June 4, 2005

Worship for graduating seniors

Several weeks ago, the monthly meeting announced a Meeting for Worship with attention to Graduating High School Seniors. I was thrilled! It seemed like such an appropriate form to mark that significant transition for these young adults. I put it in my calendar and offered to bring food for afterwards.

When I walked into the meetingroom last night, I had to come face to face with an expectation I hadn't known I was carrying. I had given this event the same weight as a Quaker wedding or Quaker memorial, an event where nearly the entire community comes out to bear witness to the occasion.

Not so last night. Those who showed up who were not related to or dating one of the graduating seniors numbered fewer than 10. Those who didn't show up? About another 100-150 Friends.

Thankfully, I was able to lay my sadness and frustration aside, staying present to the occasion that brought us together. Memories of Martin Kelley's ministry around integrating young adult Friends into our meetings rested themselves next to my own quiet thoughts, as a few parents spoke through tears about seeing their babies all grown up and about to leave the nest. I wasn't going to be surprised if a message arose within me to send these young adults on their way, but I didn't want to be pedantic, gushy, or ageist.

I listened.

The two First Day School teachers spoke very movingly about how these young Friends "modeled" for them the passion each of them had for being spiritual seekers. These older Friends also spoke about how they often chose to opt out of worship when they were not scheduled to be with the high school program, and sneak off to the high schoolers' room anyway, just to be with them. I noted how each of the young Friends smiled at the older Friends' words, nodded their heads occasionally, and simply looked more attentive. It was clear to me that the connections between the teachers and the teens were authentic, were valued, and were reciprocal.

There were many tears that night, mostly from parents. Apart from the welcoming remarks made by the M&C member, no one from the larger community had spoken. I was in that familiar place, sensing that what was occurring was, in the manner of weddings and memorials, akin to worship sharing rather than traditional waiting worship.

I risked standing, having a nudge to lift up something the First Day School teachers had said—and what they hadn't:

I want to lift up what I'm hearing from those Friends who worked with you this past year. They didn't use this word, but it's what I've been hearing:

      Each of you has ministered to these Friends.

Each of you has brought forward your view of things, your unique take on whatever the topic was, and these two Friends have been moved by your ministry.

As you continue walking along your path, you will not be released from being true to how you are called. Whether or not you stay among Quakers, or you leave and return, or go elsewhere, you still will be responsible for being who you are, at that deep level. You still will be challenged to be faithful to that inward level of knowing how you are called to be in the world...
I said some other things, about inviting them to consider that they are released from the expectations that others have put on them, such as their parents and those Friends in Meeting who have known them for so many years.

A few minutes later, worship was broken and most of us headed downstairs for fellowship.

One graduating Friend in particular sought me out and said something I never expected to hear:
Liz, will you come to the high school program's Meetings for Worship with attention to Business during the Gathering?
I've put the two evenings on my calendar.



Martin Kelley said...

Hi Liz,
One interesting thing that came up at the youth ministries retreat was a feeling from the High School Friends that the transition from HS to college is very over-rated by older Friends. A few of them shrugged it off as one of the least important of the transitions happening in their lives and talked about how boorish it was that they were always asked about it at Meeting ("when I first started dating, that's was the hardest transition I wished older Friends had asked me about!").

I wonder if it's the recipricality of the relationship between the students and teachers--the impression you convey that they knew modeling and mentorship could go both ways--that made a difference in this situation?
Your Friend Martin at Quaker Ranter

Anonymous said...

Our Meeting has another senior graduating from high school this year. The last one we had was about four years ago, I think, he had grown up in our Meeting, but drifted away in high school. We, the Children's Relig. Ed committee, gave him a copy of John Woolman's Journal as a gift, and the Clerk wrote him a letter of introduction to take to the Meeting nearest where he was going to college. We had a circle around the fellowship hall after meeting for worship and some cake, I think.

This year's graduate has started attending a couple of years ago, when his family was blended with a regular attender's family. We are going to also give him a copy of John Woolman's journal, just because that was the precedent, but the FDS teacher thinks this young man would rather have a copy of Faith and Practice. I'm not sure at this point what we'll do. I already received the JWJ, which I rush ordered from Quakerbooks.org last Sunday night, but an earlier order of a box of F&P has not arrived yet (from a different source).

Liz Opp said...

Martin, I often wonder if it is the nation's doing that certain transitions in our lives are either lifted up (weddings, having a baby) or played down (graduations, first dates) or played up "artificially" (confirmation, bar/bat mitzvahs).

Robin, has the Religious Education Committee thought about offering several books to young Friends and letting them pick whichever one might best speak to them? Such was what I was offered when I was welcomed by M&C into the monthly meeting after my membership was approved. (I was given a choice between several books of Faith & Practice, to my delight.)

It is hard to know, to discern, how to remain a Friendly presence to those who go off to college or move to a new city where priorities will shift, life will have a whole new rhythm, and Quaker worshp just may not be on the radar screen... Maybe things like the online Quaker community at LiveJournal would help, especially if we would connect young Friends with these resources before they head to college.

