Epistle of the
Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference
Menucha Retreat Center, Corbett OR
Greetings from the high bluffs overlooking the Columbia River in Corbett, Oregon at the Menucha Conference Center. We are 58 Quaker women from programmed, semi-programmed and unprogrammed traditions gathered for the sixth Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference. We have met here to seek truth and speak love.
We thank the kind friends of First Presbyterian Church for their hospitality of over fifty years of nurturing body, mind, heart and soul in this space dedicated to cultivating the seeds of peace we brought with us to this conference.
Long before we got here, the germination process was encouraged by the planning committee. Each of us was asked to write a focus paper on the conference theme, “Common Roots, Uncommon Branches.” Plenary sessions, home groups, workshops and worship filled the four days we spent here.
Plenary Sessions There were four plenary sessions. In the first, Peggy Parsons described for us a gentle stirring among Quakers. These Friends are “marked by the desire to build relationships” among all Quakers and she called them Convergent Friends. Convergent Friends find differing beliefs interesting, but not threatening. They use narrative theology- speaking from personal experience, telling personal stories, listening deeply, asking for clarification, sitting together in the Presence, and carrying each other’s burdens.
The second part of Peggy’s message addressed the culture of fear that surrounds us in our daily lives. The truth is we cannot guarantee the feeling of safety- that is an endless task. Rather, we must be resilient and responsive in our daily lives. In our spiritual lives, we can become not only resilient, but invincible. We can become the calm, non-anxious presence in an anxious world. She also challenged us to consider including men in future conferences.
Aimee Bucholtz, Kathy Hyzy and Meghan Willard brought us news from the World Gathering of Young Friends. They told of their involvement in the planning of the gathering and shared their personal reflections from the event and the impact it had on them.
Patty Federighi and Carolann Palmer told of their quilting ministry, Peace through Pieces. They were moved to act after hearing David Niyonzima of Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Services in Burundi, Africa. With an abundance of love and cheerful courage, they traveled to Burundi to explore the possibility of using quilts and quilt-making to bring healing and forgiveness and establish trust- things sorely needed in the wake of the country’s civil war. The idea was well-received and they are currently raising funds to return and teach women quilt-making skills.
In the final plenary, Ann Stever and Julie Peyton described the Spirit-led discernment processes that occurred when each of their meetings was struggling with the difficult issues of same-sex marriage and affiliation with FWCC, respectively. Both of them described the outcomes as miracles, resulting from the love and care people had for each other and from a willingness to submit and be led by the Spirit.
Home Groups In small groups of worship sharing/discussion and prayer, we listened to each other speak clearly and simply to the queries presented by our facilitators. These queries addressed our spiritual roots; our safety and how we face fear and proceed despite it; hearing and following leadings, and taking the conference home with us.
Workshops In our workshops, we heard our experienced and loving friends present the richness of our Quaker heritage through discussions on eldering, mysticism, Bible-seeded worship. We also sang, walked a labyrinth, and made collages and music.
Business Meeting We agreed to meet at Menucha in two years and a number of those in attendance were inspired to form the planning committee for the next conference.
Worship Our worship began in the individual preparations each of us made before arrival at the conference. Our many and varied disciplines, prayers, songs and celebrations led us and sustained us to the conference in safety. We ended the conference with a joyful programmed worship service. Worship sustained us throughout the conference in growing confidence and joy and will no doubt strengthen and encourage us for many tomorrows.
Marge Abbott, clerk