Monday, August 27, 2007

Friends General Conference Gathering

2007 Gathering - River Falls, Wisconsin
June 30 - July 7, 2007

The Gathering went well this year. Barry and I flew out to Minneapolis, MN on Friday evening. We were fearful that the plane would be delayed or canceled. We had tickets on Northwest which was experiencing many cancellations due to personnel problems. Several Friends from Philadelphia were on the flight with us to MN. Barry and I had bulk head seats, so we were the first off of the plane. We were fortunate that our flight left and arrived on time. I knew that it would not be possible for us to purchase any food at River Falls at 10:00 PM, so we purchased takeout meals in the airport before heading to baggage claim and the shuttle bus that would take us to River Falls, WI.

We were warmly welcomed by a Friend in baggage claim who explained to us how to get to the shuttle bus. Two Friends from California who had arrived earlier in the evening joined us on the tram to the bus. When we arrived at the bus several Friends, mostly from the West Coast were waiting on the shuttle for us to arrive. The shuttle was scheduled to leave at 9:00 PM, when the time arrived we still did not have everyone on the bus. I knew of at least four Friends who were supposed to be on the bus with us who were yet to arrive. In fact they did arrive five minutes later. We watched the sunset on our drive to River Falls. The Conference Coordinator, Traci and some volunteers were up and waiting for our arrival at the student center. They registered us, we got our room keys from the university staff and the volunteers assisted us with getting to our dorms. Barry and I were glad to get to our room, make our bed and get in it. We both knew that Saturday was going to be a very long day.

Saturday morning, Barry and I borrowed a friend's car. We picked up the boxes for the Center for people of Color and drove them to the building where we unloaded the boxes and I set up the Center. We had our organization meeting Sunday afternoon where we agreed to the following schedule for the week:

Monday 9:15 PM - Planning for Mid-west Gathering
Tuesday 3:15 PM – Read stories
Tuesday 9:15 PM – Gathering for people of Color only
Thursday 3:15 PM – 2nd Read stories
Thursday 9:15 PM – 2nd Gathering for people of Color only

Sunday afternoon I had an opportunity to meet Joy Zarembka, a biracial Friend who has published the book, The Pigment of Your Imagination. It is a Comparative Study of Great Britain, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Jamaica on the family socialization of biracial offspring. Later that evening Joy and David (her father) introduced the plenary speaker, Cecil Nyiramana. She is a Tutsu survivor of the Rwanda genocide. Cecil is the founderof Women in Dialogue, which brings Tutsi survivors of the genocide together with Hutu wives of men in prison accused of participating in the genocide.

Monday afternoon I attended the Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Racial Healing CMR co-sponsored with the Center for people of Color. I am happy to report there were no racial woundings in this worship. Janice and I also participated in Development’s reception for monthly meeting representatives for FGC. Each program was asked to have a person there to give a brief presentation on the program. Barry and I had dinner with Joy Zatembka Monday evening. Our conversation continued into and through the evening program.

Tuesday afternoon we held FGC's Committee for Ministry on Racism’s Listening Session. We were asked to respond to the following two queries in a worship sharing format:

Query on Wounding:What story can I tell today of my experience of racial wounding at this Gathering of Friends General Conference in River Falls, Wisconsin? What have I done that I felt may have hurt others? What wounds have I felt, that others have caused me to feel?

Good News Query: What story can I tell about my life in Quaker meeting or ways I have seen others interact in the meeting community that show healing around the issues of systemic, individual, or group racism? How has my work allowed me fuller life in the spirit?

Tuesday evening I attended Joy Zarembka’s interest group. The room was overflowing. She talked about many of the experiences she had while gathering the data for her book. Joy also gave a powerpoint lecture in which she asked some provocative questions such as:

a) Do mixed raced people have the option of choosing a race?

b) Does each person choose his/her race or

does society choose race?

c) Are people the same & therefore we should not use words like “black” and “white?”

Friends engaged in a lively discussion. One in which some people of Color were offended. However, the offensive statement was identified as being offensive by a person of Color.

After Joy's interest group, Friends of Color met at the center. It was late, 9:30 PM and we were all tired, but also glad to be together. We shared photos of our family with the group. We enjoyed spending time together so much that we agreed to meet again on Thursday evening also at 9:30 PM.

Thursday early afternoon I attended the session co-sponsored by

CMR and A&O co-facilitated by Jane Berger and La Verne Shelton: Tools for Building Inclusive Community. The room was full and Friends clearly appreciated the session. When we arrived at the Center for reading books to children we were surprised to see that there were no children, but there were a few adults. So Jean Marie and Marvin read to us. It was fun! Once again Friends of Color got together at 9:30 PM at the Center. Several of us were among the group that met on Tuesday night, but there were also some Friends who had not been able to join us then. We spent the time exchanging Gathering stories with each other.

Friday, the last full day of the Gathering during the worship for racial healing sponsored a person of Color shared a racial hurt she experienced in her workshop during the Gathering. I made a point of approaching her afterwards and spent time talking with her. Barry joined near the end of our conversation. Later that evening we packed up the center so that the boxes could be packed onto the truck for their ride back to Philadelphia.

The next morning, Barry and I packed up, took the shuttle to the Minneapolis airport and flew back to Philadelphia. As with our ride to Minneapolis, there were several Friends on our flight.