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
The night before I had arrived home in the wee hours of the morning from
As much as I was focusing on God, God did not keep me from feeling awkward and withdrawn around lots of people I didn't know.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,