15 Rutherford Place
New York, NY 10003
|New York Yearly Meeting News|
|The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)||November 2009|
|Editor, Paul Busby|
Friends, Money, and Class
It was an honor to be asked to assemble articles for this month’s issue of Spark, and it has been a privilege to do so. I was astonished how many of the authors I approached responded enthusiastically to the topic “Friends, Money, and Class.” The quality of the contributions speaks to the various authors’ discernment.
You will note that certain threads run through these articles, viewed perhaps from different perspectives but nevertheless notable for their resonance throughout this issue. I would like to articulate some of them and raise Friendly queries about whether our modern-day testimony is in keeping with our historical (and current) practice.
1. Quakers and Money Have Always Gotten Along
Quaker Meetings have included very wealthy, entrepreneurially successful people. In her article, Greta Mickey writes persuasively of a religious duty for the “haves” to give to the “have nots.” But Quaker wealth has not been a happenstance; rather (as Herb Lape points out) it is a consequence of our faith made testimony in our conduct.
Early on, London Quakers were known for their entrepreneurship and business acumen. Their success came because their high ethical standards begat trust. Many leading British entrepreneurs of the 18th and 19th centuries were Quakers. Pink Dandelion notes in The Quakers: A Very Short Introduction that Quaker families such as the Darbys of Coalbrookdale dominated the British iron industry. The Barclays and Lloyds were powerful bankers. The Cadburys, the Frys, and the Rowntrees were captains of the chocolate industry. Harvey Gilman, in A Light That Is Shining, reminds us that Friends’ Provident Insurance was founded in the early 19th century and became one of the largest insurance groups in Britain.
While Gilman notes that Cadbury and Rowntree, among other Quaker industrialists, were progressive in their treatment of workers, they certainly did not view wealth as un-Friendly. And neither did American Quakers. Some Friends do today. Why?
2. Quakers Have Always Included the Social Elite
Author Joanna Hoyt recounts her early perception that the labor of others sustained her, and she was compelled to join those who daily labor and leave those who thoughtlessly consume. This urge is one that Jesus encouraged (see Matthew 19:23–24). But does it arise from Quakerly teaching? As she notes, it was not a Quaker community to which she repaired, but a Catholic one.
A classless testimony? Our history is quite the contrary. William Penn did not arise from the masses to be entrusted with a colony in the New World—he was a personal friend of the king. Quakers in London included many members of the Royal Society of Physicians, and Quakers in Pennsylvania were the ruling class for many generations. Cornwall Monthly Meeting, where I worship, boasted all of the most influential farmers and merchants in the area during the 19th century.
John Woolman’s “Plea for the Poor” was addressed to Quakers because they were not in fact poor—indeed, Quaker traditions of philanthropy can be traced back to the substantial wealth of Philadelphia Quakers. They were able to be far more charitable than others because they had far more than others to be charitable with. Some Quakers today are suspect of the social elite. Why?
3. Quakers Have Only Recently Become Politically Intolerant
Ever since the Peace Testimony was issued in 1660 as an assurance of Friends’ political neutrality, our testimony has been spiritual rather than political. The Peace Testimony speaks to all outward wars, not to some and not to “bad” ones. We have always been a Religious Society.
This principle applies to work in this most recent century performed by the American Friends Service Committee, which engages people in need, not governments or regimes. Only very recently have Friends changed this practice. Friends Committee on National Legislation was formed only in the middle of the 20th Century, and its mission—to lobby the national legislature—is entirely unique among Quaker organizations.
Some authors, notably David Goodwin, whose article appears on the NYYM Web site, invite a critical assessment of our current political homogeneity. It is similar to, but to me more insidious than, the experience that Jeanne Burns writes about, of not “fitting in” and being the object of Friends’ intake of breath. A birthright Quaker I know well has ceased attending meeting, largely because he could no longer bear the intolerance of conservative thought and the persistent condemnation of our former president—a man, ironically, of profound religious conviction. “It is as if Friends find the Light not in every man, but only in every Democrat.” His experience of never meeting a Quaker who speaks even respectfully, much less kindly, of Vice President Cheney is probably true, and something we should consider when priding ourselves of our supposed “inclusiveness.” Some Quakers today actively despise our political leaders on a spiritually grounded basis. Why?
I invite you to consider the well-thought articles in this issue, noting the recurring threads I have pointed out. Readers should challenge both my and other authors’ observations. Let us be guided in our seeking by the words of Paul: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
Friends testify to the equality of all God’s children regardless of race, gender, class, etc. I think we do well at celebrating diversity in race and gender. We often avoid considering class, perhaps because the poverty of some is linked to the wealth of others. To move toward equality and community, those of us who are economically privileged need to lay down some of our privileges, to live a little poorer. This may feel frightening. But as we do this we will find it easier to enter into true relationships across class lines. We may also find a new integrity and freedom.
I was shocked when I first learned that the physical work that sustained me was being done by people I never considered, many of whom weren’t treated as I would want to be treated. Then I discovered John Woolman’s writings, which spoke to my condition. He recognized that slavery harmed slaveholders and those who benefited from the slave trade as well as the slaves themselves by separating all of them from their true selves, from God, and from one another. He changed his life so that his daily consumption did not require slave labor. I decided that I needed to follow his example and that I needed a spiritual community to hold me accountable. So at 16 I became a Quaker.
In Meeting I found support for my concerns about economic justice. More importantly, I found people listening for God’s guidance and shaping their lives accordingly. My discomfort resolved into a leading to work with my hands to produce basics for myself and others, and to befriend people who had been invisible to me. My family and I were led to St. Francis Farm, a Catholic Worker community in upstate New York. I’ve spent eight years here as a full-time volunteer, growing food to share and trying to be a good neighbor in an economically depressed community.
Our table fellowship includes migrant workers and social workers, people who struggle to feed their children and people who struggle to unclutter their lives. We’re blessed and challenged by this diversity. I’ve learned Spanish, music, and courage from our migrant guests, and I’ve become more uncomfortable with buying vegetables. I look at produce labels and realize I can either buy onions from the farm where Diego lost his fingers clearing a jammed machine that the crew boss wouldn’t shut off or from the farm where Agustín collapsed from working 16-hour days without potable water. I’ve shared work, walks, and gifts of grown and gathered food with our low-income Anglo neighbors. I’ve also become less comfortable with the interest-based economy as I see them slipping further and further into debt. We try to do more outside the money economy. We try to see clearly.
