Avoiding Plain Dress Designer Clothing

A guest piece by “David,” orig­i­nally posted on the Plain and Mod­est Dress Yahoo Group.

From: “mquadd” <mquadd@y…>
Date: Wed Jul 21, 2004
Sub­ject: Intro­duc­tion and questions

Hi. My name is David and I attend but am not a mem­ber of the Friends Meet­ing here. I was actu­ally raised as an Epis­co­palian although I had sev­eral uncles who were birth-right Quak­ers. I grew up (for my first 10 years) in Chester County, PA which tra­di­tion­ally was an area with a high con­cen­tra­tion of Quak­ers. I would expect that this is no longer true as the area has become quite sub­ur­ban with a big influx of new res­i­dents. Nonethe­less, I grew up attend­ing meet­ing now and then with rel­a­tives at var­i­ous meet­ings in Chester County and north­ern Dele­ware. That was in the 1960s and was a time when some peo­ple, mostly older peo­ple (peo­ple most likely born in the 1800s mean­ing these peo­ple were in their 70s or 80s in the 1960s), still used plain talk. Even in the 1960s, in a fairly rural area, this was more of an except­ing than the rule and was lim­ited to the old­est mem­bers of the meet­ing and never used out­side the Quaker com­mu­nity. Those who used plain talk never used it out­side of the Quaker community–home, Friends, and meet­ing. As far as I know, they never used this type of talk for busi­ness or rela­tions or out­side the community.

At age 10 we moved to Lan­caster County. At that time, many Mem­monites who now no longer dress plain or wear cov­er­ings did still did both of these. I went to school with many Men­non­ite kids. In addi­tion I became friends with sev­eral Old Order Amish fam­i­lies (and one Beachy fam­ily) with whom I am still friends. That was 35 years ago, I have wit­nessed the plain tes­ti­mony weaken in each of these groups includ­ing the Old Order Amish. I actu­ally spent much of my child­hood and teenage years hang­ing out with one patic­u­lar Old Order Amish fam­ily as way to escape the insan­ity of hav­ing drug addicted and alco­holic par­ents. In their very sim­ple and unstated Chris­tian­ity, they were very will­ing to pro­vide food, shel­ter, and love to a very con­fused boy (me).

Any­way, the Lan­caster Con­fer­ence Men­non­ites (now part of the largest Men­non­ite group) seem to be totally main­stream. Per­haps there are some who still fol­low the for­mer order. The Beachy Amish now dress like con­ser­v­a­tive Men­non­ites and less and less like Amish. Finally, I was watched the Amish allow lots of mod­ern changes in their dis­ci­pline although their basic cloth­ing is pretty much unchanged but sun glasses are now allowed and many Amish girls and women pluck their eyebrows–both not allowed in the 1970s. By the way, in the late 1960s they had already adopted cotton-poly blends for both cloth­ing and quilts!

The rea­son for that, per­haps odd, bio­graph­i­cal sketch is to give some back­ground on my expo­sure to plain groups and, more impor­tantly, plain thought. I have toyed with the idea of plain dress­ing although I can’t give a clear rea­son why I feel this. Is it a call­ing or am I just crazy? I do know that the sta­bil­ity I found in that Amish house in the 1970s most likely had a giant influ­ence on me (a happy Amish fam­ily where I had fun vs. liv­ing in a fam­ily that was in the self-distruct mode due to addic­tion). I also I have clear mem­o­ries of hav­ing Quaker teach­ers in ele­mently school and van­ity and world­li­ness was a bad thing. It was dur­ing the height of the Viet Nam war, so there was this odd hippy-Quaker thing going on with some of my teach­ers. I am sure some of you who were around the RSF in the 1960s can relate. So here I am still toy­ing with these ideas and still attempt­ing to define my own reli­gious feel­ings at the mid­dle of my life (I am 45).

Here are a few things I do know that apply to me. First, I feel very at odds with our soci­ety that focuses on the most superf­i­cal things. Our soci­ety spends BILLIONS on make-up, hair dye, plas­tic surgery, breast inplants, push-up bras, designer clothes (that are no dif­fer­ent that basic clothes except the label and might even be of lower qual­ity).… Peo­ple are judged on the these issues. Char­ac­ter and moral­ity (a loaded term that seems to have been high­jacked by the rightwing and ultraconservatives)seems to be sec­ondary to these very super­fi­cial things. What we tell our­selves and our chil­dren is that we are not ade­quate as we are. We have to change our body and then drape it was overly priced clothes to count. The out­side is more impor­tant that the inside. This is sick. It is dis­truc­tive. It is a sin.

