Category Archives: Hard-Core Quaker

A Catholic Reckoning? How about an Evangelical Quaker Reckoning?

In a time of all-encompassing catastrophe, bad news comes at us from all directions. But insight can comes form anywhere as well. There’s much of this in an editorial in the April 17-30 issue of the liberal Catholic paper, the National Catholic Reporter, (NCR) entitled “Catholics and Trump, a reckoning.” I believe it calls for Quaker attention.

Not that it’s about or for Quakers. But reading it, though, I kept seeing a different name in place of “Catholic” — Quaker.  More specifically, Evangelical Quaker. A sample of the editorial will show why.

But first, a bit of context. Here in North Carolina, much of the evangelically-oriented Quaker population is found in three counties: Surry, Randolph and Yadkin counties. And these three counties have a distinctive record in national politics: twice, in 2008 and 2012, they voted against Barack Obama by a three to one margin. And in 2016, they voted for the incumbent president by three to one. Continue reading A Catholic Reckoning? How about an Evangelical Quaker Reckoning?

Quaker David & Goliath, Cont.: Now David Makes his Case

In late January, a post here described the struggle between the Evangelical Friends Church Southwest (EFCSW) and the small Friends Community Church of Midway City, in Orange County near Los Angeles. EFCSW’s Board of Elders decided to close the Midway City church, and fire its pastor, Joe Pfeiffer.

The Elders acted after several homeless people (from the LA area’s estimated 59,000 homeless multitude) were briefly taken in there. The Midway City congregation has gone to court to stop the closure and keep Pfeiffer and his wife Cara as co-pastors.

Background and initial details re in the blog post and a followup. Court proceedings have been put into suspended animation by the pandemic, likely til late this year (at least). But the theological debate brought to light by the controversy continues. It should heat up after today, with the publication of Quaker Theology, Issue #34. In it, Joe Pfeiffer lays out the theological and historical case for the challenge he and Midway City have mounted against its putative ecclesiastical overlord.

In Engaging Homelessness Behind the “Orange Curtain” By Joseph Pfeiffer, Joe calls sharply into question both the history and theology of the “church growth” & corporate brand model of church structure and governance that now reigns in EFCSW, and its flagship Yorba Linda Friends Church. It is this theology, and the power grab it enables, which Pfeiffer argues have produced the current conflict. Further, this theology is built on presumptions of white normativity and corporate norms that are both unscriptural and increasingly dysfunctional. Continue reading Quaker David & Goliath, Cont.: Now David Makes his Case

Quaker Colleges & another Corona Crisis

A headline from the Greensboro NC News & Record:

With its campus closed, Guilford College furloughs more than 130 employees

Furloughs were ordered in all campus areas except among professors, who are teaching classes remotely through May.

John Newsom. News & Record April 3, 2020

GREENSBORO — Its campus empty through the rest of the spring semester, Guilford College has furloughed 133 full-time and part-time staff employees for the next two months.

Slightly more than half of the college’s 250 non-faculty employees were notified Thursday (April 2) that they would have to take unpaid time off from work through at least June 1, President Jane Fernandes said in an interview Friday.

Guilford President Fernandes, center, with students.

Furloughs were ordered in all campus areas except among professors, who are teaching classes remotely through May.

The furloughs are intended to help the private Quaker college of about 1,700 students save money at a time when the campus is closed because of COVID-19 and the nation teeters on the brink of a deep recession.

“In a sense,” Fernandes said, “it’s a crisis within a crisis.”

The furloughs came about two weeks after Guilford told all students to move off campus by March 21 as cases of COVID-19 started to surge across the state and nation. Fernandes said most Guilford students are back home. Some who couldn’t return home right away are staying locally with college alumni and trustees.

In the past month, Guilford, like most other N.C. colleges and universities, moved classes to online instruction, told employees to work from home and postponed May’s commencement.

“There’s less and less need to be on campus,” Fernandes said. “The work is not being needed in the same way.”
Furloughed employees are eligible for state unemployment benefits and will keep their health insurance and other Guilford benefits until they’re recalled. Fernandes said she intends to bring back furloughed employees “as quickly as possible.”

Guilford may not be alone in looking to cut costs in an uncertain time.

According to a survey of college presidents conducted in late March, more than half expect to have to lay off some employees, and nearly 60% say they probably will furlough some workers. More than 80% of presidents are predicting they’ll see lower enrollments in the fall — a worrisome development for small private colleges like Guilford whose budgets depend heavily on annual tuition revenues. . ..

Meanwhile at Guilford, the work continues.

Fernandes said the admissions office continues to recruit students for its next freshman class scheduled to arrive on campus in August. The advancement office is raising money for a new emergency fund to help students cover the unexpected costs of daily living expenses, medical bills and technology so they can take classes online. Professors and remaining staff members are planning for summer school . . . .

Though campus buildings are locked, she said, the college is not closed.

“We haven’t closed anything. Guilford College is surviving,” Fernandes said. “The college is going to get through this crisis and prevail.”

[NOTE: this is not the first round of layoffs at Guilford  We reported here on the shedding of fifty-plus staff in 2015; Fernandes responded to that report here.]


Some years back, I took a granddaughter on an admissions tour of Guilford.

The grove of trees on the Guilford campus which served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The tour was fun, the guides charming, the talk about “enriching experiences beyond the classroom” nonstop, the “amenities” appealing (except there wasn’t enough hot sauce in the au courant Free-range dining hall; tho I figured that was just me).

Continue reading Quaker Colleges & another Corona Crisis

The Big One: FGC 2020 Gathering Canceled

The email below is going out today to a Friends General Conference mailing list. It deserves wider notice:

Dear Friends

After several meetings with a number of committee clerks, staff, and Gathering volunteers, it has become clear that we cannot safely hold the in-person FGC Gathering this year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

We share the experience that the Gathering is deeply important for so many Friends. At the same time, the health and safety of our family of Friends must be paramount. We bring this disappointing news, while at the same time seeking how Spirit might lead us to embrace online tools to create remote Gathering offerings this summer to bring our community together in this time of challenge. While change is neither easy nor comfortable, let us take time to celebrate what has gone before, mourn loss of being together in person, and move with hearts open to a new way forward.

We are clear in this decision, even as we reflect on the thousands of hours of planning so many Friends have invested, the loss of sharing in-person fellowship, and the financial strains cancellation of the in-person Gathering will cause for FGC. Why make the decision now, when so much is unknown? Both because so much is unknown, and because it’s already clear that even if the threat subsides by June, many Friends will be unable to participate in an in-person Gathering this summer due to Covid-19 related financial, family, work, and school challenges. Acknowledging this reality and making this decision now will give FGC more capacity and time to plan alternative ways to speak to the needs of Friends now and in the months to come.

A virtual Gathering working group is forming to explore how to provide, in a new way, spiritual sustenance to all Gathering attendees, including youth, high schoolers, young adults, the FLGBTQC community, and Friends of Color. We will work to share online offerings during the week that would have been the in-person Gathering. Staff & volunteers will also look for ways to include those with limited or no internet access. If you feel called to contribute to this new approach, please be in touch with Lori Sinitzky, rising Conference Coordinator at loris@nullfgcquaker.org.

We are also responding to the understanding that Spirit has opened a way for us to explore what it means to stay connected with each other beyond the week of the Gathering.

It is our current expectation to hold the 2021 Gathering as a traditional in-person event. The FGC Long Range Conference Planning committee will be meeting to set plans in motion for the 2021 and 2022 Gatherings. We are exploring how we can bring some of the content lovingly developed and discerned by the 2020 Gathering Committee to the 2021 in-person Gathering. We also want to remain open that the world is changing, and we are committed to understanding and meeting the emerging needs of the Friends, Seekers, and Meetings we serve.

As events unfold and clarity increases, we’ll be sharing more updates, both on the FGC website and on the Gathering update email list. (The link to information on the website is: https://www.fgcquaker.org/connect/gathering/coronavirus-and-2020-gathering)

Faithfully yours,

Frank Barch, Presiding Clerk
David Haines, Long Range Conference Planning Committee Clerk
Michelle Bellows, Long Range Conference Planning Committee Assistant Clerk
Tony Martin & Patsy Arnold Martin, Gathering 2020 Co-Clerks
Barry Crossno, General Secretary
Ruth Reber, Conference Coordinator
Lori Sinitzky, Rising Conference Coordinator


Continue reading The Big One: FGC 2020 Gathering Canceled

Cancelled: Canadian Yearly Meeting Is The FOURTH to Go. More to Follow?

When I saw that Canadian Yearly Meeting (CYM) had posted a notice on Tuesday March 17, that its 2020 Annual Session, set for August 7-15 in Winnipeg, has been cancelled I thought it was the first such cancellation of this virus crisis season.

Wrong! Within a few hours I found that it was in fact the fourth. And I scrambled to catch up with events.

A letter from the CYM Clerks, Beverly Shepard and Marilyn Manzer, on their website quaker.ca, cited several factors in the decision, related to the current Covid-19 virus pandemic:

Many of our members are in the higher-risk categories (over 60 and/or with underlying conditions such as hypertension), and many make their travel plans well in advance of the CYM dates. An early decision is desirable for these Friends.

To be clear, it is not simply a matter of the existing pandemic crisis of the Covid-19 virus, although that, of course, is the prime motivator here. Some Friends may be reacting to this news with a sense that the decision was made too early, but the fact is that our YM sessions require a great deal of preparatory work, much of which is done by volunteers. To ask this of our short-handed Program Committee and then to cancel after much work has been done seemed to us unfair.

We believed it would be preferable to cancel the sessions now for the sake of the many people who work hard to make CYM the wonderful gathering that it is; then work can proceed toward a joyous gathering in 2021. As you probably know, there is already much discernment underway about changes to be made to CYM to ensure sustainability. This decision allows these discussions to be more relaxed and thorough before our next gathering.

This unexpected cancellation of sessions will necessitate some new plans  . . . .”

(But the plans have not yet been made.)

There’s a precedent: in 1918, the year of the Worldwide Flu pandemic, Friends General Conference did not hold its then biennial conference. (Available records are unclear on whether the flu pandemic affected this decision; but it would sure make sense.)

Will there be more? My guess is, yes. After all, almost all other North American Quaker groups I know of share many of the same conditions that weighed on CYM:

>> A large over-60 contingent;

>> The need to make travel plans well in advance, with a travel industry in both operational and financial chaos;

>> A dependence on much advance volunteer work, a significant amount of which has already been “invested”;

>> And three more not mentioned: first, the likelihood that many Friends will either be recovering from the virus and/or still quite vulnerable to it, caring for family members and other victims even in late summer.

Second, that many Friends who want to attend will be out of work, or with employment in jeopardy, and unable to commit the resources.

And third, that many Quaker parents, whose children are now out of school, perhaps for the rest of the academic year, will be much more concerned to put their time and money in catch-up work over the summer, to keep pace with their cohort’s unremitting drive to keep their progeny in the educational express lanes into the professional/upper middle class ranks.

