This year, my experience at FGC's summer Gathering was so-so. Nothing compared to last year's Gathering, in which I led a well-received workshop and found opportunities to connect with and worship with young adult Friends.
Still, there are some highlights worth mentioning, the most significant of which is the interest group about Quaker renewal and Convergent Friends. (Robin M. has a fine definition of Convergent Friends, by the way.)
On Fire! interest group
On Sunday night, the evening before the interest groups were to be convened, Robin M. and Martin Kelley and I got together to consider how we might set up and organize the On Fire! interest group. We had an energetic conversation, just the thing I needed to get stoked and fired up for the next night's event.
Robin had put forward the topic for a round of introductions, suggesting "Name one spiritual discipline or practice you use that brings you joy or somehow sustains you."
Then it was suggested that this be carried out in a "worshipful frame," so that Friends would be less likely to take the time to explain why that practice was significant to them. Since more than 40 Friends attended the session, introductions could easily have expanded to fill nearly an hour of time, so we did well to set the expectation that (1) the sharing be brief and that (2) we take time between each person's introduction to receive and "absorb" what was shared.
Martin, Robin, and I also agreed that we would start with a decent amount of worship and then share our own stories of how we came to lend our voice to the growing movement among Friends for a renewal of certain practices and a convergence among the branches.* What ultimately emerged from our own sharing was that we had set the stage for others to share deeply as well.
I don't know what I had been expecting--a few questions about our life as Quaker bloggers? a challenge about how Quakerism can't or shouldn't be brought into a venue such as the internet?--so I was delighted to hear from others about their own experience in having navigated, traversed, and transcended the schisms that typically keep us Quakers in our own geographic and theological boxes.
There was a reference to the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theological Conference, for example, which appears to be scheduled for September 2006. (Sadly, my Google search did not turn up a decent website for this conference.) And there were other stories of how the Living Christ has brought Friends together in small and large ways.
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A side note: Of the three of us who convened the interest group, I would say I am the least "convergent" of us. That is, I am still establishing and strengthening relationships with liberal and Conservative Friends who believe in Christ Jesus, and have not ventured very far afield in exploring relationships with Friends from EFI or FUM.
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After so much talk of and witness to the power of Christ in our journey among Friends, the concern was raised that we not turn into a "Christian glee club." Clearly there were more stories to be shared and questions to be asked and answered, but instead we found ourselves falling into a deep and gathered worship.
I can only point to how well Martin, Robin, and I had come to the interest group "with hearts and minds prepared," and how most of us in that room shared a belief in the ability to know God directly when we stop and listen together out of worship.
It was hard to break worship and close our session, but as Martin has written elsewhere, the cell phone of a Friend--who was giving vocal ministry at the time--went off. We had a good chuckle, the Friend rather hurriedly finished the message and abashedly sat down, and Martin offered a beautiful segue by articulating that we ourselves had not broken worship yet it was time to go.
It was clear that Something was among us that had moved us into a deep place that night.
Martin then invited Friends to continue our conversations throughout the week, adding that there would be an informal gathering with young Friends that night who were offering and/or participating in other interest groups--one on FGC's new Youth Ministries Program and another on the 2005 World Gathering of Young Friends.
Intergenerational meet-up afterwards
On Martin's suggestion, a number of us wandered over to the prominent clock tower on campus, and got into a wonderful intergenerational conversation with about 20 Friends, including a handful of bloggers. At first we shared how our respective interest group experiences went... and then we started talking about the state of FGC's age-segregated Gathering.
One Friend commented on the difficulty of bringing us together in an intergenerational community when there are concurrent activities that clearly break us up along age lines--such as having an interest group dedicated to young Friends, which was occurring at the same time when fFriends of young Friends were conducting other interest groups!
There were other comments about how well certain yearly meetings were doing in embracing and integrating young Friends, too, which were valuable affirmations to hear.
And then came a question that I couldn't have anticipated:
Why don't older Friends talk to us? asked a young Friend.We fell into silence, holding that question. It was a question I felt called to answer.
I'm afraid of you, I answered plainly. I don't want to intrude, so I hang back and give you space. Plus, I had such a miserable time in middle school and high school--I wasn't surrounded by Quaker teens and supportive Quaker adults--and I am only now beginning to have some healing about that. I don't know how to connect with young people because I've gotten older and my life is so different now. Plus I don't always know how to invite you into things that other adults at Meeting are talking about...I don't remember what else was said after that, but I remember feeling grounded and cared for after having spoken.
We were under that clock tower for an hour or hour and a half, when I discovered that yes, the Pacific Northwest does have mosquitoes. But that meet-up was another highlight of my time at the Gathering.
So much to do, so little time
The Gathering was so incredibly FULL this year, probably because it was one day shorter than it usually is. FGC was concerned that east-coast Friends wouldn't come if they didn't have an extra day to travel... (Never mind that many east-coast Friends still did not come, but many more western US, Canadian, and Alaskan Friends did!) So here is a list of things I didn't squeeze into my schedule, for one reason or another.
Oh well. There's always next year, in River Falls, Wisconsin!
The forum and follow-up discussion on the continued concern about the status of the Quaker sweatlodge workshop. The meetings for worship with attention to healing racism. The noon sings. Hearing Kody sing at the Lemonade Art Gallery. A number of films that were shown during the week. Meetings for Worship with attention to Business, for Friends for LGBTQ Concerns. And impromptu conversations that probably happened at the main dining room, where I visited only one meal a day, late in the evening.
*Be sure to look at a related post and great comments about what Convergent Friends may and may not mean.
1. Photo of bloggers at the interest group
2. Other posts about the 2006 Gathering:
Paul L reflects on many good things that happened there Rebecca writes about a Meeting for Worship on the train Robin M. describes how we set the stage for a firey interest group Martin adds his take to the interest group... and creates a list of Gathering-related posts at the end of his entry, too (my list and his list are slightly different, fyi) Timothy wonders about the use of the word 'Convergent' at the interest group Pam questions the format of Gathering workshops