Category Archives: Hard-Core Quaker

Here’s a Great Look at the Quaker “Good Old Days.” Beautiful — But a Lot of Work

[Note: It’s rare that blog material turns up in the real estate section, especially the mainly rather upscale version in the Washington Post, and particularly in the rather very upscale horsey parts of Loudoun County, Virginia, out near where the Shenandoah Valley begins. But for many decades once upon a time, much of Loudoun was Quaker country, and there are still active meetings in the region. There’s also lots of Quaker history to see and explore; and here’s a glimpse at a special piece of it.]

Washington Post

Historical Quaker Farm in Loudoun County for sale

Stone Eden Farm is typical of the small farms owned by Quakers in the 18th century
The stone house was built in 1765. An addition was made in 1817. (Mario Mineros Photography)

By Kathy Orton
 — June 3, 2022

Stone Eden Farm, a historical Quaker farm in Hamilton, Va., with roots that go back more than 250 years, is on the market for just under $1.4 million.

When Lord Fairfax owned what would become Loudoun County, he granted land there to William Hatcher, a Quaker who moved to the area from Pennsylvania. By 1765, Hatcher had built a house on the land as required by Fairfax as a condition of the deed, or patent. That stone patent house has been home to generations of farmers.

Like most Quakers who came to Loudoun County, Hatcher was drawn to its fertile pastureland. Stone Eden Farm was typical of the small farms owned by Quakers in the 18th century. Because of their religious beliefs, Quakers did not rely on enslaved labor, and their farms tended to be smaller than the plantations in eastern and southern Loudoun. Continue reading Here’s a Great Look at the Quaker “Good Old Days.” Beautiful — But a Lot of Work

Seeing Our Future in the Past? Flashbacks from the 1850s

I don’t believe in reincarnation.

But if I did, I’d be pretty sure that in a previous life, I shambled through the American 1850s. That might help explain why lately  I’ve been having vivid dreamlike flashbacks about them. A few acquaintances would nod knowingly at this admission, and murmur something about “past lives.”

What I think explains it is that in this current, 20th/21st century life, I spent several months studying the 1850s, from the perspective of Quakers who really did live through them.Sometimes, the wrinkled vintage letters and sepia-stained books I was working with seemed to meld into scenes from an extended private mini- or rather maxi-series; I often had a sense of spying on the Friends through some special binoculars that saw through time rather than distance.

Outwardly I was like a monk, an absent-minded antisocial drudge, mostly closeted in my small room at Pendle hill, poring through long-forgotten documents, pecking at the keyboard day and night.

But for me the work was gripping, not least because I knew what the characters in my scholarly maxi-series didn’t — that their idealistic dedication, their years of risky activism and pious devotion to achieving a nonviolent end to slavery — all were doomed. Continue reading Seeing Our Future in the Past? Flashbacks from the 1850s

Covid at 1 Million U.S. Deaths: A Special Scourge in the South

 

Reported Covid Deaths by U. S. Region:

Northeast  – 211,923 deaths
Midwest  – 211,648 deaths
West – 189,805 deaths
South – 378,472 deaths

RANDOLPH SEALS, 39, WAS elected the coroner for Bolivar County, in rural western Mississippi, in 2015. But the relentlessness of the deaths linked to Covid, and his personal ties to so many who were dying, brought him to the brink of quitting in the fall of 2020.

By early 2021, when the South’s death rate spiked again, he wished he had. Then came the Delta variant, and the Omicron wave, and it just got worse.

“It was a disaster that was coming back and back and back,” Mr. Seals said.

As hospitals overflowed, many residents died in their homes. The ripple effect of the pandemic was evident, too, as Mr. Seals began recording the deaths of people with heart or kidney disease for whom there were no hospital beds. Now, he said, he is handling the deaths of people who had Covid and never quite recovered. Continue reading Covid at 1 Million U.S. Deaths: A Special Scourge in the South

Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag

Some liberal pundits are predicting a tidal wave of backlash against the leaked SCOTUS decision to reverse Roe & Casey, the decisions that have made abortion a right since 1973, forty-nine years ago. (The full text of the draft decision is here.)

I’ve written that, while a Roe supporter, I’m not at all sure any such tidal wave is certain, or even likely.

Let me add here that this uncertainty seems to apply just as much to U. S. Quakers.

Why?  In sum, because

A. Americans (Quakers too) are exhausted by years of crises, from an attempted (& ongoing) coup begun at the capitol, a continuing pandemic (case numbers are rising again, fast), a new, not-exactly Cold War/World War 3, inflation, and more.

