FGC Program Arrives! Oops, too late

Our paper copy of the Advance Program for the Friends General Conference Summer Gathering in Tacoma, Washington arrived today at our home in San Francisco, California. (Nice picture of PYM Friends on page 4.)

Today is March 30. Online registration for said Gathering opened March 1 and closed on March 6. To be fair, if you really want to go, you can still put your name on the waiting list. If you want more information, you can read why it is closed and what FGC is doing about it. But they already have more people on the waiting list than they have room for. I have heard that FGC is working hard to rectify a difficult situation as much as they can. I empathize, and I don't envy their position.

But I am really sad that some of the people I have come to know in the Northwest through this blogging thing are not going to be able to attend. I had hoped that there would be a real chance for a broad Convergent Friends conversation. I'm sure there will still be opportunities for folks to get together, but I don't know exactly what all they will be. And I'm trying to stay humble, especially because I've never been to a FGC Gathering before, and I am not familiar with the customs, conventions and hot buttons of the Gathering.

I had one idea, that arose from a string of comments on Kathy from Oregon's blog, Life 103.

What if everyone came to the opening meeting for worship on Sunday afternoon, even if they weren't officially registered for the Gathering?

What if it were truly open to anyone who wanted to come and worship with maybe 1500 Friends gathered in the Northwest? What if we advertised it to Friends in Northwest Yearly Meeting (EFI)and North Pacific Yearly Meeting (unaffiliated)? What if we advertised it to the general public? What kind of work would this require? What kind of permits, planning, preparation? Would it even be worth it? Would it end up being ungrounded, a popcorn meeting, hijacked for a multitude of agendas? What kind of faithfulness would be required? What would George Fox do?

Is it even my place to ask these questions? Is this just a whim or is it a leading to work on this idea? Is there some piece of this that is right and true and has my name on it? O Lord, let us pray.


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Blogger Liz Opp said...

Hey, Robin, thanks for helping get the information out there as to why things have unfolded the way they have at FGC, and what FGC is hoping to do about it.

I can give you two more scraps of information that might impact your idea of inviting Friends and non-Friends to opening worship.

First, that apparently the "all Gathering space" that was originally planned for has a capacity for 1,000 people or so. Not sure if there is a gymnasium or a hill nearby upon which we might all be gathered, with room for drop-ins and visitors!

And second, I can offer this, based on my personal experience:

Oftentimes at Gathering, there are one or two events that are made open to the public, as space allows (if the auditorium could hold, say, 1,800 people instead of just 1,000). Usually these events are musical concerts or presentations by well-known authors or other public figures.

When events are made open to non-Gathering folk, though, there is a proviso, worked out in advance, in the University's or College's contract that addresses insurance and liability concerns, at the very least.

I know this fact because at last year's Gathering in Blacksburg, Virginia, an event was privately publicized, unbeknownst to FGC staff, to the local GLBT community.... and FGC ended up in the very uncomfortable position of being billed as gay-friendly but then needing to cite contract concerns as to why non-Gathering participants could not freely be greeted with open arms and attend the event.

Friends were confused since non-registered Friends and community members were able to attend the plenary address just an hour before, given by Bishop John Shelby Spong, and yet they were being turned away at this next event, being told that it was for registered attenders only.

To make matters worse, if I remember right, there were University administrators within ear-shot for much of that time while this sticky situation unfolded.

I think the way it turned out in the end was:

1. Lots of GLBT local folk were either sympathetic or angry or both and just left.

2. Peterson, whose event it was, and some of the FGC "gatekeepers" for the event were able to "look the other way" when administrators weren't around, allowing at least some of these visitors and guests into the arena.

3. Another Friend, concerned by the implied message that "contracts trump hospitality," has been in contact with Peterson to see about sponsoring a repeat visit to Blacksburg for the GLBT community to make up for the yucky experience, if such a "make-up" is even possible.

Anyway, all this to say that any creative ideas that Friends might think of might not be able to fly because we probably don't know the half of what goes on in the two years leading up to putting together such a monstruous event...

