Saturday, July 21, 2007

NCYM(C) Yearly Meeting Sessions 2007

Before this year, I had never attended the yearly meeting sessions of NCYM(C), my home yearly meeting. To get there, I caught a ride with a two Friends from Greensboro, whom I had never previously met; no one from my home meeting in Durham was planning to go until the next day, and I wanted to be there from the start. I realized on the way that I was about to show up at a gathering of Friends where I knew no one. I practiced focusing on God.

The night before I had arrived home in the wee hours of the morning from Boston, where I had visited friends of mine right after FGC Gathering. I was tired, and feeling some stress about entering yet another new environment with new people, and stress about keeping my focus on God through all of it. When I got to the opening Meeting for Worship held by Ministry and Oversight, I was relieved for the worship space. About half way through I opened my eyes for a few moments and noticed that in the row in front of me was a Friend from my home meeting (in NC) who had moved to the Boston area near the same time I did. God is a clever one, indeed.

As much as I was focusing on God, God did not keep me from feeling awkward and withdrawn around lots of people I didn't know. Despite not knowing anyone initially, as the week progressed I felt as though I had walked into a large family where I was loved like a family member just by being there. There are only 8 monthly meetings affiliated with NCYM(C), some of which are very small, so with a total of approximately 85 adults - though many of whom were visitors to our YM sessions - it felt much more like a single family community.

This smaller size also leaves space for the wonderful tradition of the reading of the queries. Over the course of each year, each monthly meeting responds to the 12 queries in the NCYM(C) Faith and Practice, and at yearly meeting sessions these responses are worshipfully read aloud during business sessions. It was very interesting to hear where meetings had similar answers and where they differed. One elderly Friend who's been to NCYM(C) yearly meeting sessions nearly every year of her life commented that once upon a time monthly meetings gave single yes or no responses to the queries, whereas today each response tended to be at least a paragraph, if not longer.


Another highlight of the week, in my experience, was a YAF panel on the last night. Getting it together was somewhat disorganized and involved a certain amount of outward indifference, but the outcome was very important. I ended up joining the panel last minute, making a total of four of us who sat and responded to queries about growing up in the yearly meeting asked by an older Friend in front of most of the attenders of yearly meeting.

I do not really remember the queries, exactly. What I do remember is having the opportunity to name issues that I had growing up in my home meeting, and to name things that prevent me from having conversations and relationships with older Friends. Here are some things that I remember were important for me to name while speaking on this panel:
-Continuity and organization are important in First Day School
-As a YAF, when I walk into a room of older Friends whom I do not know, I feel automatically as if I have to prove that I am a dedicated Friend, and that I do have experience in the wider community. I feel as though I don't begin on an equal playing field.
-Often in my experience of unprogrammed Friends, committees and projects are so desperate for younger Friends that good process is ignored. The decision to ask a young Friend to serve becomes based purely on age, without discerning where spirit is leading. This is the problem of the Token Young Friend.
-There are many older adult Friends I would love to have conversations with, but I am terrible at beginning them.
-Many Friends are so afraid of imposing anything religious on the children that they neglect to even speak of their own experiences. This leaves youth with nothing to build on, no references, and no resources. There is HUGE difference between saying "you shall believe this!" and "here's my own experience".

As a note, I am sure that I have left off important things from this list, including a lot of other YAFs' experiences.

Being able to name these sorts of things out loud to other Friends, older and younger, opened space for intergenerational dialog in a way I'd never before experienced. Once that was out in the open, many Friends felt much more comfortable in approaching us and beginning conversations. Unfortunately, it was the last night of yearly meeting so there was not much time for these conversations at yearly meeting, but hopefully the seeds have been planted and will grow among meetings in NCYM(C) into much stronger intergenerational communities. I hope to find a way to encourage the opening of that space in my own home meeting before I leave again for Massachusetts.

I am so glad to have gone to NCYM(C) yearly meeting sessions this year. I feel as though it is the beginning of a stronger connection to my home yearly meeting, to my roots, and the beginning of a greater understanding of Conservative Quakerism and where I fit in the great Quaker spectrum. I hope that I will find my way back in the near future.

Love and Light,
Claire

6 comments:

RichardM said...

Claire,

I'm so glad you were willing to participate in the panel. (For Friends who haven't figured it out I'm the older Friend who moderated the panel). A number of older Friends came up to me afterwards and said that what the YAFs said opened their eyes and was valuable to them. I think that in particular two things stood out. One was your call on older Friends to speak openly of their spritual journeys. As you say such sharing isn't forcing religion down anyone's throat, it's sharing. It is good to share our stories. The other thing was my daughter's point, which she discusses on her blog, about how integrating young people into Quaker business from an early age is better for them than setting up lots of segregated teen or youth activities. Treating people as Friends who happen to be young is much better than treating them as a special class of beings--"young Friends." George Parker became treasurer of his monthly meeting when he graduated from Guilford College and remained in that position for seventy years. While that's impressive, the point is he was immediately given normal adult responsibilities while in his early twenties. That's the quickest way to make new weighty Friends.

kwix said...

Claire,

I think the panel was one of the (non-worship) highlights of the Meeting this year, and I second all that Richard says here.

