Friends Familiar with My Struggles

A Guest Piece from ‘Quak­er­s­peak’ C. Reddy.

On April 23 I flew to Ore­gon to serve on an edi­to­r­i­al board for a book that QUIP is putting togeth­er of young Friends’ expe­ri­ences of Quak­erism. After arriv­ing in Ore­gon but before I met with the edi­to­r­i­al board for this, I served on a pan­el with the oth­er young Friends on the edi­to­r­i­al board in a QUIP meet­ing (as we had arrived at the end of a QUIP con­fer­ence for our meet­ing) about how media, print­ed or oth­er­wise, inspired us spir­i­tu­al­ly. As we relat­ed our expe­ri­ences as young Friends (and grow­ing up as Quak­ers), a num­ber of issues sur­faced rather quickly.

As young Friends move through high school and enter the [young] adult world, there is often a gen­er­al lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between young Friends and adults in Meet­ings, as if there’s some ten­sion about it. Per­son­al­ly, as a young Friend in Durham Friends Meet­ing (NCYM(Cons.)), I’ve found that I know cer­tain adults — ones with whom I have inter­act­ed more specif­i­cal­ly over the years as I have grown up. Often these are par­ents of oth­er young Friends in the Meet­ing or peo­ple who have been involved in youth group events. What’s miss­ing is the con­nec­tion to the rest of the adults in Meet­ing; I’ve been attend­ing Durham Friends Meet­ing since I was born (with a peri­od dur­ing mid­dle school where I was most­ly absent, but for the last few years I’ve been quite reg­u­lar in atten­dance) and I feel like most of the meet­ing has no idea who I am. In addi­tion to that, I’ve not known how to com­mu­ni­cate my involve­ment and ded­i­ca­tion in var­i­ous nation­al Quak­er com­mu­ni­ties, such as being cho­sen as one of six co-clerks of the HS pro­gram at FGC Gath­er­ing this sum­mer, my par­tic­i­pa­tion in Young Quakes, my atten­dance at a Pen­dle Hill Clerk­ing work­shop last fall, my involve­ment in this QUIP book, or how I have been read­ing many Quak­er books over the last few months, all of which have been VERY inte­gral in my spir­i­tu­al devel­op­ment. Even Friends in Durham Friends Meet­ing with whom I do con­verse some­times after Meet­ing do not know of all these things with which I am involved.

Also, when I stopped attend­ing First Day school in Jan­u­ary of my junior year in high school (a lit­tle over a year ago) and began attend­ing the full hour of Wor­ship, I spoke to two youth lead­ers about it briefly so they would under­stand, and then there was no fur­ther response. Look­ing back on this, I feel that the Meet­ing should be more involved in such a tran­si­tion for all young Friends — not just those adults direct­ly involved in the youth group/First Day school, but every­one should be more aware and atten­tive of the young Friends in Meet­ing and their involve­ment in Quak­er com­mu­ni­ties out­side of Meeting.

One thing that each of us felt is very impor­tant yet very lack­ing is men­tor­ship with­in Meet­ing for Wor­ship. There need to be adults who are not nec­es­sar­i­ly First Day school teach­ers, youth group lead­ers, or par­ents who are will­ing to have a rela­tion­ship with a young Friend as some­one who has had more expe­ri­ence with Quak­erism and can nur­ture a young Friend’s spir­i­tu­al devel­op­ment. A young Friend who was in Ore­gon with me relat­ed her expe­ri­ences with a men­tor she has at Earl­ham (she is a second-year there, cur­rent­ly), and how she sees him about once a week; often she even receives books to read from him.

As the only active young Friend at my school (I’m sort of the ‘token’ Quak­er around), I usu­al­ly do not have any­one to talk to about my spir­i­tu­al find­ings and lead­ings. As I have con­tin­ued to devel­op spir­i­tu­al­ly, I find more and more I need oth­er Friends to talk who are famil­iar with my struggles.

These are issues not only with­in Durham Friends Meet­ing, but in Meet­ings across the coun­try. I rec­og­nize that there are efforts to improve youth pro­grams every­where, but it nev­er hurts to start locally.

