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Friends Meeting of Washington Interchange Reports

The text of recent Friends Meeting of Washington reports in the Interchange are are below, with the most recent at the top and older reports below. To jump to a particular report, simply click the item listed below.

Winter Editions Spring Editions Fall Editions
    Fall 2011 Interchange
Winter 2012 Interchange    
Winter 2013 Interchange   Fall 2013 Interchange
  Spring 2014 Interchange  
Winter 2015 Interchange    
    Fall 2016 Interchange
Winter 2019 Interchange    

Winter 2019 Interchange Report
FMW Friends Counter-Protest Unite the Right Rally

Debbie Churchman, Friends Meeting of Washington

In late July 2018, we started to receive a leading regarding the “Unite the Right” rally. The rally was organized by Jason Kessler, one of the co-organizers of the 2017 event in Charlottesville. Kessler wanted to come to DC to mark the anniversary of that event. The National Park Service had approved his rally at Lafayette Square. Numerous groups of counter-protesters had also applied to be there at the same time. It looked like the makings of a hornet’s nest, and scared the bejeezus out of us. And yet, here was this leading…

Various meetings were held at the Monthly and Yearly Meeting level, testing the leading. Friends were generally supportive at Friends Meeting of Washington, though things quickly devolved into a hilarious discussion about what color t-shirts we should wear to help the police distinguish our group. (We settled on Quaker gray.) The interest group at Annual Session was discouraging. As one attender gently put it, “I don’t see asking Quakers to sit in worship while surrounded by violent, screaming white supremacists to be a recipe for success.” She had a point. We came away thinking this idea was probably nuts, and dangerous besides. How irresponsible were we being? How naïve? And yet, here was this leading…


At the interest group, a member of Charlottesville spoke eloquently about her Meeting’s actions on that horrible weekend. They’d worked with an interfaith group that was holding services in a public park, and taken their turn by holding a Meeting for Worship (they went after the Buddhists). She said it helped the Meeting to identify and stand up for their values, and served as a connecting point for them in the wider Charlottesville interfaith community. We kept thinking that Quakers have a real gift for the world. It’s our style of worship, which is open to all, and opening to all. It felt right that we should use our gift in this way. So we put out the call to area Meetings, and waited.

We then discovered that several communities of faith were planning actions that day, most of them far away from Lafayette Park. We decided that, in addition to our action at Lafayette, we would send some folks to the action at Freedom Plaza. We hoped that one or two people would head there, and if we were really lucky, maybe we could get 10 or even 15 people to come with us to Lafayette.

Praying about this, it came to me very strongly that I was responsible only for catching the leading—I was not in charge of the response. My only job was to follow the leading. And then Friends stepped up—we started to get calls from people coming from as far as Roanoke, Virginia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. People took on tasks. Things moved forward.

On the day of the rally, we made one last announcement. Then a slew of people descended, wanting Love Thy Neighbor pins and directions, ready to roll. Barbara Briggs scooped up 17 people and took off for Freedom Plaza, carrying our Quakers for Equality banner.


Just before 3 pm, folks started streaming into the Meeting House, wearing their good Quaker gray and ready to participate. Everyone buddied up, exchanging phone numbers. We kept putting out chairs, and printing more “buddy sheets” for friends to fill out. By the end, the Assembly Room was jammed. Even more people waited for us down at the park with Barbara’s group, which had moved to Lafayette. J.E. McNeil gave her excellent training, cutting it short when we heard that the Unite the Right rally folks decided to show up an hour early.

We took off, holding our Love Thy Neighbor/No Exceptions banner. As we approached the park, a group of black-clad, black-flagged people were marching and shouting obscenities. I assumed they were the alt-right. Turns out, it was Antifa, who are supposedly with the Progressives.


The park had been divided, with a sad, small group of 30 to 50 white nationalists huddled in the southeast corner and literally thousands of counter-protesters occupying the northern half. We wandered in, sat down, and started our worship, as some Friends held our banners. Soon, we became this island of calm in the midst of anger. People took pictures and asked questions. Some sidled over and stood nearby; some sat down with us and sank into the nourishing silence. An African American woman came over to hug us, telling us over and over that we just need more love. Thunder rumbled, and a gentle rain started to fall. Friends prayed. It was so, so beautiful. Finally, we decided that Meeting was ready to close. We shook hands, and sang all the verses to Amazing Grace. People around us joined in. It was glorious.

In all, we had more than 80 people there from at least six Meetings. We showed up on people’s Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, with one person calling us “the most peaceful protest at the park.” We got tons of likes—a significant number from folks in the alt right (go figure). In some ways, it felt like the most evangelical thing we’d ever done.

We floated off, some on to other things and some back to the Meeting for some soup and a gentle debrief. The folks from Philadelphia and Roanoke had a 3 hour drive to get home, so we didn’t stay too long. Everyone pitched in with the clean-up.

It was still light out when we left. And it was Light within.

Fall 2016 Interchange: Quakers, Restrooms, and the Learning Curve

Debby Churchman (Administrative Secretary, Friends Meeting of Washington)

Quakers tend to follow the leading to be in the world but not of it, although this summer has given us all ample reason to also not want to be in it much. Holy moly. Still, in our own small way, Friends Meeting of Washington is meeting the world as it is and working towards a better one.