On a different note, I can also say that I have been wondering about a field trip into Tacoma or another nearby area for registered Friends who are interested in providing some intervisitation to those who might be able to make a trip fairly conveniently for a few hours one afternoon or evening. "If Mohammed can't register for the FGC mountain, maybe the FGC mountain can go to Mohammed."

Still, my request is for prayers to support the bone-tired FGC staff and other Friends who have been beside themselves and who have been holding the situation in their own prayers, seeking guidance and an opening...

...AND, how do we continue to hold open space for out-of-the-box thinking in a context that is rife with limitations, restrictions, and contractual regulations?

(Dang, did I just throw a wet blanket on your enthusiasm, Robin??? I wrote out of concern for discerning and threshing our creative ideas more thoroughly so as not to repeat such a scene as what developed last year....)


Liz, The Good Raised Up

3/31/2006 1:22 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

I can only wonder what prompted the response so far and above what was anticipated. It's almost as if there is a lot more energy and enthusiasm out there for Gatherings than previously thought.

As a data-geek by trade, I'm curious what the characteristics are of folks interested in attending. How many are FGC, FUM, and EFI-affiliated? How many are independent? Programmed vs. unprogrammed? Hometown? Age? Who's behind all this seeking? How do the characteristics of the folks on the waitlist differ from the folks who signed up early? Will those differences, if any, affect the Gathering?

Sigh, I won't be there. I don't have the vacation time to come, and I surely would have been waitlisted given my penchant for procrastinating. Do Quakers have disproportionately more vacation time than the average worker? I can’t help but thinking these sorts of gatherings seem so inherently bourgeois, and trust me, that’s the pot callin’ the kettle black.

Maybe next year...


3/31/2006 6:15 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Liz, I was aware of the general problems, but see, no idea about the hot buttons this might push. And I'm well aware of the fact that this gathering has been planned for several years and this is just a breeze of the Spirit that's blowing through me at practically the last minute. I am also clear: I'm not in charge of anything at FGC, Gathering or otherwise. I do not expect that the folks who have been working on this the whole time will just fall in line and say, yes, Robin, whatever you want. As if. Ha! :)

But Martin did write, "I'm sure the opening Gathering worship is open to all." So I was kind of running with that idea. I am cynical about the idea of the peace witness of planting a tree on the site right after the meeting for worship - but could that be open to a wider family of Friends? Or would the message that "you can't come to our meeting for worship but you can come to our peace witness" be worse than nothing?

I'm quite interested in the idea of the Gathering going to the mountain. Or at least some of us. Not every one of the 1200 Friends who register for FGC would really want to come, I expect. But it seems like a way to take advantage of an FGC gathering in a completely new place. How many Friends might be interested in a first in a lifetime experience? How many would just be closed to the idea because of the labels and other barriers well known among Friends?

I don't have any specifics to answer Rob's questions, but I would guess that the number of EFI Friends coming to FGC is statistically insignificant. Would there be more Friends from a wider spectrum that would come to an meeting for worship that wasn't too clearly run by the most liberal Friends on Earth?

Also, Rob, I too am curious who signed up so quickly. Is it mostly people who've been going for years? Is it new people who were really excited to go? Are they mostly West Coast people? Is it still a high percentage of East Coast or Midwestern folks? Obviously, it's computer literate people because ALL of the registration in that first week was online. ALL of the registration was by people who were ready to make that decision pretty quickly. I imagine there isn't so much difference between the people who signed up "early" and the people who got on the waiting list in the second week of online registration. The differences I expect are going to be with all the folks who are just now getting and sending back their paper forms and finding out it's too late. Anybody who refuses to use computers. Anybody who isn't closely enough connected to the Gathering grapevine to have heard that they should sign up RIGHT AWAY. We registered in time only because Chris was at an out of town Quaker gathering and he called me on Saturday night and said "sign us up now, because I heard it's filling up really fast."

But my Friend John told me that FGC did quite a bit of work, including having professional surveys done, to try to estimate the number of people who'd come to a West Coast gathering, and they thought that 1200 was a safe number. He still thinks that, given the data, FGC made a prudent decision, rather than ending up wasting money on a half full Gathering. Anyway, let me get back on track. I really don't want to dissect what they should have done. I just feel sorry for the paid and volunteer staff who have to work things out now.