As a grad­u­at­ing senior this year, and as an involved Friend, I would like to improve my rela­tion­ship with the Meet­ing as a whole and make way for bet­ter rela­tion­ships between mem­bers and young Friends in the future. This, how­ev­er, needs to be ful­ly a double-sided effort.

  • Claire, thank you for artic­u­lat­ing the specifics of your expe­ri­ence so well: the need to be respect­ed as a Friend rather than treat­ed like a child; the hunger for mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ships with a Friend who sim­ply has walked the path a bit far­ther than our­selves; the pow­er that the sim­ple act of being known by one oth­er per­son carries.
    I am one of those old­er Friends who is at a loss when it comes to con­nect­ing with younger Friends. Pic­ture a par­ty with two or three dozen of your friends and class­mates, and I’m the one stand­ing in the cor­ner, look­ing at her shoes.
    Thank­ful­ly, the Gath­er­ing has been a place for me to improve (or dis­card) some of my inept social skills, since spir­i­tu­al­ly rich con­ver­sa­tions are prac­ti­cal­ly the norm there, rather than the excep­tion. At the Gath­er­ing, any­thing is pos­si­ble it seems.
    Liz, The Good Raised Up

  • Robin Mohr

    Just a thought, but one of the prob­lems with find­ing men­tors (at least in my Meet­ing) who have had more expe­ri­ence is that many of the adult Friends haven’t had 17 years of Quak­er expe­ri­ence either.
    Have you start­ed to think about how you will men­tor younger Friends? What do you think would be use­ful for mid­dle school Friends? My ulte­ri­or motive in ask­ing is that in my Meet­ing we have a num­ber of young peo­ple approach­ing that age, and they don’t know what to ask for yet, so maybe you could help me and oth­ers to be bet­ter able to be here for them.

  • I think the first step in this whole process is healthy dia­logue. I know that many young Friends don’t think much about this issue because it’s just been this way ever since they can remem­ber — I didn’t real­ly real­ize this prob­lem until less than a year ago, even­though it has affect­ed me for much longer.
    I think both young Friends and adult Friends need to over­come what­ev­er it is that pre­vents dia­logue and just start con­ver­sa­tions. Young Friends often don’t real­ize that they can, indeed, have good friends who are adults, prob­a­bly because their only expe­ri­ence of adults are of those in charge of them. I think adults tend to miss that as young Friends approach the end of high school, many do have an under­stand­ing of Quak­erism and have seri­ous­ly and con­scious­ly embarked on a spir­i­tu­al journey.
    It is true that a great many Friends are con­vinced and haven’t been Quak­er their whole lives, but just because I have 18 years of iden­ti­fy­ing as a Quak­er, I only just began to under­stand Quak­erism and what it means to me about 4 years ago. Before then my under­stand­ing was very limited.
    Per­haps many aren’t ready to be men­tors, per se, but I’m sure that every­one could use a healthy rela­tion­ship; young Friends have a lot to learn from adult Friends (con­vinced or oth­er­wise), and adult Friends have a lot to learn from young Friends.
    As for myself men­tor­ing younger Friends, that’s some­thing I hadn’t quite thought about before, but it is a good point. Age divides every­where need to be bridged and blurred, every­one has some­thing to learn from every­one else.

  • Robin Mohr

    So, I don’t want to excuse your local Friends from not notic­ing or know­ing more about you.
    Here is part of my per­spec­tive on men­tor­ing, an exam­ple that is rel­e­vant for me (if it doesn’t speak to you, either ignore it or tell me and I’ll look for anoth­er metaphor): this is like learn­ing to be a par­ent. For those who grew up with par­ents who were basi­cal­ly good enough, we sort of mud­dle through assum­ing that we will make good enough choic­es and most of the time we do. But for new par­ents who very clear­ly know that they want to be dif­fer­ent from their own par­ents, it takes a lot of read­ing and observ­ing oth­er peo­ple and think­ing to fig­ure out how to do it differently.
    Many Friends, includ­ing me, have come to Friends unhap­py with the reli­gious edu­ca­tion we received. Some because there was too much pres­sure and some, like me, because there wasn’t enough. So we don’t real­ly know how to men­tor a per­son into adult reli­gious life, we only know what we don’t want. It’s hard work to fig­ure out what to do. Unlike a new­born, young adults will go away qui­et­ly and it’s eas­i­er to avoid this work. But that doesn’t mean it’s not impor­tant for you or for me. It’s all part of grow­ing into the next stage of life.
    One more ques­tion or six, what have Friends done right by you? How did you get hooked up with the nation­al groups? How do you get to those meet­ings? Where are you find­ing the Quak­er books that you are reading?
    This may all be more fod­der for your blog than Martin’s but he put you here, so here are my questions.
    Thanks for help­ing me sharp­en my think­ing on this.

