Young Adult Friends Network, v.4

A pro­mo video for the new Young Adult Friends web­site, fea­tur­ing catz and me drink­ing a lot of water at 4x speed (“YAFs” or “AYFs” is the name for Friends rough­ly between 18 and 35).

I think this is the fourth young adult Friends net­work­ing site I’ve put togeth­er, dat­ing back to the mid-90s when I still was a YAF.

Greg Woods intro­duces the site on his blog, and of course there’s a Face­book and Twit­ter pres­ence for the network.

Young Adult Friends Conference in Wichita this Fifth Month

I’ve been lucky enough to have two house­guests this week: Mic­ah Bales and Faith Kel­ley (no rela­tion). They’ve come up to the Philadel­phia area to help pub­li­cize a gath­er­ing of young adult Friends that will take place in Wichi­ta in a few months. Before they left, I got them to share their excite­ment for the con­fer­ence in front of my webcam.

Inter­view with Faith Kel­ley & Mic­ah Bales, two of the orga­niz­ers of the upcom­ing young adult Friends con­fer­ence in Wichi­ta Kansas.

FAITH: This is an invi­ta­tion for a gath­er­ing for young adult Friends ages 18 – 35 from all the branch­es of the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends from all across the con­ti­nent. It’s going to be in Wichi­ta Kansas from May 28 – 31. It’s a time to get togeth­er and learn about each oth­er, to hear each other’s sto­ries and wor­ship togeth­er. We’re real­ly excit­ed by this oppor­tu­ni­ty to have peo­ple who have nev­er been to these before and to have peo­ple who have been to oth­er gath­er­ings to come back.
MICAH: A lot of the advance mate­r­i­al is already up online so you can get a good idea what this con­fer­ence is going to be about and to get a sense of how to pre­pare your­self for a gath­er­ing like this. We’ll be get­ting togeth­er with folks from all over the coun­try, Cana­da and Mex­i­co – we’re hop­ing a lot of His­pan­ic Friends show up and we’ve already trans­lat­ed the web­site into Span­ish. Reg­is­tra­tion is set up already; ear­ly reg­is­tra­tion goes until April 15. Air­fare to Wichi­ta is look­ing pret­ty good at the moment; if you reg­is­ter ear­ly you’re like­ly to get a fair­ly decent plane tick­et out.
FAITH: We’re hop­ing peo­ple will choose to car­pool togeth­er. So get orga­nized, reg­is­ter ear­ly and look at the advance mate­ri­als online. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
2010 Young Adult Friends Conference

Friends and theology and geek pick-up hotspots

Wess Daniels posts about Quak­er the­ol­o­gy on his blog. I respond­ed there but got to think­ing of Swarth­more pro­fes­sor Jer­ry Frost’s 2000 Gath­er­ing talk about FGC Quak­erism. Aca­d­e­m­ic, theologically-minded Friends helped forge lib­er­al Quak­erism but their influ­enced wained after that first gen­er­a­tion. Here’s a snippet:

“[T]he first gen­er­a­tions of Eng­lish and Amer­i­ca Quak­er lib­er­als like Jones and Cad­bury were all birthright and they wrote books as well as pam­phlets. Before uni­fi­ca­tion, PYM Ortho­dox and the oth­er Ortho­dox meet­ings pro­duced philoso­phers, the­olo­gians, and Bible schol­ars, but now the com­bined year­ly meet­ings in FGC pro­duce weighty Friends, social activists, and earnest seekers.”

“The lib­er­als who cre­at­ed the FGC had a thirst for knowl­edge, for link­ing the best in reli­gion with the best in sci­ence, for draw­ing upon both to make eth­i­cal judg­ments. Today by becom­ing anti-intellectual in reli­gion when we are well-educated we have jet­ti­soned the impulse that cre­at­ed FGC, reunit­ed year­ly meet­ings, rede­fined our role in wider soci­ety, and cre­at­ed the mod­ern peace tes­ti­mo­ny. The kinds of ener­gy we now devote to med­i­ta­tion tech­niques and inner spir­i­tu­al­i­ty needs to be spent on phi­los­o­phy, sci­ence, and Chris­t­ian religion.”

