Window Signs

In case I never said so here, I'm currently the clerk of my meeting's news committee. The News committee is in charge of the newsletter and website, and now some additional ideas for advertising.

Starting this month, we are going to have a series of posters in one of our front windows with excerpts from our book of Faith and Practice. The first one is from page 1:
The religious practices of Friends are founded in direct communion with God and the conviction that the Divine Light is accessible to each person; yet it is one Light, one Truth. We wait with hearts and minds open to the Divine so that Truth will be made known among us.

Our corporate search for God’s word is the heart of the Quaker Meeting for Worship. We believe that God, the Light, the Truth, is part of our being. We say, “there is that of God in everyone.” Truth is continually revealed to us, often through a gathered mystical experience. We learn to recognize the truth by experience.

I intend to post the text of the new signs, each time we change them. Some are more wordy and intellectual sounding than others. This is the longest one. What they all share is that they express the essentially religious nature of our community - in God language.

We had a series of quotes from MLK Jr. starting in September 2001. And a few banners, one saying all welcome, one with graffiti-style art that said something about Justice and Peace, one that said Congratulations to the Newlyweds during the time that our City was marrying same sex couples.

Now we're going to be more clear that we're a Religious Society, not just peace and justice advocates. It's also a more modern looking design than some Quakerly publications. It's important to me that we not appear to be the Religious Society of Antiquarians.

We'll see how it goes, in the meeting and in the wider community. I invite your feedback.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Robin,

I have a lot of opinions about this. I think even this approach is still intellectual, cold an inaccessible.

Stores don't have signs saying their history or what they sell. They just say, "We're open."

I think our signs need to be more about welcoming people and an invitation for them to join us. But once again, this is the great divide of Allison and everyone else, apparently.

2/04/2008 3:49 PM  
Blogger Jeanne said...

That's great that you're putting *out front* the religious nature of your community.

But I have to say if that's what had greeted me as I came into Meeting for the first time, I would have turned away.

I love what the UCC churches have on their buildings:


It says what you're trying to say, but much more simply. It's welcoming to anyone who can speak English and even some who can't.

But if English isn't your first language or if your reading comprehension isn't at a college level, your signs are inaccessible.

2/04/2008 4:18 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Hey, Robin.

Before reading the other comments, my first thought was, "Good idea about these signs--making our religious faith more explicit." I'm all for putting our expectations out there, so folks know what they might experience when they start worshiping with us.

Then Allison's and Jeanne's comments stopped me in my tracks. *Dannnng.*

I agree that there is a power in something as basic and fundamental a statement as "God is still speaking." But maybe your other signs will be shorter than what you've shared here...?

...and I dread the thought of having something like this come up before MfWfB: "What small quip shall we hang regularly outside as an effort to provide outreach to passersby and fellow seekers?"

And how do we keep a quip from becoming empty, overused, or "dumbed down"? I suppose it takes continued careful listening--to one another and to God.

As a person of considerable privilege (education, social class, skin color), I find I am often weighing my desired INTENTION with the potential IMPACT or likely reception of my actions. And outreach is a different activity from inreach...

You are in my thoughts as you incorporate feedback and additional discernment.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

2/04/2008 5:34 PM  
Blogger anj said...

Robin - Perhaps this speaks to a deeper issue amongst Friends? I , personally, love the quotes and joined Friends because I was convinced the path of early Friends was my spiritual path too.

Months ago, I was eldering a retreat for a Friend who sent me the quotes that were going to be used as a type of query. One of the quotes was listed as anonymous -- it was actually a quote right out of our yearly meetings Faith and Practice. When I e-mailed the facilitator back the page and place of that quote, he was surprised. Didn't know it was from our Faith and Practice.

So, as a voracious reader, I could see what you are proposing as a way to share a bit what is in our Faith and Practice. And some of the deeper truths of why we gather.

I also recognize Jeanne's concern,and Liz Opp's, and Allison I would love to sit at a table with you and hear more of what you wrote.

Having written all that, faithfulness is the word that comes to mind.

2/04/2008 11:11 PM  
Blogger Tai Amri said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/05/2008 12:20 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I started a blow by blow response, but I think that wouldn't be helpful.

