The 2005 Friends General Conference Gathering

There were over 1,500 Friends, arriving in Blacksburg, Virginia, on the Virginia Tech campus on July 2, in blazing heat. Construction and detours had changed the landscape that many of us remembered from four years ago. On Saturday evening, after most Friends had arrived and registered, we were treated to a concert by singer/ songwriter Diedre McCalla, from Atlanta (Ga.) Meeting. She eased us into beautiful, inspiring, and political songs to begin our week of loving witness to the state of Virginia, which had enacted a law denying civil rights to same-gender unions.

On Tuesday, Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns organized a large outdoor witness called "Let Love Choose," located right next to the main street of the town of Blacksburg. Particularly touching was the sight of over 200 high school Friends silently filing in to join us after they decided to give up a field trip that was scheduled at the same time. Some couples shared their marriages—and their children—with us, and then, during the meeting for worship that followed, a woman dressed in a local business uniform spoke and thanked us for allowing her to feel some support.

On Wednesday, American Friends Service Committee’s "Eyes Wide Open" exhibit was installed in a large gymnasium. The grim rows and rows of military boots, many with photos or mementos placed inside them, washed over by sad music or chanting, brought home the human loss of this war with a stark, indelible image. Another long row of shoes, representing the approximately 100,000 Iraqi civilians and children killed in the war, snaked up and down staircases in the ROTC cafeteria. Much like the black Vietnam Wall in D.C., this exhibit respectfully honors the dead and invites emotional and spiritual reactions.
The plenary speakers added to my knowledge of Quaker history, Native American culture in Virginia, and the role of peacemakers in healing the tribalism of religions, denominations, and political groups. I was most impressed by Jonathan Vogel-Bourne speaking of our prophetic vision of Inner Light that we need to use in these days of millenialism that ignores the preservation of the Earth and scoffs at present suffering because the "hereafter" or "rapture" will somehow save people.

Among the many activities, workshops, dance, songs, and yoga, the young people were weaving themselves into the whole Gathering. I attended an interest group for high school Friends, adult young Friends, and adults where we played "mixer" games that had us communicating on a deeper level with Friends across age groups. Great plans were formulated that night, including the idea of creating a listserve and young adult ministry to our meetings. On Wednesday, Junior Gathering children visited each morning workshop and gave a written invitation to join them at 11:30 the next morning.

Thursday was cloudy and drizzling from the remnants of Hurricane Emily; but at 11:30, when all the workshops left to join the children, the rain stopped for a moment. What we found was a grove of trees woven with colorful yarn, feathers, sticks, and beads, with a paper igloo underneath. As we approached, we were given more yarn to weave. We all stood in silence, then someone started singing. It was all very eloquent, expressing the theme of the Gathering, "Weaving the Blessed Tapestry."