[saymaListserv] What should we call an Oversight Committee?

Larry Ingle lingle at bellsouth.net
Sat Mar 11 12:14:41 JEST 2006

I'm afraid my ideas may not coincide with those David Clements and Asheville
Friends are concerned with.  My short advice is that Asheville Friends
should not change its use of "Oversight Committee" simply because some, both
black and white, have criticized use of the term.

Just because the word (more usually "overseer") was used during the period
of slavery should not negate its usage by Friends.  According to my Shorter
Oxford English Dictionary, the term "oversight" is one from middle English,
which predates African-American slavery.  It is defined as "the action or an
act of overseeing something; supervision, inspection; charge, care,
control."  If that's not a useful definition of what an Oversight Committee
does in a Quaker marriage ceremony, I can't think of a better one; David
Clements is apparently having problems doing so as well.

Moreover, the same dictionary has, as one of its definitions of "overseer":
"a member of the Society of Friends responsible for the supervision of his
or her congregation."  Interestingly, the dictionary does not mention the
use of the term on slave planatations.

It strikes me that laying the term down is comparable to those who outlawed
the sweat lodge ceremony from FGC's gathering merely because someone cried
"racism" or "cultural imperialism."

For what it's worth.

Larry Ingle
Chattanooga Meeting

From: Evdavwes at aol.com
Date: Sat, 11 Mar 2006 06:47:01 EST
To: sayma at kitenet.net
Subject: [saymaListserv] What should we call an Oversight Committee?

Dear SAYMA Friends,

I thought some of you might have some ideas about this.

I am on an ad hoc committee creating a procedure for marriage for Asheville
Friends Meeting.  Our Meeting has in the past made marriage decisions on a
case-by-case basis.  We have not had an official procedure, but we have been
aware of and sometimes cite SAYMA's Faith and Practice for guidance without
having agreed that it will be "our procedure."

Traditionally among friends the "Oversight Committee for marriage" oversees
the ceremony.  We are uncomfortable with the words "overseer" and
"oversight."  They describe well what is intended by an "oversight
committee," but, as Friends may be aware, they are rejected by many
African-American Friends because of their connotation regarding slavery.

I wish the slavemasters had appointed "supervisors" or "managers" or
"bosses" or "executive assistants" instead of "overseers."

So what other words are there that we might use to describe the Committee
that carries out a marriage?  Supervision, Guidance, Eldering, Steering,
Support?  Sometimes we have used the phrase "Support Committee" to describe
a committee that should be giving Guidance and Eldering to the person who is
the focus of the Committee.  But "Support" leaves out so much that is
important to Friends -- the sense that one is not acting alone, but with the
Guidance and Support of others who are seeking together to find the will of

I'd love to have any thoughts on this, whether privately or on this list.

In Friendship,

David Clements


David Clements, Evan Richardson, Wesley Clements, Lila Richardson
43 Vermont Court, #G24
Asheville, NC 28806

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