B. Americans, even American women, are and long have been divided on the issue. Furthermore the pro-Roe supporters have long been out-campaigned by the anti-abortion side. Again, Quakers too.

This last is not just my opinion. The leftist journal Dissent put it bluntly and well in 2019:

The American right is winning the battle over abortion rights. In fact, they have been winning for a long time. Since the late 1970s, conservatives have worked to build a well-funded, militant anti-abortion movement that that includes white nationalists, religious extremists, and pro-life feminists. Now, the end of the legal right to abortion appears terrifyingly imminent.

(More on my own ambivalence about a great backlash here.)

I’d be happy for Dissent and I to be wrong and the prophets of political tsunami proven right; but the evidence for it isn’t there now, and I’m not in the “wish-casting” business.

Besides, an informal survey of public Quaker sources only reinforced this impression. Continue reading Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag

AFSC Restructure Update: Staff Uprising? What Happened?

If I was a “consultant” and needed work, I’d get in line at AFSC. By my count, the group is hosting its third round of outside consultants, laboring earnestly (and raking in the billable hours) trying to help it square the circles of what is called at 1501 Cherry Street, Philly “Restructuring.”

The Restructuring plan — and the drive for an internal coup to smash it — were reported here in early January, and this initial post has links to the main documents, and a detailed sketch of the struggle against it. At that point, the Restructuring plan was set to be acted on at a Board meeting earlier this month.

The January coup was spearheaded by Lucy Duncan, who was at the time assigned as AFSC’s liaison with Quakers. She was candid about the goals for her insurgency:

We call on other Quakers to call for a cessation of the planned restructure, an external evaluation of the Senior Leadership Team and a searching, well facilitated internal conversation about how this process proceeded so far despite widespread opposition and how the organization can heal and move forward collectively, honoring all voices especially those most impacted by the issues upon which AFSC focuses.

If the plan wasn’t dumped, she warned, AFSC would be faced with numerous departures:

 Several staff have left or are on the verge of leaving the organization–some of whom have been with AFSC for decades–due to the difficult experience of these processes and their concern about the new direction AFSC seems poised to take.

Well, there was one signal departure in the wake of this manifesto: Duncan, who was suspended and then fired within a week.

Her dismissal stirred up a brief flurry of well-attended Zoom calls, some wringing of hands, and various social media posts.

But within a few weeks, the smoke cleared, and most Quakers  turned back to their already long list of serious concerns, such as the impending destruction of democracy here, the invasion and ongoing destruction of Ukraine there, and the destruction of the entire planet overall, to name a few.

This plethora of distraction indicated that there would likely be no mass movement of Friends marching to rescue Duncan and a once-Quaker-but-now 99+% secular NGO from the fiendish clutches of — the people who were hired to run it, especially by stopping another reorganization in a long string of such over the decades.

For the record, the Restructuring grew out of a strategic plan adopted by AFSC in October 2020 (and online here).

But opposition to it surfaced early, and  despite the often overheated rhetoric, took in practice the more typically Quaker form of a campaign to stall and talk it to death.

This is where the parade of consultants  got into  the  act, being well-compensated to somehow make a series of real differences vanish in a cloud of lavender-scented conflict resolution blather or drown in vats of herbal tea.

The consultants haven’t yet succeeded, except at their bottom lines. The key sticking points were summarized in the early post thus:

After wading through many documents, and cutting through a fog of verbiage and buzzwords, in my view the issues boil down to three:

  1. Power: Who will run AFSC?
  2. Jobs: Will “restructure” mean staff and program cuts? And, not least,
  3. Money: who will control its distribution?

The two sets of answers, in brief, appear to be:

From the “Leadership Team” (aka LT):

  1. Power? To the LT.
  2. Jobs/program cuts? Likely; maybe lots.
  3. Money control? The LT.

From the dissidents:

  1. Power? To the staff (or rather, the staff favored by the dissidents). Out Now! with the LT & its plan.

  2. Job/program cuts? Not just no, but Heck No. Instead, more hires and projects at the “bottom,” in field and project offices.

  3. Money control? Staff (again, the “right” ones).

With l’affaire Duncan now past, it seems clear that the struggle has returned to the question of who will out-stall, out-talk, and out-consult whom. AFSC Deputy General Secretary Hector Cortez told me this week there has not been any staff exodus following Duncan out the door.

But he also acknowledged that the April Board meeting, held in conjunction with AFSC’s annual Corporation session, had come and gone without taking up the Restructuring plan. Which, in light of what I was told in January, suggests the LT didn’t think the Board was ready to say yes.

