concept to any participants who are new to it.
Video: Why Pronouns Matter (2 minutes)
Many Friends of color experience racism in Quaker meetings. To create inclusive Spiritual Deepening communities we must validate the experiences of Friends of color by understanding the reality of racism in our country and meetings. Please take time to read writings by Friends of color:
There is Hope by Gabbreell James
Dear Friend/Good White Person by Regina Renee
A Call for Racial Justice Among Friends by Paul Ricketts (starts page 17)
Honesty about the complicated nature of Quaker history will help create a space where healing can take place. Despite the rosy view of history often celebrated by Friends, Quaker institutions have made many missteps. In the 19th and early 20th century, Quakers ran Indian boarding schools, designed to strip American Indians of their culture and familial ties. “Friends participated in the slave trade, owned slaves, segregated meetinghouses, made it difficult for African Americans to become members, and financed schools for African Americans while keeping schools for Friends children segregated.” - Moving Toward Wholeness
Ask, “How might white culture and white supremacy show up in our Spiritual Deepening community?”
One way we uphold white culture is through our expectations of worship. “Our assumptions shape our messages in worship and the tone of worship itself. Our sedate meetings may be an expression of the discourse of the highly educated. Can we open ourselves to other ways the Spirit might break through among us? Might Friends of other cultural backgrounds help us see some of the ways our assumptions may block the movement of the Spirit in our meetings?” - Moving Toward Wholeness
Ask, “What do I define as ‘correct’ Quaker worship or vocal ministry? Where do these expectations come from?”
Group leaders should be prepared that discussing race, class, dis/ability, gender and sexuality may bring up strong emotions. The anger, fear, guilt, defensiveness, joy and confusion of participants is a chance to grow and heal together.
While people of color deal with racism on a daily basis, white people confront their racial identity and realities of racial injustice infrequently. Most white people haven’t developed the tools to deal with the emotions that come up when faced with their complicity in an unjust system.
If white participants become uncomfortable with conversations about race the group should strive to lovingly push them to face the conversation courageously. It is also important that if people of color feel hurt, we do not ask them to grant forgiveness--we are entitled to anger when it rises.
Similar dynamics may arise when men are confronted with women’s experience of sexism, when cisgendered people learn about the violence and discrimination faced by trans people, or when wealthy people are exposed to the realities of poverty.
We have all been conditioned to question the experiences of people of color, women, trans people, immigrants, differently abled people, and young people. Ask yourself, “Am I listening in openness to each member of this group? Whose voice receives more or less weight in the group?”
It can be valuable to take time during or after each session to check in about how these dynamics are showing up in the group. Reflection questions could include:
- “How did we respond to conflict today?”
- “How did we challenge each other?”
- “In what ways did people feel heard? In what ways did people feel silenced?”
- “How did racism, heterosexism, ageism or classism show up today? How did European American norms shape our experience?”
For those who experience marginalization, social justice work may not feel like a choice. And for many friends, action on issues of injustice is an inseparable extension of their faith. As spiritual deepening communities, how can we push each other to listen for the unique social justice work we are each called to do?
Talk Less, Do More by Jondhi Harrell
We will all make mistakes in our efforts to create beloved community. When others are hurt by our actions it is important to acknowledge their pain and work toward change. However we cannot let expectations of perfection stop us from continuing to practice and grow. Recognize that we are all learning, and support each other in this journey.