Which this summer started with the topic of restrooms, much in the news. The word apparently got out in North Carolina that for the past, oh, roughly 240 years, transgender people in that state have been using the restroom assigned to their current gender rather than the one they were born with. This news provoked horror in the hearts of certain legislators, who reacted by passing bills to forbid such usage.

We at FMW had already been (very gently) instructed by trans people who held meetings here that our restroom signage felt exclusionary to some. Our Property Manager, Ken Orvis, and I worried about this, probably for too long, and started working our way towards better signs. When the North Carolina bill passed, I put a sign on one of the bathrooms informing folks that “this restroom is for people needing a restroom.” Put another sign on the men’s room which was actually a cartoon showing Jesus being refused entry due to his long hair and robes. This offended some people, so I took it down.

And then the shooting in Orlando happened. Such hard news. We felt the sign problem needed more urgent attention. Ken designed signs for the two Meeting House restrooms that have more than one stall each. One showed a picture of two toilets and the other a picture of a toilet and a urinal. He ran all this past the Property Committee, who seemed pleased, and got the signs made and installed.

The next day, we had three groups using space at the Meeting House, from different organizations and cultures. It was mayhem. No one could understand the signs, and I spent much of the day walking in on guys using what used to be called the Women’s room. Turns out that many guys don’t shut the stall door. Eeeuuuw.

What to do? Hey, we’re Quakers! There is no non-verbal problem we can’t solve by using words, lots of words. We put up three full paragraphs worth of words below our new restroom signs, explaining:
Friends: Our Meeting restrooms sport new signs. This is the restroom formerly labeled,


Now instead it has a pictogram showing two toilets (but no urinal).

Which is exactly what’s inside.

We hope Friends understand clearly that this is not about inviting men into the “Women’s Room” or women into the “Men’s Room.” It is about applying the Testimony of Equality to include people for whom, when asked “Are you a man, or are you a woman?” the truthful answer is “No.” To include people who, when confronted with two doors each denoting the extreme end of a continuum they merely fall someplace(s) along, feel an all too familiar sense of confusion, shame, and exclusion from any sincere invitation to tend to their most basic biological needs as easily as the rest of us.

So the room with a pot and a urinal is for the use of people for whom it is appropriate to use a room with a pot and a urinal; and the room with two pots is for the use of people for whom it is appropriate to use a room with two pots. And the single-user restrooms elsewhere are for people who need to use a restroom. Full stop.

We hope and trust this really rather subtle change meets with Friends’ approval and acceptance.

This worked, for now. We figure it’s a learning curve, and we’re somewhere on it.

Winter 2015 Interchange

In January, Friends Meeting of Washington was able to host a very exciting program on Race, Violence and Policing. This event, co-sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, our Peace & Social Concerns Committee, and the Washington Peace Center, brought together activists, community members, returning residents, and members of the Police Complaint Board to focus on the treatment of minorities by members of the police. We were able to livestream the national AFSC program on this topic, and then present a panel discussion focusing on how the issue plays out in Washington DC. Our member Steve Coleman, executive director of Washington Parks and People, served as a moderator, and spoke of his personal experience in witnessing both peaceful and violent policing in the city. The program was well attended, and the attendants brought a great deal to the discussion. The committee plans to continue focusing on this issue and supporting local efforts to improve police communications and actions.

Meanwhile, our First Day School has been engaged in a Coins for Quoins program, collecting spare change to support our Capital Campaign, which will help pay for a long-needed renovation, scheduled to begin late this spring. With great enthusiasm and creativity, the students set up games for their “Coinaval,” which helped them to raise a huge batch of coins. In the process, they learned about the need for the renovation and what it means to support your Meeting. They have yet to tally their earnings, but we are already feeling the love.

Spring 2014 Interchange

A student of sociology at Emory & Henry College came to visit us recently, saying she wanted to do a paper about how sacred architecture reflects the values of the congregation. We showed her around, answered a few questions about our faith, and asked her to send us a copy of her paper. She did, and it was quite wonderful. She described the Meeting House and the Meeting Room, and then said this:

“These aspects of the meetinghouse, along with what’s absent from the space, reflect the values of the Quaker worshipping community. The fact that there is no podium or stage, all of the benches are on the same level, and anyone can sit anywhere, suggests that those who belong to the Quaker tradition are considered equals. No one person has religious authority over other members of the faith, and everyone has an equal right to speak. The simplicity of the exterior and interior of the building suggests that the Quakers are humble. They seem unconcerned with unnecessary and extravagant trimmings, but rather focus on the basic necessities. It also appears that there is a strong sense of community amongst the Quakers. This can be gleaned from the clustering of the rows in the center of the room, and the fact that they face each other. Also, “friends” are encouraged to sit close together in the middle of the room. Outside of the doors to the meeting room is a sign inviting all to enter and participate in Quaker services regardless of their religion. This suggests that the Quakers are generally an accepting open-minded community who are tolerant and welcoming of those who are different. It also appears that Quakers hold some value to nature, due to the well-tended lawn surrounding the meeting house and the small garden plot alongside the back of the house. Rather than selling the extra land, building a parking lot, or some other sort of structure, they’ve made space for nature in the middle of city.”