This talk was huge­ly influ­en­tial to my wife Julie and myself. We had just met two days before and while I had devel­oped an instant crush, Frost’s talk was the first time we sat next to one anoth­er. I real­ized that this might become some­thing seri­ous when we both laughed out loud at Jerry’s wry asides and the­ol­o­gy jokes. We end­ed up walk­ing around the cam­pus late into the ear­ly hours talk­ing talk­ing talking.

But the talk wasn’t just the reli­gion geek equiv­a­lent of a pick-up bar. We both respond­ed to Frost’s call for a new gen­er­a­tion of seri­ous Quak­er thinkers. Julie enrolled in a Reli­gion PhD pro­gram, study­ing Quak­er the­ol­o­gy under Frost him­self for a semes­ter. I dove into his­to­ri­ans like Thomas Hamm and mod­ern thinkers like Lloyd Lee Wil­son as a way to under­stand and artic­u­late the implic­it the­ol­o­gy of “FGC Friends” and took inde­pen­dent ini­tia­tives to fill the gaps in FGC ser­vices, tak­ing lead­er­ship in young adult pro­gram and co-leading work­shops and inter­est groups.

Things didn’t turn out as we expect­ed. I hes­i­tate speak­ing for Julie but I think it’s fair enough to say that she came to the con­clu­sion that Friends ideals and prac­tices were unbridgable and she left Friends. I’ve doc­u­ment­ed my own set­backs and right now I’m pret­ty detached from for­mal Quak­er bodies.

Maybe enough time hasn’t gone by yet. I’ve heard that the per­son sit­ting on Julie’s oth­er side for that talk is now study­ing the­ol­o­gy up in New Eng­land; anoth­er Friend who I sus­pect was near­by just start­ed at Earl­ham School of Reli­gion. I’ve called this the Lost Quak­er Gen­er­a­tion but at least some of its mem­bers have just been lying low. It’s hard to know whether any of these historically-informed Friends will ever help shape FGC pop­u­lar cul­ture in the way that Quak­er acad­e­mia influ­enced lib­er­al Friends did before the 1970s.

Reread­ing Frost’s speech this after­noon it’s clear to see it as an impor­tant inspi­ra­tion for Quak­erQuak­er. Parts of it act well as a good lib­er­al Quak­er vision for what the blo­gos­phere has since tak­en to call­ing con­ver­gent Friends. I hope more peo­ple will stum­ble on Frost’s speech and be inspired, though I hope they will be care­ful not to tie this vision too close­ly with any exist­ing insti­tu­tion and to remem­ber the true source of that dai­ly bread. Here’s a few more inspi­ra­tional lines from Jerry:

We should remem­ber that the­ol­o­gy can pro­vide a foun­da­tion for uni­ty. We ought to be smart enough to real­ize that any for­mu­la­tion of what we believe or link­ing faith to mod­ern thought is a sec­ondary activ­i­ty; to para­phrase Robert Bar­clay, words are descrip­tion of the foun­tain and not the stream of liv­ing water. Those who cre­at­ed the FGC and reunit­ed meet­ings knew the pos­si­bil­i­ties and dan­gers of the­ol­o­gy, but they had a con­fi­dence that truth increased possibilities.

Call off the search parties

The retreat at the Carmelite Monastery was nice. Here's some pictures, the first of those "long-remembered":/if_i_dont_make_it_back.php tall stone walls and the rest of the beautiful chapel:
Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia
It was a silent retreat--for us at least. There were three talks about "Teresa of Avila":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_Avila given by Father Tim Byerley, who also works with the "Collegium Center":http://www.collegiumcenter.org/about.php, a kind of religious education outreach project for young adult Catholics in South Jersey (I mentioned it "a few months ago":http://www.quakerranter.org/teaching_quakerism_again.php as a model of young adult youth outreach that Friends might want to consider). Much of what Teresa has to say about prayer is universal and very applicable to Friends, though I have to admit I started spacing out by around the fourth mansion of the "Interior Castle":http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa/castle2.toc.html (I've never been good with numbered religious steps!).
I'm in no danger of following my wife Julie's journey from Friends to Catholicism, though as always I very much enjoyed being in the midst of a gathered group committed to a spirituality. The idea of religious life as self-abnegation is an important one for all Christians in an age where "me-ism":http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScWdek6_Ids&eurl has become the "secular state religion":http://www.walmart.com/ and I hope to return to it in the near future.