Beyond that, my feel­ings about plain dress­ing get less clear. Is a uni­form what I am seek­ing? Those groups who were very uni­form cloth­ing tend to be insu­lar and often attact as much atten­tion to them­selves as a belly shirt and designer jeans! If you doubt this, go to Lan­caster County and attempt to drive on Rt. 340. The attrac­tion that the plain peo­ple attract in that area rivals any movie star or rock con­cert. Lan­caster gets lit­er­ally mil­lions of tourists each year. So is that type of uni­form dress­ing that is quite dis­tinct serv­ing a good pur­pose? I am not sure but am just offer­ing a ques­tion rather than a judge­ment. Other groups that dress quite plain such as ultra-orthodox Jews are not so much a tourist attrac­tion but clearly are insu­lar and seper­ate from the larger soci­ety. Many peo­ple view this as being “stand off-ish” which I hope is nobody’s goal. I have heard peo­ple apply this type of judge­ment to plain chris­t­ian groups also.

So, I would be very inter­ested in hear­ing what dri­ves oth­ers to dress plain? If you are a Quaker, what has been the reac­tion at your meet­ing? I once met a plain dress­ing Quaker who said that he had received more neg­a­tive than pos­i­tive reac­tions when vis­it­ing other meet­ings. Are there any meet­ings where all or most mem­bers dress plain? In my child­hood expe­ri­ences, there was no plain dress­ing in any Quaker meet­ings in Chester County or in Dele­ware. I have not even run into any­one who uses plain lan­guage for over 30 years except that one plain dress­ing man. Clearly, I know no Quak­ers who have been raised with the idea of plain dress­ing or plain lan­guage includ­ing some of my cousins who are worldly to say the least. What makes plain. I know of “black bumper Men­non­ites” who drive a black bumper Mer­cedes. Is that plain? Why is a Volvo often con­sid­ered ok but a BMW is bad? They both cost $40K. Often I see this type of think­ing in those who claim to fol­low a less than worldly life style. I think there is always a risk of falling into the mind­set of some labels being good and oth­ers being bad. Once a par­tic­u­lar brand, say a type of hat or type of jeans, is thought to be the proper “plain uni­form” does that not become the designed cloth­ing of the plain dressers? I am not sure. What I find is that once you jump into this topic, it becomes com­pli­cated and that is not the point.

One final ques­tion, what ben­e­fits do you recieve from plain dress­ing?
Thanks. David

Emergent Church Movement: The Younger Evangelicals and Quaker Renewal

A look at the gen­er­a­tional shifts fac­ing Friends.

I’m cur­rently read­ing Robert E. Webber’s The Younger Evan­gel­i­cals: Fac­ing the Chal­lenges of the New World, which exam­ines the cul­tural and gen­er­a­tional shifts hap­pen­ing within the Chris­t­ian Evan­gel­i­cal move­ment. At the bot­tom of this page is a handy chart that out­lines the gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ences in the­ol­ogy, eccle­si­as­ti­cal par­a­digm, church polity that he sees. When I first saw it I said “yes!” to almost each cat­e­gory, as it clearly hits at the gen­er­a­tional forces hit­ting Quakerism.

Unfor­tu­nately many Friends in lead­er­ship posi­tions don’t really under­stand the prob­lems fac­ing Quak­erism. Or: they do, but they don’t under­stand the larger shifts behind them and think that they just need to redou­ble their efforts using the old meth­ods and mod­els. The Baby Boom gen­er­a­tion in charge knows the chal­lenge is to reach out to seek­ers in their twen­ties or thir­ties, but they do this by devel­op­ing pro­grams that would have appealed to them when they were that age. The cur­rent crop of out­reach projects and peace ini­tia­tives are all very 1980 in style. There’s no recog­ni­tion that the sec­u­lar peace com­mu­nity that drew seek­ers in twenty years ago no longer exists and that today’s seek­ers are look­ing for some­thing deeper, some­thing more per­sonal and more real.

When younger Friends are included in the sur­veys and com­mit­tees, they tend to be either the unin­volved chil­dren of impor­tant Baby Boom gen­er­a­tion Quak­ers, or those thirty-something Friends that cul­tur­ally and philo­soph­i­cally fit into the older par­a­digms. It’s fine that these two types of Friends are around, but nei­ther group chal­lenges Baby Boomer group-think. Out­spo­ken younger Friends often end up leav­ing the Soci­ety in frus­tra­tion after a few years.

