Looking for the bridge builders

A quiet phenomenon has been gathering steam in the midwest over the last few years: Quaker women, getting together across lines of tradition—unprogrammed, pastoral, and evangelical. A simple group gets together in Oklahoma every two years, in a participant-led conference without well-known speakers or elaborate entertainment. They mainly just talk. They also room together, eat together, and sing and worship together. They talk while they take nature walks, watch movies, and do crafts and yoga. In the beginning they did it very gingerly. As the years have passed, though, confidence in their mutual acceptance has grown. A core group of these women return to each conference anticipating that when they take a step across the boundary of their own comfort zone, understanding and appreciation for their own tradition will be deepened.

This conference is the Quaker Women’s Conference on Faith and Spirituality, which began in 1999 with seed money from Friends World Committee for Consultation and concerned Friends. They’re now planning for the fourth conference. Many are compelled to understand what it means to be a Quaker, during times when the world around them is changing radically. What are the core values we share? What is it that’s deeper than the things that divide us?

Dorothy Tiffany, from Howard, Kans., and a member of Independence Friends Church, Mid-America Yearly Meeting, says: "I’m at least a fourth-generation Quaker who’s been both programmed and unprogrammed at times in my life. I know how much we need each other. If we don’t communicate, we lose sight of what the whole of Quakerism means." Dorothy served on the first planning committee for QWC and has been an active part of every conference.

A conference such as this may not be right for everybody. For some, it’s threatening to meet a Quaker whose beliefs and worship styles are radically different from their own. For others, the shock of encountering a Quaker whose worship centers on Christ and Scripture has been something like an awakening. "I read the Bible now," said Dee Rogers, from Liveoak Meeting in Houston, South Central Yearly Meeting. "I’d never have done that if I hadn’t met these women and seen how meaningful it is to them. I have to admit, I enjoy it, too."

Success of the conference format lies in its focus on faith and spirituality, rather than belief, and creation of firm and supportive relationships. To see the very real depth and complexity of each other’s experience of God and community forces them to see each other with mutual respect.

Tina Coffin, of Little Rock (Ark.) Meeting, convened the original conference when she was a FWCC representative for South Central Yearly Meeting. This year she proposed to FWCC South High Plains Region that they hold a separate but similar conference that would include both women and men, to meet on the alternate years from QWC. A planning group for this conference is being formed. If you’d like information or want to participate in it, contact Tina at joticof@aol.com.

Conference dates for the Women’s Conference are November 3-6, at Canyon Camp in Hinton, Okla., near Oklahoma City. The early registration date is July 10, regular registration August 1. Costs range between $100 and $135. If you’re interested in attending, e-mail the registrar, Liz Wine of University Friends Church in Wichita, Kans., at QWCregister@yahoo.com, for a brochure.

There are more bridge builders out there who want to know what the other sides of Quakerism experience. If you’re one of them, this is where you need to be.

Gladys Tiffany

Gladys Tiffany, a member of Fayetteville (Ark.) Meeting, regularly attends the Quaker Women's Conference.