One of our target markets are the people already inside. A man who visits occasionally with a friend of his, a person of color, asked me a week ago, "Are Quakers religious?" He couldn't tell.

We already had to deal with one longtime Friend on the committee who disagreed with part of the quote, claiming that's not what Quakers believe. When it was pointed out that this is page one, paragraphs one and two, of our 2001 edition of Faith and Practice, he agreed to take up his concern in another forum.

When we have Friends inside more comfortable with the concept of advertising, in language that they recognize, or can at least be forced to acknowledge, we can proceed to being more savvy about marketing. We already have a sign painted permanently on the door that says when we're open.

This is the longest and wordiest excerpt we will use out of the six we've agreed on. I agree that it has a lot of big words and convoluted grammar. It was a pain in the neck for typesetting. It's probably an accurate warning about the majority of people who you'll find in the meetinghouse at this point. I hope you'll stay tuned to see some of the other signs.

One of the things I would really like to do is to publish one of our quotes in Spanish, from the Spanish translation of F&P that we already have. One Friend asked me if I thought a monolingual Spanish speaker would feel comfortable in our meeting,and pointed out that we don't have anything else printed in Spanish. Would it be false advertising somehow? Or is the first step towards appearing more hospitable? Because I really think that there are enough people who speak Spanish in our meeting that there would be someone to have a conversation with. But they might not be able to pick us out when they walked in. I don't "look" like I would speak Spanish. But I do.

I love the "God is still speaking," signs too. One advantage of the UCC is that their paid staff gets to decide a lot of things. Secondly, how many thousands of dollars did they spend on developing their whole marketing campaign?

2/05/2008 12:33 AM  
Blogger Tai Amri said...

This is a great discussion and I am quite appreciative of it. Being an African American Quaker I have multiple identities and thus have multiple perspectives on the proposal of this sign. As a Quaker I like it, because it is a statement of faith in a tradition that so rarely has statements of faith. As an African American though, I think about my Black peers (and other peers of color) who think Quakers are crazy precisely because of statements like these. While so many of us Quakers work for social justice, we make signs of invitations that are attractive to extremely specific demographics (like intellectual social activist, which although I am one, the majority are White) and then we wonder why our Meetings aren't more diverse. Yet sometimes I have to question, are we really wondering why Quakerism is so hemogenous, or do we just expect to have our Meetings being filled with more White intellectuals? And while I understand that many of us Quakers are wary of becoming proselytizers, the fact of the matter is that there are great many people of color who want peace, and there are not enough spiritual communities that are offering them a space to worship in it. It saddens me to say that my own Quaker faith is one of those places where this invitation is lacking.

So may I make a humble suggestion. If Quakers want to become a more multicultural community, where people of color, people in the GLBTQ community, people from different class back grounds, people of differing abilities, young people, and people of differing ideologies are welcomed and safe, then we need to be in dialogue with these people about what makes a community feel welcoming and safe to them, and then we need put them on planning committees and actually listen to their feedback. That's my vision for Quakerism, is Quakerism ready?

2/05/2008 12:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the savviness of the UCC advertising makes me a bit wary, but I don't think people have to be that smooth to be inviting. God is still speaking is eloquently simple. And liberal Quakers would have to find something more open, like, "We call ourselves Friends, and believe the Light is in you. Come sit with us in peace." I love liberal Quakerism and the acceptance of different theology. At the same time, I want whatever that theology is to be profoundly deep. Part of that to me says I care less about the status quo of Quakerism than I do about the people that are really poor in Spirit and community. The ones I have to pass on my way into the Meetinghouse. It makes me feel like a farce of a good Samaritan. And then it disturbs me why it doesn't make anyone else feel that way.

Oh, and I love the idea of Spanish signs. If we keep the message on the sign short, I really think it should be in more languages native to the neighborhood. Heck, Quakers have mostly SILENCE, with a few vocal ministries. There are a lot less language barriers in silence than anywhere else. If need be, we can find translators. Isn't that what faith is all about?

PS - I read my Faith & Practice thoroughly. I like to know what I'm getting into.

2/05/2008 1:26 AM  
Blogger David Carl said...


