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.


1950 – 1975


1975 – 2000




as a ratio­nal world­view

as ther­apy Answers needs

as a com­mu­nity of faith.



as meaning-giver
Per­sonal Faith

the meta­nar­ra­tive
Embod­ied apolo­getic
Com­mu­nal faith


Civil Reli­gion

sen­si­tive church
Mar­ket Dri­ven

Coun­ter cul­tural



Mar­ket tar­geted

Back to cities




Priest­hood of all



Week­end fun retreats

Bible Study, Wor­ship, Social Action


Infor­ma­tion cen­tred

gen­er­a­tional groups and needs

for­ma­tion in com­mu­nity


the rules

and suc­cess








as illus­tra­tion







of evan­gel­i­cal social action

social action (divorce groups, drug rehab

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?


  • 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.


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.


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 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.