As my class status becomes ambiguous I become painfully aware of others’ assumptions about class. When I attend community-improvement meetings in town I’m seen as a provider of services.When visitors find me working in the garden they tell me that if I studied hard I could get my GED and get a real job. When I talk about living an alternative to the consumer culture, mentoring at-risk children, etc., Friends often say that’s a wonderful leading; but when I talk about being a volunteer farmworker without a college degree or a retirement plan I’m more apt to hear that I’m being irresponsible and wasting spiritual gifts.
I believe that it is false to assume that spiritual gifts are expressed only in professional work and that some people must spend their lives doing manual labor while others spend theirs developing spiritual gifts. Sometimes Friends express these assumptions overtly, as when discussing the appropriate compensation for spiritual leaders. Sometimes Friends express them tacitly by considering themselves too gifted or too busy to do any of the necessary physical work of life.
This leads to the devaluing or invisibility of the people who do physical work. I’ve heard a new attender at Meeting dismissed with “He works at Price Chopper, he doesn’t sound well-educated, and he said something pro-Bush; what does he think he’s doing here?” I’ve attended expensive Quaker gatherings where Friends spoke of universal respect and economic justice during sessions, complained about food in front of the people who cooked it during mealtimes, and failed to honor building closing times that would have allowedcustodians to go home in the evenings. I’ve heard a Friend say regretfully that she can’t deepen her antiracism by befriending people of color in her hometown because all the nonwhites there are menial workers.
Laying down these false assumptions leads to strength and freedom. At the farm I see exhausted workers benefit from having time to rest, pray, read, sing, write, and think. I seeprivate-school students and professionals benefit from doing basic work and reconnecting with their bodies and the earth. I think affluent guests learn more from working past their comfort levels and meeting people who’ve had to work much harder than they would learn from talk about labor issues.
Sometimes visitors to the farm think that we live an extreme to make a point. We don’t. We seek balance in our own lives and invite our guests to do likewise. I urge Friends to consider how we, individually and corporately, can balance basic work, needed rest, and the spiritual development of all.
Editor’s note: Joanna writes that she will be glad to discuss this issue further with Friends, who may e-mail her at joannahoyt [at] yahoo.com.
As God Made Us
In other communities of which we are a part, we choose to be in relationship with the members of the community, or choose to be a part of the community itself, in order to share in the community’s identity. In the covenant community, we choose to be in relationship with God, and God gives us to one another and to the community.
—From Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order by Lloyd Lee Wilson
I’ve had Quakers say to me that you need to be educated to be a Quaker. Someone else said that because working-class people can’t handle process, they of course wouldn’t fit in at meeting. Another chalked up our cultural uniformity to Quakerism’s appealing to only a very narrow demographic. If any of these were true, Quakerism wouldn’t be for me, because I grew up working class, the daughter of a woman who grew up in abject poverty. I was doing shift work, overnight at the time, when I found Quakerism. I had only a high school diploma. I’m a member of a meeting, but sometimes I wonder if I belong among Friends.
On my way to Friends General Conference’s summer gathering this past summer, I stopped in eastern Kentucky where my mother grew up and where a bunch of my extended family still live. I got to spend a brief bit of time with Debbie, one of my cousins, for the first time in about three decades. She’s a few months older than I, almost 43 at this writing, and she has four kids and a few young grandchildren.
As we stood on her mother’s modest cement porch, the sun sank behind the hills and hollers and we talked. Her nieces and nephews joined and left the conversation, and one reminded Debbie about having used a paddle to punish her. Debbie turned to me and said she believes in corporal punishment. She and her niece went back and forth about whether Debbie’s paddle had holes in it, and I slapped at mosquitoes on my legs. I didn’t see someone to be admonished, but instead felt God’s love and compassion for her. I realized then I could never take her to Quaker meeting, not because of her belief in corporal punishment but because I wouldn’t want to inflict Quakers on her, this person who is as God made her, who deserves love and compassion first and foremost.
At the Gathering in Virginia, I sat with a Friend and told this story. When I said that I felt God’s love for her, this Friend took a breath, stiffened his jaw, and suggested I take some time to tell Debbie why corporal punishment isn’t in God’s plan.
I’ve seen that stiffened jaw or heard that sharp intake of breath from other Quakers, but directed toward me, usually when I’ve been loud, direct, honest, or crude. I’ve seen the stern look when I brought processed food to potluck, when I came to meeting dressed up, when I said I watched television. I’ve internalized some of those judgments and tried to look, act, and dress like the lefty liberal middle- and owning-class people that typify liberal Quakers. And I mostly pass, except when I don’t and am again reminded that I haven’t fully understood how to act middle class. I know there isn’t anyone standing at the door of our meetings with a test to make sure everyone passes, there isn’t a conscious effort to keep out people who don’t match our idea of Quaker. But I feel like I am being tested all the time to make sure I fit in.
For a while I’ve believed my lack of understanding of middle- and-owning class ways to be evidence of my lack of intelligence. But Malcolm Gladwell in his recent book Outliers describes the supposedly smartest man in the United States, Chris Langan, who scores so high on IQ tests it’s not measurable. He got through high school by showing up only for the tests, and acing them. But he has done manual labor most of his life because he grew up poor and never learned how to navigate the cultural barriers between him and a college education. I’m not as smart as Langan, and I think I’ve figured out a few social-class rules. Therefore, it’s not my brain getting between me and Quakerism. It’s culture.
So this brings up the question Do I have to be middle or owning class to be Quaker?