That panel -- and our discussions on the way home about Firstday School & youth -- have really impressed me. In particular, I will be pushing to make sure that our Youth Ministry plans to have more people sharing "spiritual journeys" with the youth get realized. And I'm gonna try to think about where the talents of our various high schoolers are most needed at Meeting, and see if we can start having them participate regularly in the work of the Meeting (because we all know that High schoolers love to take time from their schedules to go to Meeting committee meetings!)

It will be interesting to see how that fits in with Junior Meeting. Perhaps Jr Mtg is too "segregationist" in concept...

Kent

Claire said...

Hmm, I agree about integrating younger Friends into the work of the greater meeting community, for sure. I also think there's a balance to be had - the youth need to be able to find solidarity among themselves. When you're young, there's nothing like an intense meeting for worship among your peers, at least that's been my experience. It is important to have space to share with one's peers and to give and gain support from one another early on. But as I said, there's a balance to be had - it's so important for younger Friends to be part of the greater intergenerational community, too.

Richard - Weren't most of the earliest Friends 20-somethings to begin with? I completely agree with you - clearly YAFs are capable of full "adult" responsibilities. To think otherwise is discouraging, invalidating, and unproductive. It is important, however, to acknowledge the transience of YAF lives, that many YAFs are on the move and very unsettled, making it difficult to be a full participant in any meeting.

Kent - I think the original intention of Junior Meeting is important (assuming I'm right in my assumption about the original intention, because I wasn't actually there then) - to familiarize younger Friends with Quaker Process by having them take it into their own hands.

[For those who don't know what Junior Meeting is: At Durham Friends Mtg the young Friends (middle and high school) have effectively a Meeting for Business once a month called Junior Meeting. Agenda items are usually about what service project to do and where to donate money acquired from a past service project - Kent correct me if this has changed or if you know more than I do; my knowledge is a bit old now and I'm a bit out of touch.]

The failure of this is that when I was in middle and high school I had absolutely no understanding of what Jr Mtg really was supposed to be, nor did I learn anything about Quaker Process while there. We didn't have a clue about Quaker Process - or at least I didn't - and looking back, that's unacceptable. There needs to be a way for a greater understanding of Quaker Process to be communicated to the young Friends of DFM before Jr Mtg can be very meaningful. Wow - I didn't realize I felt so strongly about that! Quaker Process is near and dear to my heart.

Anyways, in the sense of Jr Mtg being segregationist, it's not really much more segregationist than First Day School since it occurs at the same time as Meeting for Worship.

Kent, I'd also like to restate that I'm willing to be a resource to you and others as youth-y things at Durham develop.

Thanks to you both for comments!

Love and Light,
Claire

RichardM said...

Claire,

Yes, the earliest Friends were largely young adults but then I don't remember the 17th century. I do remember George Parker. We met when he was in his seventies and I was in my thirties. He made a huge impression on me then and for the twenty years I knew him. Only since his death has it dawned on me how young he was when he started taking on Meeting responsibilities. But America has changed. In George's day a college grad could usually just get a job and begin a stable life. Our economy makes it very hard for twenty-somethings to establish stable lives. You made the point that we have to recognize this fact and take it into account. Just as we would make sure that an eighty-five year old Friend who no longer drove a car could get rides to meeting we need to take into account the economic insecurity YAFs face and make accomodations for them in order to fully integrate them into Meeting.

This discussion is generating a better understanding of the issues we face in renewing the Society.

Liz Opp said...

Claire, what a wonderful post. The comments are wonderful too, and all of the discussion makes me even more hopeful and eager to attend NCYM(C) annual sessions in 2008 after Gathering. (I guess I have to start planning on that NOW, though!)

In one of your replies to a comment, you write, "I agree about integrating younger Friends into the work of the greater meeting community, for sure. I also think there's a balance to be had - the youth need to be able to find solidarity among themselves."

This is well stated and I agree: with any minority or oppressed group, there needs to be time with one another's peers and time with the larger group--not that YAFs are intentionally or systemically oppressed, but they are, for different reasons, not able to participate regularly in decisions and programs that impact them.

Well, I have been far too long out of the blogging loop and hope to return to it more regularly once more, now that both the Gathering and Iowa Conservative's annual sessions are behind me!

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Josh said...

Probably one of the things most troubling to me is a segregationism that is emerging in some "Young Adult" circles in Quakerism. This is not healthy in the long run; at this point, it's simply having separate activities and token "Young Adults."

As a "Young Adult," I've gotten some grief for pointing out what I've perceived to be tokenism AND the "you don't have enough gray hairs" elitism that occurs in Quaker citcles. That grief doesn't just come from folks on the older end of the age spectrum, either; I've gotten that grief from some "Young Adults."

For that, I feel very alien, and on many occasions "homeless" in Quaker circles--not old enough to be an "adult" but not...cool enough to be a "Young Adult." My current life situation and my background make me even more isolated, in terms of both my resources and my connections. Being friends with someone's parent can make things strange from both directions; the person my age feels strange that I'm friends with their parent and the parent sometimes has a hidden degree of bias shaded by their experience with their son/daughter my age. But it's that alien otherness that we are to fundamentally identify with, so that we can feel the pain of others and try to reach out ot them.