  • Warn­ing: this is a bit long.
    Your anal­o­gy does make sense, and it seems to fit with my own expe­ri­ences as well: “it takes a lot of read­ing and observ­ing oth­er peo­ple and think­ing to fig­ure out how to do it dif­fer­ent­ly.” It takes a lot of read­ing and observ­ing, as well as expe­ri­ence, to fig­ure out how to do it in the first place (or rather, how to do it that feels right to me).
    I have been think­ing about what things would be good in a First Day School pro­gram for high school­ers that is cur­rent­ly miss­ing (at least from DFM). I feel like I’ve tak­en charge of my own reli­gious edu­ca­tion, and I now want to incor­po­rate many impor­tant things I’ve learned on my own into a First Day school pro­gram (in my own meet­ing, we nev­er learned all the schisms in Quak­er his­to­ry, we didn’t hear much about John Wool­man or Lucre­tia Mott, I didn’t feel like I learned much about Meet­ing for Wor­ship or much about Quak­erism in gen­er­al, aside from the basics and a lit­tle bit about George Fox. We seemed to focus main­ly on the var­i­ous Bible pas­sages (which I don’t think real­ly sunk in with any­one very much), and things were quite disorganized.)
    As for your ques­tions, I’ll start with the eas­i­er ones:
    How did I get hooked up with the nation­al groups? The first nation­al Quak­er gath­er­ing I ever went to (of any sort) was an FGC orga­nized annu­al high school gath­er­ing called Young Quakes, back in 2001. I almost didn’t go, but at the very last minute one of the youth lead­ers (now a ‘retired’ youth leader) encour­aged me to go, and I went. At that point, I bare­ly dis­tin­guished it from any of the oth­er youth events on the local lev­el because I knew very lit­tle about it.
    Young Quakes in 2001 was a turn­ing point for me — it was the first time I had ever expe­ri­enced a larg­er com­mu­ni­ty of Quak­er peers; the love and sup­port I found there was beyond any­thing I’d ever thought to imag­ine. (I can’t real­ly describe it.) Nat­u­ral­ly, I want­ed to go to more nation­al gatherings.
    The fol­low­ing sum­mer I attend­ed FGC Gath­er­ing for the first time as part of the High School pro­gram — also an inde­scrib­able experience.
    I have since Attend­ed YQ and Gath­er­ing every year (YQ in 2001 – 2004 (I’ve now out­grown it), and Gath­er­ing from 2002, until, well, I’ll be there this summer..).
    I attend­ed the Pen­dle Hill Clerk­ing work­shop because tra­di­tion­al­ly the six co-clerks of the HS pro­gram at Gath­er­ing go the fall before they clerk, and am involved in the QUIP book of young Friends’ expe­ri­ences of Quak­erism because I was rec­om­mend­ed by Michael Gib­son who is in charge of orga­niz­ing Young Quakes, among oth­er things.
    How did I get to these gatherings/meetings/events?
    My trans­port and atten­dance at these gath­er­ings have been paid for by a) parental mon­ey, b) an accu­mu­la­tion of my own mon­ey from allowance and gift mon­ey (Christmas/birthday) held by my dad, or c) the orga­niz­er of the event (QUIP paid for my trip to Ore­gon, FGC paid for the Pen­dle Hill reg­is­tra­tion). I’ve most­ly flown, but once or twice there was a car­pool from Meeting.
    There was one Young Quakes gath­er­ing that I almost couldn’t pay for. My mom didn’t want to pay because she’d paid for FGC Gath­er­ing, and my dad didn’t want to pay, and I didn’t have any gift $ to spend at this point in time. My step-mom offered to pay only if I joined the school swim team that year; this involved get­ting up for 6:30am prac­tice every week­day for about 2 months. I’m fond of nei­ther get­ting up ear­ly nor swim­ming, but I did it for two months so that she would pay for it. I also went to my Meet­ing for a lit­tle bit of finan­cial help as the plane tick­ets end­ed up being a lit­tle high­er than my step-mom thought they would be, and I received a decent sum from the Meet­ing which solved this problem.
    Where am I find­ing the Quak­er books that I’m reading?