I still remember the first time I walked into Meeting. It was the last time my community met at their location before beginning the process of expanding the building. We met outside on listing folding chairs. The group was small because many were off to Northern Yearly Meeting, which met on Labor Day weekend at the time. Puffy white clouds shaded us as I sat on the edge of the circle under the crisp blue sky. I closed my eyes and could immediately feel God’s presence. I fended off sleep after a long night’s work, but felt like I’d come home. I’d been seeking a faith community since I was twelve, visiting churches both with and without my parents, never quite communing with God the way everyone around me seemed to be doing. In the quiet at Quaker meeting, I heard God say Stay. And I did.
This form of worship, of silent waiting, of letting go of my best ideas of how the world should be, of releasing my anxieties and grief and disappointments, of opening myself to what God wants for my life, what God wants for my meeting, of finding it within me to be obedient to God’s will, is what keeps me coming. I can’t find this anywhere else. So shouldn’t the test, if there were one, be about how one communes with God, with or without ritual?
My cousin Debbie and I are getting to know each other after all this time. I plan to visit to do some research about a novel I’m working on. Maybe I’ll ask her to come to meeting when I’m there. Maybe I’ll witness to her the impact my mother’s belt had on me beyond the welts. Or maybe we’ll make chicken and dumplings like our mamaw did, with lard and flour and a boiled bird, and talk about each of our connections to God. That’s where I’ll find equality in the gospel order, not in our shared values or identity.
N. Jeanne Burns is an owning-class European-American Quaker who is culturally working class and is working hard to make social class explicit in whatever she does. She writes and lives in Minneapolis with her partner, Liz, and their cat, Inky. Jeanne maintains the blog Quakers & Social Class at http://quakerclass.blogspot.com, and had two of her blog posts selected for the recently published book Writing Cheerfully on the Web: A Quaker Blog Reader.
Doing Good and Doing Well
Friends take great pride in our historic testimony on equality that denies privilege based on class, race, ethnicity, or gender. Yet we are painfully aware that our Meeting communities are largely homogenous in terms of class, race, and ethnicity. With our membership graying and dwindling and the country becoming more diverse racially and ethnically, it’s critical for us to “answer that of God” beyond our base of seekers who are white, liberal, and highly educated.
There’s an often told anecdote about Quakers coming to the New World: “Friends came to Philadelphia to do good, and they did very well!” We chuckle when we say this, and perhaps have more pride in the “doing well” part than we would like to admit. But our liberal culture allows us to talk only about doing good. I believe that we would do a better job of attracting economic, racial, and ethnic diversity if we became, like early Friends, a community that actually helped people do well in addition to doing good.
A book by Frederick Tolles, Meeting House and Counting House: The Quaker Merchants of Colonial Philadelphia,helped me understand the importance of the creative tension between doing well and doing good. Here’s his thesis as I understand it. The Meeting House is the place where we learn to become part of the grand historical narrative of God’s effort to redeem and restore creation to the Peaceable Kingdom. In the Meeting House, we learn that God is alive and present and seeking to lead us directly by helping us know our gifts and place of service in this great work. Some are called to be prophets who help us see and challenge human-made structures that seek to buttress privilege, power, and social injustice. But most of us are simple folks with simple callings to work, family, and community.
In the past, our prophetic leaders roused us, when the times required, to take a stand for social justice—no “hat honor” for aristocrats, ending slavery, women’s rights, etc. But the Meeting House also became a community of virtue. Evil exists in the individual human heart as well, and people need help in this internal struggle for good.
The “Counting House” represents this practical and personal side of our faith where it intersects with the world. Our testimony on integrity is every bit as important as equality. Quaker merchants became tremendously successful because the world of commerce could trust them. This testimony led them to establish fixed prices and other fair business practices and to emphasize other virtues such as frugality, hard work, etc.
Earlier Quakers understood wealth as a positive blessing, the fruit of these virtues and testimonies. Some Quaker prophet types like John Woolman cut back their business opportunities to focus on their prophetic calling. While cautioning about the temptations of wealth, they never called Friends to follow their example as a norm. Successful Quaker elders were also able to provide discipline to help financially strapped Friends. The Quaker Counting House was also a place to raise capital and make contacts near and far. Seekers were attracted to us because we were not only engaged in the exciting task of building the peaceable kingdom, but we also helped live more successfully in this world.
Another book, Barry Levy’s Quakers and the American Family, credits us with inventing the notion of the family as a place where character and virtue were taught. American reformers publicized the Quaker family as a model for creating a virtuous people capable of self-government in a democracy that could function only with a people who had developed such internal restraints. According to Levy, we helped invent traditional family values.
Most people, irrespective of class, race, or ethnicity, are looking for a religious community that helps them to do good and do well. Good jobs and good families will always be a concern for most people, especially if they do not feel securely entrenched socially and economically. I teach at Friends Academy, which attracts a fair number of “ethnic” families. They are obsessed with hard work and academic achievement and afraid that their kid’s character is going to be corrupted by American youth culture with its emphasis on individualism and moral relativism. Our school’s African-American parents are also afraid of a seductive hip-hop culture dismissing academic achievement as “acting white.” These parents, more so than our white parents, look to Friends Academy to provide what Quakers would have traditionally called a “guarded education”—guarded from the negative influences of selfish “worldly values.” I think it was no accident that President Obama chose a Quaker school for his children. He has made it clear that issues of character and personal responsibility are every bit as important for people of color as confronting discrimination.
In order to attract different ethnic and racial groups, we must recover a vision that encourages doing good and doing well. Character and personal responsibility do matter. We have a grand tradition that combines these two. Micah said it all, “What does the Lord require of you? To love justice, to do mercy and walk humbly with your God.”
Herb Lape is clerk of Westbury Meeting and former clerk of NYYM Advancement Committee. His youngest child is biracial and known to many in NYYM.
Pride, Vanity, and Class Distinctions
Photo by Christopher Sammond
We have recently started to become aware of and embarrassed by our lack of racial diversity. How long will it be before we also realize that a Quaker meeting today can be a pretty uncomfortable place for people of any race or ethnicity who watch the “wrong” TV shows, fail to read the “right” books, or can’t afford to take vacations abroad? How much do our own attitudes and unconscious assumptions discourage many earnest seekers from doing their seeking with us?
How would we be different if we rediscovered and lived out our founders’ vision?