It’s a shame. In my ten years attend­ing a down­town Philadel­phia Friends meet­ing, I eas­ily met a hun­dred young seek­ers. They mostly cycled through, attend­ing for peri­ods rang­ing from a few months to a few years. I would often ask them why they stopped com­ing. Some­times they were just nice and said life was too busy, but of course that’s not a real answer: you make time for the things that are impor­tant and that feed you in some way. But oth­ers told me they found the meet­ing unwel­com­ing, or Friends too self-congratulatory or super­fi­cial, the com­mu­nity more social than spir­i­tual. I went back to this meet­ing one First Day after a two year absence and it was depress­ing how it was all the same faces. This is not a knock on this par­tic­u­lar meet­ing, since the same dynam­ics are at work in most of the liberal-leaning meet­ings I’ve attended, both in the FGC and FUM worlds–it’s a gen­er­a­tional cul­tural phe­nom­e­non. I have never found the young Quaker seeker com­mu­nity I know is out there, though I’ve glimpsed its indi­vid­ual faces a hun­dred times: always just out of reach, never gelling into a movement.

I’m not sure what the answers are. Luck­ily it’s not my job to have answers: I leave that up to Christ and only con­cern myself with being as faith­ful a ser­vant to the Spirit as I can be (this spirit-led lead­er­ship style is exactly one of the gen­er­a­tional shifts Web­ber talks about). I’ve been given a clear mes­sage that my job is to stay with the Soci­ety of Friends, that I might be of use some­day. But there are a few pieces that I think will come out:

A re-examination of our roots, as Chris­tians and as Friends

What babies were thrown out with the bath­wa­ter by turn-of-the-century Friends who embraced mod­ernism and ratio­nal­ism and turned their back on tra­di­tional tes­ti­monies? This will require chal­leng­ing some of the sacred myths of con­tem­po­rary Quak­erism. There are a lot that aren’t par­tic­u­larly Quaker and we need to start admit­ting to that. I’ve per­son­ally taken up plain dress and find the old state­ments on the peace tes­ti­mony much deeper and more mean­ing­ful than con­tem­po­rary ones. I’m a pro­fes­sional web­mas­ter and run a promi­nent paci­fist site, so it’s not like I’m stuck in the nine­teenth cen­tury; instead, I just think these old tes­ti­monies actu­ally speak to our con­di­tion in the twenty-first Century.

A Desire to Grow

Too many Friends are happy with their nice cozy meet­ings. The meet­ings serve as fam­ily and as a sup­port group, and a real growth would dis­rupt our estab­lished pat­terns. If Quak­erism grew ten­fold over the next twenty years we’d have to build meet­ing­houses, have extra wor­ship, reor­ga­nize our com­mit­tees. Involved Friends wouldn’t know all the other involved Friends in their yearly meet­ing. With more mem­bers we’d have to become more rig­or­ous and dis­ci­plined in our com­mit­tee meet­ings. Quak­erism would feel dif­fer­ent if it were ten times larger: how many of us would just feel uncom­fort­able with that. Many of our Meet­ings are ripe for growth, being in boom­ing sub­urbs or thriv­ing urban cen­ters, but year after year they stay small. Many sim­ply neglect and screw up out­reach or reli­gious edu­ca­tion efforts as a way of keep­ing the meet­ing at its cur­rent size and with its cur­rent character.

A more personally-involved, time-consuming commitment

Reli­gion in Amer­ica has become yet another con­sumer choice, an enter­tain­ment option for Sun­day morn­ing, and this par­a­digm is true with Friends. We com­plain how much time our Quaker work takes up. We com­plain about clear­ness com­mit­tees or vision­ing groups that might take up a Sat­ur­day after­noon. A more involved Quak­erism would real­ize that the hour on First Day morn­ing is in many ways the least impor­tant time to our Soci­ety. Younger seek­ers are look­ing for con­nec­tions that are deeper and that will require time. We can’t build a Soci­ety on the cheap. It’s not money we need to invest, but our hearts and time.

I recently vis­ited a Meet­ing that was set­ting up its first adult reli­gious edu­ca­tion pro­gram. When it came time to fig­ure out the for­mat, a weighty Friend declared that it couldn’t take place on the first Sun­day of the month because that was when the finance com­mit­tee met; the sec­ond Sun­day was out because of the mem­ber­ship care com­mit­tee; the third was out because of busi­ness meet­ing and so forth. It turned out that reli­gious edu­ca­tion could be squeezed into one 45-minute slot on the fourth Sun­day of every month. Here was a small strug­gling meet­ing in the mid­dle of an sym­pa­thetic urban neigh­bor­hood and they couldn’t spare even an hour a month on reli­gious edu­ca­tion or sub­stan­tive out­reach to new mem­bers. Mod­ern Friends should not exist to meet in committees.

