Q&A with Nancy McLauchlan
The theme of the 2012 conference was “Inviting, Contemplating, and Enacting Grace.” What were some interpretations attendees had of the word “grace”?
Many of us were very puzzled by the concept of grace. All seemed to accept that grace is a gift related to God’s love, but we defined that gift in many ways. We associated grace with movement; beauty, a manifestation of love; the heart falling down; the state of living in God and God living in us; Jesus saying his grace is sufficient for us; an awareness of reconnecting to the present moment; the surprise of grace-filled moments; waiting, willingness, and trust; the gift which requires absolutely nothing except the invitation to receive.
What role do the clerks play in each yearly conference? What was it like to be co-clerk with Becky Ankeny of Newberg (Oreg.) Friends Church this year?
Being clerk of the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Conference was much like being clerk of any Quaker organization or committee. The difference is that Becky and I are women from very different yearly meetings, both very Quaker, but with subtle differences. I loved being co-clerk. I agreed to this responsibility because I felt it was my turn. (I had gone to every conference since 1995 except for one.) It was fun to start with the overall concepts of what needed to be done and work out details one by one. The women I worked with supported each other so very much.
What is the importance of the conference being aimed particularly at women instead of both women and men? Why is it so important for Quaker women to come together?
Elenita Bales of Newberg Friends Church (Oreg.) told me her views about this in a recent email:
There was quite a long period in our history that the women and men were separated during their business meetings, each with their own clerks and officers. The topics discussed were the same, but culturally, it was found (in the beginning days) that women weren’t apt to speak up in meeting, even though Quakers taught equality from the beginning. I think that there is still a pretty large percentage of women today that are hesitant to publicly give their opinions in the presence of men. I think that there is value in having some women’s meetings and some men’s meetings, and I feel that we would lose some of our valued women’s fellowship if we combined all of our meetings.
Over the years there has been talk of the men in our region developing their own conference, and this may happen in the near future.
Writing plays a huge role in your yearly conference. All attendees show up having already written a reflection on the conference theme. Why is writing so fundamental to your mission? Do you find that many attendees are avid writers aside from the conference?
Some of us are writers of one degree or another. Some write regular blogs; some write books, others sermons, even a Pendle Hill pamphlet or two. But, actually, the majority of our attendees find writing to be very difficult. They agonize over it. They put it off. Many miss the deadline. But they eventually get it done! Many women did read the papers in advance, starting the process of getting to know one another. I excerpted paragraphs from the papers, and enlarged the print to make posters that we hung on the walls of our meeting room. I felt that I got to know these women on an intimate level through their writing.
On a personal level, why do you feel it’s important for the conference vision to focus on “questions of experience” and “narrative theology” rather than simply “belief”?
We want to get to know one another at a deeper level. If I tell you what I know about God, and you tell me your experience of God, we are both much more likely to have “A-ha” moments than if we are both looking at an elephant, and I tell you God is a trunk and you tell me God is a tail. The home page of our website says, “With grace, we will be respectful and open to each other, trying neither to offend nor to take offense, each woman knowing the power of her own truth and the need to make space for other women’s truth.” We don’t try to change each other.
What, personally, was the moment at the conference where you felt most spiritually uplifted? What part seemed the biggest success for you all as a community?
For me, I think it was during the business meeting on Saturday when women agreed they wanted to meet again. Our history has been that we do not assume there will be another conference in two years. At each conference we decide if there will be one to follow. The fact that women at “our” conference wanted to meet again affirmed the work we had done. And the icing on the cake was that two young women agreed to co-clerk the next conference. I feel that I had some involvement in encouraging them to be there.
I think it is important to be clear that we are women of wide theological beliefs—women who are non-theist; women who struggle with Christian identity, but choose it anyway; women who are followers of Christ; women for whom Christ is an integral part of their lives; women who live as though God is in them at all times. It is a gift of grace to be together.
Is there anything else you want people to know about the conference?
Many things can happen when you hang out with Quakers who are different from you, especially when they are from different branches of the Quaker family. You treasure worshipping out of the silence and all that comes with the tradition of a liberal, unprogrammed meeting. You enjoy sharing Bible verses during silent worship in the manner of conservative Friends. You love the singing and the scripture and the uplifting message that you find at a programmed Quaker church. You find that “they” aren’t very different at all. Sometimes you discover that by learning of the differences, you are reinforced in the knowledge of who you are. There are no limits to the grace of God!