Widening the Circle for 2020

Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference
June 24-28, 2020
Cascades Camp in Yelm, Washington

Dear Friends,

Your PNW Quaker Women’s Theology Conference Planning Committee is preparing for 2020! It has been such fun to get to know one another and plan for our next time together. We are writing today to let you know of our progress for our 2020 conference.

Time and Location for 2020

For the last couple of months we have been listening to your feedback and striving to honor people’s concerns about:

  • varying locations between Washington and Oregon
  • selecting a date that allows teachers and mothers of school-age children to attend
  • improving ADA accommodations
  • providing options for many diets without compromising variety
  • needing a larger, more flexible plenary space

We researched many possible venues, visited three, and made a deposit with Cascades Camp, near Yelm, Washington (southeast of Tacoma), for June 24-28, 2020! This lovely facility fits the above criteria and has a large acreage with walking trails, a lake for boating and swimming, and ADA facilities.

Committee Changes

There have been some changes to our committee. We were saddened to learn of the death of Joy Williams, our treasurer. We are grateful for her service and participation in the Conference and we pray for her family and friends as they grieve. Also, Kate Jaramillo has stepped down and Judy Mauer has joined us. In November of last year we met for a weekend-long in-person planning retreat on San Juan Island and have also utilized Zoom conference calls to regularly meet by video.

Welcoming Self-Identified Women

In our work together these last six months, the Spirit has taken us right to the heart of things: What does it mean that we are a women’s conference?

Our discernment lead us to see that despite progress toward gender equality, “women only” spaces continue to be necessary given the harmful nature of our larger patriarchal and misogynistic social climate. Our Conference is an empowering and nurturing place for Quaker women, a space that allows us to use our voices, take on leadership, tell our narratives, and share our experiences of theology. However, we also recognize the complexity and fluidity of gender, which complicates the idea of how we understand who is a woman and thus who belongs at our Conference. If we do not address this deeper question of gender, then we risk participating in the same unhealthy systems for which we hope the Conference is a remedy.

We researched the history of the conference and identified two unique aspects of its Quaker spirit from the beginning. First, the Conference is self-renewing every two years through the nature of being wholly planned by a new Spirit-led committee. Second, this gathering has always been committed to the healing and growth needed for its time. In 1995, at its inception, it brought together both unprogrammed and programmed friends who met and worked together while wrestling through mutual suspicion and judgement. Now, in planning for 2020, we feel strongly that the need for healing and growth in our time is in seeking to be inclusive of all self-identified women.

In order to be faithful to the Spirit, we feel the Women’s Conference needs to claim, articulate, and embody a fuller and more nuanced understanding of what “woman” means. By default “women” means cisgender women, and the majority of our group are cisgender, that is people who find their gender and their sex at birth to be the same. Cisgender being the majority and the gender our culture normalizes, we want to be careful about ways we might contribute to the oppression or exclusion of marginalized genders. Inclusion begins with the language we use to define ourselves as a group to each other and to the public. Though transgender women and gender nonconforming people have attended the Conference before, nowhere in our materials do we welcome them openly.

Through careful discernment and prayer, the Conference Planning Committee is committed to welcoming all self-identified women to the 2020 Conference. This wording recognizes we respect someone’s gender as defined by their internal personal sense of it, not by other’s assumptions or by the sex they were assigned at birth. Our materials will say that our event is “for cisgender women, transgender women, and anyone who identifies as a woman in a significant way.” To foster this leading, it would be helpful for the larger Conference community to use the term “self-identified women” in promoting the Conference.

Of course, a statement is not everything. It is a good first step but we must back it up with education and action. The Planning Committee will work to bring our welcoming statement to life in practical ways through both the planning process and at the Conference itself. We also want to support the Conference community in the work of self-education, conversation, and prayer regarding gender inclusivity. Please feel free to contact any of us (emails below) at any time.

The Planning Committee also recognizes other groups at the margins of our Conference including people of color, parents of young children, and young, working class and/or lower-income persons. We will continue to discuss and discern how the Conference can be more accessible for these folks, too. Please reach out if you have any suggestions.

Please hold us in Love as we continue our work. We look forward to seeing you June 24-28, 2020!

Blessings to all,

Susanne Wilson
June Thomasson
Necia Quast
Joy Preston
Promise Partner
Judy Mauer
Sarah Katreen Hoggatt
Keelin Anderson

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