Friends at FMW are still learning to practice these testimonies of simplicity, equality, humility and open-mindedness, with tangible results.

Fall 2013 Interchange

Our Meeting has responded to a leading by Stephen McNeil of the American Friends Service Committee to gather a meeting during the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington (Dr. King’s “I Had a Dream” march) which is happening at the end of August. We will have a called Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Bayard Rustin, the Quaker organizer of that march, at our Meeting House starting at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, August 25. This will be followed by a showing of the biopic “Brother Outsider,” and a panel discussion. We got an e-mail from Sandy Robson at FCNL, who is organizing a joint meeting of her organization and AFSC to discuss “A New Quaker Vision for Foreign Policy.” Our Peace & Social Concerns Committee has taken this on. This has also been a month of deeper understanding of the edges of life, as we hold our dear Friends Sara Satterthwaite and Bill Cousins in the Light. Both passed away peacefully on Wednesday, July 31, surrounded by their families. We thank them for their lives, and all that they taught us about love.

Winter 2013 Interchange

The Holiday Season was especially lively and joyful at FMW. We started off the festivities with our 21st annual Shoebox Project. Friends gathered to assemble, stuff, wrap, and distribute more than 1,000 boxes filled with practical items for D.C.’s homeless citizens. The Christmas Eve turkey potluck featured the traditional carol sing, worship, and holiday spread and was well attended by old Friends and new ones. Lizzie Williams performed a tribute she had written for the people of Newtown, Connecticut. Friends who were not fortunate enough to hear Lizzie and her friend Sita perform the tribute that night can find it on YouTube. Many Friends gathered at the Meeting House on New Year’s Day for a workshop on the Peace Testimony, following a curriculum developed by Britain Yearly Meeting. The next week, the Mary Jane Simpson Scholarship Committee held its annual Barbara Nnoka Memorial Luncheon to raise money for its program. The committee, which is jointly administered by FMW and Bethesda Friends Meeting, offers college scholarships to graduates of DC public schools. This year the luncheon raised more than $2,500. The luncheon is named in memory of Barbara Nnoka, and FMW member who shepherded the program for many years.

Winter 2012 Interchange

During the last of 2011, Friends Meeting of Washington welcomed several new members and transfers. The Membership Committee has been contacting Associate Members who are over 25 to ask whether they wish to apply for full membership. Elizabeth Kendall and Sasan Sabet were married under the care of our Meeting at Sidwell Friends Upper School on January 15, 2012. On October 16, 2011 we held a Memorial Meeting for Michael Jack, who died on August 22, 2011.

Lively and engaged discussions have taken place in efforts to help hard of hearing F/friends. Benches have been experimentally moved around in attempts to help everyone hear. The Ministry & Worship Committee has undertaken a survey in an attempt to facilitate this process. For many has resulted in discussion of what it means to be community. The FMW Property Committee has been very active remodeling, renovating and updating our buildings, particularly Quaker House. The FMW community has turned out and supported works days. In early January, Ken Orvis was hired as the Interim Property Manager.

The Occupy Wall Street/Occupy DC movement has also engaged the FMW community as it looks at ways of supporting this grass roots movement that is still in changing and development. In November, the Personal Aid Committee sponsored a well-attended “End of Life“ workshop where practical matters surrounding advancing years, death, wills, powers of attorney, and care-taking for others were addressed. In December, the FMW community came together to support the Shoe Box project. This annual project consists of assembling, filling and wrapping over 1200 boxes that are distributed to area shelters. The boxes are filled with personal hygiene items—such as soap, socks, and underwear. They are gender-specific and many are made for children.

Fall 2011 Interchange

During the first half of 2011, our Meeting has taken under its care the marriages and weddings of Mark Meinke and Frank Taylor; Jorge Sanchez and Mimi (Margaret) Edwards; and Alex Painter and Sarah Apgar.

The Ministry & Worship Committee received over 145 responses to a Spiritual State of the Meeting questionnaire that it posted on the Meeting’s email list. The Committee prepared from those responses the most comprehensive Spiritual State of the Meeting report in recent memory. The Membership Committee has conducted a worship sharing session on the meaning of membership and contacted many non-resident members who have not in touch with the Meeting for some time.

Our First Day School is growing. During the 2010-2011 school year the First Day School and Child Care program served an estimated 83 children and 38 families compared to the previous school year when 62 children and 30 families were served.

The Property Committee has been leading community work days and working with contractors to improve our space. Nonprofit groups focusing primarily on human rights now share our refurbished space in Quaker House and Carriage House. These include the local AFSC program, Promundo, Tostan, the Peace Tax Fund and GreeneWorks. More costly changes to our property are being considered by the Capital Improvement Task Force, which is attempting to discern a plan on which the Meeting will unite and support financially to make our space handicapped accessible, green, free from water intrusion and more “user friendly.”

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