If you're checking back, I'm wondering what it is about statements like these that people of color would think is crazy?

I'd write something like that in a heartbeat, so maybe I'll gain some insight into my own craziness!



2/05/2008 2:48 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Tai Amri, welcome to my blog! I am quite appreciative of this discussion too.

Allison, how do you know that no one else feels that way?

David, while not being a person of color, I can say for myself that while I understand and agree with the statement, it's not how I would have put it either. I think that much of our book of Faith and Practice was written as a carefully balanced compromise of a lot of different concerns. Hence the sense of dancing around the point.

2/05/2008 3:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I can't explain Tai's comment but I think I can also use my own multiple consciousness to answer why "Quakers are crazy" for that kind of sign.

1) it's dry 2) it's long 3) it sounds pretty high falutin' and hoity-toity 4) all of the above make it sound pretty "white"

I told a Hawaiian mixed race activist friend of mine about Quakers having awesome activism, but as soon as I said they're mostly white, she immediately reacted, "Oh, like high and mighty, huh?"

Since white is not that great a descriptive term, my boyfriend, who is a white man, said that people often say "white" when what they mean is "square." Square is rigid. Square doesn't flow very well. Square is not joyful. Square is boring.

The same statement could be said a lot simpler (which is a Friends testimony, yes?):

We are the Religious Society of Friends. We believe every human being has the Light of God. We worship in silence to hear the Truth.

Then, the most important part would be an invitation such as:

We would love for you to make yourself at home here!

(I would also add a smiley face, but that's just me.)


If everyone else felt that way, there's no way in hell we would've ended up with that sign. That sign is a filter. Trust me.

2/05/2008 6:51 PM  
Blogger Tai Amri said...

My experience in trying to talk about Quakerism to others is that it already starts out as being crazy. First off, who the hell are the Quakers, that George Fox guy on the oatmeal box? That's our representation of Quakerism, a white man with a black brim hat, that already sounds crazy. Then I'm working with the fact that I'm black, and I can't tell you how many times people say, "I didn't know there were Black Quakers." Well guess what, I didn't either. Then, I explain to them that Quakers are a non-credal faith community, but damned if that sign doesn't sound like a creed. The thing is that most faith communities of color, while they may have similar statements of faith, they would not put anything like that in the front of their churches. That sign sounds more defining than most credal faith communities I have been to and been a part of. Lastly, as Allison said, the length is a bit off putting. Now let's get something straight, I'm a Quaker, and I believe that Quakerism has something to offer the world as well as our local communities. I think there is a need for Quakerism and I DON'T want to see it die out, quickly or slowly, nor do I believe it will anytime soon. I have faith that there is a community of Friends (many of them are Young Friends) who are dedicated to making authentic change, and I have faith that we WILL make that change. I offer feedback because I want that change to be, I want to be a part of manifesting that change and I want us to create this change TOGETHER, using everyone's voice. I don't want to silence anyone, rather, I want my truth to be spoken and be respected just as I respect the truth that everyone a part of this dialogue is sharing. I believe that we just need some more voices here so that this truth can be more complete. Thank you and in peace.

2/05/2008 8:31 PM  
Blogger cubbie said...

the quote makes my eyes glaze over. this conversation doesn't. the rest of your post didn't. but no matter how many times i try to read this quote in this space, i can't make myself get through it. i don't know why.

how is the news committee in charge of this? that sounds WAY more argumentative than i mean, but, i'm curious. allison has mentioned ideas for more welcoming signs on her blog and i know jim has expressed some great ideas, too. but i've only ever thought of sending them to or seen them referred to m&o about it. ... i just reread your first paragraph and i sort of understand more about how it's the news committee. i guess... to me it feels like the decision for what we put as advertisement should be more of a corporate decision. it's funny because just this morning, i'd been thinking about a response to allison's idea for welcome signs... and how they are great, but that what we put on our door is not up to her individually... and then, knowing how relatively wee the news committee is, it's sort of disillusioning. it's not up to 1 person, but it's up to 3 or 4?

is this antagonistic? it's not meant to be. i'm just trying to figure out how ideas get filtered out and then other ideas seem to magically appear without the amount of consultation that that individuals have to go through.