    The first Quak­er book I read (aside from Light­ing Can­dles in the Dark which I read when I was much younger and actu­al­ly hap­pens to be sit­ting on my bed­side table right now any­way) was The Amaz­ing Fact of Quak­er Wor­ship (George H. Gor­man). I picked it up at FGC Gath­er­ing from the Gath­er­ing Book­store a cou­ple years ago, but nev­er got around to read­ing it. I don’t think I was quite ready to read it. Then, after the Clerk­ing work­shop last Novem­ber, I picked it up and devoured it – I dis­cov­ered the world of Quak­er books.
    Before I thought about read­ing Quak­er books, I would often go to a gath­er­ing of some sort and find a great deal of spir­i­tu­al nour­ish­ment and return home feel­ing very focused and spir­i­tu­al. Then, after a few days, this would go away and I’d return to my mun­dane and stress­ful life with­out much thought about Quak­erism between First days. Last Novem­ber I did not want this to hap­pen again, and I found that read­ing a Quak­er book kept me focused on my spir­i­tu­al­i­ty in a way that I wasn’t before.
    After I fin­ished The Amaz­ing Fact of Quak­er Wor­ship, I searched Ama​zon​.com (as I had online gift mon­ey to spend there) and looked up some Quak­er books that caught my atten­tion. I may have also searched google and some oth­er online Quak­er places for ideas (I’m pret­ty sure I came across the FGC Book­store site). Then I ordered a cou­ple and read them, too (includ­ing Let Your Life Speak, Park­er J. Palmer and An Encounter with Silence, John Pun­shon). I also received The Quak­ers in Amer­i­ca (Thomas Hamm) as a gift, and recent­ly at the QUIP con­fer­ence received A Cer­tain Kind of Per­fec­tion (Margery Post Abbott) from Marge herself.
    Cur­rent­ly, my mom has told me that my grad­u­a­tion present (as I grad­u­ate in three weeks) will be $200 worth of Quak­er books (and I now must go about choos­ing which books to spend this on, and though I have a ton of books in mind, am open for suggestions).
    Unfor­tu­nate­ly, many young Friends don’t have the same kind of resources I do for books and gath­er­ing trips. I am the only young Friend (that I’m aware of, and I’m aware of many young Friends) who has attend­ed four Young Quakes gath­er­ings in a row. It’s quite a feat, espe­cial­ly while going to FGC Gath­er­ing each year. Also, not every­one has gets ama​zon​.com gift mon­ey or grad­u­a­tion presents to cov­er the cost of books. I am very lucky in many finan­cial respects. Many young Friends would need finan­cial help to do as much.
    How have Friends done right by me?
    In first look­ing at this ques­tion, I don’t real­ly have an idea of what to say. In think­ing about it, I have a lot. All the Friends who have orga­nized these nation­al gath­er­ings – Young Quakes, FGC Gath­er­ing (espe­cial­ly the HS pro­gram) – have most cer­tain­ly impact­ed my life great­ly! All those Friends active­ly involved with high school pro­grams every­where, try­ing to do what’s best (even if they haven’t fig­ured it out yet), look­ing for help, those Friends involved in the youth pro­gram at my own Meet­ing for try­ing to revamp things and make them bet­ter, look­ing for input; these Friends are doing right by being involved!
    It’s not that I’ve been wronged by any­one in par­tic­u­lar for some­thing spe­cif­ic. I see that there are many adults try­ing very hard to improve reli­gious edu­ca­tion for young Friends and get more young Friends involved. I see that there are adult Friends lis­ten­ing and try­ing to help, and it’s time (and it has been time) to reach out to the adult Friends who are not already involved. This process includes ALL Friends. Also, I hope to learn from my own expe­ri­ence as a young Friend how to help adults come up with bet­ter ways to teach First Day School or ways to improve youth pro­grams so that future gen­er­a­tions will have a very dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence than I.
    I apol­o­gize, for it seems I’ve writ­ten a book try­ing to answer your ques­tions; I hope this has been help­ful– I’m glad we have a bit of a dia­logue going here.

