2008 Epistle

Epistle of the
Pacific Northwest
Quaker Women’s Theology Conference
April 2-6, 2008
, Oregon, USA

Greetings to Friends everywhere!

We write to share news of a conference where 38 women of the Quaker tradition gathered to share personal experiences of faith and to build relationships. We are from meetings in North Pacific Yearly Meeting, meetings in Northwest Yearly Meeting, and meetings that are unaffiliated. We gathered with a knowledge of the historical division among these groups, and with a special concern for building relationships across these divisions and working toward reconciliation among Friends.

Our theme this year is Life in the Community of Friends: Cultivating Our Quaker Family Tree. There are women here from different parts of our family tree and some are surprised by where they fit in that spectrum. Some Friends from unprogrammed meetings find they have an evangelical side and want to share their joy. Some Friends from programmed meetings find value in the practice of unprogrammed worship. Friends of all traditions find they have more in common with each other than they thought possible.

Along with representing many meetings and churches, women attending the conference also represent a range of ages from 22 to 86, diverse sexual orientations and gender identifications, different countries of origin, and varied levels of familiarity with this conference and its history. Many women at this year’s conference are here for the first time.

An important part of this conference is its unique history. This is the seventh meeting of the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference and its history extends back to the early 1990s. This history has been celebrated and communicated in many ways throughout our time together. There is presently a sense of transition from the early days of the conference, when no one knew what to expect and the divides between us were great. Now, women from different yearly meetings know and love each other, though we still acknowledge our differences. We recognize that there are still many divisions in the Quaker world because of theological differences, as well as feelings of bitterness engendered by these divisions. We also recognize that Quakers share this situation with many other religious communities around the globe. We are trying to discern where to go from here: in our own lives, in our faith communities, and as a conference.

We recognize the work of the Spirit in each other’s lives and reaffirm the reality of God’s power and creative activity among us. We have worked to build trust and to share deeply with one another. What brings us together is our faith. We know that we do not all believe the same things, but we all believe that God is at work in our lives. The personal stories we have shared are powerful and reaffirm the reality of the Presence in our midst. This is also a group with a good sense of humor. We know how to laugh as well as be serious, and we have had fun together.

The work we do here has consequences long after the conference is over. We know that “God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7). We know that we need to confront our fears, and temper our power with love and a sound mind. Getting to really know others who believe differently than we do is challenging, but rewarding. By talking about our faith, we practice the tolerance and acceptance of diversity we value in the Quaker tradition. We hope the skills and trust we build here enable us to practice love, peace, and reconciliation wherever we are called in our lives and ministries. We also hope that our work here inspires others to do similar work in their own faith communities.

Carolann Palmer