I believe we would gradually become much more inclusive even without making inclusivism a direct goal. I believe that we’d find ourselves welcoming a much greater variety of newcomers, and that they would help us revitalize our testimonies in daily life. I believe that there would be cabdrivers, subway conductors, hairdressers, and construction workers in meeting for worship on Sunday—not because we went out of our way to paternalistically recruit them, but because they, too, caught that vision and we didn’t put them off with our pride in our differentness. I believe that we would still have academics, professionals, and business people among us and that they would profit from knowing the rest of us and knowing how to respect us. I believe that our ministry and witness, well grounded in deep faith, would increasingly “speak to the condition” of all humanity.
Spaciousness. For almost 60 years we in NYYM have been giving ourselves this gift in the manner and place of our summer sessions. Spaciousness, allowing the time to hear one another’s messages in worship. Spaciousness, for the hard work of “healing the schism,” as it was described to me by one sent by her meeting to the 1955 sessions. There, two yearly meetings began to reunite–a process perhaps not yet complete, as our general secretary has reminded us. Spaciousness to allow room for experiment–as we did a few years ago when we declared a jubilee, offering multiple-day workshops yet finding time to conduct all needful business. Spaciousness to experiment now with our day-long Meetings for Discernment, giving ourselves a grounding and a depth of worship palpable through almost every session for business.
And what of our youth and young adults? Many see this time at Silver Bay as a sacred time of community. It is a time they cherish and look forward to throughout the year. Some young adults have no vacation and give up a week of paid work to attend. Some youths give up summer camp or other special opportunities to participate in Silver Bay. Before we shorten the sessions or change the location, we must take their needs and wishes fully into account.
At the same time, Silver Bay, while a tradition important to many, is no more than that—it is not part of the core, what constitutes the essence of who we are as a Yearly Meeting. And every tradition needs to be reevaluated from time to time to see if it still is the best form to sustain and nourish that essence. It appears that we are now engaged in such a reevaluation, and this is a development to be welcomed, as long as we seek our way forward in faithfulness and do not simply react out of fear.
Perhaps the major factor cited against Silver Bay is cost. There are, however, a fair number of rooms available at around $80 per day (including meals), and on-site camping has been announced at still lower rates, so the cost need not be excessive, particularly since we impose no additional “facilities charge” for use of the auditorium and the many other meeting spaces where we gather for worship sharing, committee meetings, ad hoc groups, and special concerns. No doubt, however, less expensive space could be found.
There are certainly those who find it difficult or impossible to meet this cost; but to change our direction for this reason would be to react out of fear. Wherever we go, there will be those unable to attend due to limited funds. Rather than allowing such fears to drive our decision, and regardless of where we meet, we need to find ways to provide sufficient funds for all. Our Yearly Meeting budget alone is insufficient to meet the need for such assistance. We do provide assistance from the Advancement Committee; JYM provides funds to pay much of the cost for JYM staff, and there are various dedicated funds and committee budgets that also provide assistance. However, more is needed than the budget can provide, particularly in these economically difficult times.
One cannot easily compare the costs and the support provided by different yearly meetings, since the mix of room rates, administrative costs, meal choices, etc., varies widely from one to another. One example, however, of a way to reach beyond the normal budget is provided by New England Yearly Meeting, where, utilizing a $100 per attender fee (which I understand can be declined) they currently provide an “Equalization Fund” of some $22,000 for summer sessions support alone. This can provide well over half the cost for those needing such assistance.
We can, and should, do no less. For instance, we could create a similar special fund by an additional fee, or by soliciting individual donations for attendance at Yearly Meeting sessions–if every person who has attended summer sessions were to donate $25, the resulting fund would be quite large; even with half contributing, we could probably raise an amount similar to NEYM. But one way or another, we must find the means to provide meaningful support for everyone who might need it. We need to take such action, regardless of where our sessions may be held.
Another factor is travel. Silver Bay is in northeast New York. Train and bus travel are possible; with some forethought, we could arrange for a group rate, even perhaps a reserved car or bus or two, both from the west and from the south. But travel time and cost will remain a factor, again, regardless of where we meet. Should Summer Sessions travel around our Yearly Meeting, like Spring and Fall Sessions, returning to Silver Bay every second or third year?
Finally, it seems to me that we must consider the powerful potential of Silver Bay for advancement. The open nature of the campus, with opportunities for swimming, boating, nature walks, and other recreational activities, special activities like archery and rock-climbing for children, vesper services in the chapel, and much more, make it an inviting place for those who are not yet committed to membership to come and enjoy themselves, while dipping a toe in the water of Yearly Meeting activities, perhaps by joining a worship-sharing group, or daily open worship at the boathouse or hymn singing in the chapel.
My meeting (Brooklyn) seems aware of this, consciously or unconsciously. Every year, with strong encouragement from the meeting, 45 to 55 people (adults and youth), including many attenders, come to Silver Bay from Brooklyn meeting. And every year a few of those Silver Bay participants choose to become members. If we had three- to five-day sessions on a college campus, it would be much less likely to attract such attenders. The time at Silver Bay is often an important part of attenders’ decision to join–and I should know, because I am one of those people. Without my experience of Silver Bay, I might not have joined my meeting, or it might have taken additional years of discernment. Just this past summer, an attender of some years told me at Silver Bay that she is preparing a request for membership.
So let us consider this question in an open way, without reacting out of fear, remembering that there is a reason for all our traditions, but that all our traditions likewise need full, periodic reexamination to see whether they still provide support for that which is most essential.
I had the unusual opportunity to be raised in an intentional community that was racially mixed but class segregated. With racial separation not an up-front issue, class separation was what I noticed as a child. The adults around us knew enough to avoid racial stereotyping—which was an enormous gift—but they were not as aware about class. The plumber who made different spending choices from my Quaker parents, the girls from the trailer park down the road whose tight skirts and lipstick set them apart from us on the school bus, the mountain people who, for some unknowable reason, could never be part of our world—these were the people who were “other” in my childhood.
Yet is hard to have an “other” without a “better than,” and this flies in the face of our deeply cherished belief in equality. The unity that is gospel order, or the Kingdom on Earth, requires everyone to be seen and known as God’s children. The invisible walls that separate us from others also separate us from that beloved community.