A renewal of dis­ci­pline and oversight

These are taboo words for many mod­ern Friends. But we’ve taken open-hearted tol­er­ance so far that we’ve for­got­ten who we are. What does it mean to be a Quaker? Seek­ers are look­ing for answers. Friends have been able to pro­vide them with answers in the past: both ways to con­duct one­self in the world and ways to reach the divine. Many of us actu­ally yearn for more care, atten­tion and over­sight in our reli­gious lives and more con­nec­tion with others.

A con­fronta­tion of our eth­nic and cul­tural bigotries

Too much of Quaker cul­ture is still rooted in elit­ist wealthy Philadel­phia Main Line “Wasp” cul­ture. For gen­er­a­tions of Friends, the Soci­ety became an eth­nic group you were born into. Too many Friends still care if your name is “Roberts,” “Jones,” “Lip­pen­cott,” “Thomas,” “Brin­ton.” A num­ber of nineteenth-century Quaker lead­ers tried to make this a reli­gion of fam­ily fief­doms. There was a love of the world and an urge for to be respected by the out­side world (the Epis­co­palians wouldn’t let you into the coun­try clubs if you wore plain dress or got too excited about religion).

Today we too often con­fuse the cul­ture of those fam­i­lies with Quak­erism. The most obvi­ous exam­ple to me is the oft-repeated phrase: “Friends don’t believe in pros­e­ly­tiz­ing.” Wrong: we started off as great speak­ers of the Truth, gain­ing num­bers in great quan­ti­ties. It was the old Quaker fam­i­lies who started fret­ting about new blood in the Soci­ety, for they saw birthright mem­ber­ship as more impor­tant than bap­tism by the Holy Spirit. We’ve got a lot of bag­gage left over from this era, things we need to re-examine, includ­ing: our will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice Truth-telling in the name of polite­ness; an over-developed intel­lec­tu­al­ism that has become snob­bery against those with­out advanced school­ing; our taboo about being too loud or too “eth­nic” in Meeting.

Note that I haven’t specif­i­cally men­tioned racial diver­sity. This is a piece of the work we need to do and I’m happy that many Friends are work­ing on it. But I think we’ll all agree that it will take more than a few African Amer­i­cans with grad­u­ate degrees to bring true diver­sity. The Lib­eral branch of Friends spends a lot of time con­grat­u­lat­ing itself on being open, tol­er­ant and self-examining and yet as far as I can tell we’re the least ethnically-diverse branch of Amer­i­can Quak­ers (I’m pretty sure, any­one with cor­rob­o­ra­tion?). We need to re-examine and chal­lenge the unwrit­ten norms of Quaker cul­ture that don’t arise from faith. When we have some­thing to offer besides upper-class lib­er­al­ism, we’ll find we can talk to a much wider selec­tion of seekers.

Can we do it?

Can we do these re-examinations with­out rip­ping our Soci­ety apart? I don’t know. I don’t think the age of Quaker schisms is over, I just think we have a dif­fer­ent dis­ci­pline and church polity that let us pre­tend the splits aren’t there. We just self-select our­selves into dif­fer­ent sub-groups. I’m not sure if this can con­tinue indef­i­nitely. Every week our Meet­ings for Wor­ship bring together peo­ple of rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent beliefs and non-beliefs. Instead of wor­ship, we have indi­vid­ual med­i­ta­tion in a group set­ting, where every­one is free to believe what they want to believe. This isn’t Friends’ style and it’s not sat­is­fy­ing to many of us. I know this state­ment may seem like sac­ri­lege to many Friends who value tol­er­ance above all. But I don’t think I’m the only one who would rather wor­ship God than Silence, who longs for a deeper reli­gious fel­low­ship than that found in most con­tem­po­rary Meet­ings. Quak­erism will change and Mod­ernism isn’t the end of history.

How open will we all be to this process? How hon­est will we get? Where will our Soci­ety end up? We’re not the only reli­gion in Amer­ica that is fac­ing these questions.

