A letter from Valerie Anderson
My experience as a Friend of Color.
I began attending Quaker meeting back in 2002 when I was searching for peace inside myself and trying to live at the beat of my own drum. I also began a deeper journey into my own black identity and culture and loved what I was discovering. My history in the social work profession, serving vulnerable and oppressed people, was in constant contradiction with my religious upbringing. The fire and brimstone approach that I came from was too judgmental, and that was not working for me and the people I was serving—who may have been homosexuals living with HIV/AIDS, substance users, “fornicators,” etc.I did not have a hell to put them in, but they were going there according to some people’s beliefs—and with my change of thinking, so was I. I needed something that could help me embrace it all.
When I learned about Quakers and started attending I was able to reconcile my spirituality and beliefs with the work I was called to do; however, your blackness never leaves you, nor does the experience of being black, so after attending meeting for several years, I started to feel a disconnect. I was missing my black history and culture, which was always celebrated and represented in the black church. Issues that affected the black community were addressed, but at Quaker meeting not in the same way. Sometimes I needed to hear the word aloud. Sometimes I needed a preacher to shout at the congregation and tell us that it was going to be all right. I needed to sing and shout and praise God aloud. I needed to speak in tongues as the spirit of God gave me utterance, and not looked at like I was crazy. I missed these things and so I stopped going to Quaker meeting after a while.
During that time I didn’t know what to do. I still felt the contradictions of my beliefs with those of the black churches, although I felt a sense of community there. I had to dig deeper to integrate myself. With prayer, silence, deeper questioning of myself and just plain living and learning life’s lessons, I realized that I was grown, an adult who could make up her own mind on how she would define and serve God. There is a line in a poem titled, Imagine a Woman, by Patricia Reilly that states, “Imagine a woman who designs her own spirituality.” I am evolving to a deeper level of my own in terms of my relationship and experience with God, and I can design how I want to worship. So I visit black churches when I need to sing, dance, praise, and hear the word of God aloud; and attend Quaker meeting when I need to meditate in silence and wait on a word from God. I can also bring up issues concerning the black community to help make Quakers aware and improve race relations. I still maintain my membership and the majority of my fellowship with Quakers; however, I learned that no one place or even one person will have all of what you want and need. But at least the things that are most important to you they should possess, and that is being nonjudgmental and open to all experiences respecting the light of God in every one.
Today I feel emotionally safe around Quakers although they are predominantly white. I can feel free to have and share the full expression of my blackness as I define it, with the Quakers. I’ve learned that I have to be comfortable with who I am. There are places I can celebrate my identity, organizations where I can address certain issues, and the Quakers don’t have to be responsible for all of that. However, I do experience work being done in our Meeting to acknowledge and address some issues concerning people of color. For me, sometimes you have to separate in order to better integrate. I have learned to fully integrate all of who I am, and that means so much to me in my daily walk with God.
Green Street Friends Meeting
Meeting Secretary: Gail Woodbury
Office Phone: (267) 285-0553
Office Hours: Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.