Quakers who are comfortably white and middle class in the U.S. (the ones with whom I identify, and for whom I would try to speak) yearn for relationships with the oppressed. We long to not be separated by race. Many of us who are heterosexual have caught fire with the possibility of being in solidarity with those who are persecuted by their minority sexual or gender orientations. It’s not surprising that we are drawn to those who have been badly treated. After all, that is our legacy. Our people were persecuted and lived on the margins. Many of us have chosen the margins of our own culture, often believing that our faith requires that choice.
Reaching out to people in oppressed groups is exciting. There is enormous power and liberation in claiming our right to relationship with people whom we’ve been taught, by our parents or by the culture in general, were beyond reach. We assert our right to look for and find that of God in them, and our lives are richer as a result. The further we have to reach, the more exhilarating the prospect, the greater the rewards.
I have experienced this in my diverse urban neighborhood. I love rubbing shoulders with my African American neighbors, with immigrants from Southeast Asia and West Africa. It makes me feel safer to not be so separated from people who are different from me. I can get to know human beings, and have some protection from the trap of believing that those differences are too great to be bridged. Yet I find myself a little less eager, a little more defended, as I take on the challenge of reaching out to white working-class folks.
Why do we have such trouble catching hold of the adventure of finding God within the working class? There is no lure of the exotic, just our own boring roots—and perhaps a reminder of the harshness from which we, or our families before us, worked hard to escape. While the working class (which currently includes the majority of African Americans) has certainly experienced its share of oppression over the centuries, many people in that group, and particularly those who are white, have been persuaded that their shot at the American Dream requires moving toward the center and distancing themselves from those on the margin. It’s easy to see those who don’t jump to the side of persecuted minorities as the problem, and hard to join with those whom we perceive as prejudiced. But in our willingness to distance ourselves from them, in our prejudice against them, are we any better?
How do we find our way? It won’t be in trying harder to be good or do the right thing. It won’t be in attempting to assuage guilt by vigorously taking up the causes of those less fortunate than ourselves. It will be in open-heartedly seeking that of God, not only in the poor and the oppressed, but in good Catholic conservatives, and hard-working loggers, and fierce protectors of the unborn, and passionate lovers of sports teams, and scared bread-winners who find their families on the edge. It will be in following our longing for connection with all of God’s people.
Pamela Haines grew up in Rockland Meeting in NYYM and is currently a member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting.
Photo by Christopher Sammone
As I worked on this writing I found myself in an all too familiar place of unclarity; wondering if I really understood what the term “classism” means. I visited Merriam Webster and found classism defined as: “prejudice or discrimination based on class”. That led me to look up class where the applicable definition reads: “a group sharing the same economic or social status”. Clearly among Friends there are many diverse levels of both economic and social status. The question then, is, do we practice prejudice or discrimination based on those diverse levels; based on our inequalities? I believe that within the Religious Society of Friends we do actively, if unintentionally, practice classism.
I am grateful that we try to listen with the same openness and attentiveness and open heart to everyone but that doesn’t mean that we have overcome classism. Our well-intentioned actions of working to treat everyone alike no matter what their financial circumstance or how much education they have or where they live or what kind of car they drive is often part of the problem. Sometimes, when we choose to overlook that which makes us different we unwittingly exacerbate classism. An overt example might be if a person has a disability and, because we want to treat everyone the same, we choose to overlook their disability and not to hold the door open for them. I admit that’s a bit over the top, but I believe it makes the point.
We live in a secular society that most frequently measures success by the sum of fiscal assets and education. When an individual, a Friend, has fallen short of either one or both of these societal marks there is a strong tendency to feel lesser. There is a strong tendency to feel ashamed of that lack of accomplishment. I am fiscally poor and can claim only a high school education and so have, personally, fallen victim to this. As I share this with other Friends I have found many, many others who confide similar feelings. Clearly money isn’t the only way we discriminate against one another but for me it is at the root of this toxic tree. I return again and again to Second Corinthians 8:13-15 “There is no question of relieving another at the cost of hardship to yourselves; it is a question of equality. At the moment your surplus meets their need, but one day your need may be met from their surplus. The aim is equality; as scripture has it, ‘The man who got much had no more than enough, and the man who got little did not go short.’” Early Friends lived by this standard as families; living in communities that worshiped together and often worked together; communities that helped to support families as members traveled in the ministry or were taken off to jail. No one in the Friends community went without food or a bed to sleep in. Today, Friends rarely live in community. Often we don’t live near one another. When we are struggling financially we usually do not invite others into our homes as we can’t sustain the cost of entertaining. We are as loath to share with one another how much we have as we are to share how much we do not have. Often Friends do not participate in our meetings and gatherings (social and business), from monthly to yearly meeting levels simply because they can’t afford to. We are all diminished when that happens.
At the very core of our beliefs is the Truth that we all carry that of God within. For me, that belief is the great equalizer. It is what makes every human being innately the same. Around that core swirl all of our diversity and the richness of the gifts with which God has blessed each and every one of us. Just as all of humanity shares a measure of the Light, the Truth, so we are each blessed with gifts of the Spirit. Each of us carries those God given gifts from our birth and so carries a responsibility not only to hone our own gifts but to reach out to others in that process of self discovery and testing and growth. Our gifts are not predicated upon how much money we have or what neighborhood we live in or how much education we do or do not have or the color of our skin or our gender or sexual preference. They have nothing to do with social standing or fiscal wealth. When we allow ourselves to be blinded by secular society’s criteria for social standing, for standing within the human family, we all lose. Within that reality is the truth that when even one of us is absent, the gifts of that individual are absent and we, as individuals and as the Religious Society of Friends, are diminished because of it. Each of us travels his or her own path toward unity with Spirit. Each of us must struggle with and discover within ourselves what is ‘enough’; what simplicity means; what it means to love one another. It is in the sharing of our Truth, our Light, that the Truth and the Light is multiplied and we grow as individuals, and as a community into a living, breathing, and growing Religious Society of Friends.