Tra­di­tional
Evan­gel­i­cals

1950–1975

Prag­matic
Evan­gel­i­cals

1975–2000

Younger
Evan­gel­i­cals

2000–

The­o­log­i­cal
Commitment

Chris­tian­ity
as a ratio­nal world­view

Chris­tian­ity
as ther­apy Answers needs

Chris­tian­ity
as a com­mu­nity of faith.
Ancient/Reformation

Apolo­get­ics
Style

Evi­den­tial
Foun­da­tional

Chris­tian­ity
as meaning-giver
Expe­ri­en­tial
Per­sonal Faith

Embrace
the meta­nar­ra­tive
Embod­ied apolo­getic
Com­mu­nal faith

Eccle­sial
Par­a­digm

Con­stan­tin­ian
Church
Civil Reli­gion

Cul­tur­ally
sen­si­tive church
Mar­ket Dri­ven

Mis­sional
Church
Counter cul­tural

Church
Style

Neigh­bour­hood
churches
Rural

Megachu­ruch
Sub­ur­ban
Mar­ket tar­geted

Small
Church
Back to cities
Inter­cul­tural

Lead­er­ship
Style

Pas­tor
cen­tred

Man­age­r­ial
Model
CEO

Team
min­istry
Priest­hood of all

Youth
Min­istry

Church-centred
pro­grams

Out­reach
Pro­grams
Week­end fun retreats

Prayer,
Bible Study, Wor­ship, Social Action

Edu­ca­tion

Sun­day
School
Infor­ma­tion cen­tred

Tar­get
gen­er­a­tional groups and needs

Inter­gen­er­a­tional
for­ma­tion in com­mu­nity

Spir­i­tu­al­ity

Keep
the rules

Pros­per­ity
and suc­cess

Authen­tic
embod­i­ment

Wor­ship

Tra­di­tional

Con­tem­po­rary

Con­ver­gence

Art

Restrained

Art
as illus­tra­tion

Incar­na­tional
embod­i­ment

Evan­ge­lism

Mass
evan­ge­lism

Seeker
Ser­vice

Process
evan­ge­lism

Activists

Begin­nings
of evan­gel­i­cal social action

Need-driving
social action (divorce groups, drug rehab

Rebuild
cities and neigh­bor­hoods

See also:

On Quaker Ranter:

  • It Will Be There in Decline Our Entire Lives. There’s a gen­er­a­tion of young Chris­tians dis­il­lu­sioned by mod­ern church insti­tu­tion­al­ism who are writ­ing and blog­ging under the “post-modern” “emer­gent church” labels. Do Friends have any­thing to offer these wea­ried seek­ers except more of the same hashed out institutionalism?
  • Post-Liberals & Post-Evangelicals?, my obser­va­tions from the Novem­ber 2003 “Indie Allies” meet-up.
  • Sodium Free Friends, a post of mine urg­ing Friends to actively engage with our tra­di­tion and not just selec­tively edit out a few words which makes Fox sound like a sev­en­teen cen­tury Thich Nhat Hanh. “We poor humans are look­ing for ways to tran­scend the crap­pi­ness of our war– and consumer-obsessed world and Quak­erism has some­thing to say about that.”
  • Peace and Twenty-Somethings: are the Emer­gent Church seek­ers cre­at­ing the kinds of youth-led inten­tional com­mu­ni­ties that the peace move­ment inspired in the 1970s?

Else­where:

  • From Evan­gel­i­cal Friends Church South­west comes an emer­gent church” church plant­ing project called >Sim­ple Churches (since laid down, link is to archive). I love their intro: “As your peruse the links from this site please rec­og­nize that the Truth reflected in essays are often writ­ten with a ‘prophetic edge’, that is sharp, non com­pro­mis­ing and some­times rad­i­cal per­spec­tive. We believe Truth can be received with­out ‘curs­ing the dark­ness’ and encour­age you to reflect upon find­ing the ‘can­dle’ to light, per­son­ally, as you apply what you hear the Lord speak­ing to you.”
  • The emer­gent church move­ment hit the New York Times in Feb­ru­ary 2004. Here’s a link to the arti­cle and my thoughts about it.
  • Ortho­dox Twenty-Somethings,” a great arti­cle from TheOoze (now lost to a site redesign of theirs), and my intro to the arti­cle Want to under­stand us?
  • The blog­ger Punkmon­key talks about what a mis­sional com­mu­nity of faith would look like and it sounds a lot like what I dream of: “a mis­sional com­mu­nity of faith is a liv­ing breath­ing trans­par­ent com­mu­nity of faith will­ing to get messy while reach out to, and bring­ing in, those out­side the cur­rent community.”

Visioning the Future of Young Adult Friends (1997)

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:

  • 1) 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.

  • 2) 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.

  • 3) 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.

ACCOUNTABILITY:

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).

ACTIVITIES

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 coor­di­na­tor. 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 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.