Response to Open Letter

by Antonia Saxon
Ithaca Meeting

This article is part of a series on the subject. We encourage the reader to read each part to understand the full context:

Context from the Summer Sessions Minutes
Ministry & Counsel Gatherings Concern, an open letter by Mary Pagurelias, Brooklyn Meeting
Response to Open Letter, by Antonia Saxon, Ithaca Meeting
An Elder’s Reflection on NYYM Summer Sessions, by Anne Pomeroy, New Paltz Meeting


I am moved to try to respond to this letter (from Mary Pagurelias), and especially to the strong emotions of outrage and indignation in it.


Despite the strong emotions, the letter gives me a sense of hope. The person who wrote it regrets the harm that racism causes. She feels deep sympathy with that hurt and she says she is committed to struggling against it. Her indignation is directed towards some of the ways Friends are trying to struggle against it.


The letter also gives me hope because this is a better place for the yearly meeting to be. It says that Friends in the yearly meeting, most of whom are European-Americans, are in conflict about working out ways to address structural racism, racism that’s part of Friends’ institutions. At Summer Sessions this year, 80 Friends attended the Tuesday and Thursday workshops on anti-racism practices. Friends don’t always agree about the words that are used to talk about racial inequality and injustice, or about practices to address them, but they feel the injustice, and they know change is up to us.


The letter charges that New York Yearly Meeting is only interested in writing an antiracist statement and hasn’t gone to local meetings and churches to uncover stories and experiences of the pain of racism. It’s important to remember the yearly meeting sent out a team of Friends to visit local meetings to hear their concerns about racism as far back as 2014. Those efforts seemed to go largely unnoticed by local meetings at the time.


The letter mourns the incident in which a Friend was singled out in public at Summer Sessions. It was a terrible moment. In trying to address harm, a Friend was hurt, and others saw that hurt. The conflict was immediately addressed in private afterward. A public statement could have been made about how it was resolved, but wasn’t; that may not have seemed like the best way to go forward to all who were involved.


Some Friends have said that within the Society of Friends, race should not matter. In the Spirit, this point of view argues, all Friends are one. Talking about difference creates division.


For me it has felt truer and more illuminating to understand difference as flowing from God. To see and welcome difference is to rejoice in God’s endless power to create. I can’t grow in faith without difference.


And I can’t grow in faith without indignation and anger, either. When I seek quiet, civil discourse, I am almost always shutting someone down. If Friends have to express indignation and anger to bring attention to wrongs they have suffered, I will grow by hearing it.


At a meeting for worship not long ago, a Friend spoke passionately about wanting to feel fully included. “Don’t just tolerate us!” they said. Anti-racism work is not separate from growing in the Spirit. It is central to it.