EDITOR’S NOTE: At the author’s request, her punctuation and wording have been retained.
Look on NYYM’s Web site at for another article on this topic, “Friends on the Socioeconomic Spectrum” by David Goodwin, for which we didn’t have space.
An illuminating article, “For Where Your Treasure Is, There Will Your Heart Be Also,” on Friends, Money, and Class appeared in the Jan. 2004 issue of Friends Journal. Friends are encouraged to read it online at www.friendsjournal.org/where-your-treasure-there-will-your-heart-be-.
Adirondack: A Meeting in Crisis Rediscovers Its Strengths
Finding themselves confronted with a serious budget shortfall earlier this year, Adirondack Monthly Meeting Friends undertook a frank, thorough discussion of their situation and devised a strategy appropriate to their circumstances and resources. The result—a year-long schedule of fundraisers and fund-generating activities, each drawing upon the talent, resources, and strengths present in the meeting. So far this year they have had several delicious chicken-and-biscuit dinners and a Cinco de Mayo celebration, and will soon have another fundraiser to benefit (50-50) both the Meeting and a local woman struggling with cancer.
Adirondack Friends are also implementing measures to conserve energy.
“Our budget crisis has been an energizer and an opportunity,” says Regina Haag, pastor of Adirondack MM. “We have worked together as never before and came through it knowing and appreciating each other much more.” Adirondack Friends are planning a fundraising brainstorming session for January 2010.
Auburn Prison Preparative Meeting: The Value of Prison Ministry Warmly Affirmed
Nearly 100 imprisoned men, their family members, and volunteers gathered within the walls of maximum-security Auburn prison in early September to celebrate 35 years of a continuous Quaker presence in the prison, including a long-standing connection with the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). This annual event offers a rare opportunity for Quakers and AVP facilitators to have fellowship with incarcerated people and their families. The program included speakers, worship, food, and an AVP “icebreaker” scavenger hunt.
Beginning as a worship group in 1974, the Auburn Prison Preparative Meeting has been under the care of Farmington-Scipio Regional Meeting since its beginning. Longtime volunteer Jill McLellan (Central Finger Lakes Meeting) underscores the importance to the “insiders” of a Quaker presence: “The men who seek us out are trying to change their lives.… They seem to have a sense that the Quaker practice of seeking truth is what they want and need. Also, the silence is huge for them, a rare occurrence inside such a noisy place.” The preparative meeting gathers on Saturday evenings at 6:30 P.M. and is attended by approximately 30 “insiders.”
Chatham-Summit: What Can You Say About…?
George Fox spoke of the words of prophets and other religious authorities, but then challenged Friends to look into their own experience and ask themselves, “What can you say?”
Taking his words as both an invitation and a challenge, Chatham-Summit Friends have organized a series of short, focused gatherings to share and reflect on their personal beliefs as Quakers. The series, loosely modeled after the Quaker Quest format, is entitled “What Can YOU Say…About ____.” Already there have been two gatherings this year, one on the subject of God and another on Worship. “We hear Fox’s words as an invitation to hear more from each other on subjects often deemed too difficult or too sensitive to discuss openly,” says Arlene Johnson, co-coordinator of the series, “and a challenge to take the time and intellectual and spiritual muscle to formulate one’s own thoughts—then share them.” The response from members of the Meeting has been very positive.
Flushing Friends Celebrate a Job Well Done
Excitement and gratitude were everywhere and in abundance on Sunday, October 4, when Flushing Friends opened their “house” and their hearts to the public in celebration of completing a major phase in restoring their 315-year-old meetinghouse. Built in 1694 by John Bowne, the meetinghouse is considered the oldest house of worship in New York State and the second oldest Quaker meetinghouse in the nation. “The open house was just lovely,” says Naomi Paz Greenberg. Also invited were descendants of John Bowne, descendants of Flushing citizens involved in the historic Flushing Remonstrance, and representatives of the Dutch Embassy, since Flushing was part of New Netherlands at its inception.
The meetinghouse is considered a rare example of a “17th-century ecclesiastical frame structure of medieval design” and has been designated a National Historical Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Efforts to preserve the aging structure took a serious turn in 2004, when New York State came through with a $100,000 grant which allowed the Meeting to begin restoration. A subsequent grant of $500,000 from New York City advanced the project, resulting in a completely restored porch, reshingled roof, repointing of the brickwork, restoration of the Yankee gutter and foundation masonry, removal of asbestos, and restoration of the doors and some of the windows and gutters. “This building is a direct link back to an age when freedom of religion was being forged in America,” says Linda Shirley (Flushing MM),referring to the Flushing Remonstrance, often cited as the earliest stand for religious freedom in America. But with this commitment to the past and to restoration, says Linda, we also “step into the future…passing on this freedom to new generations.” More about the historic Flushing Meeting is available at www.nyym.org/flushing/hmh.html.
Note: Because public funds cannot be used to install a fire sprinkler system in houses of worship, this could not be achieved in the recent renovation. Flushing Friends are now trying to raise an additional $125,000 to meet this critical need.
Manasquan: Think Tree—But Be Happy Planting a Seed
On Sunday, September 27, Manasquan Monthly Meeting First Day school hosted Rahway & Plainfield Monthly Meeting First Day school for a day of fun and “planting seeds.” According to Andrew Holz of Rahway & Plainfield MM, several other meetings had been planning to attend but in the end were unable, so the turnout was small (10–12 children). “We’re not really disappointed,” says Andrew. “It worked out great and our purpose was realized—to create an opportunity for Quaker kids to meet and have fellowship with other Quaker kids.” Emily Fulton, clerk of Manasquan MM, agrees. “The weather didn’t cooperate, so our plans for the beach morphed into more time for picnicking, a play, and just plain hanging out. It was nothing ‘over the top’ requiring lots of effort, but it was great. Most importantly, our kids now know that other Quaker kids exist.”
NOTE: Andrew Holz maintains an e-mail list of Religious Ed and First Day school coordinators interested in nurturing ties and sharing information. Contact him to be added to the list: andrew.holz [at] gmail.com.
Great News from Manhasset Friends
Friends who have been following Manhasset Monthly Meeting’s efforts to renovate and preserve its 197-year-old meetinghouse (originally built in 1762) will be happy to learn that on September 9, 2009, the Manhasset meetinghouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior. “This is very important for the Meeting for several reasons,” reports Danny Maietta, clerk. “Most importantly, it recognizes and protects the property as a national place of historic importance. It also allows us to apply for state and federal preservation grants.” It is expected that renovation will cost around $150,000, covered in large part by $75,000–$100,000 in grant money yet to be sought. Mark A. Hewitt of Chatham-Summit Monthly Meeting is the architect on the project.
Purchase Monthly Meeting: The AVP/Quaker Relationship Alive and Well in Jordan
Supporters of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Quakers and non-Quakers, gathered at Purchase Friends on September 8 to hear several speakers report on their experience this past summer in Amman, Jordan, cofacilitating AVP workshops aimed at helping Iraqi refugees. Speakers included Rebecca Walkley, an AVP facilitator from the AVP Westchester Council, and Carolann and Ray Boucher, of Hartford MM in Connecticut. The aid organization Relief International in Amman underwrote the training for its staff in order to assist with its work among the refugees. Training included AVP basic, advanced, and training for facilitators workshops. One highlight was the opportunity to work with Muslim women in a mixed group, helping them discover their voice and develop greater confidence. Another highlight, for Rebecca, was feedback from one participant after the workshop: “You are the new face of America. Before, Americans were only occupiers.” Purchase Meeting has a long association with AVP, which had its start in the NY prison system in 1975 under the care of Quakers. Since then it has evolved into an independent, nonsectarian organization whose recognized transformational power has led to its adoption and adaptation in many areas of conflict around the world. Continuing participation of Friends is significant. For information about the presentation at Purchase Meeting contact Deborah Wood at dnbwood [at] aol.com. For AVP information see www.avpusa.org or call 800-989-8920.
Spiritual Nurture Working Group: “Feeding the Fire” Retreat Series is Kindled
Registration is still open for the “Yearning for God” retreat, November 20–22 at Powell House. Facilitator of the retreat will be Barbarajene Williams from Ohio Yearly Meeting. The two-day gathering is the first in a seven-retreat spiritual nurture series entitled “Feeding the Fire” being scheduled throughout 2010 and into 2011. According to Anne Pomeroy of the NYYM Spiritual Nurture Working Group’s planning subcommittee, the weekends are open to Friends of all ages eager to “take a deeper drink of the spiritual life.”
The November retreat will be followed in January 2010 with one on faithfulness and another in April entitled “Living a Life of Prayer.” Subsequent retreats, still in the planning stage, include such intriguing titles as “Trusting in the Slow Work of God” and “Spreading the Fire.” Each retreat stands alone, but the hope and expectation is that Friends will want to return for more workshops. “Once you have a taste of good, deep stuff,” says Anne, “you will want to return to deepen that sense of richness which comes with being able to participate in more than one.” The Spiritual Nurture Working Group is under the care of the Ministry Coordinating Committee and has as its objective the deepening of the spiritual life of the individual and then, by extension, the monthly, regional, and yearly meetings.
For retreat information and registration see www.powellhouse.org.
50-Year Westbury Tradition Continues
The exact date of the first Westbury Monthly Meeting Quaker Fair seems lost in history, but the fair has been an annual event for at least 50 years. Saturday, October 3, marked the most recent fair on the grounds of the Westbury Friends Meeting. With background music supplied by the Long Island Traditional Music Association, visitors strolled the grounds, shopped for attic treasures, books, fall flowers, and local produce, enjoyed a delicious lunch, and visited with friends. “It was a wonderful day for Westbury Friends to work together with the faculty and families of Westbury Friends School, and welcome the wider community to our lovely grounds,” says Martha Smith, key organizer of the event. Proceeds from the fair go to support the Meeting and Westbury Friends School, which is on the meetinghouse grounds and has been under the care of the Meeting since 1957.
Friends, Summer Sessions 2010 will be the third week in July (July 18–24). If you plan to attend (a very good idea!), please keep this in mind.
Have you ever noticed yourself singing at the top of your lungs while alone weeding your vegetable garden? And the rest of the time humming tunes while going about your day? Did certain pieces keep going over and over in your mind—you could remember the tune, but what were those words again?
Photo by Christopher Sammond
Well, that has been my own crazy experience after attending my first Singing à la Nightingales weekend. I drove into the Mohawk Valley meetinghouse driveway just as the very last light of day left the sky. I was warmly welcomed with hugs, delicious soup, and a warm fire crackling in the fireplace. I soon discovered a wonderful group of folks—some whom I knew and some who were new to me—who love to sing from the heart. It’s not about being a great singer at all. It is really about being in community and just singing out with love. We used two songbooks, but some people also brought songs to share and teach all of us. Each person got to pick favorite songs he or she wanted sung as we continuously went around in a circle.
Photo by Christopher Sammond
The following week when I was home again, I sat down at the table one day and took out our copy of Worship in Song. I paged slowly through, beginning at the front, trying to sing each song as I went along. I placed little stickum tabs on favorites that I especially liked. Boy, did that book fill up with tabs! Some songs reminded me of my very early years and my Episcopal upbringing, some of singing in school choruses, some reminded me of places I’d been, and some were ones I knew my husband liked and remembered from England. They all had memories of one kind or another—songs, songs, and more songs! This may have taken an hour or so—I don’t know really, since I guess I lost track of time. As I sang my way along through the whole book, I kept bursting into tears, crying my heart out and going through gobs of tissues. It became a revelation to me just how deeply I have missed singing all these years.
Due to political changes in Zimbabwe in 2009, Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) Monthly Meeting has been able to resume its distribution of maize meal to the hungry in southern Zimbabwe. Six years ago, Schenectady Monthly Meeting began to collect money from Friends and meetings in North America, joining individual Friends and monthly and yearly meetings in Great Britain, Ireland, Botswana, and South Africa who had been aiding the maize-meal distribution. To date Schenectady Meeting has collected US$85,000. The funds are wired either to Botswana Monthly Meeting for transfer or directly to purveyors of the maize meal. Both options have proved reliable and effective. The maize meal is distributed in southern Zimbabwe by members of Bulawayo Monthly Meeting.