The bourgeois nature of gathering goers (or not) is fodder for another post. I think I will refrain from commenting on that question until I've been at least once. For us, my husband is probably taking unpaid leave to go, but at least he has that option.

As far as an open meeting for worship, I have to say I'm picturing George Fox and the Valiant 60 preaching to crowds in England - no permits, no portapotties, no permission from anybody, and changing people's lives right there on the spot. Things have changed in the last 350 years, not least that Friends are not nearly as bold in our faith and practice.

Perhaps, could this be an idea for next year??? Liz, isn't the next Gathering going to be in your neck of the woods?

3/31/2006 7:35 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Back home, they would just find the biggest barn around and host the annual Dairy Breakfast.

Imagine 2,000 Quakers gathered in a farm field waiting on God. You never know. It could happen. But, what would the cows say?

4/01/2006 4:17 PM  
Blogger ef said...

Yeah, I'm excited that they found ways to make gathering bigger. I was (am?) considering "bedrolling" to make room for someone for whom it would be harder than it is for me, but a whole week on a hard floor, I'm not so into it (I might swap off, if someone is registered to bedroll, and give up my bed half the time - just FYI - I'm registered in a double with someone I don't know)

I do really like the idea of finding some space where we could have a no-max MFW.

I am disappointed that it was so vastly underestimated, but I know that it's better than being vastly underregistered. Apparently we had a similar issue when the gathering was in the midwest for the first time, and I have some suspicion that east coast folks (of which I am one, by birth) can't quite conceive of anyone wanting to be anywhere else in the world.

As for vacation, I've wondered that too. I conveniently have found myself a job that closes the week of gathering, so I couldn't work if I wanted to (great benefit, un-great pay, but I love it!)

I do think it's important to discuss the "bourgeous"ness of gathering (the participants is another issue, but gathering itsself - what assumptions do we make about what is needed? how much discernment do we exercise in choosing to spend lots of money and time and resources on something that is essentially internal to quakers and pretty much fully a leisure activity? I have concerns about the food (simple meal is my favorite, and I wonder why we don't eat it all the time!) and the t-shirts (should we have them at all? are they sweatshop-free? organic?)

It is funny to see the programs now, after a month (?) of drama about it.


4/04/2006 11:15 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Rob, even Silas could tell you the cows would say MOO. Seriously, do you know anybody with a big enough barn in Wisconsin? Let's get started! I'm all for the annual Dairy Breakfast.

Or sitting in a field. This is another point that Friends' expectations of comfort in their places of worship have gotten a lot higher in the last 350 years. Then again, Friends' expectations of handicapped accessiblity have also gotten a lot higher and that's generally a good thing.

Another point I am considering is that maybe I should worry less about what FGC is doing or not doing and work more to do this kind of outreach closer to home. It finally occurred to me that maybe this would be a great project in conjunction with PYM.

I can point to SF Monthly Meeting holding an open, outdoor meeting for worship in Union Square (downtown SF) last Easter, in conjunction with the Eyes Wide Open exhibit when it was in SF. Folks were worried that it would be too hard to control people who didn't know what was going on, but it wasn't.

I think the real problem with an enormous meeting for worship would be helping longtime Friends to remember that it is a time of waiting worship, not just a bully pulpit.

And Pam, our blogger ("I blog therefore I am." on the front, tag-clouds on the back) t-shirts should definitely be organic and free trade.:) Do you know a source?

4/04/2006 2:42 PM  
Blogger ef said...

I could probably dig up some sources, but are we really doing t-shirts?? That seems wasteful to me too. I'd rather be able to identify each other by some random "sign" - I'm thinking hankies, but they have so many other significances, scarves or something???

I do usually buy a gathering t-shirt, but I don't really get into other ones...

I am thinking about contacting the bookstore to see where they are with t-shirt purchasing, but I don't want to harass them if they're all overwhelmed there.


PS- I love outdoor worship, not necessarily to fit more people, but I just feel closer to God outside. We (like 3 of us from meeting) did it a few times last summer. I'd really like to get something regular going.

4/05/2006 11:04 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Maybe we could have a secret handshake???? Or one of those ubiquitous plastic bracelets with slogans, what do you think, should they be grey for Quaker bloggers? :)

In general, I do not wear clothes with words on them. Or plastic bracelets. I do have a sweatshirt from each of my kids' schools that I wear to school functions, but that's about it.

But I am still intrigued by the idea of making a shirt with the tag cloud from MY blog on it.

So no, don't really go out and bother the bookstore. Maybe I will get a shirt printing kit from the craft store and figure something out. Or maybe I will decide that this is one project too many.

But I could wear it to FGC, and Yearly Meeting and Quarterly Meeting... So many possibilities.

4/05/2006 3:34 PM  
Blogger ef said...

I have to admit, I don't know what a "tag cloud" is



4/05/2006 3:46 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

For anyone who wants to join the 2007 Gathering Planning Committee, the first meeting is Saturday (7th Day) May 13, 2006 in the Twin Cities! I would love to consider some fresh ideas--like how to hold an open-air worship for 1,500 Friends on a fairly flat university campus...

My current daydream about the Gathering in River Falls, Wisconsin is if it would help to have "tracts" for the workshops, such as:

Quaker basics (general faith & practice)
Quaker specifics (delve into a topic)
Spiritual practices

In a 2002 workshop proposal form, the "tracts" were:

Quaker F & P
Women's Issues
Men's Issues
Environmental Issues
Quaker Testimonies
and OTHER.

Would there be a lot of anger if some of the "touchy-feely" categories were removed? What if the Gathering were a place where we could collectively deepen our QUAKER experience? Or does that happen by engaging in many of the activities that occur outside of workshop time, during the afternoons and evening sessions?


Why can't I ever just be able to cross my arms, wriggle my nose, and have it my way?

Liz, The Good Raised Up

4/05/2006 5:09 PM  
Blogger ef said...

Liz -

You're funny!

I know exactly how you feel (were we all obsessed with those shows as children? Did it give us unrealistic expectations about our ability to influence the world around us without much work??)

I like your short list, but am wondering why healing is on it, as it isn't a particularly quaker thing.

I, of course, would be sad to give up "environment" and have gotten to this weird place where I don't want to take a workshop that meets inside, but I also don't want to take the "nature one" AGAIN! sigh!

But then I thought, what if a "spiritual environmentalism" workshop (or whatever) was in the "spiritual" tract instead of the "envrionment" tract??? I mean, we're there as spiritual people, and not as environmentalists (though that can, and I might say "should" grow out of it) - how would that change our perspective? What if all the "healing" workshops had to be "spiritual healing" workshops???? I don't think that would necessarily be a bad thing!


4/06/2006 11:27 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Alas, I have already rescheduled my son's birthday party so that we can go to a Friendly wedding on May 13th. But I will hold you all in the Light.

I'm with Pam that environmental stuff should be under the spiritual practices, just like anything to do with health or parenting, or bicycling for that matter. Which I have to say, I still see as a potential spiritual practice.

Jeannie didn't seem to be on much in my local television market, but lots of reruns of Bewitched and Gilligan's Island!

A tag cloud is a collection of words from a blog that are formatted so that words that are more common appear larger. The easiest example you could look at is on the Quaker Ranter, if you go to the homepage and scroll all the way down to the bottom. If you click on any of the words, you will find a list of the posts on that blog that relate to that word. (It is created by the del.icio.us system of user-defined labels/keywords. You can find a more technical definition, but just look at Martin's and then you'll have an idea.) You can see my unedited version which gives an idea of what mine would look like. On a t-shirt, it would give folks a visual idea of what I write about.

4/06/2006 2:05 PM  
Blogger Liz in the Mist said...

Hi Liz, this is another Liz! :)

On the regards of "tracts' for the workshops--some of those topics you proposed I think the 4 you listed "Quaker basics (general faith & practice), Quaker specifics (delve into a topic), Spiritual practices and healing" would be a great idea.

As a young (23) year old Quaker, brought up unprogrammed but currently attending a programmed I realize that I don't know a whole ton about Quaker history/faith and practice etc. A lot of other religions have more emphasis on these basics, and I think it is something that religious education in Quakerism sometimes (but not always) lacks. So I would personally be very intrested in the type of idea you proposed!

4/14/2006 2:25 PM  

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