July 14, 2005

Continued reflections on Gathering:
Young Friends

One of the highlights of the week at Gathering for me was the opportunity to participate in an intergenerational interest group on Tuesday night, the night when all interest groups were convened in lieu of a plenary session.

But it isn't appropriate for me to share what happened at that interest group without giving some context of what led up to my participating in it.

As mentioned elsewhere, I had been invited by one of the high school co-clerks to attend their Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business. I was able to attend on Sunday night, at least for a decent chunk of the first business session. Granted, throughout the week I was making a lot of late-night choices based on (1) my responsibilities as a workshop leader; (2) my endurance to traverse campus with a bad ankle; and (3) the availability of golf-carts at night to help with transportation. Nevertheless, I sensed an opening was in the making, so I kept my personal commitment to the high school program and to the young Friends who had expressed enthusiasm and openness for my being there.

That Sunday night was a long time ago. I was keenly aware of the invitation for me, an adult Friend, to be in another group's space. So, before Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business began, when everyone but co-clerks were asked to wait outside and hold the silence, I didn't assert my "adult privilege." I went outside too, and I waited.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Occasionally on Monday and Tuesday, I'd pass Claire [Spiritual Journeys], or Erik or Inez from the meeting back home. There wasn't really a way to start a conversation: one or the other of us was always off to another meeting, another event, another golf-cart ride.

But I was changed because of my witness of the high school's Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business and because of the felt Presence of the Spirit among these young Friends. I saw high schoolers and young adult Friends through new eyes as a result.

Tuesday evening rolled around, and I had no idea what group I'd go to, if any at all. As I hobbled into the dining center, though, I saw the big piece of flip-chart paper taped onto the doorway:

Right away, I understood where I was called to be.

I ate quickly, never knowing how quickly a golf-cart will appear after dinner, and not quite sure where the entrance to Owens Ballroom was, since I had failed to find it a previous time earlier in the week.

(Owens is a building in the shape of an H, with doors at all four outer wings, as well as doors in the "crosspiece." But wings were not connected and could really only be accessed through the outside doors, meaning quite a long trek around the building and up and down stairs before finding the wing, the door, and the room that you were looking for.)

Anyway, I arrived safely and promptly at the ballroom, along with nearly 50 or 60 other young Friends, adult young Friends, and adult Friends. We introduced ourselves, of course, and then soon moved into an exercise called "Four Corners." It's very much like the exercise of creating a spectrum or continuum in the room, where a question is asked and participants are to place themselves in the spectrum according to the degree to which they agree or disagree with a statement. Four Corners, though, allows participants to group themselves according to the answer of a multiple-choice question:

  • I first came to Quakerism in my:
    (A) childhood;
    (B) adolescence;
    (C) young adulthood; or
    (D) older adulthood.
    [Some of the youngest Friends there only had two choices to consider...]

  • My meeting supports me in my spiritual journey:
    (A) strongly agree;
    (B) agree;
    (C) disagree; or
    (D) strongly disagree.

    For Friends who didn't fit in a single category, they were invited to sit or stand in the center of the room. Each group, once gathered in their "answer space"—one of the four corners of the room—was then asked to share the main points as to why Friends stood where they did. And for those who found themselves in the center, they too had a chance to speak.

    The Four Corners exercise was a nice way to warm us up without forcing anyone to talk or share from some artificial or lukewarm worship-sharing topic, and it was nice to have the exercise co-facilitated by an adult young Friend and an older adult Friend.

    Afterwards, and appropriately "warmed up," energetic Friend Zachary Moon instructed the group to get into pairs with someone clearly a different age than ourselves. We were then given a roleplay to enact, around an emotional, real-to-life concern, perhaps similar to what he and Martin Kelley had done in their Gathering workshop,"Strangers to the Covenant" (which no longer has an active link, sadly). After a few minutes, we switched partners and roles, and had the whole conversation all over again. The room was filled with energy and excitement, to the extent that the conveners of the interest group could not bring us into worship to close the session.

    We continued raising questions about how to build on this experience, how to keep the communication lines open between young Friends, adult young Friends, and (older) adult Friends. And suddenly, an ad hoc working group of interested Friends was formed, right then and there.

    Most of the 6 or 8 Friends who expressed interest in serving on the working group were able to meet the next day (Wednesday) for lunch, and a minute was drafted to be shared with the FGC Youth Ministries Discernment Committee, with the High School program, with the Adult Young Friends program, and perhaps ultimately with FGC Central Committee.

    The gist of the minute reflects the Opportunity for bridge-building among these groups, alluding to the challenge of addressing items of concern that impact one group or another (such as the still hot-to-the-touch, not-sure-how-to-respond-compassionately-myself Quaker Sweatlodge issue).

    The main logistical challenge is this:
    FGC's Central Committee meets only in the fall and it and its subcommittees are discouraged from conducting business during the Gathering.

    High School and Adult Young Friends conduct business only during the Gathering.
    What's wrong with this picture?

    The High School program apparently was easy with the minute, as it was presented; the Adult Young Friends apparently were not. And the working group is at this time, via email, seeking to understand if there is an ongoing need that it can fill and whether the Spirit might be calling the group to go further with its initial work.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    With such tender and enriching experiences behind me as early as Tuesday of the Gathering, it made clear sense and good order for me to attend the high-school sponsored Meeting for Worship on Wednesday afternoon. It would be hard for me to capture the tenderness, mysticism, and depth of the worship I had experienced there...

    But my hope is that I'll remember to invite other adult Friends to consider rearranging their Gathering schedules in order to be among young Friends for worship, and to share in the Spirit that moves through them in a more alive, vibrant way than it seems to at times among older Friends...

    ...older Friends who, like me, need reminders that I don't have all the answers, and that I can be ministered to and receive eldership—and friendship—from those who are younger in years than I.



    Mark Wutka said...

    Being around Young Friends is a wonderful experience. My wife and I are FAPs (Friendly Adult Presence) and go on retreats almost every month with the YFs from our yearly meeting (SAYF - Southern Appalachian Young Friends). I am always amazed by the care they show one another. They make a special effort to see that everyone is included and no one is left off by themselves.

    When the SAYF retreat was in Atlanta this past January, our grandkids (ages 8 & 11) spent the night with the SAYFers. Even though 8-year-old Kaitlynn was several years from joining SAYF, several Young Friends came and talked to her if they saw she was alone and they made her feel a part of the group.
    We also have a very wonderful, dynamic group of Young Adult Friends in our monthly and yearly meetings.

    I guess the reason I am writing this is that I hope people don't just make an effort to be with Young Friends at the Gathering, but also at their monthly and yearly meetings as well.

    Liz Opp said...

    Thanks for stopping by, Mark, and for lifting up the important point about seeking opportunities outside the Gathering for interacting with Young Friends. I'm reminded that tonight, we are grilling out for 30-35 people, most of them Friends... among whom will be 8-10 young people.


    P.S. Did I meet you briefly at Gathering? I think so...

    Mark Wutka said...

    Yes, we did meet. I saw you at the FLGBTQC worship on first day (I asked if you were Liz from "The Good Raised Up") and then I was also there at the singalong get-together between the New & Peddrew-Yates dorms the last night. I sang "God's Blues".