“Food for Fire” workshop at Powell House

In ear­ly Feb­ru­ary I’m lead­ing a young adult work­shop up at New York Year­ly Meeting’s “Pow­ell House”:http://www.powellhouse.org. I don’t have any desire to get into the “spir­i­tu­al work­shop cir­cuit,” but I was asked and it seemed like an oppor­tu­ni­ty to gath­er some inter­est­ing folks to talk about what we hunger for. The work­shop is called “Food for Fire: Break­ing into the Pow­er of Quak­erism” (already regret­ting the “break­ing in” metaphor – shouldn’t it be “bro­ken in by?”).
I hope that some of the extend­ed Quak­er Ranter fam­i­ly will be able to make it out. This could be a kind of Mid-Atlantic/New Eng­land gath­er­ing of what­ev­er this of infor­mal movement/network is. Because this is a work­shop mod­el I am expect­ed to impart knowl­edge but while I’ll come with an worked-out agen­da, I’m hap­py to loosen and/or toss it aside if need­ed. The work­shop description:
bq.. Many of the clas­sic themes of Quak­erism speak to the con­di­tion of a world wracked by con­sumerism, war, big­otry and envi­ron­men­tal dis­re­gard. Friends have a his­to­ry of unit­ing truth and love and turn­ing it into action. We’ll reach into the Quak­er attic to dust off gospel order, plain liv­ing, trav­el­ing min­istry, prophet­ic wit­ness; we’ll try them on and see how they fit into our expe­ri­ences of the liv­ing Spir­it. There will be plen­ty of time to share sto­ries in small groups and togeth­er. How are our month­ly meet­ings doing rec­og­niz­ing the gifts of min­istry and ser­vice among younger Friends? How are Friends doing spread­ing the good news of the Quak­er way? There is a great peo­ple to be gath­ered still but how can we enter into the faith­ful­ness required? Jesus came up the fish­er­men and said “Come, fol­low me;” what would we do if we got that call? Like any pro­grammed Quak­er event the work­shop is real­ly an excuse to assem­ble Friends togeth­er in prayer and faith­ful­ness to God. The most impor­tant thing we could do this week­end is build friend­ships: friend­ships of sup­port, mutu­al account­abil­i­ty, and peer men­tor­ship. Friends from all branch­es of Quak­erism wel­come, as are the newest of seekers.
p. The price is $180 for the week­end (reg­is­tra­tion form) but if that’s a bur­den then try to get your meet­ing to pay – I sus­pect they’ll be hap­py to see that you’re show­ing an inter­est in Quak­erism. I’ll be dri­ving up from South Jer­sey and will prob­a­bly be able to pick up folks from Philly & New York. Email me if you have or need a ride from oth­er points and I’ll try to con­nect you with oth­er travelers.
If you’re too old or too impa­tient to wait for Sec­ond Month to roll around, pick up Bri­an Drayton’s new book On Liv­ing with a Con­cern for Gospel Min­istry and read that instead. Yes, I plugged it five days ago and yes, my pay­check comes from the pub­lish­er – but I’ve now now read the first chap­ter and it real­ly is that good. Read­ing it feels like putting that soon-to-be-favorite pop album on the turntable for the first time. Where were you when you first heard Sgt Pep­pers? (for the YAFs in the audi­ence: yes I’m being sil­ly with the Bea­t­les ref­er­ence; if you remem­ber first putting that album on a turntable in 1967 then this isn’t your workshop!).

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:

  • *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.

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 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.
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