As feedback to the post came in, updates were necessry; three in fact:

UPDATE 1: The Piedmont Friends Yearly Meeting, scheduled for March 27-29 in North Carolina, has also been postponed. PFYM Clerk Gary Hornsby wrote that,

In making our decision to postpone, we were conscious of how fast the situation may change, and of our responsibility to the vulnerable friends in our community.

Even if we decided to go ahead and meet in March, we thought that attendance would be very low and that friends would not be in the right spirit to meet.

We are considering alternative dates and possible locations for the 2020 retreat & annual sessions, but can’t yet assess what will be possible.

Then to UPDATE #2: Southeastern Yearly Meeting, centered in Florida, has canceled its session, set for April 8-12. In its letter, Clerk Bill Carlie wrote.

Out of deep concern for serious threat posed by COVID-19 to our guests and attendees, and the threat of transmission to the community at large, it was decided to cancel this year’s Gathering.
However…we need to be resilient. We have been so excited about all the workshops planned for this year! The Gathering and Youth Program coordinators and the Field Secretary for Earthcare have started looking at our options and abilities to offer workshops as interactive video ‘gatherings’ online or at future events.

And finally (for now) to UPDATE #3: South Central Yearly Meeting, with meetings from Arkansas through and around Texas. Its session had also been set for April 8-12, the so-called Easter weekend.  But it has now been “postponed,” but new dates have not been chosen. Associate Clerk Liz Yeats wrote that

This decision was a sad one to make. We all agreed we would miss the fellowship, learning and spiritual deepening we experience when we gather face to face.  However, in the face of the present COVID19 (Coronavirus) situation which places so many of our usual attenders and guests at risk, we felt the safety of all, and those in our broader communities, called for such action. We hope to reschedule in the fall of 2020 and will be back to you as soon as we are able with dates. 

In the interim, the SCYM Zoom account will be used for virtual meetings for worship, one beginning this week on Wednesday evening. Please watch your email for more information about this opportunity to gather, worship and share with Friends around SCYM.

It seems likely these four will not be the last such drastic readjustments. Amid this rapidly swirling vortex of unprecedented events, your blogger remains in semi-isolation, tho presently asymptomatic. While Way Opens (i.e., I stay healthy), I’ll monitor the increasingly uncertain summer Quaker scene, and report updates from as they become available. Feedback and more updates are  encouraged

 

 

 

 

BREAKING: First of Many? Canadian Yearly Meeting 2020 CANCELLED

 

[NOTE: This post has been updated! Please go to the updated version  here.]

Tuesday March 17, Canadian Yearly Meeting (CYM) posted a notice that its 2020 Annual Session, set for August 7-15 in Winnipeg, has been cancelled.

A letter from the Clerks, Beverly Shepard and Marilyn Manzer, posted on their website quaker.ca, cited several factors, related to the current Covid-19 virus pandemic:

Many of our members are in the higher-risk categories (over 60 and/or with underlying conditions such as hypertension), and many make their travel plans well in advance of the CYM dates. An early decision is desirable for these Friends.

To be clear, it is not simply a matter of the existing pandemic crisis of the Covid-19 virus, although that, of course, is the prime motivator here. Some Friends may be reacting to this news with a sense that the decision was made too early, but the fact is that our YM sessions require a great deal of preparatory work, much of which is done by volunteers. To ask this of our short-handed Program Committee and then to cancel after much work has been done seemed to us unfair.

We believed it would be preferable to cancel the sessions now for the sake of the many people who work hard to make CYM the wonderful gathering that it is; then work can proceed toward a joyous gathering in 2021. As you probably know, there is already much discernment underway about changes to be made to CYM to ensure sustainability. This decision allows these discussions to be more relaxed and thorough before our next gathering.

This unexpected cancellation of sessions will necessitate some new plans  . . . .”

(But the plans have not yet been made.)

Beyond this concrete news, here’s a prediction: this is likely only the first of many similar announcements we’ll be hearing.

There’s a precedent: in 1918, the year of the Worldwide Flu pandemic, Friends General Conference did not hold its then biennial conference. (Available records are unclear on whether the flu pandemic affected this decision; but it would sure make sense.)

After all, almost all other North American Quaker groups I know of share many of the same conditions that weighed on CYM:

>> A large over-60 contingent;

>> The need to make travel plans well in advance, with a travel industry in both operational and financial chaos;

>> A dependence on much advance volunteer work, a significant amount of which has already been “invested”;

>> And three more not mentioned: first, the likelihood that many Friends will either be recovering from the virus and/or still quite vulnerable to it, caring for family members and other victims even in late summer.

Second, that many Friends who want to attend will be out of work, or with employment in jeopardy, and unable to commit the resources.

And third, that many Quaker parents, whose children are now out of school, perhaps for the rest of the academic year, will be much more concerned to put their time and money in catch-up work over the summer, to keep pace with their cohort’s unremitting drive to keep their progeny in the educational express lanes into the professional/upper middle class ranks.

Amid this rapidly changing vortex, your blogger remains in semi-isolation, tho presently asymptomatic. While Way Opens (i.e., I stay healthy), I’ll monitor the increasingly uncertain summer Quaker scene, and report updates from as they become available.

 

 

 

 

 

SAYMA’s Not Safe, III: New Trouble: Threats Against Three Meetings

[Note: this post is not as long as it may appear; some attachments are at the end for completeness and accuracy.]

Two years ago next week, Sharon Smith met her match.

It was on March 16, 2018, in a weekend anti-racism workshop at a suburban Asheville community center. It was presented by the Racial Equity Institute (REI), a Black-owned consulting firm based in Greensboro NC.  Smith was invited as an alumna of REI workshops; for the several dozen regular attenders a $250 fee was charged.

The workshop had barely started, and a trainer was giving an overview, when Smith interrupted. Another participant then told her that REI’s policy was for alumni, attending free, to sit quietly, so discussion was carried by and focused on the paid participants.

This comment set Smith off. As she told a reporter later,

“There’s no way, according to systemic racism theory, that any white woman should be telling a woman of color what she should and shouldn’t be saying. That’s just not OK.”

But as Smith continued to interrupt, as Smith told it,

Jacquelyn Hallum: “Oh NO not today!”

That’s when Jacquelyn Hallum (A Black employee of [the community center]) stood up and said, “Oh NO, not today! We are not doing this today with you, Sharon.” . . . She told me I needed to leave, if I was not willing to be quiet. Since I already have issues with folks trying to dominate me, I said “I’m not leaving.” Then she said she would call security, if I refused to obey, and I said “Go right ahead.”

What happened next, as REI put it, was

She was reminded by multiple alumni and invited to leave the room for further discussion. Unfortunately, all attempts made to peacefully resolve the situation were unsuccessful and those in attendance were forced to respond to her demand to call security, who in turn called the police. The officers again attempted to get her to leave on her own and she again refused. (REI statement; not online.)

Smith was removed and arrested.

Of course, Smith was outraged and claimed “the police used excessive force to drag me out of the room and out of the building.” (However, there were no reports that medical attention was needed).

Yet even more than the arrest itself, Smith was offended by the  disregard of her status the removal displayed. As she put it:

This is a story about how so-called progressive anti-racist white people and their “well behaved Negroes” conspired to shut down constructive criticism from an elder woman of color, with more knowledge, experience and insight into how white supremacy works than anyone in Asheville NC.

This declaration needs unpacking: First, no “progressive anti-racist white people” were in charge here: the policy was made by a Black-owned firm. It was their event, their rules, and its staff of color, along with local people of color, who enforced it over Smith’s objections.

And second, no one will question that Smith is an “elder woman of color”; but what about having “more knowledge, experience and insight into how white supremacy works than anyone in Asheville NC”? (Emphasis added.)

There are about a hundred thousand people in Asheville, including 10,000-plus people of color; it is home to two sizeable colleges, with several more nearby. Who, besides herself, has designated Smith as the number one most knowledgeable person in that whole area on this subject matter?

Still this is definitely her self-concept; it was repeated three times in her account. Based on it, it seems clear her expectation was to be treated as a key resource person, at the center of the proceedings; anything less was an indignity to be resisted. (This is an outlook readers of these posts have encountered before.)

The point of this story is easy to overlook, though important: the ruckus over Smith was unpleasant, but brief; then the workshop resumed. REI was embarrassed by it, but was prepared for such a contingency and managed it with dispatch.

Which is also to say, that the 40-plus other participants got what their $250 paid for, rather than whatever Smith wanted to unload on them.

My hat is off to REI and those who got it done.

But that’s not what this post is actually about. Rather, it has to do with two emails Smith sent out just a few days ago. The emails announced her intention to “shut down” and stop a conference planned for Asheville Friends Meeting on May 9, by force.

The emails are attached in full at the end of this post. But here’s the nub:

The event is “Roots of Injustice Seeds of Change: Toward Right Relationship With Native People.” It’s planned for May 9, 2020 at Asheville Friends Meeting. Asheville is cosponsoring it with two other SAYMA meetings, Celo and Swannanoa Valley. A Friend from Boulder, Colorado, Paula Palmer, is facilitating it.

And Smith does not approve, and she sees it as her prerogative and duty to stop it:

Friends in Asheville, Swannanoa Valley and Celo NC, are up to no good. They are moving ahead with a plan to pay Paula Palmer to do her workshop on “How to be in Right Relationship with Indigenous People” against my objections as a Saponi Matriarch. . . .

This is by no means OK, my Friends.  Because, as a Saponi matriarch, it is unfortunately my responsibility to organize a contingent of NC Natives to shut this workshop down. . . .

This is a warning. IF you will not organize among yourselves to stop Paula Palmer from doing her workshop in SAYMA Meetings, it will cause a similar diplomatic disaster as what happened in New England with FGC.

Don’t say I did not give you an opportunity prevent such a thing from happening.  Don’t say you did not know better, either.

Paula Palmer

To repeat, the full florid text of these threats is below, for reference. There Smith describes her complaints against Palmer’s work. I won’t go into them, nor an analysis of Paula Palmer’s work here. Those are not really relevant. This is:

Here we have three SAYMA Meetings, who have mutually agreed to cooperate in presenting a program that is peaceful, legal, and related to their efforts to bear a more faithful Quaker witness. And Smith has announced her intention to forcibly prevent them from doing that.

Yet even this is not the most unsettling part. What is completely  out of whack, to me, is the fact that SAYMA’s own budget is helping pay for this sabotage of its own meetings. Why on earth is SAYMA doing that? This is only the latest bad fruit that’s sprouted from the tainted tree planted by  SAYMA’s giving in to the URJ payoff pressure, as described in earlier posts here and here. As recognition of this sinks in around SAYMA, can it do anything but worsen the group’s internal disarray?

I wonder what the three meetings will do about these threats. Previous experience in SAYMA suggests that ignoring them is risky. I certainly hope they will not simply cancel it and run for cover. Here I think again about REI’s response. Is there some effective Quaker alternative?

While pondering those gloomy options, let me close with a letter from the past, by Friend Alan Scott Robinson, late of Asheville Meeting. He was a longtime member there, and suffered through several years of Smith’s intrusion there before his death in early 2018. During his last months, he was moved to write the letter below, to a Quaker group struggling with similar issues. I believe there is both comfort, depth and good counsel in his words:

Alan Scott Robinson:

Alan Scott Robinson

Friends, this whole topic is fraught with difficulties. I happen to be tangentially involved with the goings-on in this particular case and it is affecting more than one monthly and yearly meeting, including mine. We may be talking about generalities in terms of the various processes involved in involuntary separation, but the devil, as always, is in the details.

