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Widening the Welcome

Carolyn Wildflower
On Normality (July 2022)
Healing the World

In late February 2020, I was selected to “travel in the ministry” among Friends in Oregon. This was a part of the “Knitting Us Together” project of the Outreach and Visitation Committee of North Pacific Yearly Meeting (NPYM). I traveled virtually by Zoom with my elder, Jay Thatcher. We visited Quaker meetings in NPYM and Friends churches in Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends (SCYMF).

Here is an entry from my journal, from January 2021: “Traveling in the midst of a pandemic, Black Lives Matter, terrific fires and a contested election – feels like peoples’ lives have been ripped apart, and we are very much in need of connecting.”

When Eugene Friends Meeting asked me to visit them with a message of “Widening the Welcome,” Godde tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Transgender.” So, I knew that was part of the message I would bring. I asked a transgender Friend, Lewis Steller, to help me prepare for this visit. We talked about what is important to him in the way of being welcomed. We also talked more generally about ways that meetings undertake outreach to people who are different from them in some way and what it takes for newcomers to feel part of a meeting. We spoke of the importance of identity groups – like Friends for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer Concerns or the Junior Friends – in helping people be both fully themselves and fully Quaker.

For my visit with Eugene Friends, I started with a talk and then moved us into worship sharing. Here is a summary of what I said in my talk:

“Love is the first motion. I look forward to each of you experiencing a time of deep listening and speaking from the heart. Honoring that of God in each person sometimes requires stretching.

“I want to share a tool for cross-cultural understanding, which Niyonu Spann uses in her “Beyond Diversity 101” workshops. It’s called “Three Circles.” We all continuously experience three overlapping circles of awareness: What’s happening for you (individual, family); your identity groups, like LGBTQ, BIPOC, young adult; and your societal context, which includes your Friends meeting. If you disregard any circle, it leads to pain and conflict. Paying attention to each one leads to increased equity and strength in community.

“Societal context is where the “isms” come in – racism, classism, sexism, etc. Because we grow up in an oppressive society, all these attitudes get laid into us, even though we never wanted them. We need to work on dismantling these attitudes.

“We also need to work on supporting identity groups in our meetings. However, because our meetings are often small, we usually have few folks to make up an identity group, like teens or LGBTQ. We have compensated for small numbers in our monthly meetings by pulling together interest groups during larger gatherings, like quarterly and yearly meetings. Junior Friends and LGBTQ folks have housed together at such gatherings, and they have also created other opportunities to gather. Recently, the People of Color began housing together during annual meetings, and they meet with each other during regular worship sharing times.

“I have puzzled about what is the core number of people from an identity group that is needed for them to feel comfortable in a meeting. If a young adult shows up at meeting, and they are the only one, how easy is it to come back? If a young adult sees one or two others, is that enough? We need to nurture these groups.

“When I went to my first NPYM Annual Session with a one-year-old child, I was approached and told that I could not bring her into plenary meetings because there were old people who couldn’t hear very well. I asked if they could sit up front, and I could sit in the back. I was told no, the old people didn’t want to move, I just needed to not bring my child. I did not feel very welcomed, but was determined to create the chance for my child to grow up among Quakers, as I had, so I kept trying.

“That same year, I showed up at University Meeting in Seattle, which had a reputation for not being especially welcoming. But the meeting did have one member, Martha Smyser, who reached out to newcomers and people who were different. Martha invited me to her home for lunch. She was older than my parents.  That invitation meant so much to me and created a long and nurturing friendship, as well as beginning to bring me into the meeting. My children value having grown up among the Junior Friends of NPYM.”

After my visit with Eugene Friends Meeting, they added this note to my Travel Minute:

January 17, 2021: Eugene Friends appreciated the opportunity Caroline offered us to reflect on the ways the Meeting has and has not been welcoming. Caroline gave us much to think about as we make plans for the future – we have work to do! Our Worship-Ministry-Nurture Committee plans to continue this dialogue. We are all grateful for her visit.

One additional point that I shared during my talk to Eugene Friends: I came out as non-binary.

When I reported to my Support Committee about my visit with Eugene Meeting, they asked, “Are you going to come out to our meeting?” So, I went through a clearness process with some Friends in the meeting and developed a coming-out talk. I realized I had been hesitant to come out as non-binary earlier because the meeting didn’t seem to have any other members or attenders who identified as non-binary or transgender. I knew we had had attenders who were non-binary or transgender, and that a number of us have adult children who are non-binary or transgender. But I found it difficult to talk about this with people my age. I’m one of those older people now, in my 70s.

I reached out to transgender friends, a non-binary friend who had attended our meeting, and a few members of Friends for LGBTQ Concerns. As I shared my fears with these Friends, whom I had known for years, I began to see how hard it must be for a stranger who is different in some way to become a part of our meeting.

Eugene Friends Meeting has modeled one way to support the formation of identity groups in a meeting. As a meeting, they pay the registration fees for all children in the meeting whose parents want to attend Annual Session. This encourages young adults and families to attend. I hope all of our meetings can find creative ways to widen the welcome in our meetings.

Caroline Wildflower is a member of Port Townsend Friends Meeting. She has been an active Quaker most of her life. Her Quaker prayer life has led her to be a lifelong nonviolent activist as well as a mystic. She is passionate about outreach – growing and activating our Quaker community.


Outreach Inclusion gender fluidity

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