An Epistle from Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns
Midwinter Gathering 2004
We write to you for the first time as Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns. We have struggled for the past several years over what to name our community. We are happy to report that we are moving to a place where we are relaxing into the joy of our diverse fellowship.
One hundred and twenty-five Friends, across our generations, gathered at the Burlington Meeting House and Conference Center in Burlington, New Jersey, 13 - 16 Second Month, 2004, under the theme "Inward Work / Outward Mission."
The joy of our community manifested itself in many ways. We experienced the delivery of valentines, the giving and making of gifts, the presence of women sharing the work of their hands and hearts and the sharing of our laughter. Our children danced and played with us, requiring our attention and bringing a renewed vision of our lives. We felt and rejoiced at the increased presence and leadership of young adults in our midst. We practiced how to be with, and care for one another.
Many Friends experienced a renewal and diverse depth to our spiritual sharing, in worship, in workshops, in conversation and in fun. Our worship was strong and varied from nearly silent to rich vocal ministry.
As we experienced the warmth and spiritual depth and affirmation of our community, feeling our gifts named and used and appreciated, we were reminded that God loves us as we are. God calls us to use our talents and experience to do Love's work in the world. Our keynote speaker Tracye Peterson called on us to receive the good news that God loves us deeply and asked if we were prepared to accept God's invitation to dance with Her/Him.
We learned that understanding our pain and being in touch with our tender places is part of our inward work to prepare us for our further ministry and witness to the world.
One of the recurring images that Friends noted in our experience of the weekend was that of the wounded healer. We are challenged to do the inward work of exploring and expressing our own woundedness as the opening through which we learn to experience the pain of the world. We awaken our deep compassion for all wounded people- even those who wound us.
With grace and humor Lamar Matthews spoke to us of his experience with the withdrawal of his invitation to serve in leadership in the 2002 Friends United Meeting Triennial. We were heartened by the continuing work of Baltimore Yearly Meeting's response but remain aware of the continuing wounding that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer Friends suffer at the hands of our own Religious Society of Friends.
We celebrated the events of our lives: weddings- new and to come-, births and other transitions. Several Friends shared the pain of being unable to share their lives with family who do not accept them as God made us.
Peterson Toscano shared his truth with us in a humorous and poignant performance piece dramatizing his struggle for self-knowledge in a residential program to transform homosexuals into "ex-Gay Christians." He portrayed the journey of denial and conformist death to the inevitable triumph of the Spirit that affirms the truth of who we are and calls us to dance with God as we are.
In her keynote, Tracye Peterson reminded us that the liberation we all yearn for always takes struggle. She urged us to prepare ourselves for ministry by using our awareness of our own oppression to notice and pay attention to the oppression of others. She asked us to look for openings as they occur and to use our creative imagination to accept God's invitation to partner with us to bring about a just and merciful world.
Reminded in our morning Bible study (in I Corinthians 12) with Tracye Peterson that "we are all baptized into one body" and that "when one member suffers all members suffer with it," Friends gathered in worship with attention to Racial Healing on First Day evening to acknowledge how our Blessed Community is diminished when we are divided along racial lines, or unconscious to each others' pain. In worship, we prayed for faithfulness and patience to persevere in ending racism's power over us. Many of us also prayed for guidance to know when and how to use the power of our white privilege in the service of racial justice.
An opening that has come to us as a community is an invitation to join the Pendle Hill Peace Network. We agreed to join the Network recognizing that we have gifts to give in the service of peace through the Network, including our diversity and our own experience with violence and our struggle in response to it.
Our time together in this place-both historic and recently renewed and rededicated-allowed us to do our inward work as a community. As we go forward in the love of God, we call to your attention our outward mission: "It is our hope to offer an oasis to those who have been spurned by the world at large. We are learning that radical inclusion and radical love bring further light to Quaker testimony and life."
In the light,
Petra Doan and Charlie Layman
Co-clerks, Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns