March 24, 2011

Quaker bloggers move to the head of the class

In the past few weeks, two Quaker bloggers have been appointed to serve a couple of international Quaker institutions.

First was Barry Crossno, who is the incoming General Secretary of Friends General Conference, an organization that provides programming and services to Friends across the U.S. and Canada, and regardless of branch affiliation (though most folks in the U.S. forget about Canada and misinterpret FGC's reach). Martin Kelley has a nice write-up about Barry's earlier place in the Quaker blogosphere.

There's also Robin Mohr, recently appointed as the next Executive Secretary of the Section of the Americas for Friends World Committee on Consultation. I consider Robin to be a personal friend of mine: we've talked by phone on a number of occasions and had a chance to meet up in person a couple of times, both at three FGC Gatherings and at one or two Convergent Friends events.

(Now is as good a time as any to throw in a mention that these two Friends also have personal essays in the print collection of Quaker blog posts, Writing Cheerfully on the Web.)

So what are the possible implications of having two Friends, previously or currently active in blogging--not to mention Twitter--at the servant-leadership helm of groups such as FGC and FWCC Section of the Americas?

For me, it gives me hope that regardless of branch affiliation, form of worship, language of theology, or system of belief, Barry and Robin will invite all of us to a deeper place of mutual respect for one another's authenticity of faith.

They'll likely affirm our previous and current participation in our own Quaker worship communities, be they Friends churches or fledgling unprogrammed worship groups--and then they'll ask us to consider the Inward Teacher more fully, side by side with messages that are from Scripture and with experiences that come from the perfectly imperfect realm of human experience.

I hope Robin and Barry will continue to let us peek into their lives a bit, too, letting us know what they are struggling with; inviting perspectives from beyond their own institutional circles in order to be true to the Loving Principle that draws all of us into the family that is the Religious Society of Friends.

God is good. All the time.


March 14, 2011

Tom "Bigfoot" Tannehill and his ministry to me

The other day I had the opportunity to reflect on a person whose life ministered to me in ways I had not understood before. I suppose the passage of time and learning about someone's death provides the right opportunity for such hindsight to be made clear.

Tom Tannehill stood about 6-foot-four, and looked like a perfect candidate for a college wrestling heavy-weight championship team. He was so huge that his nickname was Bigfoot. Back in the late 1980s, I didn't know his real name for several weeks after I met him, I think.

Tom was born Deaf, and his friendship with me as a new sign language interpreter gave me a doorway into American Sign Language that few inexperienced interpreters would have access to.

I think our friendship was cemented at the time when we met each other, at the local Deaf club, which at that time was the main hangout for Deaf people--before fast internet connections, social networking, and webcams reduced the need for face-to-face communication.

While having a nice introductory sort of conversation, Tom inserted a sexual joke--something that a number of Deaf people do as a discreet way to check the comprehension level of new interpreters.

I not only understood the joke, I also sharply replied that I didn't care for it.

I think Tom was taken aback by what I said--not only because it indicated that I had understood what he had signed but also because for the most part, non-Deaf people aren't as blunt or as "plain speaking" as Deaf people themselves. So I caught him off-guard on those two points.

I turned to leave the conversation, but Tom apologized, we changed the subject, and became friends.

During the early years of our friendship, and as my own interpreting skills in American Sign Language advanced, I learned that Tom was a cherished Boy Scout Troop leader, beloved by non-Deaf troop leaders, by non-Deaf council members, and of course by the dozens of Deaf scouts who made up nearly all of his troop over the years.

When Tom asked me to interpret at the week-long Boy Scout camp that was 45 minutes outside of Milwaukee, I agreed. A year later, and for a few other years, I helped coordinate a small cadre of other interpreters for the camp. We interpreted everything from announcements at meals to classes about astronomy--I had to figure out how to sign concepts like "solar eclipse"--and lessons held on sailboats.

Tom's joy at being a Scout as a child and a Troop Leader, mentor, and role model to other Deaf scouts was contagious. He was using his gifts; his work was bearing good fruit.

And then he made a poor, terrible, unconscious choice when a scout in his troop came into his tent one night and manipulated Tom to touch him.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

A year ago this month, news broke that the Catholic priest at St. John's School for the Deaf near Milwaukee had molested hundreds of Deaf boys during their time there as students.

Among his victims was Tom Tannehill.

I remembered that Tom told me about Father Murphy; he told me about having gone to school at St. John's--which was closed a short while before I moved to Milwaukee out of college. Deaf people in the community identified the priest by using the sign for PRIEST, followed by the hand-spelled letter M, tapped at the breastbone two or three times.

When I heard the news about the molestation, my heart went out to Tom: over the years, I had heard he had moved to Indiana somewhere; that he wasn't working with Scouts any more.

At one point, I had managed to learn that Tom was back in Milwaukee, briefly, and I made my way to where he was staying--I want to say it was with his parents at the time.

When Tom came to the door and saw I was there, we hugged each other hard. He invited me in; we sat down to catch up.

And out came his story.

He had been molested by Father Murphy at St. John's long ago. He also had loved Boy Scouts as a kid, and he had gone on to become an Eagle Scout and to live out the Boy Scout's oath in his personal life and in his life as a Troop Leader.

He never suspected his lifelong passion to be stripped away years or even decades later by the unconscious actions taken by a Boy Scout who himself had been molested. But when that scout sneaked into Tom's tent one night, Tom's unconscious found a way out, and unfortunately, Tom couldn't cope, didn't think to reach out for help.

Did Tom go on to molest other scouts...? I honestly don't know; maybe it's better that way. But I do know that someone reported him to the Boy Scout Council, that he was barred from participating in Scouts again, and that he was sentenced to jail when he was in Indiana.

His days as a scout leader, and as a member of the venerated Order of the Arrow,* were gone. And until now, so was his story, perhaps.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

My move away from Wisconsin and from the interpreting profession in the late 1990s had long muted my desire to stay in touch with all sorts of people from that part of my life. So when the story about Father Murphy's molestation made its way to the mainstream media last year, I decided it was time for me to look up my old friend again.

I did a Google search and learned that my friend Tom had died in 2007. My opportunity to reach out to him in light of the news--which included an article from Milwaukee, saying that Tom also had molested students at the school--was gone. Time was up.

Despite the news that could have tarnished my view of Tom, my love for him and my friendship with him are still teaching me. Many who didn't know Tom, and many who did, may now think of him as a monster. But Tom was a friend to me long before I knew of his actions, and Tom was also somebody's son, somebody's brother.

God's love for him--including God's love through me--isn't diminished because of his shortfalls. Maybe God's love for us, and God's love through one another, even becomes more necessary, more warranted when we fail.

These days, when I have an opportunity to respond to someone who I'd rather view as a monster or think as someone to be fearful of, I will need God's grace to remind me that we are each a Beloved Child of God, with a story that at the very least might need telling, and at the very most, might need healing.

Thanks for reading me.


*This was long before I understood about cultural appropriation.

March 5, 2011

Epistle from a new committee in FGC

In recent months and during 2010, Friends General Conference has overhauled its committee structure and trimmed its gifted staff, feeling its own economic crunch. The epistle below is from one subcommittee of the new Committee for Nurturing Ministries, and it addresses how earlier initiatives are being addressed within FGC's new structure.

In addition to the epistle, at the bottom of this post, I have included links to just a sampling of related articles. --Liz

First Month 2011

To Friends Everywhere:

After months of wondering and praying, the new Transforming Subcommittee of the Committee for Nurturing Ministries has had two opportunities to meet—once face-to-face at [FGC's] Central Committee in New Windsor, Maryland 10th Month 2010 and again just this past month by teleconference. We want to let Friends know that we are under the weight of our work and excited for what lies ahead.

When Friends General Conference (FGC) undertook reorganization of our committees last year, there was much concern from Friends that the important work of many of our committees might disappear in the transition. Friends of Color and young Friends and young adult Friends who had been so hopeful with the establishment of the Committee for Ministry on Racism* and the Youth Ministries Committee* feared that perhaps FGC was creating a way to slide out of the commitments we had made to eradicating racism in the Religious Society of Friends and to creating the radical transformation needed to make meaningful space for younger Friends in the structures of our Society.

We are clear that the same Spirit which led to the formation of these committees is alive and well among us today. We are clear that the work will go on. We wanted to take this opportunity to let you know about the work in which we are engaged currently and the road ahead as we see it at this time.

First, we have heard from some Friends that the name of our group does not speak to them. Although the name may not lift up the groups we serve, it does acknowledge the nature of the work before us. We are clear that transformation is required if we are to become a community of seekers who are led by Spirit and who reflect the richness of the tapestry of our human family. At Central Committee several years ago, some of you may have heard about the need for a paradigm shift—for change at the deepest level if we are to develop intergenerational community successfully. Some of you may have heard about the profound change in assumptions required to make our meetings hospitable for People of Color. This transformational work—work which opens us to enact our belief that the Spirit speaks through each and any of us as Spirit chooses—is the work being undertaken by the Transforming Subcommittee of the Committee for Nurture Ministries. And, it is transformational work.

We know that for our society to come to reflect the blessed diversity of God’s creation will require each of us to open ourselves to the workings of the Spirit— We know that making our meetings hospitable places for People of Color and for youth enhances the fabric of the meeting and deepens our shared faith journey and we are engaged in seeking and developing those tools which will help us each move successfully on that journey to transform ourselves and our meetings.

Let us share with you some of the specifics of the work which is under way.

  • ”Build It”: The project to create tools for Monthly Meetings to build more meaningful intergenerational community begun by the Youth Ministries Committee in response to articulated need in our meetings is continuing under the stewardship of a working group of the Transforming Subcommittee. We expect that the tools will be available for Friends by mid-year.

  • Templates, workshop materials, facilitators and facilitation training: Meetings who wish to understand the history of the relationship between Friends and People of Color in this country need support; using some of the understanding which has come from how we have worked effectively with intergenerational concerns, we are continuing to support this anti-racism work and to develop other programs in addition to the Fit for Freedom Facilitators already trained to carry forward this crucial initiative.

  • Participation of Friends in the White Privilege Conference: The 12th annual White Privilege Conference (WPC12) will take place in Bloomington, Minnesota, April 13-16, 2011. We will offer a workshop in order to share some of our work on racism and some support for Friends who choose to attend including a major discount on your registration fee. If you are interested in participation in this Conference, see the FGC website for more information.

  • Opportunities for Friends of Color to gather: We are continuing to plan Gatherings of Friends of Color which are so important for mutual support and expect to hold one before the end of this calendar year.

  • The People of Color Center at the Gathering: We continue to support the Center which provides important opportunities for Friends of Color and their family members and allies to come together, rest, share and plan for the future.

  • Opportunities for young People of Color at the Gathering: We intend to build on our initial attempts last year to provide particularly welcoming space for Youth of Color at the Gathering and to explore the ways in which we may address their particular needs, a project which seems entirely suitable for this new committee with its amalgamated portfolio to serve Youth and Persons of Color.

  • Support for Cross-branch inter-visitation: We continue to seek ways to support those Young Adults who are so committed to this work. We are exploring and planning new ways to advance this important undertaking.

  • The possibility for collaboration: We continue to explore the possibilities for ways we could join with the fledgling Quaker Volunteer Services group to help “incubate” this fledgling organization for the benefit of Friends and those communities of need they would serve.

  • You can find out about activities which relate to our Programs: Ministry on Racism or Youth Ministry just as before by finding these programs listed on the FGC website. As we engage in ongoing service to Youth and People of Color in the Religious Society of Friends we will have opportunities for Friends and seekers to join in the work in new ways. If you are interested in participating in this transformational work, please contact us through the website.(

    With divine guidance, we will continue to engage the need to “Transform our awareness so that our corporate and individual attitudes and actions fully value and encompass the blessed diversity of our human family.” (Goal 4, Friends General Conference Statement of Purpose and Goals 2009). We envision, and will continue to work toward the blessed community—where neither age nor color are criteria on which people are judged and where seekers can find welcome and nurture to grow in the Spirit no matter their race or their age. This is the transformation FGC seeks and to which we are dedicated. We ask that you join your prayers with ours, Friends, as we continue on this journey.

    Jean-Marie P. Barch, clerk, Transforming Subcommittee (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting)

    Beckey Phipps, clerk, Committee for Nurturing Ministries (New England Yearly Meeting)

    Vanessa Julye, Ministry Coordinator, Ministry on Racism Program (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting)

    Deborah Fisch, FGC Associate Secretary for Ministries (Iowa Yearly Meeting-Conservative)

    Members of the Subcommittee: Seth Barch, (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting); Janice Domanik, (Illinois Yearly Meeting); Jaya Karsemeyer, (Canadian Yearly Meeting); Katrina McQuail, (Canadian Yearly Meeting); Miyo Moriuchi, (Baltimore Yearly Meeting); Miriam Mulsow, (South Central Yearly Meeting); Alma Sanchez-Eppler (New England Yearly Meeting)


    *These links will likely become inactive at some point...


    An article from Friends Journal on how White Quakers might work toward ending racism
    An article from Quaker Life on the extent to which our Quaker meetings and Friends churches really want racial diversity
    Martin Kelley's post about what young people want from their meetings
    An FGC post about building intergenerational community among Friends