This is a visioning essay I wrote in March of 1997, for Friends Institute (FI), the Philadelphia-area Young Adult Friends (YAF, roughly 18 – 35 year olds) group I was very involved with at the time. I repost it now because many of these same issues continually come up in Quaker groups. See the bottom for the story on this essay, including the controversy it kicked up.
I think the YAF/FI challenges can be roughly divided into three categories. They are introduced in the next paragraph, then elaborated on in turn. They are:
- *Accountability*. Communication and group process within YAF/FI has never been very good. We can change that, revitalizing the role of Business Meeting as setter of the vision and forum for subcommittee feedback and policy setting.
- *Outreach*. Who Do We Serve? YAF/FI has done no outreach to newly-convinced Friends and the planning of events has shown an insensitivity to the needs of this group.
- *Activities*. We’ve had a lot of conferences with mediocre programs that have little spiritual or Quaker focus. We can set yearly themes as a group in advance, giving Steering Committee guidance for particular programs.
PYM/FI has not been an organization with good communication skills, group process or accountability. Business meetings have been thought of as a necessary and begrudged task where half the participants fall asleep.
Business Meetings should have clear, advance agenda. The YAF clerk should call for agenda items by email two weeks before the meeting (phoning prominent members who don’t have access to email), and send out a draft agenda the week before. Basic agenda items should include variation on the following (my facilitation experience comes from Quaker-inspired but not Quaker process, so some of these tasks might need to be turned into Quakerese):
- silent worship;
- agenda review;
- reports from all subcommittees (treasurer’s report, steering committee report, distribution committee report, email/web report);
- two substantive issues;
- setting next date;
- evaluation of meeting;
All reports should be written (ideally distributed by email beforehand and with a dozen copies at the meeting) and should include activity, fiscal activity, policy questions needing business meeting input, approval of future tasks. Every decision should have specific people as liaisons for follow-up, and part of the next Business Meeting should be reviewing progress on these tasks.
OUTREACH: WHO DO WE SERVE?
I have a very large concern that the official YAF/FI organization does not do extensive outreach and that it hasn’t always been sensitive to the needs of all YAFs.
As a convinced Friend who first ventured forth to a Quaker Meeting at age 20, I spent years looking for YAFs and not finding them. The only outreach that YAF/FI does is to graduating Young Friends (the high school program). Our outreach to newly convince Friends has been nonexistent.
Other underrepresented YAFs: the Central Phila. MM group, thirty-something YAFs, YAFs of color, les/bi/gay YAFs (our President Day’s gathering conflicts with the popular mid-winter FLGC gathering, an unfortunate message we’re sending), YAFs with children.
Some of the outreach challenges for YAF/FI include:
- Cliquishness. Many plugged-in YAFs know each other from high school days and it can be intimidating to jump into such a group. There’s also a reluctance to review assumptions brought down from the Young Friends (high school) program;
- The poor communication in YAF/FI keeps many disenfranchised YAFs from having a forum in which to express their concerns and needs. We can reach out to under-represented YAFs and ask them what a age-fellowship could provide them;
- Single-type events: the weekend gatherings keep away many YAFs with responsibility. The tenor of YAF/FI events often keeps away the more mature YAFs. I doubt one type of event could satisfy all types of YAFs. We should be open to support the leadership of disenfranchised YAFs by providing them the money, resources and institutional support to address their communities’ need (keeping in mind YAF events should be open to all).
YAF events have had their problems. Thematically, they usually have not had Quaker themes, they have not been geared toward spiritual growth (usually First Day’s Meeting for Worship is the only spiritual component). They have followed the patterns of Young Friends events (3 day gatherings), even though this format excludes many (most?) YAFs.
We could easily have more of a mix of events. Some could be the traditional weekend events, some could be day events, like the successful apple-picking expedition and Swarthmore gathering a few years ago organized by Friends Center-employed YAFs.
As far as I’ve known, there has never been any Business Meeting brainstorming for themes, and each event has been organized in an ad hoc manner by a small group of people without feedback from the general YAF population. This is partly a result of the need for conference organizers to have a conference planned long in advance.
I propose that we set Year-Long Themes, a process that some groups employ to interesting effect. In the fall, there could be a Business Meeting to decide the next calendar year’s theme; Steering Committee could then organize all of the programmatic events around this topic. This would give large YAF input into the selection process and also provide an interesting unity to topics. Each topic should be broad enough to allow for an interesting mix of programs and each topic should have a specific Quaker focus. One pedagogical motivation behind these events should be to introduce and reinforce Friends’ history and culture.
