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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  • Aman­da

    I apol­o­gize for being all over your site like a plauge these days — but you’re real­ly one of the best jump-off points for my online Quak­er excur­sions. I had not seen this post­ing before — I think I have a deep­er under­stand­ing of some of your appre­hen­sion.
    How­ev­er, I think this essay would be of great inter­est to cer­tain mem­bers of our meet­ing. There is an earnest late 30’s (I think friend) as well as anoth­er old­er lady who have talked with me about this Weds. night group — we all want to do some­thing but haven’t real­ly got any defined plans. I may be firey and hun­gry for knowl­edge, but I’m also very inex­pe­ri­enced.
    Could I have per­mis­sion to bring this essay, with prop­er cred­it of course, to my meet­ing?
    Aman­da

  • Hi Aman­da: sure you can use it, that’s why it’s here. At the time I wrote it, it was dis­trib­uted pret­ty wide­ly and it seemed to be received well every­where except here at home. If I were to write it today I would focus more about nam­ing and sup­port­ing min­istry and about how we could build deep and seri­ous com­mu­ni­ties. I’d love to have a Wednes­day night group like you’re talk­ing about. These things exist more and more now, though qui­et­ly. We should get some­one to talk about these…