Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gender balance among Friends – FUM Part 4

During the final business session on Saturday, the only one in which we conducted any actual business, someone asked, during the Nominating Committee report, how many of the trustees were women. The answer was one, Betsy Muench from New England. I don't remember if there was an explicit request that the Nominating Committee consider issues of gender balance but the implication hung in the air.

At another time, someone commented privately about the leadership of FUM is almost exclusively male but the work is all done by women. The entire North American paid staff is made up of women. Most of the pastors in FUM are men. As I started noticing this and started thinking about it, my first thought was there was something wrong with this. There is a noticeable gender imbalance. Then I thought some more. Not so long that my thinker got sore, but I remembered something.

When I attended the FGC Traveling Ministries retreat last March I had a question for Deborah Fisch, the FGC staff person for the program, “Where are the men?” Of the sixty or so attendees the men could have been counted on the fingers of one hand. The current clerk of New England Yearly Meeting is the only male to hold that position in the past 20 years. I am not sure that unprogrammed Friends necessarily do any better at gender balance but it goes the other way.

By having a paid pastorate, programmed Friends provide a way for men to participate in leadership. By insisting on free ministry, unprogrammed Friends limit who can take on leadership positions. It makes it very difficult for anyone who is the primary wage-earner for their family. In our North American society those primary wage-earners are still mostly men. There are very few opportunities for unprogrammed Friends to support themselves doing Quaker work. People can be involved as young adults before they have responsibilities or they can get involved when they retire. I am able to travel as much as I do because I have been in my job long enough to get 4 weeks of vacation a year, but this is an exception. And even with this, it means that my wife and I don't get as many vacation trips together as we would like. At the Triennial I spoke with a pastor who seemed taken aback when I mentioned that I was there on my vacation. For many of the attendees, this was part of their job.

Both approaches have strengths but each produces their own characteristic imbalances. I have no suggestions. This is just something I noticed.

Blessings to all

Will T


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Interesting commentary. I am the clerk of an unprogrammed meeting in rural MD, affiliated with both FGC and FUM. I can't recall when or if our meeting had a female clerk although the other meetings in our quarter are evenly divided with male and female clerks.

I can't speak for all unprogrammed meetings but we seem to be rather more balanced than your experience suggests. I can say I agree that it is difficult to do much travelling to conferences, yearly meetings and the like.

Tony Breda
Pipe Creek Mtg

July 26, 2008 9:09 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Hi Tony,
My experience is indeed that local liberal monthly meetings on the whole make real attempts to maintain gender balance. This is also easier to do in a local community where everyone is a volunteer, no travel is involved and the work can be done in a couple of hours a week.

I was thinking about the larger organizations and how our theology, cultural assumptions and organizational structures make a difference as to who is available to do the work. It is easy to notice the imbalance but I don't see much of a discussion in any group about structural changes to address it.

Will T

July 26, 2008 9:46 PM  
Blogger Jeanne said...


I've had similar questions in the past (like when I was working in the kitchen on Fellowship committee, washing dishes alongside a man from Meeting and one person poked his head in the kitchen and said, "Thanks, ladies.")

And now I wonder about how gender and social class overlap. Women and men, generally, do different things when they have class privilege. I think of the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation and how it wouldn't have been created (or created as early) if Melinda hadn't been in the picture.

I wonder how the ministry breaks down by social class. Are the men who are involved in FGC's traveling ministry program only the very well-heeled? Do the wealthy women in FUM refused paid positions because the money is better spent on a salary for someone who needs it?


July 27, 2008 4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, in unprogrammed-land the landscape is tilted against various groups' involvement. I don't think it is by design. But unfortunately, the way things have been structured means that a lot of functions are done by retirees. I don't see a ton of gender imbalance. If there is, it isn't enormous. There are also functions which are near-impossible for parents of small children.

I am not happy about the above imbalances (with respect to retirees and with respect to families with small children). All the solutions require serious rethinking about "Structure".

July 28, 2008 11:39 PM  

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