The next Board meeting will be June 10-12. And from documents shared with the Corporation, it seems AFSC will be in full frenzy marathon meeting mode til then. Here’s the schedule (which, as the small print admits, will probably get even more crowded toward the end of May.):

This whirl will likely focus on much the same conflicts as were identified above. Here’s the summary shared with the Corporation (By the way, the BWGPDM stands for the Board Working Group on Governance and Decision Making):

And that’s not all. The remnants of the Duncan putsch echo here:

So, what will happen in June? Here’s the Leadership Team’s vision:

The blue chart above tracks a process which it says started (at top left) in June 2020, and looks to complete in June 2022 (at bottom right).

Seems to me it leaves out some items, so I’ve prepared a revised, shortened version here. One possibility is not on it: I predict that when June arrives, the Restructuring opponents will insist, “We need more time!” (And consultants.)Then . . .

The big Maybe: There are no public polls of the 20-plus member AFSC Board. Maybe they’re as ready as Cortez to be done with all this. Yet after fifty-five years of Quaker business and committee meetings, it is very easy for me to imagine a half dozen members not being ready to act in June, which would be enough to thwart the LT’s yearning for a conclusion, and keep the hopes of the resisters alive.

After all, just a couple weeks ago there was a letter from Friends General Conference about how their planning committee was tied up in knots and essentially fractured over — wait for it — mask rules for a Quaker gathering.

After two years of AFSC’s impasse, Cortez sounded to me like he (and the LT perhaps) was within sight of being fed up: “We are under the assumption and the very very clear expectation a proposal will go to the board in June,” he said, “and we will request a decision.”

If they don’t get one?

Well, there are always more consultants to consult.

Other related posts:

“Hello, AFSC? There’s a Crisis on the Line—And It’s for You.” Posted January 3, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5qk

AFSC Restructuring Plan (Draft of April 16, 2021) — posted: January 3, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5q5

AFSC & The Hammer: Duncan Fired — posted:
January 5, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5qN

AFSC After “The Day The Movement Died” — posted:
January 13, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5rp

Sayonara to FGC and The Gathering?

From the reports I see, the pandemic was bad for most churches: attendance is off, and (more important) ka-ching in the collection plates is down.

The possible exceptions are clustered among the most shamelessly antivaxx megabucks preachers. Theirs was a win-win setup: if they died, they were martyrs gone home to Jesus; if they lived, they could brag about beating the pagan socialist groomers with the poison vaxx needles, burn their masks and feel bulletproof (at least til the next spike).

And what about Quakers? I haven’t seen recent overall attendance numbers (and Quaker attendance figures are mostly baloney anyway); but a few significant bits of hard data have turned up. Among them are four numbers that sketch in the pandemic impact in an important sector, and the sum is not good.

The first two big numbers aren’t public, but their impact is: in early April, Friends General Conference announced that its 2022 summer Gathering, which had been set to be held in-person at Radford University in southwest Virginia, was off; in its place would be another all-online gathering (the third in a row).

Plans for the 2022 online Gathering program are, as of April 13, still “under discernment.” (Usually, by mid-April a detailed Gathering program schedule is ready, and registration is open.)

Next year, FGC pledged, the Gathering would be back, live & in-person, in Oregon.

We’ll see about that.

The first two of the key numbers behind the cancellation came from extensive surveys of former and potential attenders. The first showed that likely attendance this year would be way below that of the last in-person Gathering, at Iowa’s Grinnell College, in 2019.

Second, the surveys showed a similar decline in attender volunteers to staff out the very labor intensive run-up to the very labor intensive Gathering week itself.

The attendance/volunteer projections underlie the third key Gathering number, denominated in dollars, namely: income. The Gathering costs a lot of money, and over time, it has to break even.

This pay-as-you-gather policy has served FGC and its constituency well. Bottom line, it has meant that for more than 120 years, enough living Friends actually wanted the FGC community experience enough to pay what it costs, either in cash, in volunteer labor, or a mix.

Sure, FGC raises and gives out substantial financial aid and work grants. And there’s always uncertainty when fees are set and attendance is projected months ahead of time: in some lucky years, the Gathering comes out a bit ahead. In others, it falls short.
But “projections” are predictions, and the  prophet Yogi Berra said truly that predictions are tough, especially about the future.
Yogi Berra, a true seer

Will it rain tomorrow? What about a market or economic crash six months from now? A war or an oil shock? A pandemic?  Or, you know, the collapse of democracy? (Hey I’m just asking questions . . . .)