Themes that I’d love to see:
- Spiritual and historical roots of Quakerism. (Becca Grunko, Margaret Hope Bacon, Peggy Morsheck might be good resource people). Events could include a look at the fiery birth of Quakerism and an historical exploration of Friends Institute itself (founded in the 1880s, FI played a role in unifying the Hicksite/Orthodox schism in PYM and provided key assistance to the early AFSC; Gennyfer Davenport is hot on the trail of this history!).
- Quakers in the world. a look at volunteerism, and witness and ministry. An obvious event would be to participate in a week- or weekend-long PYM workcamp.
- Neat Quaker figures (maybe even neat PYM figures!). Conferences that look at the history of folks like John Woolman, William Penn, Lucretia Mott, perhaps current figures like the Willoughby’s.
- Quaker Lifestyle and the Testimonies. Egads, we could read Faith and Practice! For those of you who haven’t, it’s really an interesting book. Not all events should be thematic, of course. The early December Christmas gathering doesn’t need to be; neither does some of the day long events (i.e., the apple-picking expedition was a fun theme in itelf!).
This essay written Third Month 21, 1997 by Martin Kelley
The Story of this essay (written fall of 2003)
I wrote for Friends Institute, the Philadelphia-area young adult Friends group, back in March of 1997. I was very involved with the group at the time, serving formally as treasurer and webmaster and informally as the de-facto outreach coördinator. We had a visioning retreat coming up in a few months and I wrote this as a strengths / weaknesses / opportunities piece to get the ideas rolling. I thought we had some work to do around the issues of cliquishness, and I also thought we could become more thoughtful and spiritually-focused but I tried to find a sensitive way to talk about this issues.
I got a lot of reactions to this essay. Some people really really loved it, especially those outside the Philadelphia insiders group: “Thanks for the insightful analysis! You really did a wonderful job of objectively explaining the frustrations that some PYM YAF’s (myself included) have with FI” and “I was so inspired by your essay ‘YAF vision for future’ that we are hoping bring it forward and circulate it here in among Australian YAF.”
But some of the insiders felt challenged. One didn’t even like me talking about cliques: “I think that as a group we have all been aware for some time of the problems plaguing Friends Institute… I don’t like the word clique because it makes me think of an exclusionary snobbish group of people that looks down on others.” (of course this was my point).
As if to prove my analysis correct, the insiders immediately started talking amongst themselves. Within two weeks of emailing this essay, both of my formal positions in the organization were being challenged. One insider wrote a request to the yearly meeting to set up a competing Friends Institute website; others started wondering aloud whether it proper for an attender to be Friends Institute treasurer. No one ever questioned my dedication, honesty and good work. I was more actively involved in Quakerism and my meeting than most of the birthright members who participated in FI, and I was the most conscientious treasurer and webmaster the group ever had. My essay had obviously hit a nerve and the wagons were circling in against the outsider threat. Realizing just how ingrained these issues were and to what extent the insiders would go to protect their power, I eventually left Friends Institute to focus again on my monthly meeting’s thriving twenty- and thirty-something scene.
The essay continued to have a life of its own. The May 1997 visioning retreat focused on nothing at all and subsequent business meetings dropped to a handful of people. But the issues of the high-school focus, cliquishness, and unfriendliness to newcomers came to the forefront again a few months later, after some sexual assaults took place in the young adult community. A conference on “sexual boundaries” produced an epistle that hit some of the same topics as my visioning essay:
We identified a number of habits and issues in our young adult community that tend to bring up dangerous situations. For example, some of our sexual boundaries carry over from our experience as high-school aged Young Friends… Newcomers become “fresh meat” for people who come to gatherings looking to find quick connections… People get lost especially when we have larger gatherings, and we don’t watch out for each other.
Friends Institute drifted for a few years. By the summer of 2000, a convince Friend became clerk and tried to revive the group. She found my essay and emailed me: “I’ve been looking over the FI archives and am impressed by your contribution. Do you have any advice, suggestions, or time to become active again in FI?” Sad to say this attempt to revive Friends Institute also had a lot of problems.
I repost this essay here in 2003 partly to have a ongoing record of my Quaker writings here on my website. But I suspect these same issues continue in various young adult friends groups. Perhaps someone else can see this essay and be inspired, but a warning that I’ve seen these dynamics in many different young adult friends groups and seriously wonder whether reform or revival is impossible.