  • Robin

    Maybe I should think longer before com­ment­ing, then I could put it all in one post. But I was think­ing more about the lack of men­tor­ing. it’s not just avoid­ing hard work, it’s not want­i­ng to do it wrong — not want­i­ng to offend, not want­i­ng to be laughed at, not want­i­ng to be thought con­de­scend­ing or pushy, it’s not feel­ing ready, as one in author­i­ty, even among 60-something peo­ple. It’s that some old­er folks still wish that they had a mentor.

  • I under­stand. Per­haps in many cas­es the word ‘men­tor’ itself brings too many connotations.
    I think if one sets out to con­scious­ly men­tor some­one, that’s where they run into trou­ble. If you start out con­scious­ly think­ing about it as ‘men­tor’, then you run into all the expec­ta­tions you have of some­one who is a men­tor, like try­ing to do it the ‘right’ way, try­ing not to be offen­sive, etc.
    It starts out with a friend­ship. I think some peo­ple prob­a­bly aren’t in a posi­tion to men­tor cer­tain oth­er peo­ple, and that’s ok — forc­ing it will just make things worse. Even so, hav­ing a friend­ship with anoth­er (such as a young Friend) can help both peo­ple involved, whether one is more like a men­tor or not.
    I think a ‘men­tor’ is some­one who enters this friend­ship and after estab­lish­ing that friend­ship, s/he finds that s/he has more expe­ri­ence than the oth­er, and then finds ways to nur­ture and nour­ish the younger or less expe­ri­enced spir­it. Either way, in friend­ship, both spir­its can be nour­ished, regard­less if one is a ‘men­tor’ or not.
    For instance, per­haps I don’t feel that I have enough expe­ri­ence to men­tor a younger high school Friend. I can still enter into a friend­ship (Friend­ship?) with him/her. If I dis­cov­er that I’ve read a lot of books that s/he hasn’t, I can sug­gest them or lend them out, and we can both engage in con­ver­sa­tion about spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and our find­ings. Both of us can learn from the other’s expe­ri­ence. Per­haps in the end I’d come out as a men­tor fig­ure, per­haps not. The same can hap­pen with adults and young Friends in general.
    Putting all of this togeth­er, I’m sug­gest­ing that the first step is to seek friend­ships; young Friends should seek friend­ship in adults, and adults should seek friend­ship in young Friends — both must engage in this process. We’re all on a spir­i­tu­al jour­ney, and we all have a lot to learn from each other.

  • Robin Mohr

    Friend­ships… My newest effort is mak­ing friends with the mid­dle school aged Friends at Quar­ter­ly Meet­ing. Tech­ni­cal­ly I’m in charge of the pro­gram this week­end. Prac­ti­cal­ly, I know I’m not real­ly in charge of them, or I couldn’t be if they didn’t want me to be. For one thing, they’re all taller than me! So I hope we’re going to start by becom­ing bet­ter friends. It’s more like clerk­ing, I guess. I get to set the agen­da (I’m still look­ing for con­tent on the theme of the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of life), but I don’t get to con­trol the discussion.
    And then, maybe, just maybe, these young peo­ple will be my Friends for the next fifty years.
    [Am I entire­ly off top­ic? Like a Friend of mine says, it doesn’t real­ly mat­ter what the wor­ship shar­ing query (or blog top­ic) is, peo­ple will still talk about how the Spir­it is mov­ing in their lives.]

  • Robin Mohr

    Fur­ther off-topic report back: Mid­dle school pro­gram was awe­some, as we would have said when I was in 7th grade. Fun, deep, spir­i­tu­al and phys­i­cal, for me and them! Just in case any­one wondered.

  • I’m glad that it went well. It’s ok to be joy­ous­ly off topic!