2/05/2008 10:26 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I'm glad that you all feel that this is a comfortable and safe enough space to say what you really think, and that you respect this space enough to not say everything you really think.

I hereby recommit myself to be more careful in my use of the words "everybody," "nobody," "always," and "never." I find that they lead me to concentrate on the exceptions and enable me to avoid the main point.

cubbie, the impetus for the new window signs began as an individual leading (not mine, by the way). The discussion leading up to this has been several months long and has also involved the ministry and oversight committee, the clerk of meeting, and a few other innocent bystanders.

In my experience, editing by committee is hard. Editing in business meeting is excruciating. This is one reason that the news committee accepted the task to shepherd this project through.

It is not the only new project underway in our meeting. Other things have come about quite recently that are also due to individual initiative. The first thing that comes to mind is the meeting's invitation to Vanessa Julye to speak here (which I haven't written about yet, but I will next week).

This is one of a series of six cardboard posters. It is not permanent, nor will it be the only statement about us on the front of our building. Let's not overestimate the help or damage that one sign will do. The opportunity to continue the larger discussion in person, in our meeting, is much more important to me.

2/06/2008 12:25 AM  
Blogger cubbie said...

thanks, robin. *laughs* i just reread my own comment, and laughed at how the most argumentative seeming sentence came right at the end there, when i was trying to explain how i wasn't being argumentative. *sighs at self*

anyway, i know it's not a permanent thing, but the channels still confuse me.

hey, i have thursday and friday off from my 1-5 job for chinese new year-- are you available for a phone or (preferred) real life chat about... a lot of things, primarily quaker related on either of those days? (i'll be mostly away from the computer starting in half an hour, so calling would be the best way to figure this out-- i'll email you the number.)

2/06/2008 12:36 AM  
Blogger David Carl said...

Tai & Friends,

I've read that historically Friends tried to put a stop to Quaker Oat's use of "Quaker" as a brand name, but were unsuccessful in getting congress to adopt such a law. In any event, the picture on the box and the use of our name are the actions of a business corporation with no ties to the RSOF.

I can see, however, that the absence of people of color in our meetings would be off-putting to other people of color. That's a serious concern and I'm glad Friends are working on this.

As for being non-creedal, that means to me that we don't require anyone to sign on to a particular statement of belief, not that we never say anything about our religion. If we can't say what Quakerism is, how do we know that there even is such a thing?

I personally like the statement a lot, but if it seems dry, square, boring, etc. to some Friends, then its good to know that. Next time I find myself reviewing our meeting's literature, I will probably make my way back to this discussion.



2/06/2008 12:18 PM  
Blogger Tai Amri said...

Dear Friends,

I think that that sign is a statement of a group of Friends and the truth and light that was revealed to them to be necessary to be put out to the rest of the community. Thus I believe that it is deserving of being heard, just as I believe that all truths are deserving of being heard. Thusly, I do not believe that it should NOT be the sign. But I also believe that there is a truth of young people and people of color, friends and Friends, that is too seldomly heard. That is the place from which I speak.

2/06/2008 12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if we should have two signs, maybe a small second one on the north door. The current signs tell us who we are, the second signs would be short and welcoming, as Allison suggests. A strength of Quakerism is that it appeals to both mind and heart, so having a sign for each would be stronger than only having one or the other.

Also, the short messages Allison suggests may make good ads for the newspapers, and signs to cary during the Pride Parade.

2/06/2008 2:04 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

In relation to David Carl's recent comment, how's this for a sign:

[large image of the Quaker Oats guy, with these words underneath:]

Quakers aren't about oatmeal. Come see what we're about. Join us for Quaker worship.

I have to say, the reference to the Quaker Oats guy--and talking about the use of signs and printed messages as outreach--prompted me to write a post about updating the Quaker Oats guy.

And I'll unite with cubbie's observation about how intriguing the conversation here has been.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

2/06/2008 2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I kinda feel like people want to hog Quakerism to themselves and their kind. And that's not right. I'm like Tai Amri. I love Quaker theology, believe it can speak to a lot of Seekers of different stripes. It's my faith now too, and I have just as much right to it as anybody. I don't like the direction people are taking Quakerism in, which is the direction of demise. Quakers are committing their own suicide by not seeing themselves honestly.

