I attended a conference over Memorial Day weekend for young adult Quakers, or Friends. YAFs, as we're called, are generally defined as 18-35. The range varies, and obviously there is a huge range of experience there!
For those not in the know, Quakers ARE still around (we're not extinct and we're not Amish or anything like that - and we don't own the oatmeal company either). There are several different branches of Quakers, some more Christ-centered and some less. It's all very complicated and you can read about it elsewhere. The point is that there are differences amongst us and that makes some different kinds of Quakers very uncomfortable with each other. There are efforts, like this YAF conference, to get Quakers of various backgrounds together to talk and build relationships.
I kind of wanted to go to this conference but didn't think it would be possible. At practically the last minute I was asked by Friends Journal to attend (they made it financially possible for me!) and write an article about the conference. I was very happy to oblige! (I'll post a link to that when it's published online.)
It was an interesting experience. I missed the whole first evening because I got stuck in a layover at the airport. I missed one worship time while I helped wash dishes in the kitchen. And it felt like I was "missing it" during the worship I did make it to. Several people talked about the Spirit moving and it being a great experience, but I wasn't getting it. I guess that happens to everyone now and again.
I decided to join the epistle committee, partly to get a better idea of what was going on for everyone. Quakers have a practice of writing a letter during each event which sums up the spirit of what happened, the activities, the decisions, etc. The letter is generally written by a committee, approved by the whole body, and then sent out to the wider Quaker world.
I like the idea of epistles and this was the first time I'd volunteered to be on the committee. Ours was perhaps unusual in that it was so large. I think there were 7 or 8 of us! I really enjoyed the process we went through, how respectful and worshipful it was, and in the end I really liked our epistle.
For your reading pleasure, here is the epistle from the conference:
Dear Friends everywhere:
We send greetings from the Young Adult Gathering held at University Friends Meeting and Church in Wichita, Kansas, Fifth Month, 2010. Present were roughly 73 young adults from all branches of Quakerism, and 23 yearly meetings.
One of the great elements of this gathering was serving one another in hospitality, as we prepared our own meals and cleaned up the kitchen. We labored together outwardly and inwardly, seeking our common experience of God and Love.
We came to a place that was difficult to reach. We came to the center of this country, hoping to be brought to our Center as a faith community. It is an ongoing challenge to unite as a corporate body, and we grieve that not all felt able to participate. We struggled to hear one another and to understand one another. We struggled to speak our truths and to understand each other’s truths. We encountered differences between the branches of Friends, and within our own yearly meetings. But we came forward into worship willingly, vulnerably, and trusting in God to lead us. Despite and through these hardships, we were carried into an ongoing relationship with Love.
In our time together, God met with us, just as we asked. In our struggles and our joys, God was there, loving us. In studying Scripture together, we learned from Jesus’ example that Love requires crossing borders, going to places that are strange, foreign, and that seem dangerous. Now, like our Friend, we too are crossing borders. Jesus took risks, and now we are taking risks. But those risks are worth it because we are seeking Truth in Love, and when we find Love we are going to find God because God is Love, and that Love waits to be awakened in all of us.
The seeds that were planted this weekend must be tended and nurtured, or they will not grow. We look forward to the joy of continued labor, and to the fruit that our branches will bear. Before these seeds could be planted, we had to be plowed up through striving and struggle. We had to be broken and made tender. We were. We ask God to continue to break our hearts from all that breaks His heart, to continue to open our eyes. We have begun.