I am sure that each of us Friends has been aware, at various points in our lives, of when we have encountered a “difficult” individual. I am not speaking about a personal dislike. Rather, I am speaking about someone who, for a variety of reasons including criminal behavior or a mental aberration or health condition, or damage to a personality due to some event in that person’s past, makes interactions with that person impossible to sustain over the long haul, and makes the person refractory to change. Many of us have been a part of a Quaker meeting at one time or another that has had to face the question of what to do in such a situation.

The cases I am talking about do not involve matters of philosophical difference, political diversity or even different belief structures. Not really, although in the cases I am talking about, one of those important issues is being used as a smoke-screen to mask and to try to justify the real behavior problem. Behavior that simply doesn’t comport with that required to be in fellowship together.

I’m sure you can think of examples. Behaviors like name calling, wild accusations with little or no basis in fact, paranoid thinking patterns, blaming others for one’s own inappropriate actions (look what you made me do!), taking advantage of another’s good will, failing to contribute to the group in any way that furthers the purpose for which the group is established, expecting the group to “take care of them”, the list goes on and on.

Friends ought to be open to new light, new ideas, new ways of thinking about a problem, and, in most cases, we are. That is the great strength of Friends. But where to draw the line about what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are not? Clearly, behaviors that would be out of line in a college classroom setting, a city council chamber or a kindergarten classroom probably cross the line. Screaming, tantrums and physical violence shouldn’t be tolerated in any group setting, and certainly not in a Quaker meeting for worship or business.

One of the strengths of Friends practice is that we are always open to new in-breaking of Spirit. But herein lies a trap. How do we know when a new message is of the Spirit, and when it is an offshoot of a damaged or disordered behavior pattern?

One way to know with unfailing certainty is to watch what the actions produce. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit,…Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.” I do not think that Jesus was saying that people are analogous to the trees in this parable. Instead, I think he was talking about ideas or behavior patterns as being the trees that bear fruit.

If, over the course of a significant period of time, one’s behaviors prove repeatedly destructive to, and out of line with, the group, and if that behavior occurs in repeated patterns that seem to get worse with the passage of time, then it is easy to discern the “fruit” that is borne from those actions or behaviors. Something is wrong and action should be taken, both to help the one suffering from the aberrant behavior as well as the others in the group. Some problems are beyond any solution that can be implemented within the group. If there is some kind of dysfunction or illness mechanism at work, whether physical or mental, most meetings are clearly not equipped to do more than refer the sufferer to professional help.

But what if the sufferer whose behavior continually disrupts the functioning of the group refuses to get help or denies that there is anything wrong or consistently blames others for that person’s own bad behavior, what to do then. What do you do after the same worsening patterns of behavior are displayed over the course of many years?

Asheville Friends Meeting: a sketch from its “Digest” newsletter.

Our meeting is suffering under this type of affliction right now.  . . .

Last First Day, during Meeting for Worship, a visiting Friend arose to speak after several of our meeting’s Friends had already shared vocal ministry. One message had been offered beautifully and there was a wonderful spirit present. Two or three other friends who have become personally involved with, and supportive of, the disruptive person also rose to speak, and the atmosphere was quite different.

Though couched in “Friend-speak”, the messages were filled with accusations, unfounded assertions, name-calling and general enmity. Such a contrast to the previous message! Then our visitor rose. She began by saying that, prior to visiting our meeting, other Friends had warned her not to come. She was very gentle, but she was also wonderfully and refreshingly truthful as she explained that she had witnessed firsthand that very day why the warning had been given, and why the warning had been justified.

It was hard to hear so directly from another Friend that my own spiritual community now had gained a reputation of divisiveness and as a home where the truth is not honored and abhorrent behavior is tolerated. The sad thing is that our visitor had this reaction even though the person who has been the origin of all the disruption wasn’t even there that day. Only her “disciples” were there, and it was enough that their bad behavior and distorted messages and, quite frankly, their frequent lies, came through so loud and clear. This visitor didn’t even have to know the details to understand that something was terribly wrong in our meeting. It was easy for her to discern where the problem originated even without knowing the details. She could feel it in the Spirit just as strongly as if someone had struck her with a stone.

We lost a few more members that day. It was Meeting for Business, and two more Friends joined the ranks of those who have left our meeting for some other spiritual places rather than any longer endure the spiritual (and in a few cases physical) assaults. Our Meetings for Business long ago shed virtually all vestiges of spirit-led activities. Those who come now inure themselves to the inevitable assault and accusations month after month until, finally, they can take no more. The assaults continue in Meeting for Worship. There is no respite except in withdrawal.

Quaker meetings have one essential function, overriding all others. That is to provide a place for corporate worship, a place for waiting together in silence for the workings of the Inner Light to be manifest among us. When one’s spiritual home no longer offers that opportunity, what can be the purpose of continuing to attend?

Is it any wonder that we have lost so many faithful, seasoned and weighty Friends, including three of the last four meeting clerks, several members of Ministry and Counsel committee, and Friends and attenders new and old? We have even had first-time visitors end up in the parking lot in tears after witnessing turmoil and destruction during their first Quaker experience, and watching it as it turned into a screaming tantrum display or a bunch of baseless accusations. When the person around whom all the trouble has been centered was informed that our visitor was in tears and would not be back, the disrupter responded, “Good.” What is a Friends meeting to do in this case?

It would be one thing if this kind of behavior happened once, and the person who was the source of the difficulty was open to listening to “eldering” given in a loving spirit that was designed to point out why the behavior caused troubles, and how to effect changes so that the situation wouldn’t arise again. If a person who has been disruptive once were open to such guidance in Friends’ practices, all would be well.

But what does a meeting do when such a person is refractory to all attempts at counseling and guidance, or even admonishment when unacceptable behavior happens repeatedly? What does a meeting do when there is a display of overt physical violence, violence of such a nature that there would be potential for real physical injury if it were to be repeated? When is enough, enough?

In these situations, there must be a mechanism of separation, lest the whole meeting be destroyed. George Fox would not have tolerated this kind of behavior, and indeed didn’t. Read the story of the life of James Naylor to see what happened to a dear and weighty Friend who “went off the rails.” History has much to teach, and we ignore its lessons at our own peril.

One last comment. Casting someone out because of who they are (gay, transgender, bisexual, intersex, black, brown, yellow, white, tall, short, blond hair or black, language spoken, prior spiritual paths taken, ethnicity, wealth or poverty) should never be accepted or perpetrated.

Behavior is a different matter. Quakers are accepting and open to diversity, but there have to be limits of comportment that cross the line. As one weighty friend in our meeting says, “The meeting has no position if one of you wants to paint yourself purple and run down main street naked. But you can’t do that at Friends Meeting.” <snark> I am reminded of Supreme Court Justice Potter’s answer when talking about obscenity, “I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.”

Likewise, we may not be able to give a bright-line definition of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, but the test of the fruit trees always provides an answer that can be trusted by anyone willing to look and listen. If, over a prolonged period, the fruit is predominantly or wholly evil, then there is no doubt as to the nature of the tree. Every good tree sometimes produces a piece of rotten fruit, but not all the time, or even most of the time. It is rare. Friends, use the test of the fruit of the tree in your pondering.

in loving Friendship

Alan Robinson


First Sharon Smith email (uncorrected text):

On Thu, Mar 5, 2020 at 1:25 PM Sharon Smith <starsmith13@nullgmail.com> wrote:

Remember the FGC Quaker Sweat Lodge incident?  This is no different.

I was living in Mashpee, on Cape Cod at my mother’s home, when I saw the FGC Gathering registration catalog which listed the Quaker Sweat Loge as a workshop at the Gathering.  I am the one who notified the Wampanoag tribal council that a Quaker sweat would be happening.  They were not pleased. They sent Rachel Carey Harper from Sandwich MM to tell FGC they would not tolerate a Quaker sweat lodge in their territory. Quakers cried and complaimned that they were Spirit led to do it anyway.  So FGC sent Geane Marie Barch as a representative to “negotiate” with the Wampanoag tribal council.  It did not go well for her.

I wasn’t in the room for that discussion, because I am not Wampanoag, but I have close relatives who are, and this is what they told me. The women, in particular, who carry great weight among the Wampanoags, were particularly angry that Friends were not willing to stop doing their Quaker sweat lodges.  Thery told Geane Marie that IF the sweat was going to happen in spite of their objections, they would come to the campus of Hampshire College, where the Gathering was held that year, and shut it down themselves.

I repeat. this situation of Paula Palmer’s workshop on How to be in Right Relationship with Native People, is different.

This is a warning. IF you will not organize among yourselves to stop Paula Palmer from doing her workshop in SAYMA Meetings, it will cause a similar diplomatic disaster as what happened in New England with FGC.

Don’t say I did not give you an opportunity prevent such a thing from happening.  Don’t say you did not know better, either.

Sharon “Star” Smith

“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who are oppressing them”    ~ Assata Shakur

“Good things don’t come to those who wait. They come to those who agitate!”  ~ Julian Bond

“Wealth is not the fruit of labor but the result of organized robbery.”  ~ Frantz Fanon

Second Sharon Smith email (uncorrected text):

On Thu, Mar 5, 2020 at 10:46 AM Sharon Smith <starsmith13@nullgmail.com> wrote:

Friends in Asheville, Swannanoa Valley and Celo NC, are up to no good. They are moving ahead with a plan to pay Paula Palmer to do her workshop on “How to be in Right Relationship with Indigenous People” against my objections as a Saponi Matriarch.

From the minutes of Asheville’s Second Month Meeting for Business:

“Peace and Earth Committee–Pat Johnson* P& E would like to give the whole Meeting the opportunity to co-sponsor a series of programs put on by Paula Palmer, who travels in the ministry of Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples (TRR) rather than just the P & E Committee. Swannanoa Valley Friends Meeting has committed to donating up to $1,000.00 to help cover our budgeted expenses of $1,500. Individuals in our Meeting have already donated $270 plus RJC has committed to donate $50 from their line-item budget for a total of $320. We’re asking Meeting to commit to $280.00. Minute #4: The meeting agreed to support Paula Palmer coming to Asheville and support up to $280 if needed.”

Here’s the thing; Paula Palmer is not in right relationship with Natives in her own region let alone Natives in western North Carolina, so how can she give workshops on this subject?  She wrote a book about the Quaker involvement in Indian bording schools, travels around the country, and possibly the world, giving workshops for money, without compensating the Natives whose pain she exploits to make her living. This is called “cultural Appropriation.  Look it up.

In addition: Asheville and Sawannanoah Valley Friends have been working to be in right relationship with the Eastern Band Cherokee people in western North Carolina, EXCLUSIVELY, but not the Catawba or Saponi whose homeland they live on.  They acknowledge that they live on Cherokee land, while they fail to acknowledge the Saponi and Catawba, who also have a historic claim to the area as their unceded ancestral land.

This is racist white supremacist behavior, for several reasons.

  1. These Friends have “tokenized” (look it up) the Cherokee people, by cherry picking which Native group they will recognize and seek right relationship with, while negating the existance of other native peoples in the same reagion.
  2. They have chosen sides in a historic land dispute between local Native groups. In fact, there is a troubling history of the Cherokee involvement in slavery. Not only did they eslave African Americans, but also their Indigenous neighbors, such as the Catawba, the Saponi, and people from a variety of Virginia and Carolina tribes, some of whom eventually banded together to become the Lumbee.
  3. They are wilfully engaging in these racist practices because they are aware that I am a Saponi Elder–not Cherokee–who has told them specifically, that they do NOT have my permission to bring Paula Palmer’s workshop into my territory, as they are not in right relationship with me, or the Saponi and Catawba, whose land they are on.

According to the mission statement of the Asheville Racial Justice Committee, their responsibility is to hold the Peace and Earth Committee accountable, NOT donate to their racist plan to host a workshop.

*I shut dfown Pat Johnson’s “Right Relationship” workshop at SAYMA 2019 for the same reasons.  She and Asheville Friends refuse to aknowledge the Saponi and Catawba people whose land they live and worship on.

It is fairly common knowledge that, the appropriate Indigenous protocols for anyone doing ceremonies or workshops in a people’s territorry requires workshop presenters to first akcnowledge the Native peopes whose territory they are in and second, get their approval, BEFORE proceeding.  If the elders or tribal leader do not give their permission, one should not proceed.  It does not mean Friends can cherry pick which native group in a region to aknowledge or gain approval from.

Note: Asheville Friends changed the name of Peace and Social concerns to Peace and Earth at some point before I arrived in Asheville.  But it is telling. let us see if the racial Justice Committee is able to act in accordance with its mission.

This is by no means OK, my Friends.  Because, as a Saponi matriarch, it is unfortunately my responsibility to organize a contingent of NC Natives to shut this workshop down.

Sharon “Star” Smith

“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who are oppressing them”    ~ Assata Shakur

“Good things don’t come to those who wait. They come to those who agitate!”  ~ Julian Bond

“Wealth is not the fruit of labor but the result of organized robbery.”  ~ Frantz Fanon

SAYMA: “Born for this”? Or Standing in the Way?

[Note: This post includes strong language.]

Few Quakers I’ve run into are as certain of the divinely-mandated quality of their vocation as Sharon Smith, aka “The Intruder.”

Last July 4, after she was confirmed as Clerk of the SAYMA Uplifting Racial Justice Committee, capping a three-year struggle, she put this with stark certainty in a blog post:

“What are the chances, a birthright Native and Black Friend of color with years of experience at Quaker process, clerking committees, etc., who is also called to ministry to challenge racism among Friends, would be among SAYMA Friends in the southern Appalachian Blue Ridge area, which just happens to be my stolen ancestral land, at this very time. I am also the closest thing SAYMA has to an authority on Critical Race Theory, the exact combination URJ sorely needs if it is to lead SAYMA toward its stated goal of becoming a welcoming multicultural anti-racist faith community.  I was literally born for this.”

Similar statements recur frequently in the blog, called “Mixed Blessing.”

“Born for this.” The declaration carries layers of irony. Because despite this voiced certainty, the four years of her available blog entries, supplemented by other documents, exhibit and underline a deep, unsettling paradox:

On the one hand, Smith is preternaturally sure of her calling.

Yet why does this minister despise the subjects of her ministry so deeply, stridently and divisively?

In fact, there are two kinds of Quakers who have been special targets of Smith’s relentless challenges, so laced with ire and loathing in word and action. They are:

White Quakers. And–

Quakers of Color.

I’ll leave aside here the travails of white Quakers who bear scars from dealing with Smith. Yes, she has a handful of “white friends,” the sort of “allies” she often scorns when claimed by other whites. But their numbers are small, and in any case, the rest of us white Quakers, in the light of her version of “Critical Race Theory,” are – well, let her say it:

News Flash: There are no innocent white settlers in Amerikkka.  No matter how or when your people arrived here.  ALL white people benefit from white supremacy.  Period.  The concept that it could possibly be otherwise, in your particular case, only exists in your defensive imagination.  Get over it.”   and in a July 2019 email to SAYMA activists, she quoted an article that, she wrote,

“Reminds me of you Quakers.  ‘If you’re white and live in America, the smarter you are, the less likely you are to say you agree with racist stereotypes or principles. But you’re not more likely than your dumber counterparts to actually want to do anything about racial inequality.’”  And she linked to an article: “‘Smart People Are As Racist As Less-Smart People–But Smart Enough To Hide It.’”

Not only are we whites thoroughly racist, we deserve every bit of comeuppance and suffering imaginable, and then some. But here we’ll simply stew in these, our own imputed prejudiced juices. That’s because what struck me while reviewing Smith’s blog posts was the large number of Friends of Color (FOCs) she detests equally, or even more.

What is the evidence for this? Good question. Principally, it is her own words. In particular, a blog post, called “Open Letter to SAYMA Friends of Color,” posted Jun 8, 2019. (Unless otherwise noted, the quotes that follow are from this “Open Letter.”)

It’s lengthy, but going through it carefully I was able list fourteen FOCs whom Smith denounced as adversaries and obstacles to her  work of “challenging” racism.

These fourteen Friends were from New England, New York, Philadelphia, Friends General Conference, and later SAYMA. They included influential committee members, yearly meeting clerks and former clerks, staff and former staff; altogether a substantial and weighty company, whose organizational reach stretched from eastern Massachusetts to South Carolina.

And all of them, in Smith’s studied conclusion, were against her, betraying her numerous times, in many places. For instance:

“The so called weighty Friends of color in New England Yearly Meeting were silent,” about what she declared to be a “political lynching” aimed at her there in 2005-6.

“AND, they were so easy with the idea of everyone’s focus being on me as the problem,” she added, “instead of the rampant racism in New England YM. Unfortunately, I’ve seen the same pattern of behavior among Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and SAYMA Friends of color. I have a hard time understanding it.”

And from the New England Yearly Meeting experience, there emerged a pattern, Smith asserts:

“Since that time . . . all other Friends of color, especially those who attended [a 2006 FOC] retreat [on Cape Cod], have acted like they don’t know me.  Including the current secretary of New York YM, who managed the financial arrangements for the retreat on Cape Cod, and the former clerk of NYYM. Whenever I reached out to any Friends of color for support of any kind, they simply ignored me.”

I’m leaving out most of the names on this list, because they don’t deserve to be dragged through the mire again here. Interested readers can find their identifications in the blog post. Yet there’s one exception, for reasons which I hope will soon become clear. As Smith insisted:

“But there is absolutely no excuse for Vanessa Julye. It wasn’t like she did not know who I was, or had never heard of me. I met her several times at Quaker anti-racism events, such as the Burlington Conference in New Jersey, and we attended several Beyond Diversity 101 courses together during that time. She knew exactly who I was AND that I was a target of Quaker racism. Yet she, as the Black FGC coordinator of the Ministry on Racism, always held herself aloof and took a hands-off approach.”

Julye was (and still is) with Friends General Conference. And, Smith says,

“Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, I do not attack her for no reason. We have a long history, going back to The Quaker racial hysteria in Sandwich Monthly Meeting/NEYM (2006). For someone whose FGC recognized ministry is supposedly to support Friends of color and bring Friends of color together, she has done none of that for me, or any other Friend of color I know.”

The ”evidence” in support of these charges is mainly a catalog of times when Julye did not go along with Smith’s intrusions into various events, at FGC and in other settings. One which especially rankled was Julye’s non-response to Smith’s plea for a reference for an unsuccessful application to be a racial justice staffer for a Quaker organization.

Another was a dispute in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting which pitted a newcomer FOC, Avis Wanda McClinton, now on the list, but then a Smith ally, against McClinton’s monthly meeting. Smith wrote that,

“when I arrived on the scene to support Avis Wanda McClinton, in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, as she suffered from racism at Upper Dublin Friends Meeting/Abington Quarter, we faced massive resistance from Philadelphia YM Friends of color, including Vanessa Julye.

[McClinton’s] Meeting publicly declared themselves an “All white Meeting” [NOTE: This statement is false.] and again, NO Friends of Color stood up to support Avis Wanda, either.

We saw Friends of color stand up in public and say, shit like, “These are good kind people, why are you calling them names?” and “I don’t see the racism Avis is talking about.”

Vanessa was right in the middle of it, as the designated PYM representative of FGC AND the Philadelphia YM Undoing Racism Group–their expert on Friends of color and racism. She knew all too well that what was happening was indeed racist, and still she said absolutely nothing, at every opportunity to stand with and for Avis.”

Smith for a time became Clerk of an informal support committee for McClinton, as the dispute dragged contentiously on until late in 2017.

[The specifics of the conflict are not germane to this post; more details, from McClinton’s perspective, which the meeting vigorously disputed, are in this Friends Journal article from 2014.]

But the lessons Smith argued from the issue were apropos and twofold:

“Remember, Philadelphia YM acquired its wealth through cheating Indigenous people out of their lands and trading in Black and Indian slaves. Now they use that wealth to buy the allegiance of a few desperate and/or despicable Friends of color and to suppress dissenters. I am a witness. I saw so much unFriendly behavior from Friends of color and white protectionism in PYM, I could write a book on that alone.”

Sharon Smith.

“Desperate and despicable” persons of color whose allegiance has been bought (like slaves?) with  white Quaker money.) That is the catchall description for all those Friends of Color on Smith’s long list – desperate, despicable, and cravenly selling themselves for paychecks from the spoils of stolen white wealth. But the saga was not finished with this chapter.

In 2016, SAYMA invited Vanessa Julye to give the keynote at its annual sessions. By that time, Smith was living in Asheville, and had been very controversially active there. She was galvanized by the news:

“Suffice it to say, Vanessa Julye is no Friend to me, Avis Wanda, or any other Friend of color. So, when I heard that the SAYMA Planning Committee had chosen “Unraveling Racism” as its theme for . . . 2016, and invited Vanessa Julye to be Keynote Speaker, I was adamantly opposed. And, when I shared my concerns about Vanessa with the Planning Committee they refused to take my concerns seriously. They also refused to consider any of my suggested alternatives.”

But if she could not quash the invitation, Smith resolved to disrupt it. Which she did, with loud angry questions at Julye’s keynote presentation, which turned the SAYMA visit into a platform for Smith’s airing of her years of carried grudges.

“So please, she wrote later, “do not believe for one minute that I am the person you were most likely told I am. I am not in the habit of cussing’ folks out in public or calling people House Negroes easily. Believe me, Vanessa had it coming.”

Besides this intrusion, Smith was also locked in a long struggle with Asheville Meeting over whether it would be made into a base for her “ministry.” She wanted to live in a guest room in the meetinghouse, have her ministry formally endorsed and financially supported by the meeting. In the midst of much internal turmoil, the Meeting repeatedly rejected these requests. Smith was only able to hear white racism even in the plainest statements of principled disagreement:

“[M]y clearness committee . . . asked to meet with M&N [Asheville’s Ministry and Nurture Committee].  It didn’t go well.  They basically said, the Meeting does not approve of Sharon or her racial justice ministry, and does not want to be associated with it.  My support committee was upset, but, being all White Quakers, they were also unwilling to challenge the Meeting’s racism–because they didn’t want to be contentious?  Whatever their reasons, it goes to White people being unwilling to hold other White people accountable.” 

Thereafter, Smith pursued her quest in SAYMA. Building on her success in disrupting Vanessa Julye’s appearance, she managed to push through creation of an Ad Hoc Uplifting Racial Justice (URJ) Committee in the June 2016 session.

A key characteristic of the new group would be that all its members would be FOCs

This segregated character troubled some white Friends: hadn’t they been called to witness against segregation not many years ago?  Hadn’t some there taken risks, even been arrested in the cause? Didn’t they know of others who gave their lives to end segregation?

But that was then; in 2016, cries of racism, white supremacy and safe spaces elbowed aside these doubts. Smith was added to the initial URJ committee along with several other FOCs.

But the early days of the URJ group did not go well. By summer’s end, the committee was all but dormant: the members feuded with Smith and most left. SAYMA was unable to find Friends of Color to work with her.

The committee stumbled through 2017 and 2018. As SAYMA’s 2019 annual session approached, the Nominating Committee proposed Smith to be the new Clerk of a reconstituted URJ. There was widespread doubt about this, but also much timidity: any questions were met with the cries of “Racism,” “White Supremacy” and ”safe spaces” which terrified some and silenced others. Smith was added to the rebooted committee.

The committee was not only re-formed, but SAYMA also agreed to allocate as much as $18000 of the yearly meeting’s modest budget to it, without meaningful accountability for what would be done with the funds. It seems clear that, despite all the sneers at others who benefited from what she derided as stolen wealth from slavery and native removal, Smith had long wanted just such a sinecure, and now felt that it was now within her grasp.

At this point the story overlaps with some points in our initial blog post. It was during the 2019 session when Smith announced she was going to “shut down” an approved workshop she did not like, and indeed disrupted it thoroughly.

There was however fallout from this foray which becomes significant here: two women Friends, we reported, protested Smith’s intrusion, though in vain. One was a white woman, Robyn Josephs; but after she had spoken, as Smith recalled

“Robyn was still talking, and yes, crying. She said, “I don’t want someone who does not believe in loving their enemies and forgiveness to be clerk of SAYMA-URJ, but I will accept what the body decides.”

As Robyn’s performance shifted from a few pitiful White woman tears to body wracking sobs, Avis Wanda [McClinton] stood up. She walked over, stood next to Robyn and announced, “That Friend speaks my mind.” Avis then said to Smith, “I am probably jeopardizing our friendship by saying this, but I do not think you are ready to be the clerk of SAYMA-URJ” because of your “bad behavior” and “anger management” issues. “Your behavior yesterday was unconscionable. People feel like they are going to be targets.”

And with that unexpected declaration, McClinton moved from the small circle of Smith’s allies to the long list we’ve been examining here, of traitorous Friends of Color, one of the few on the list who not only differed with Smith but spoke openly of it.

Smith’s public response was more patronizing. Rather than “desperate and despicable,” in a December 7, 2019 email she said that Avis,

“is cognitively disabled and not sophisticated enough to understand that what y’all did to me was absolutely about your white supremacy and colonial domination. That you [white Friends] reached out to her seeking absolution for your white fuckery proves the depths of your evil.”

Despite these dramatic moments, Smith’s nomination as Clerk of the re-formed URJ Committee was slipped through in the closing session of SAYMA 2019, and she has since been working to consolidate her success.

But two problems persist: First, she has still been unable to attract any FOCs from SAYMA to the Committee. Her reputation seems to preclude this. As Shaun Davis, a commenter on the first post put it,

“I am a Friend and African American woman living in Atlanta. I joined the URJ committee in 2017 after Sharon recruited me to join. I left in 2018 because I did not like the way people were being treated in the group or the way business was being conducted. I wrote an email to another African American committee member about my concerns, and it so happens that Friend had already decided to leave the committee. I don’t think my letter went much further.”

Smith’s response to similar reports was predictable:

“Interesting side note concerning URJ membership: Ever since SAYMA-URJ was approved as a Yearly Meeting committee which only Friends of color can serve, it has been extremely difficult to find Friends of color willing to do the work of URJ. The prevailing narrative seems to be, “No one wants to work with Sharon ‘Star’ Smith.” When I explained that the reason SAYMA Friends of color are so unwilling to serve as URJ members, is due to the racism they would most certainly experience–exhibit A being the way I have been treated—they [Friends in the representative session] were genuinely shocked.”

The second issue for URJ-Smith, as reported earlier, is that it is now time for SAYMA to consider its next budget, and growing opposition has been voiced to any further funding for the URJ Committee. This reflects the voicing of longstanding and strengthening doubts about the wisdom of Smith’s presence and role. SAYMA’s Representative session is slated to take this up this coming Saturday (March 15) — assuming, that is, its members are not all locked down in quarantine by that time.

Smith is lobbying for continued funding, and warning of “a racist conspiracy” (Email, January 10, 2020)

If the representative meeting actually happens, Smith’s conviction about being divinely directed may collide with SAYMA’s more modest dependence on the Spirit working through the group. We shall see.

Meanwhile, this pandemic-shadowed spring may offer more time to ponder the conundrum posed earlier: “Despicable” means so bad as to deserve to be despised. So which kind of Quakers, given the record explored here, does Smith despise more? Whites? Or Friends of Color?

To this I’d add another: how does it benefit SAYMA, the Society of Friends at large, or racial justice for SAYMA to be paying for this?

Smith, by the way, is not pondering. She has already announced her next target in the campaign to establish her authority to judge and even stop any activity within SAYMA’s Quaker realm which displeases her. And a conference coming up only weeks away is now in her sights.

Details on that here tomorrow.

 

The initial blog post is here.

 

A Sad Yearly Meeting Report: SAYMA Is Not Safe

Dear SAYMA,

Recently I received an invitation to propose a workshop for SAYMA 2020 this June.

[NOTE: SAYMA is the Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association; it has member meetings in North & South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia & Kentucky.]

I have many fond memories of lively workshops and rich Quaker fellowship at SAYMA, going back over fifteen years.

And I have just the topic for a workshop: a new book, Passing the Torch, which combines the stories of eleven Friends of a certain age, an appealing and diverse sketch of the elder generation.

But I won’t be sending SAYMA a proposal this year, I’m sorry to say. And I’m even more sorry to say why:

I won’t be proposing a workshop for SAYMA 2020, because SAYMA is not safe.

I believe you know why I was forced to reach this sad judgment:

It’s because over the past three years, SAYMA’s annual sessions have been invaded and repeatedly disrupted by an Intruder who has done great harm to the yearly meeting and its reputation. Keynote speakers have been derailed; members and visitors have been subjected to frequent, loud expletive-laced rants; campus security has even been called; all to no avail.

[“The Intruder” is my name for Sharon Smith, based on a long, well-documented pattern of intrusive, disruptive behavior. Smith is not a member of any SAYMA meeting; indeed she is not a member of any formal Friends Meeting. She claims to be a “birthright Friend,” but is habitually vague about which meeting. The last Meeting she had any overt connection with, Sandwich Meeting on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, found her so disruptive over several years that in 2007 it reluctantly issued a minute of disownment against her.]

Her intrusions at SAYMA have been under the guise of a self-styled “anti-racism ministry,” and she brands any objection or disagreement with any aspect of it as  “white racism” or worse terms.  But that “ministry,” over several years and in numerous Quaker settings, has left a trail of disruption, division and demoralization that few avowed enemies of Quakers since the anti-abolitionist mobs could match.

And last summer, the disruption at SAYMA sank to a new low. For one thing, it torpedoed an approved SAYMA workshop. The Intruder pronounced herself the Overseer and Ruler over SAYMA’s program, then entered and disrupted a workshop that was underway, because the leader had not asked the Intruder’s permission.

That charge was technically correct. The workshop leader had not sought the Intruder’s permission; because the Intruder in fact had no such authority. Instead, the workshop proposal had been submitted to the SAYMA planning committee, which weighed it as it did others, and then accepted it. That is, the leader and the Committee had followed SAYMA’s good order.

This good order meant nothing to the Intruder. (In fact, she later bragged about her achievement in wreaking havoc in the workshop in an open internet posting.) The workshop was thoroughly derailed, and the leader was reduced to tears.

Two Friends spoke up in protest during later open sessions, urgently objecting to the Intruder’s behavior. But the pleas for redress for the workshop demolition went unanswered and unheeded. SAYMA is not safe.

Nor is its bank account. Thus emboldened, the Intruder pushed through a demand that she be made Clerk of the Racial Justice Committee, and that she personally be paid on its behalf more than $10,000 from SAYMA’s funds, with zero accountability.

I have heard several Friends who were present speak of the deep unease they felt about both the procedure and the content of these actions. But all were then either intimidated or cowed into silence, and left with continuing regret afterward.

It pains me to say this, but SAYMA from 2018 through 2019 in this and other incidents, has showed itself progressively unable, or unwilling, to protect its own good order, its approved workshops, its program, speakers, attenders, officers and budget from flagrant abuse.

The uneasiness of the Friends who were silent last summer has been fully vindicated in the months since. After being paid several thousands of SAYMA’s dollars, much of which was admittedly used for the Intruder’s personal expenses, the fruit of the new committee’s labor has thus far been 1) a steady barrage of obscenity-laden email tirades including demands for more money, and 2) a handful of links to various race-related articles, videos, and fee-charging workshops.

Setting aside the tirades, the Intruder’s concrete work product, namely the link emails, have cost SAYMA something like $600 apiece over nine months. Most recently the committee announced a daylong workshop for May at Berea KY Meeting; SAYMA participants, besides the $10,000, are to pay $50 each. It also urged SAYMA Friends to join a video seminar for $95 each. Someone clearly hopes to profit off the committee connection.

Some might consider this $10,000-plus for spasmodic clipping and forwarding a steep price tag for markedly sparse  output. Yet the Intruder is now loudly insisting that $10,000 more be allotted her annually in the coming two years, again with no accountability, along with the presumption that such payments will thereafter be made permanent. Again, any doubts or questions are loudly derided as more proofs of white racism.

SAYMA will have a spring representative session on March 14th, to consider, among other items, its next budget. The omens for it are not promising: I have seen recent emails from the Intruder, threatening SAYMA’s Presiding Clerk, Assistant Clerk, Finance Clerk, and Clerk of Ministry & Nurture, unless her demands for continuing payments are met.

Quite frankly, this whole affair has the look of an old-fashioned protection racket: “You pay me, or I’ll make your lives hell.” The Intruder has certainly been making good on that threat. SAYMA is not safe.  She’s turned liberal Quaker guilt and habitual conflict avoidance there into a substantial payday, and may well do it again.

If so, the cost will be more than the number on a budget sheet. I am advised that, as a result of these disheartening spectacles, attendance at SAYMA in these years has declined measurably, with  indications that in current conditions the decline is likely to continue. Furthermore, there are reports that more than one SAYMA monthly Meeting has quietly resolved to withhold contributions to the yearly meeting under these circumstances.

