Reflections: Nurturing the Nurturers Conference

Walking Gently Over the Earth at Penn Center

by Penny Wright

Walking Gently Over the Earth at Penn Center
Powder fine dun sand
Alabaster chunks of shells
Slippery russet melange of pine needles and live oak leaves
Prickly pitchy pine cones, semi gnawed by squirrels
Scattered whisps of pretend-green Spanish moss
Hop scotch splotches of warm sun
Baby breath breezes stirring the air
Chirruping and tweeting chorus of birds
Faint aroma of sea scent

Sobs from the soul
Praise from the heart
Groans of pain
Sighs of Peace
Astonishment of answered prayer
This Little Light of Mine . . .

Infused with the Living Reality of the Divine.

Penny Wright has been a member of Nashville Monthly Meeting since 1982 and currently serves as Clerk of Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association. Her poems are almost exclusively an outcome of worship, the first one coming to her after attending her first FGC Gathering at Oberlin. “Poetry has always seemed to me to be the expression of the poet’s soul, and as such I have found it difficult to read as I often felt that it was presumptuous of me to try to interpret someone else. I have been astounded by the poems that come through me and can only explain them as another form of messages from the holy silence.

Lesson Learned

by Ernie Buscemi

I’m writing this article still sorting through a full range of emotions from my experience at the Nurturing the Nurturers Conference at the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, South Carolina. And as time goes by, the lessons for me become clearer and I’m still in the process of learning.

For the first time a conference was designed to bring nurturers together in a safe space to listen and to talk about caring for ourselves. I’m an Afro-American woman who spends time at the United Nations, my monthly meeting and Quaker organizations working on racial issues. I came to this conference for the opportunity to drink at the well that so many others are led to by our nurturing. And a special workshop for Friends of Color had been prepared in which we could express our thoughts about nurturing and being nurtured. So I came with anticipation and questions swirling through my head: How did we nurture our selves after taking care of people in our meeting, on committees, at work and at play? Where do you as a Friend of color draw your strength? I wanted some insight from Friends in the workshop that would truly nourish my soul, to come away with a practice, share reading and skills for coping when you can’t teach another “lesson.” These are the things that would make the conference a success in my eyes.

A personal joy was St. Helena Island and the Penn Center–steeped in the history of the Sea Islands and Gullah culture, having an opportunity each morning to walk the grounds and surrounding area with the breeze blowing through the trees whispering, “We are here to give you strength.” The ground itself vibrating under my feet kept we aware of the newness of the territory and the connectiveness of all my people. A treasure of a lifetime, little did I realize I would be drawing from this energy.

On Friday evening conference clerk Allen Oliver spoke of wanting to attend the Nurturing People of Color workshop and how he had come to understand that this would undermine the purpose of the workshop. However, not everyone was able to understand the limits set forth. So the workshop started with anger, pain and struggle, unable to proceed as it was intended. I found myself unable to center, asking the question, “God, why?” I left that morning session drained, trying hard to hear and feel the Truth. I remember being cradled in my husband’s arms because I needed to feel safe. The walk to the motel where we stayed was eerie because of the silence. I stayed in my room praying for guidance until evening. Then a new chapter started and way opened with people who didn’t know me just wanting to help any way they could. The clerk of the conference and the FGC staff were very concerned, supportive and nurturing.

My lasting memory of the conference occurred the next morning after walking the surrounding area and coming to clearness about the workshop-Yes, I must return! When I placed my hand on the doorknob I said, “God!” He answered by saying, “Here I am.” Outside the workshop room there were faces I knew and some I didn’t know, sitting in a circle, holding the workshop and Friends of Color in worship. These caring white Friends were putting themselves on the line so that the workshop could continue as planned. Thus I was able to be nurtured, to drink at the well, thirst quenched, lesson learned. Thanks be to God.

Ernie Buscemi attends Morningside Monthly Meeting and New York Yearly Meeting. She and her husband Vince are co-clerks of the Gathering 2000 to be held in Rochester, NY.

Healing the Wounds

by Robert Duncan

The Nurturing the Nurturers Conference rocked me in a cradle of quiet beautiful surroundings, simple comforts and good fellowship at a long distance from the pressures of my busy life. Even more important than the physical nurturing, was the spiritual inspiration that came from witnessing peoples’ capacity to overcome the wounds we carry from the racist history of our country.

I am active in a “Bridging Cultural Diversity” book group in my town. Our reading and discussions have sensitized me to the grinding cultural suppression that was part of the system of slavery and to the difficulty we now have establishing communication between blacks and whites whose life experiences and perceptions are so different. My experience of the Gullah culture on St. Helena Island, South Carolina where the conference was held reinforced my understanding that the African people who were dragged here as slaves had a culture that was powerful and beautiful. The history of the Gullah community was expertly presented by the staff of Penn Center which hosted us. The warmth of the staff which seems to be characteristic of the Gullah culture was also manifest in a presentation by former students at Penn School. The school, with some assistance from Quakers, was one of the few places blacks could get an education at that time.

An evening out to a local restaurant gave me another taste of the culture. All of these tidbits powerfully coalesced in the presentation of the film, The Language You Cry In by Joe Opala, the scholar in residence at Penn Center, whose research the film documents. This film dramatically tells the story of how an African song passed down from mother to daughter even during slavery was discovered in the sea islands nearby. It goes on to document how the family who knew the song was able to travel to Sierra Leone where the women in a particular village still know the song and it’s meaning of connection. They were welcomed at a tearful reunion that helped heal wounds suffered on both sides of the Atlantic.

The capacity to overcome wounds and establish communication between blacks and whites came alive in Deborah Saunders’ plenary presentation. Her courage and frank reliance on the Spirit were manifest in stories from her personal life as well as working through how to relate to a white man from a very different background and viewpoint who was at the conference.

The richness and breadth of the conference touched me in many other ways through workshops, worship and worship sharing groups. I returned restored and ready to continue my work of nurturing others.

Robert Duncan is a member of Adelphi Friends Meeting of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. He has attended every FGC Gathering since 1991 and is currently a central committee member. His calling to nurture others is largely expressed through youth work; serving on the religious education committee and co-coordinating the Junior High programs at the FGC (Junior Gathering) and monthly meeting levels.

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