FGC does not have anything like the endowment needed to underwrite the whole event.

Besides, breakeven paid attendance yields a measurable authentication that the Gathering maintains a place in the lives of enough living Friends to stay viable.

But foreseeing a big drop in likely attendance/volunteers, the planners’ calculations for 2022 also projected a deficit of around $70,000.

Some shrugged off that number: FGC could raise the difference with a special fundraiser.

But others held fast to the breakeven tradition: finances were, and had been, uncertain for FGC since even before the pandemic; and while COVID was currently declining, there was still plenty of other uncertainties to grapple with.

Further, beyond short-term volatility, which is unsettling enough, FGC faces the biggest challenge in the fourth big number, which comes down to three fateful digits: Eight zero zero.

What’s that?

Let’s set the scene for the answer: run the Calendar app backward almost twenty-two years, to early July, 2000. I was with some family in Rochester, New York: a few miles north was the rippling blue expanse of Lake Ontario. Closer in were landmarks including historic houses where Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass had lived.
“Let’s have tea.” (And plot a revolution.) A memorial to Susan B. Anthony & Frederick Douglass, Rochester NY.

We were on the campus of the University of Rochester, at the FGC Gathering.

It was to be a special one, because FGC picked that year to mark its centennial (mistakenly, in fact; FGC was actually about twenty years older. But no one on the planning committee really knew much FGC history, so never mind.)

I was on that planning committee, and we had all sorts of special events scheduled. A highlight was an all-attender panoramic photo: I squeezed in for it, crouched on the grass next to a granddaughter. As a memento, I ordered a print of the photo. It cost $25, a lot; but worth it (though sadly it was lost somewhere, likely in one of the decluttering attacks).

I remember looking it over later, before it was mislaid: so many Quakers together, packed like sardines, but all smiles.

I recalled the tally of those dozen-plus long rows: we had hoped and worked hard to get at least 2000 attenders. We came very close, about 1960, but didn’t quite make it.

It wasn’t unusual in those years for attendance to top 2000. More than once the Gathering filled every available bed on a host campus, and a few frantic late callers were reluctantly turned away. (What did the registrar say when a tardy Friend choked up on the phone and sobbed, “But God TOLD me to be there . . .”?)

So — Rochester in 2000, with almost 2000 Quakers. A new century. Heck, a new millennium. A lot to celebrate.

Yet since then, year by year, a graph of the Gathering attendance figures would be jagged, but the trend line was unmistakable; and it’s not a rumor. Which brings us back to that fourth big number, 800.

It was the attendance at the last in-person Gathering,  2019 in Iowa, the final summer of what many of us now think of as The Before Time.

FGC has been struggling with this attendance decline, with only fitful, temporary upticks.

There have been several surveys, and some recurrent complaints: the Gathering was becoming too expensive; it lasts too long; it’s become a Nanny State; etc. (I think FGC has made some big mistakes; but that’s not what this post is about, though some are listed here FYI.) Tweaks were made; yet the slide continued.

At a certain point, continued decline will push the Gathering to the brink of being no longer financially feasible.

Personally, that’s what I think it faces now. Besides finances, the email about the decision to go online includes a report on intense and unresolved struggles among planners over such matters as mask-wearing and Covid protocols. (WHAT?? Polarization among liberal Quakers too?? Is NO ONE safe? Evidently not.)

At this point, in most Quaker commentaries like this one, it is a rhetorical expectation — nay demand — for the writer, especially if they’ve been critical, to present what I dub the “Fix It List”. That’s a number of actions, usually about five, for Friends to take at once, to either solve a problem, or at least provide a sense of Having Done Something. (The ability to DO SOMETHING NOW seems to be one of the presumed keystones of our Quaker spiritual birthright and entitlement.)

Such lists almost always include, near the top, a mandate to Write to Congress, and Call for Action. Next is to Make a Donation to some do-good group or cause. And if the readership includes those from the programmed branches, a third will be a Summons to Pray. The other two will vary.

In this case, a Fix It List is something of a conundrum. For instance, while there are many good reasons to write Congress now (e.g., to save democracy), bailing out the FGC Gathering is not one of them. And while donations to the FGC (or relief for Ukrainian war refugees) are always welcome, the organization is not facing a temporary cash crunch, and we’ll all be dunned soon enough anyway. Still, if it’s your practice, one could Pray for All Of The Above.

But to be plain, as far as I can tell, the Fix It List mantra doesn’t really apply here.