To be sure, the Intruder has a circle of supporters.  In mid-January she was already warning them of a “racist conspiracy” by one SAYMA Meeting. Had they joined the Klan en masse? No, merely  expressed doubts about future funds.

Such conversation-stopper epithets may not work this time. But one other effect of this simmering dissension is that SAYMA may be drifting toward another bitter distinction, of being the first liberal yearly meeting since the 1850s to suffer an outright schism.

A liberal split?  Wait — isn’t that what happens to pastoral and evangelical groups??

Well, usually. But I am not exaggerating what has been bubbling below SAYMA’s surface. It could happen informally, by accelerating the attrition of recent years. But it could happen more formally. Given a few more of the Intruder’s obscene diatribes, threats or workshop-like debacles, it would be lamentable but no surprise to see one or more SAYMA meetings heading for the door. (One lesson from recent evangelical splits is that, if a meeting owns its own meetinghouse, institutionally a split is relatively painless. Psychologically and spiritually are another matter, though.)

My pondering of this, and the invitation to propose a 2020 SAYMA workshop, were all made more disheartening by poignant memories: twice in the decade past, I brought a granddaughter with me to SAYMA, hoping she would have an uplifting young Quaker community experience there.

Both of them did — in fact, each had a terrific time, for which they and I are still very grateful.

My granddaughter, center, at SAYMA, 2011, with Friends.

Today I have seven grand- and great-grandchildren, more than half of them multiracial. In the “good old days,” I would eagerly look again to SAYMA as a time for them to have a superior Quaker community experience, plus a chance to learn something constructive about the ongoing work of racial justice.

But let me speak plainly here: I would not bring any of them within 50 miles of a yearly meeting in which the Intruder has so distorted and undermined Quaker processes and values. SAYMA now is not safe for them.

The Intruder’s brand of “ministry” has repeatedly produced the opposite of its stated goals. It has sown open rancor and division, and reaped destruction and alienation. That “ministry” is a model only for what not to do, and has made SAYMA unsafe and unsuitable for the nurture of a rising Quaker generation.

It would also be hazardous for an adult workshop, such as I have presented in years past. I have told the Intruder plainly of my views of her so-called “ministry.” Also, some of the writers in my book have said and written things she does not like. And she has more than once been allowed to pervert SAYMA into a stage on which to act out her resentments and vendettas.

I’m not afraid of her profane harangues. But what business do I have subjecting other visiting adults to such an unwelcome hazard? Why does SAYMA permit –- and pay for it?

It has been tragic to see, even from a distance, the disarray into which the Intruder has pushed SAYMA. It’s even sadder because there is no real need for it to continue. A few other groups have dealt with the Intruder firmly, to re-establish and preserve their good order.

SAYMA could do this if enough of its weighty members recovered some Quaker grit and resolve.  We value those virtues so highly in our stories of classic Quakers, women and men alike. SAYMA needs some now.

I wish SAYMA Friends the best as they gather to do their yearly meeting’s spring business. They can handle this challenge, if they’re ready. After all, they’re not being asked to make SAYMA perfect.

We just want them to make it, once again, Safe.

Two Stories of Quaker Women: One True, One (Maybe) Fiction

Chuck Fager

On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2020, the Washington Post ran an engaging story of two independent-minded women who faced down the CIA and won. That’s our first story:

The two women were Florence Thorne and Margaret Scattergood.

The Post: Five thousand square feet, wide windows, a grand staircase, a front porch with a panoramic view of nature. The year was 1933, and Northern Virginia was still the countryside, even with Washington just across the Potomac. So it was the ideal retreat for Florence Thorne and Margaret Scattergood, two pioneers of the American labor movement who defied the gender expectations of their time.

“Florence said, ‘Of all the houses we looked at, this is the only one I would care to live in,’“ Scattergood recalled years later. “That was pretty final.”

Were they a couple? No one knows. But they lived there the rest of their lives, Thorne til 1974, and Scattergood until her last illness in 1986. They worked for the American Federation of Labor in Washington, in the days when unions had clout in the capital.

So when the feds came looking to take their property in the 1940s, to fold into the site for some expanding federal agency, they mobilized their friends in high places and drove a bargain: the government could take the land, but they got to stay in the house for life.

Scattergood was a Quaker, who joined the new Langley Hill Meeting when it took over a former Methodist chapel nearby. I knew her there in her latter years, as a diligent meeting archivist, and a quietly persistent advocate for many social causes.

By then one of her targets was the agency which had won the scramble for the surrounding property,  and built a sprawling but tree-concealed headquarters: the CIA

To [Scattergood], the agency was an affront to her values. After retiring from the AFL, Scattergood dedicated herself to civil rights. She’d written to Martin Luther King Jr., funded affordable housing efforts in the District and fought swimming pool segregation in Virginia. She was also a staunch pacifist, and as the CIA grew, she lobbied Congress to reduce the budget of the U.S. military and intelligence operations.

“I remember her saying the one thing she’d like to do is stop World War III. She had small aspirations, you know,” said Sylvia Blanchet [a] great-great grandniece. . . .

With their aunt, they attended the Langley Hill Quakers meeting just down the street. When the group got involved in the sanctuary movement, which helped Central American refugees flee into the United States in the 1980s, their family did, too.

Soon, Scattergood was having the refugees over for dinner. Some stayed in her guest room.

Blanchet remembers them as students, families and “just ordinary people who had really suffered because of the war,” mostly from El Salvador and Guatemala.

The CIA believed the visitors were Sandinistas, a leftist resistance group the CIA was working against in Nicaragua. Sometimes, they ended up at the gate of the CIA when they were looking for Scattergood’s house. Officials now say they are not sure whether the visitors were indeed rebels.

After her death at 92, after a long decline, the CIA took the house, and used it successively to train  K-9 units, a bicycle repair shop, and then left it to fall down. But it was saved and renovated into its current use as a CIA conference center. The CIA now even has a feature about Scattergood, Thorne, and the house on their public website.

Calvert, in its current incarnation. In the time of Margaret Scattergood, the long verandah was open. (CIA press phot)

The CIA article, however, does not point out that almost on the day of her passing in November of 1986, after a time in a coma, what is called the “Iran-Contra Scandal” was made public. That affair, referred to by high officials by a code name, “The Enterprise,” centered on secret, illegal sales of weapons to armed opponents of the Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua. The unlawful operation was handled by the CIA. Public accounts of the scandal say its cover was blown by a report in a Lebanese news magazine.

As one of many members of Langley Hill Meeting who benefited much from Margaret’s presence and ministry, particularly in her final year, I often thought of her, and wrote a tribute published in Friends Journal in April 1987.

And as time passed, I became aware, via sources which I am not at liberty to disclose, of what may have been another part of this closing chapter. That account is below, and some think it is fiction; but I am not so sure. . . .


Margaret and “The Enterprise”

McLean (aka Langley), Virginia – Fall 1986

I – Unauthorized Entry

The walkie talkie in Phillips’s right hand crackled. “I’ve got something on my scanner, Fred,” Hammerman’s voice buzzed through the tiny speaker. “You picking up anything?”

He looked. The thin blue lines were still making their wavelike pattern on the small handheld screen, up an inch and then down, up and down, just as they were supposed to.

“Nothing,” Phillips muttered into the mike. “You sure you’re not just imagining things, Mike?”

“Yeah, right,” Hammerman bantered. “I’m making it up, to pass the time as we hide in the bushes on this chilly Friday night in October. To keep from losing my marbles.”

Fred Phillips chuckled quietly. It did feel a bit loony, crouching in the shrubbery outside a stately, empty old house in the woods of northern Virginia. At least, the house was supposed to be empty, since the Special Operations staff had left at 5:00. Funny how you could run the world for the CIA on a nine to five schedule.

But they said the house wasn’t staying empty at night. Someone had to be getting in, as impossible as that sounded. Three after hours intrusions in two weeks, they said. What are you security guys doing out there, playing games? Sleeping?

Not a chance. The CIA never lets down its guard on security. So here they sat, in the bushes in the dark, feeling ridiculous, but with their reputation on the line.

Something caught his eye, and Phillips glanced down. Holy mackerel–The scanner’s red alert light was blinking a rapid warning.

Next to it, the blue lines were racing wildly across the screen. Their regular pattern was replaced by frantic, narrow swings.

“Mike!” he hissed at the walkie talkie. “I’m showing it now too. Someone’s in there for sure.”

“What sector?” came Hammerman’s tense reply.

Phillips checked the readout. “A-13,” he whispered. “The front office, just like the Special Ops guys said.”

“OK, mine says it too,” Hammerman’s voice was grim. He was backup. “That’s your side, boss. Gimme a minute to get in position so I can cover you. And keep your head down.”

Phillips unsnapped his holster. “I’m on my way,” he said, rising up from the bushes. “For Pete’s sake don’t shoot unless you have to, I’m too easy a target in the dark.” He took a deep breath. “Cowabunga, dude, here goes!”

Head down, he sprinted around a tree and hit the wide sidewalk running, his sneakers making almost no sound. Halfway up the broad front steps of the house he could hear swishing thuds behind him as Hammerman moved into position.

The big oak door was solid, but it had been jimmied for them, with scotch tape on the latch and paper stuck in the jamb so it only looked closed. A real high-tech setup, Phillips thought as he leaned to his left to hit the door, full tilt, shoulder first.

The big door crashed open, and Phillips had to veer to miss the tall, solid post of the banister by the staircase. The front office was to the right, behind a partition wall that had been set up in the front half of the elegant old dining room.

He banged the office door open with one expert karate kick, and hunched down, minimizing his target profile, pistol at the ready, and shouted. “Hold it! Security! Put your hands up and don’t move!”

The first thing he heard was a thump from the hallway followed by a moan and a muffled curse.

Hammerman had not missed the banister post. But he recovered quickly and was in backup position in less than a second, his weapon likewise trained on the dark space where the office door had opened.

The office was silent. Phillips’s hearing was keen, and he didn’t pick up any rustling, or even the faint wheeze of tense breathing, other than his own. He held his breath, waited another few seconds, then muttered, “Hit the lights, Mike,” without turning his head.

Hammerman edged over to the door, keeping his pistol trained, swept his free arm up the wall, and the room lit up. Phillips blinked in the brightness, keeping the office covered, and then warily stepped through the door.

No one was there. Filing cabinets, a multiline secure phone hookup, and a couple of desks strewn with papers, that was all.

It was enough, though. No desk in the Langley complex was supposed to have classified papers left on it after hours; that was basic security. And for sure the Special Ops boys hadn’t been that stupid, not with the stakeout planned.

“Somebody’s been here and no mistake,” Hammerman whispered, coming in behind him. He pointed: “There.”

Phillips followed his finger. Against the wall stood a filing cabinet, the kind with a steel bar running down the front and a big combination lock at the top to hold everything shut. But the lock was open, and so was the top drawer. A file folder poked up over the edge.

“Christ,” Phillips muttered, “how did we miss him?” Every door and window in the place was covered by electronic monitors, with backup security cars on all the perimeter roads keeping careful watch. What the heck was going on?