Quakers are supposed to be simple and be about community and equality. Communications that are complex and might weed out certain kinds of people are therefore wrong.

It's like that old song "This little Light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Put it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine."

I feel like the current sign is the bushel. And I'm saying No! Let it shine!

2/06/2008 3:45 PM  
Blogger Hystery said...

When I wanted to join a Quaker meeting, I was really nervous. I looked up a local meeting on the internet and found that nonprogrammed Friends meet in a neighboring town. So my husband drove to that town and we looked, and looked...

We thought we had the address right but we couldn't find it! Turns out that they meet in a college campus building and they have this itty bitty sign that announces their time of meeting that they drag out onto the sidewalk on First Days. Eventually I saw the sign. Then it took me more weeks to screw up the courage to actually go in. I worried that I was instrusive. In my mind, they clearly weren't looking to invite more people in.

What first drew me to want to join Friends in worship was that I kept reading about how they believe in That of God in Everyone. The sign that would have brought me in their door much sooner would look something like this.

Friends' Meeting for Worship.

We believe that there is That of God in Everyone. You are always welcome with us!

2/07/2008 8:09 AM  
Blogger Jeanne said...

The sign is a social class barrier across all lines of color, ability and sexuality.

I trust the discernment that Robin's Meeting had; I'm not looking for the sign to change.

I just hope to add new Light to people's awarenesses for the next time someone considers a new sign for their Meeting.


2/07/2008 1:25 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Boy, lots of big talk and big intellectual words about how we shouldn't be using big talk and big intellectual words.

Pretty much all the convinced Quaker stories I've heard start with a Friend met many years before the storyteller ever walked by a meetinghouse. It was a teacher, a family friend, sometimes a stranger who performed an unusually kind act.

A street sign only says "hey look buddy, stop walking, here's more people like that person and here's a clue how they turned out that way." It doesn't have to be perfect. Part of (Liberal) Friends culture these days is a relentless double-guessing bordering on censorship that finds all words speaking from a distinctive voice to be somehow oppressive. The result is often bland corporate-speak with empty spiritualish words tossed in.

Yes, the sign is too wordy. And yes it's too intellectual and written in committee-speak. But that's okay. There'll be a new sign next month--or whenever the next in the series comes in. We have to trust that God will send the right seeker down that sidewalk when the right sign is there to greet them. Or even that God will let the right seeker see through the cultural haze of the sign to the core "yes-ness" of Quakerism and lead the seeker in. And that's the difference between slick marketing and faithful Quaker outreach: we know that it's not our clever advertising sense that brings people in the door. We are faithful and do what we can but then leave it to God to smooth out the rough edges.

Martin @ Quaker Ranter

2/09/2008 8:41 AM  
Blogger Tai Amri said...

Well said Martin, I think I am one of the many who is not saying that the sign doesn't need to be changed. As you said, Quakerism is not about a sign. Rather, there are great many of us Friends (especially those Friends who find ourselves in the minority) that would like to and have something to say about creating a more diverse spiritual community.

2/09/2008 12:37 PM  
Blogger jez said...

If this is the right thing to do, won't God provide us with a sign?

2/09/2008 4:33 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

So I reported to business meeting yesterday about the signs. There wasn't much controversy there.

It was also announced that our banner that hangs from the front of the building will be replaced finally - there was something wrong with how it was hung the first time and it got all mangled in the wind.

It says "Peace Through Peaceful Means" on one side, and "Worship With Us" on the other side. It hangs perpendicular to the building so that it is highly visible from 9th Street, a very busy street in San Francisco.

It joins the four foot high sign on the front of the building which you can see in this flickr photo. At the left, you can just see the poles that will hold the bright yellow banner. Behind the woman walking by is the window where the new posters will go. The right hand window will continue to have displays for the Peace and Justice Center. It currently has a photograph of Earth taken from outer space.

2/11/2008 12:38 PM  
Blogger kwicker said...

Give us a sign, oh Lord!


2/14/2008 6:56 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Here's a link to the flickr page with our signs on it: Signs of Quakers in San Francisco.

2/14/2008 11:46 PM  

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