Instead, what I increasingly suspect we may be witnessing is the natural sunset of an event and an organization: a life cycle, like that of a tree or a creature, or fossil-fuel powered automobiles. Or thee and me.

After all, the first Friends General Conference was organized in the early 1880s, more than 140 years ago. That’s a pretty good run; how many U. S. businesses have continued since then with their original name and ownership & mission? (Some churches have; but many have not.)

If the Gathering and FGC were to be laid down, would that be the end of Friends? I strongly doubt it. Other committees had come and gone. Quakerism had muddled through 200 years before they were started.

But what of those of us for whom the Gathering was one of the high points of our year?

That was me, for a couple of decades. And there will be a time to grieve. But I’m also one for whom the Gathering thrill is gone; its appeal has faded and wrinkled. Could that be, not something To Be Fixed, but just how it goes — more like leaves turning brown in the fall?

It feels more that way to me. And the 800 number, along with the latest projections, reinforce this impression.

So this summer, if I’m able to Zoom in and join in the online Gathering, as I have in a limited way the past two years, that may well be enough. It sounds like it will be for many others too.

And if the Gathering or FGC soon thereafter quietly folds its tents, my prediction is that before long some other concern or leading or event could take its place.

In any case, I’m now reminded of what one Friend said in jest, but might now be a promise of renewal:

“Our kind of Quakers don’t believe in Hell; that’s because we’ve got committees.”
Oh yes. Oh yes we still have.

U. S. Catholic defenders of Pope Francis “Mobilize” behind closed doors

Do rightwing American Catholics hate pope Francis?

Is the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Jewish?

On a scale of 1 to 10, would 25 be close enough?

From my outside liberal Quaker perspective, Francis is not all that progressive: slow on smashing the priestly pedophile protection racket; mushy on cleaning up the sewer of financial sleaze around the Vatican; status quo on women, anti-abortion & and  anti-LGBT matters (a few sorta-friendly comments don’t cut it.) Also he’s much too patient with the sowers of slander &  schism in his own ranks.

After all, what good is a papacy, if it’s not taking charge? Sometimes his Vatican sounds like one of our “Clearness Committees” that never reaches any clearness. (Hey, Francis, take it from me— one  denomination mired in what is too often the quicksand of finding the ”sense of the meeting” is plenty.)

Besides, from my external perch, I’m also often reminded that Francis heads the largest organized church on the planet. His and its fates reverberate far beyond their parishes, convents and monasteries.

Further, compared to his recent predecessors, judging him in his hidebound institutional context, he’s by far the most humane pope in my lifetime.  He should be headed straight to the church’s roster of saints . . . Unless the clerical fascist caucus burns him at the stake  first. Continue reading U. S. Catholic defenders of Pope Francis “Mobilize” behind closed doors

Welcome to Spring; the Massacre of Mariupol; and a New Hello Kitty

“I’ve been writing about Ukraine in this space nonstop for a month. I’m exhausted by it. I suspect you are, too.”

That’s not me saying that. It’s Jonathan V. Last (aka JVL). He’s a never-Trumper ex-Republican, who blogs & podcasts for The Bulwark, one of the key ex-GOP-Save-Democracy-if-we-can media shops which I follow.

But in Quaker-talk, I affirm it: this friend speaks my mind.

My sense is that the American public’s attention span for disasters and even wars, except maybe our own, is no more than a few weeks; and we’re approaching our limit with Ukraine. (And in “our” I’m including myself.)

Sure, Putin is still awful, we really hate the invasion, the razing of cities, killing of civilians, especially kids, the flood of refugees. Zelensky is a surprise megahero, the citizen resistance has been epic, even Biden seems to be doing the job right of fighting back without loosing the nuclear furies on us (so far).

And yeah, it’s grimly fun to watch Putin’s Fox News pals squirming and trying to cover their bloody tracks. For a few minutes, anyway. Continue reading Welcome to Spring; the Massacre of Mariupol; and a New Hello Kitty

A Quaker Reconsiders His Peace Testimony

My fate was heavily shaped by a small card that came in the mail in late September 1965.

That card, and fate, are back on my mind now, 57 years later.

I was in Selma, Alabama when the card arrived, still working with the civil rights movement. A few weeks earlier the endurance, courage and determination of the Black people of Selma and many other places in the South had been vindicated by passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Application of the act was just beginning. But after the nine long, tumultuous months of witness leading up to its enactment, full as they had been, my attention was turning elsewhere. Continue reading A Quaker Reconsiders His Peace Testimony