Hammerman broke into his thoughts. “Look at this, Fred.” On the bigger of the two desks, the top sheet of an open file folder was headed “Update–The Enterprise, 10/1985.”

But that was not what had caught Hammerman’s attention. Under it, in thick, red magic marker, someone had scribbled, in a large, bold hand: “THIS IS AN OUTRAGE. STOP IT AT ONCE!”

“What the–” Phillips started, but then his security reflexes clicked into gear. “All right,” he ordered, “impound these documents, and send that top sheet to handwriting for analysis and ID. This has to be an inside game, and whoever’s being cute just went a bit too far. Call in the backup team to search the area, just in case, but I doubt they’ll find anything.”

Hammerman left, returning with a camera and a big plastic evidence bag. He snapped photos, then began putting the violated files into it. When it was closed up and the seal crimped, he gave it to Phillips with a flourish. “This one’s got me stumped, Fred. I think it’s one that’ll have to go to the Chief. But I don’t know what you’re gonna tell him.

Phillips shook his head. “I don’t know what I’m going to tell him either,” he said

II -Some Kind of Inside Job

“Now let’s go over this one more time,” the Chief said gruffly. He was standing, gazing intently out the big window of his large office, and sipping coffee from the big mug that was always kept full and within his reach.

Must we? Phillips thought, looking at the trophies on the wall behind the Chief’s big, neat desk, on which the unsealed plastic evidence bag seemed totally incongruous. There was a picture of the Chief with president Reagan, both grinning. A framed medal from some operation in Vietnam. Two small maps, one of the Middle East, the other of Central America, with pink and blue pins stuck into them at various points.

Phillips realized his mind had wandered when the Chief growled, “Is that right?”

“Excuse me?” Phillips stumbled, looking away from the wall maps at the Chief.

“I said, you executed the entry into the house without a hitch, after getting positive signs of entry on your surveillance equipment, but found no one?”

“Uh, yes sir,” he agreed. “But we’re still searching the area for footprints and other evidence of unauthorized entry and egress.”

Not that he expected to find anything. This was, he was more and more sure, an inside job. Probably one of the Special Ops guys had jumped the track. Or maybe even gone over to the other side. No one liked to mention it, but it had happened before. The Eighties had turned out to be a big decade for spies, and they were barely half over.

“And handwriting drew a blank with that defaced file cover sheet,” the Chief continued.

“Yes sir,” Phillips said again. Nobody in the Agency’s current files wrote that indignant rebuke on the file. Or so it seemed, at any rate. Phillips wasn’t sure that handwriting analysis was such an exact science.

“So, what are we going to do about these intrusions, Phillips?” the Chief barked. “This is very sensitive material. We can’t afford to have it compromised.”

He paused, sipped his coffee, and chewed his bulging lower lip. “Have you searched the house?”

“Twice, sir. Nothing.”

“I can’t accept that,” the Chief said, shaking his big head, his thin white hair quivering. “There has got to be something.”

He paused again, thinking and chewing his lip. “What do we know about that house?” he asked finally. “How did it get there on Company land?”

“It was here first, sir,” Phillips answered. “An old lady built it with a partner, and lived there til she died, just this year. Now it’s reverted to us.”

“Who was she?” the Chief asked. “Maybe she has some disgruntled relatives, playing tricks.”

It seemed to Phillips like a very unlikely line of inquiry. “Sir,” he protested tentatively, “I’m not sure there’s really any point–”

“Maybe not,” the Chief cut off him. “You got anything better? Check it out. And keep me posted.”

He turned away from the window to the desk, picked up the plastic evidence bag and thrust it toward the security officer.

“Yes sir,” said Phillips, standing up. It was time to go. He didn’t like this. His own inclination would be to have Counterintelligence going over the records of all the Special Ops Unit’s personnel files, maybe even tailing them. It had to be an inside job.

“Oh, and Phillips,” called the Chief as he was passing out the doorway.

“Yes sir.” He stopped and turned back. The Chief was behind the desk, sticking a pink pin into the map of Central America.

“Keep the house under your personal surveillance tonight, and every night, until we get this cleared up.” He picked up the coffee mug.

“Yes sir,” Phillips said wearily. His wife wouldn’t like this, and neither did he. But you didn’t argue with the Chief. Not unless you wanted a transfer to the Antarctica field station. And he didn’t, even if there was no trouble with inside security breaches in Antarctica.

III – Final Contingencies

“So, what did you find out?” Hammerman asked over the walkie talkie. The house was again dark, and they were back in the bushes, passing time.

“Just what I told the Chief,” Phillips answered, a trace of irritation in his tone. “The house was bought in the 1930s by a lady named Scattergood. She called it Calvert, after a place in Maryland where she used to go as a kid. From Philadelphia originally.”

He checked his scanner. The lines on the screen were oscillating normally. “She worked for the labor unions in D.C.,” he said. “Never married, but had a housemate, who died in the ‘70s. When the Agency took the land, it agreed to let them stay here as long as she wanted to.”

“That was big of them,” Hammerman commented.

“She got the laugh on ‘em too,” Phillips went on. “That was in ‘51, and she was about that old. Nobody figured she’d last another thirty-some years, but she did, til ‘86. That’s it; end of story.”

“You sure?” Hammerman wondered. “Maybe she had some private vices. Or was a secret commie, infiltrating the labor unions.”

“Naaah,” Phillips demurred. “She was with the old AF of L, and they didn’t come any more patriotic than that. And after she retired she spent most of her time gardening and going to church.

“What church?” Hammerman asked, only half-interested

“Quaker meeting, down the road,” Phillips said.

“Maybe we should check it out,” Hammerman said teasingly. “Tomorrow morning.”

“Get outta here,” Phillips snapped. “Tomorrow morning I’m sleeping in. This late night surveillance wears me out.”

“Come on,” Hammerman coaxed. “You could use a little church.”

“Speak for yourself,” Phillips bantered, and was about to say something sarcastic about Hammerman’s single lifestyle, when his scanner’s red alert light started blinking.

“Mike! I got a signal.”

“Right. Me too.” Hammerman was all business again. “You check the window. I’ll slide around back.”

Following their revised tactical plan, Phillips slipped away from his base behind a large oak tree and padded quietly across the lawn, up to the window at the end of the dining room, where the Special Ops office was. The sill was just above his head, but under one arm he carried a small folded aluminum step stool. The legs straightened and clicked silently into place. He set it firmly in the dirt, and stepped silently onto it.

Peering over the sill, he could see a faint blue light in the room. He couldn’t make out any details, but  saw it move, in the direction of the desk.

Phillips let himself down silently from the stool, took a few silent paces away from the window, then crouched down and brought the walkie talkie to his lips. “Mike. He’s in there. Are you in position?”

“Ten-four, boss” came the reply. “We’re ready for the punk this time.”

Rather than a wild rush, tonight they would sneak up on their intruder, get him coming out. Hammerman was at the back door; Phillips covering the front. This was no time for heroics. Just wait; he had to come out of there.

But he didn’t. After ten minutes, Phillips checked his scanner. The blue lines were normal again; the alert light was off. He began moving back toward the stool, then eased up on it. The blue light was gone.

“Fred,” the walkie talkie spoke. “You still picking him up? My scanner’s gone blank.”

Phillips cursed under his breath. “Mine too,” he answered. “We better go in.”

They didn’t rush; they could sense there was no need for SWAT team heroics. And inside the scene in the office was almost identical to the night before. The files unlocked, a drawer open, papers on the desk.

“Now I’m sure this is an inside thing,” Phillips said, surveying the room. “Special Ops changed all the locks this morning. Only they knew the combinations. It has to be one of them.”

“Maybe,” Hammerman said, “but then how’d they get in and out of here. This is like chasing a ghost.” He stooped to pick up some papers that had fallen to the floor. “Uh-Oh!” he exclaimed. “Here’s our wiseguy again.” He handed a sheet to Fred.

“Oh no,” Phillips said.

The paper was stamped TOP SECRET, and headed “The Enterprise: Final contingencies.” Across it was written, “THIS MUST NOT GO ON ANY LONGER! IF YOU WON’T TELL THE AUTHORITIES ABOUT IT, I SHALL!” The words were in the same red magic marker, in the same strong, large hand.

“The Chief won’t like it,” Phillips said. “Another breach of a secure office, and I look more and more stupid reporting them to him without any explanations or perpetrators. You got any ideas?” he asked Hammerman.

“Just one,” Hammerman said. “And you already don’t like it. But it’s all we got. Let’s check out the old lady’s Quaker meeting tomorrow.”

He saw Phillips rolling his eyes, and put up his hands. “Look. I’ll pick you up about 9:45. If you’ve got a better idea by then, we’ll skip it. OK?”

“OK,” Phillips answered with a sigh. “I better come up with something.”

IV – A Better Idea?

Photo borrowed from Facebook.

But he didn’t. At ten AM, Hammerman’s Toyota turned off Georgetown Pike, a half mile beyond the huge, tree-hidden CIA headquarters, into the driveway of a white clapboard church. The peeling wooden sign in its postage stamp front yard read “Langley Hill Friends Meeting.”

“That’s weird,” Hammerman said, looking up at the building. “A steeple. Quakers aren’t supposed to go for steeples.”

“Oh yeah?” Phillips wasn’t really interested. He yawned. “What do they believe?”

“I’m not exactly sure,” Hammerman said. But I seem to recall it doesn’t include steeples. They’re plain, you know; like the guy on the oatmeal box.”

Now Phillips was getting uncomfortable. “You mean funny clothes? You taking me to some cult group, Hammerman?”

The driver grinned. “We’ll see. But hey, you’re a combat veteran, black belt in karate, an expert pistol shot; you can handle them.”

“Maybe,” Phillips said. “But I forgot my gun.”

As it turned out, the people in the meetinghouse weren’t dressed oddly, except that some of them weren’t dressed in what Phillips thought of as Sunday clothes. And the biggest challenge he faced was staying awake on the wooden bench waiting for the service to start.

When nothing had happened after about fifteen minutes, he plucked a small white leaflet from a rack on the next bench where it leaned against a battered-looking hymnbook. It explained that the waiting was the service. This made it even harder for Phillips to keep his eyes open.

Just as he started to snore, Hammerman nudged him awake. A white-haired woman was standing and saying something about peace, and how awful the Contra war in Nicaragua was, and how they had to get the White House to stop the CIA supporting the contra rebels

Great, Phillips thought. Peaceniks. Just what he needed to hear on too little sleep from a bunch of people who didn’t know what they were talking about.

The woman sat down, and Phillips started to drift again.

But then someone was pulling at his sleeve and shaking his hand. He pulled away nervously, then turned to see Hammerman with his hand out.

Hammerman gripped his hand and leaned toward this ear. “It’s their custom,” he murmured. “It means it’s over.”

Well, not quite. They were then subjected to about fifteen minutes of announcements, half of which, Phillips noticed, seemed to be about protests of one sort or another against American policy in Central America. This made him even more uneasy. Was this really a church, or some political front group? What did they believe, anyway?