Now that prohibitions on food distribution have been lifted and deliveries of food resumed, Friends or meetings who wish to contribute to this much-needed effort please contact Schenectady Meeting—or e-mail its treasurer at gerhand [at] union.edu.
NOTE: Letters to the editor are presented when space is available. Letters raise and explore topics of concern to NYYM Friends. As in any Quaker forum, views here are uncensored, should be expressed briefly and gently, and may discomfort some Friends. The Communications Committee welcomes unsolicited manuscripts of opinion or reporting and will publish material that seems provocative and timely.
To the editor,
Many thanks for publishing the article by Daniel P. Whitley entitled “My Faith and Experience” in the September 2009 Spark. His reference to three great teachers who have played a large role in shaping and nurturing the spiritual aspect of my character gives considerable pleasure and food for thought.
While pondering these sources of revelation, I come to wonder what Jesus, George Fox, or Bill Wilson (a founder of Alcoholics Anonymous) would have thought of the notion that any of them had all the answers. Would they have been comfortable thinking that the inspiring records of their teachings would be considered holy to the exclusion of other sources of spiritual enlightenment? What happens to that that is of God in every one of us if we do not have to seek the light of truth? Would Jesus, George Fox, or Bill Wilson have wanted doors slammed shut in the face of God? The Bible, George Fox’s Journal, and AA’s Big Book, while not the only paths to God’s love, have proved primary in my experience, but there are many sources of light that have freshened and strengthened my faith.
Very much appreciated is the reminder that truth continues to be revealed now as it was in olden times and, hopefully, always will be for those who seek enlightenment.
Boyce Benge, Brooklyn Meeting
To the editor,
This is intended to be an open letter to the New York Yearly Meeting of Friends.
For some years now, we Friends have noticed declining numbers. This is not unique to Quakers, as many of the old-line Protestant denominations have seen similar trends. Brushing aside fatalistic fears, I am concerned that the future generations will likely be exposed to less Quaker influence on local and national levels, and less Quaker sanity when it comes to moderating the increasing extreme mood shifts in our lovely nation. We may be even more necessary as a moral force as the present economic trends may likely coerce our people into more intemperate political shifts in response to social stresses.
We at the Cornwall Monthly Meeting are not immune to declining attendance, and have been somewhat frustrated in dealing with our losses. We have embarked on programs of "outreach" and have noticed some progress, but none sufficient to offset losses.
I am not sure we should resign ourselves to our new status as a more intense, yet less populous group, as we find that our social efforts have been less effective than has been the case in the past.
What I am suggesting is that we become more aware of our losses, and that we act with greater resolve to make our virtues known to those pre-Quakers in society in general. I believe that the problem has become serious enough that we must formulate a plan to reach out to society and that we design a sort of marshal Plan to rebuild Quaker society. For this, I believe that the New York Yearly Meeting is better situated to coordinate efforts, rather than individual meetings. That's not to suggest that monthly meetings should rest, but that a program to be effective, should coordinate our smaller meetings for a consolidated, consistent effort. I hope that we can find a seed of growth, and that the Yearly Meeting resolve to formulate dramatic (for Quakers) efforts to reach future Quakers, and can coordinate the efforts of the monthly meetings, culling the best efforts for common use, and developing, as necessary, new efforts.
Mark Marvin, Cornwall Meeting
. . . we cannot love to live if we cannot bear to die.
William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude, 1693
What say you, Friends, on these words of William Penn? What has been your experience with this part of life’s continuum, dying and death? How have you helped or been helped during a time of letting go and bereavement—either yours or another’s? Are you prepared? Can you bear to die? The theme of January 2010 Spark will be Death and Dying.
These are challenging words on a difficult subject for many of us. And yet we know that candor in our seeking and our self-expression, when shared tenderly, is what Friends welcome and find most powerful. Be yours an expression of profound sorrow, struggle, fear, faith, practical advice, humor—or any combination that is uniquely yours—these things we hope you will consider sharing in order that we may lift up each other, in the manner of Friends.
Perhaps you have encountered death, or lived through a dying, that has touched or changed you or your faith profoundly. Maybe you work or volunteer in a setting concerned with death and dying or have resources to share with Friends on the subject. It might be that your local or regional meeting has done significant work in this area. Or you may know people within the Yearly Meeting who might have something important to share.
If you find yourself saying “yes,” please contact NYYM Communications Committee member Robin Whitely at rlwhitely [at] comcast.net or 973-376-2392 to let her know to expect your contribution. Also copy NYYM staff Paul Busby, paul [at] nyym.org, and Helen Garay Toppins, office [at] nyym.org.
Article length: approx. 750–1,000 words. Deadline: December 1, 2009.
Please understand that not every submission can be used and that the Spark editor reserves the right to make these decisions. Some articles that we don't have room for in Spark may be published on NYYM’s Web site or in InfoShare.
This column is prepared from information about membership received from the local meeting recorders.
Francis Joseph Prial—Chatham-Summit
Grace Gilroy Prial—Chatham-Summit
Joseph Francis Prial—Chatham-Summit
Michael Anderson, member of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting, and Sybille Marion, on August 8, 2009, under the care of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting
Madeleine Keeley Klemek, on September 16, 2009, to Melissa Keeley and Christopher Briggs Klemek, members of Easton
Alan Weisel—to Conscience Bay from State College Monthly Meeting (PYM)
Marjorie Weisel—to Conscience Bay from State College Monthly Meeting (PYM)
Susan Wolf – to Ithaca from Staten Island
Anne Schaeffer Carrothers, member of Poughkeepsie, on September 27, 2009
Carroll Garner, member of Quaker Street, on August 9, 2009
Elizabeth Bell Huffman, member of Poughkeepsie, on September 14, 2009
Janet Malcolm, member of Jericho, on September 11, 2009
James Woods Sterrett, member of Brooklyn, on September 26, 2009
Susan Wellington, member of Fredonia, on August 4, 2009