Just a thought...


Anonymous said...

Many meetings give subscriptions to Friends Journal to new members if they don't already subscribe.

It is also the practice in many meetings to give a 9-month gift subscriptions to Friends Journal to their college students. Because Friends Journal provides so many opportunities to dig deeper into Friends (not only from the articles per se, but from the connections to which they lead), it is a particularly efficient and valuable gift. (I would say this even if I weren't a member of its board, which I am, but the reader may want to know about this bias). Here's the link to the gift subscription page:


Liz Opp said...

Thanks, Paul!

Anonymous said...

Our Meeting gives a gift subscription to Friends Bulletin, the magazine of Pacific YM, North Pacific YM and Intermountain YM, to our new members.

To our graduating seniors, I think it is important that we give something that they can hold onto, even as they change addresses, that we give something that is "grown-up" and something that is challenging now and will be whenever they come around to actually reading it. One of my favorite true stories is of a weighty Friend from a neighboring Meeting, who was introduced to Friends by first reading The Journal of John Woolman when he was probably 20 years old, and serving in Vietnam. It was just in a shipment of books that someone sent to the troops.

Claire said...

As a Friend who just graduated high school, I feel the need to throw in a comment.

Liz - what I first would like to say is that when I read that you plan to come to the HS program's Meetings for Worship with attention to Business, my heart did leap with excitement and joy! (I actually did gasp a deep gasp with startled joy). This is because these particular Meetings for Business have been one of the greatest experiences of inspiration in my life. Last Gathering I served on the Nurture Committee and felt a growing leading to clerk during the entire week. I accepted a nomination to be considered, and anxiously waited on the decision of the Discernment committee. Lo and behold, I am now one of the HS Program's six clerks this coming Gathering - of the six clerks, there are two presiding clerks, a recording clerk, and a supporting clerk, who all sit at the table during the Meeting, and then also the two Nurture Committee (or whatever official name it has now - it's changed a couple times recently) co-clerks - I am one of the Nurture Committee clerks.

There is a great power and love among young Friends in the high school group each Gathering that is so often overlooked in the wider Gathering. I am waiting with great anticipation to return to Gathering (2 1/2 weeks to go), and am also quite excited about the experience you will have when attending these Meetings for Business.

Now, back on topic, I would like to address the transition from High School to College as someone currently somewhere in the middle of that process. There seems to be general discussion about how to address such a transition, but I think the case is actually somewhat situational. I don't feel that I can speak for a great many other young Friends, but in terms of Meeting, I did not feel any sort of huge transition upon graduating - this is probably mostly due to the fact that I stopped attending First Day School a year and a half ago, mid-way through my Junior year. In my meeting, most of the young Friends come to meeting irregularly with nonchalance, and from what I have seen, don't seem to be incredibly committed to Quaker ways (though I do realize I could be wrong on this). When a young person in meeting graduates, the meeting presents him or her with a Quaker book with an inscription on the inside cover in front of everyone present after Meeting for Worship one day, and that's that. I've begun an attempt to address the issue of getting young Friends more involved in my local meeting, but it's hard to ask for and look for energy in a place where there just isn't any. I'm not giving up, I'm running out of time.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this right now - this is just my two cents for the time being.



Anonymous said...

One of the futher things that I am looking at is how to approach young Friends about becoming more directly involved in the Meeting, i.e. serving on a committee, etc, when that young Friend hasn't expressed that interest. My gut feeling is that the summer before a person starts college may be a little too late. I don't know, this particular Friend isn't going very far, maybe he'll still come to our Meeting. But how can we reach out to the younger Friends, the 11-15 year olds, to invite them to participate more fully, so that they don't fall out, so that they find the power and passion (and bring their own) in Meeting? [This is largely a rhetorical question, but if anyone has a good answer, I'm open to hearing it.]

My children are still quite young, but I think we're doing all right by them. Not perfect, but not too bad. My own Quaker experience started at 23, right after college, and I have definite opinions about Young Adult Friends. But my high school years were very involved in a different but similar sort of youth club - at the local and statewide level, and I haven't seen deeply involved Quaker teenagers in between Yearly Meeting sessions. I'm personally not sure how to work in this gap of my Quaker experience.

Liz Opp said...

Two quick replies to comments:

Claire, thanks for such an honest, visceral comment. I look forward to seeing you at Gathering, God willing! I hadn't understood how the "six clerks" thing worked for the High School program. Something tells me I'm about to be put on a steep learning curve! smile

Robin, no real answers here about young Friends on committees, other than to say I've served on two committees with high school Friends. One was a committee in which only one HS Friend served. I fear he felt tokenized... The second was a committee in which there were 2 HS Friends, and I think this worked better: They fed off of each other; they were given more weight, simply because there was more than just one HS Friend.

I should also add, the first committee was more procedural related (Nominating); the second was more big-picture stuff, which included ways to include the larger meeting (the ad hoc Visioning Committee).