They were also asked to stand and give their names and where they were from, which Phillips wasn’t about to do. But Hammerman covered for him, speaking for them both and saying vaguely that they lived in the neighborhood.

Then everyone got up and started milling around. Phillips noticed a large coffee urn on a back table, and headed for it; he’d feel more at ease with a cup of coffee in his hand.

But the urn, he found, held some kind of sweet-smelling but watery-tasting herb tea. When he asked, a young woman standing by the urn explained sweetly that they never served coffee, because of the caffeine. That was also why there was no sugar, and no styrofoam cups.

Maybe that’s what these people believed, Phillips thought: caffeine, sugar and styrofoam are the work of the devil, or at least behind the trouble in Nicaragua. One sip of the tea was enough for him to know this wasn’t his kind of church.

Phillips sidled out the door of the meeting room into the vestibule, figuring he’d wander back to the car. Then he saw Hammerman, down a hallway in another room, talking to the white-haired woman.

Hammerman gestured for him to come over.

The room was a small, cramped library. The white-haired woman was smiling and saying something about a book of faith statements by members. She was sure it was right here somewhere–now she was scanning the bookshelves–and it would answer all his questions about Quaker beliefs. She was about to give up when the notebook suddenly turned up, wedged between a dictionary and an old Bible.

“Aha, here we are,” The white-haired woman said, and handed the notebook, not to Hammerman but to Phillips. “He says you wanted to know why we have a steeple if we don’t believe in steeples,” she said, grinning broadly. “It’s quite simple, really. The steeple came with the building when we bought it, and we didn’t have the money to take it down. Then they made  the whole corner into a historic area, and it would probably take an act of Congress to remove it. But we did take out all the stained glass windows, except the one with the mandala pattern up front.”

She smiled up at the window, which had an abstract, four-cornered pattern. “It’s wonderfully archetypal, don’t you think? Joseph Campbell would have loved it.”

Joseph Campbell, 1904-1987. Not a Quaker. Very devoted to theories of Carl Jung about archetypes and mandalas.

“Er, I’m sure,” Phillips mumbled, wondering what sort of pinko this Campbell person was. He was relieved when she turned to Hammerman.

“Now you said you might be distantly related to Margaret Scattergood, didn’t you? I think she has a faith statement in the book there, and I believe there’s a picture of her in here somewhere….”

She trailed off and began searching through the crowded bookshelves again. Hammerman took the notebook, and Phillips followed her movement along the shelves, noting uneasily how many of the books had the word Peace in their titles.

No war, no steeples, no sugar, styrofoam or caffeine; that seemed to about sum up Quakerism, at least as it had been explained so far.

“Uh, Mike,” he said after a long moment, “don’t we have to be getting back for lunch?”

Hammerman looked up from the notebook distractedly. “In a minute,” he said. “This is interesting.”

Just then the white-haired woman was back before him, smiling that toothy smile again. “Here she is,” she said triumphantly. “That’s her at her house, down the road.”

Hammerman looked at the black and white snapshot. A thin, plain woman in tweed, wearing sensible shoes and gardener’s gloves and holding a pair of long hedge clippers. Though slight, there was a sturdy look about her.

“Yes,” Hammerman agreed, “she certainly has the face of one of my old cousins. They could fool you, though: look as meek as church mice, but fighters when they were riled.”

“Oh I don’t think Margaret was like that,” the white-haired woman demurred. “She was always quiet here. But of course we mostly agreed on things. Hmmmm – but now that you mention it, there was that one time back in the forties, when they tried to take her land.”

“Who?” Hammerman asked innocently.

“Why, the CIA,” said the white-haired woman vehemently. “Came along back in ‘47 and decided they wanted her land and her house, just like that. Wham, bam, thank thee ma’am.”

She sniffed with indignation that was genteel but not diluted by the passage of nearly forty years.

“And Margaret did get riled about that. Gave ‘em quite a fight, too. Took it to Congress and everything.” She ran a finger down a page in the notebook, then showed it to him.

“She worked for the unions then, and Harry Truman had to pay attention. Made them leave her be, too. In the end a special act of Congress said she could stay there as long as she lived. I don’t think many people could have fought the CIA to a draw like that, do you?”

Phillips shook his head solemnly; no he didn’t think so either.

“But mostly she was a quiet person, worked on committees for desegregating schools and things like that. And she was corresponding secretary for our meeting for the longest time, til her health gave out. She kept very good track of all our records. In fact they’ve been something of a jumble ever since.”

Hammerman closed the notebook and gave it back to her. “This has been very informative, ma’am,” he said. “I appreciate all this information. You’ve filled in a lot of blanks for me. I’ll have to come back sometime and hear more.”

“Well, if you come next Sunday, we’re having a potluck lunch and a used book sale,” said the white-haired woman. “And you’re certainly welcome.”

Back in the car, Phillips said, “You can come back if you want to, Mike, but once is enough for me. Can you imagine what their potlucks must be like, with no caffeine, sugar or styrofoam? Did you ever figure out what they believe here, or is that it?”

“What’s the matter,” Hammerman grinned, “you got something against macaroni? Hey, I had fun. Besides, I found something better than whatever they believe.”

“Yeah?” Phillips asked expectantly.

“This,” Hammerman said with a smirk, reaching into his jacket and producing a folded sheet of paper. “Take a look.”

Phillips unfolded the typed sheet. “My Personal Faith,” read the heading, “By Margaret Scattergood.”

“Okay so you’re a good spy,” Phillips said sarcastically, “but pinching an old piece of paper from a church is hardly high-quality tradecraft. Why do I want to know about this old lady’s personal faith?”

“Maybe you don’t,” Hammerman retorted. “But it might not hurt to check out her handwriting.”

Phillips glanced at the paper again. At the bottom it was inscribed with her signature the date, and “Calvert, Langley, Virginia.”

“You’re kidding,” he said.

Hammerman shrugged. “It can’t hurt,” he said. “Besides which, we got nothing else, and not least, I think the writing looks familiar.”

“All right,” Phillips shrugged in turn. “But do me a favor: I’ll sign the request, but you take it to handwriting.”

“No problem,” Hammerman grinned. “Consider it done.”

“And one more thing,” Phillips said

“Shoot.”

“If you’re right, what am I supposed to tell the Chief?”

V – Need to Know

Nothing unusual happened at the Scattergood house for several days thereafter. But Phillips saw a stream of Special Ops people coming and going from there with unusual haste, many carrying striped plastic trash bags, the kind he knew were full of documents meant for the Agency’s own special shredders and incinerators.

While he was not supposed to notice this, since he had no need to know, it was still obvious what was happening: The Special Ops project known as the Enterprise, whatever that was, had been compromised, and everybody was busily covering the Agency’s tracks. He had seen it before; Watergate had kept the incinerators smoking for weeks.

Hammerman had also noticed the procession, and drawn his own conclusions. But when Phillips asked him about the handwriting check of the Scattergood letter, he just shrugged.

The next Monday, Phillips was summoned to the Chief’s office. As soon as he came in, he noticed that the maps had been replaced on the wall behind the desk. In their place was a large, full color photo of president Reagan, the official one where he wasn’t smiling.

“Phillips,” the Chief began, as soon as he had shut the door, “those intrusions over at Calvert seem to have stopped. Good work.”

“Thank you sir,” Phillips said cautiously. He wondered why the Chief thought they had stopped, and what he had to do with it. Or did he, old spymaster that he was, know more than he let on.

Of course he did. There was a file folder on the Chief’s desk. He opened it, and gazed at it thoughtfully as he sipped from his coffee mug. “That was very shrewd,” the Chief said, “your idea of checking the handwriting on the intruder’s notes with the Scattergood woman’s letter. Very shrewd.”

“Uh, thank you, sir,” Phillips began, “but actually it was–”

The Chief interrupted him. “I know, I know, it was only a wild guess. But Handwriting says they matched perfectly. I have their report right here.”

He lifted a sheet from the file; all Phillips could read was the TOP SECRET stamped across the heading.

“Very shrewd,” the Chief said again, but more thoughtfully. Then he added slowly, “there’s only one slight problem with it. He paused and looked out the big window, and chewed the large lower lip.

Finally he glanced back at his visitor and said, more loudly, “What do you think, Phillips? How do I explain to the president that one of the most sensitive intelligence operations of my term has just been blown?”

He was suddenly vehement. “And above all, how do I tell him it was compromised by the ghost of an old Quaker lady?”

The fierceness of his tone took Phillips aback.

“Sir,” he stumbled, “Sir, I never said–”

“Of course not,” roared the Chief. “I wouldn’t have said it either, anywhere else but in this room. But that’s the fact.”

He looked out the window again. “Phillips,” he said more quietly but grimly, “can you imagine what would happen if this gets out? I can see the headline in the National Enquirer now: ‘Spooks spooked by old lady spook.’ We’d be the laughingstocks of the intelligence world. The Soviets would lose all respect for us. The Chinese. Not to mention the president.”

The Chief swiveled his chair around and faced him.

“So, Phillips, I am not going to explain this to the president. We’ve made arrangements for this operation to be exposed in a different, more understandable way; an obscure magazine in the Middle East will publish something, which will be picked up and broadcast more widely. I think we can keep the lid on after that, but it won’t be easy.”

“Sir,” Phillips put in, “I’m not sure I really have a need to know all this, do I?”

“Good point, son,” the Chief said approvingly, “but it can’t be helped. The cover story will be all over the place in a few days anyway. In the meantime, you know what really happened, whether you need to or not. But you also need to know that if the real facts are ever disclosed outside this room, there are only two of us who could be the source, and one of us will be getting an immediate transfer to the Antarctica field station. And it won’t be me.”

An image said to be of the CIA facility in Antarctica. There are those who believe the penguin statue at right is cover for surveillance equipment.

Another sip from the big cup “Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes sir,” Phillips said with emphasis.  He felt like he should salute. “You can count on me, sir.”

“I thought so,” said the Chief. “But there’s one more thing. Maybe you don’t really need to know this either, but you deserve to know it just the same.”

He lifted another sheet of paper from the file. “This is the only copy of my order canceling Agency support for the Enterprise, and telling our agents to get clear of it. It never left this room; the Special Ops people read it here, and it’s going into the burn bag before this day is over.”

Phillips started to say “Very good, sir.” But the Chief cut him off with another near-shout:

“–Then this morning when I came in, I found this on it–” He handed the sheet to Phillips.

There, across the paper, was the familiar red magic marker. “IT’S ABOUT TIME THIS WAS STOPPED,” the script declared. “NOW I CAN BE MORE AT EASE IN MY OWN HOUSE, AND IN MY OWN COUNTRY.”

Phillips’s eyebrows rose, and he handed it back. “What do you make of it, sir?”

“I hope it means she’ll leave us alone for awhile,” the Chief answered. “God knows there are enough spooks in this place already. She must not like intelligence agencies. Maybe they were against her religion.”

Phillips shrugged. “I wouldn’t let it bother you, sir,” he said. “I don’t think she liked coffee either.”

 


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part of a collection of nineteen Quaker short stories, Posies for Peg, which is available here, and on  and for Kindle. It makes a fine gift.

Copyright © Chuck Fager