Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A New Kind of Quaker

This last weekend I traveled to Greensboro, North Carolina for "A New Kind of Quaker." Most of those gathered there were young adult Friends from the eastern part of the country. We were joined though be a good number of older Friends who were interested inter-generational conversation. The conference was very short, taking up only Friday night and Saturday till dinner time and consisted mostly of workshops and a little bit of open worship. Many of us however extended our time there by visiting F(f)riends on Thursday and Friday and hearing Nathan Sebens preach at First Friends on Sunday. For me, those extended times of fellowship were during meals, before bed and during car rides were some of the weekend's best moments.

I spent Thursday and then later Sunday night at Pickard's Mountain, an organic teaching farm, where several YAFs work and live. It was exciting to see Friends living out the testimonies of simplicity and peace as they live off the grid in yomes (a mix between a yurt and a geodesic dome) and raise a portion of the food they eat. I realized that here at the William Penn House I have grown use to the noise of passing traffic and the lights of the city. At the farm the full moon lit up our surroundings and we could see the stars and we played a board game by the light of candles. On Friday morning we worshiped together outside in the garden next to the goats. Often in the city I get disconnected from nature, but at the farm I was always in and apart of it.

The conference itself began with a talk by Betsy Blake, a time of small group worship sharing and finally open worship together. I found myself, in the silence after Betsy shared, longing to stay in worship together, instead of break up into small groups. I felt like I should stand up and offer this to Friends, but was scared. Scared of appearing rude, scared of changing the schedule, and so I didn't. Now looking back on it, I regret not being more faithful to the leading of the Spirit. As Friends, are we not supposed to be open to where God is leading us in the moment? And yet I thought that asking for the schedule to be changed would be stepping on others toes.

Much of the weekend felt this way to me, rushing from one thing to the next. The question that many Friends seem to have came with to this weekend was "What is God calling us to?" There were many workshops that talked this issue up and down. I represented Evangelical Friends on a inter-branch panel and spoke about what I saw in the future of my own branch. During the day and a half I poured out to others, talking about my own spiritual journey and trying to feel out what this "new kind of Quaker" will be. But I felt like we had little time to listen to where the Spirit is calling us, to lay down what we expect God to do and just let Him lead us. Many of us spoke of a desire for renewal and rebirth, to commit radically to our faith. I long for that, deeply. But often my yearning gets in the way of allowing God to possibly call me to something completely different than anything I can imagine. How can I get past my own impatience for God to move so that God can really move?

This being said, I did have deep and productive conversations with others at the conference. I enjoyed the experience of sharing deeply with others and finding common ground. That kind of connection is invaluable as we try to together discern the way forward. I met new people who I value as part of my spiritual community and I learned to appreciate old friends in new ways. I am particularly grateful to those who showed us out-of-towners hospitality during our stay by providing us a couch to sleep on and welcoming us at meeting on Sunday morning. The community, love and joy among us was where the Spirit was this weekend. That was where I saw transformation.


Martin Kelley said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences. Tight finances, parental duties and advancing age :) have kept me from the rash of young adult conferences these past few years but I've wondered from afar who can keep up with all of them. If this keeps up all the under-35 Quakers will soon be spending all their time passing the over-55 Quakers in the airports on the way to and from the constantly running "youth ministry" and "revisioning the peace testimony" conferences while those of us in the middle change diapers and blog in our PJs.

One experience I will share: when I lead workshops these days, my goal is to get the group to the point where we throw out the schedule. I'm not really the biggest fan of over-organized workshops but that's the model most Quakers use these days and it's what we have to adapt to. So I start off with an agenda and readings and all that but hope that this will get us to a place where gathered worship will just break in. It comes in the form of a spontaneously interruption but it's clear to everyone that Christ is in the room and everything's different. I literally step down as facilitator and let the Holy Spirit do the work, knowing this newly gathered community is aware enough of what's happening that it will faciliate itself. I step back in only when the moment starts to ebb and nature calls (food, sleep, bathrooms).

This experience has happened a few times but I don't see why it shouldn't be common if only we remember that following agendas is not our goal. So: if you're ever in a workshop where I'm the (so-called) leader and feel a strong indication that we should slow down, then please by all means stop the show!

L.B.C. Keefe-Perry said...

I am of a like mind with Martin. I find that many (perhaps most) workshop models in the Liberal Friend tradition structurally undermine the potential for the gathered silence and the right use of Gifts of the Spirit.

Part of this, it seems to me, is due to the fact that many attend workshops looking to get work done, and are not as eager to have work done to them by Spirit. Our transfiguration and conversion is not always a pleasant thing, and yet it is always available to us.

What I seem to notice is that even the best intentioned workshops, conferences, etc. often end up being guided by good protocal and workshoppiness, rather than the Divine. Consequently, though we hear and are exposed to many ideas and Friends, the opportunity to worship and have the Spirit break into, and through, our stiff necks, is not as present as the chance to hear and experience more good ideas.

I am not a pooh-pooher of good ideas and critical thought, however I do know that in my life, I must balance these things will discernment, worship and communal reconnection to Spirit for balance to be maintained.

In the Light,


Brad said...

Great notes and observations, Faith. As someone who leads workshops, I often get questions from people who will be participating "what's the agenda", wanting as much detail as possible, so I prepare that. But when it comes to the workshop, I then basically put the agenda aside, and become more of a gentle steerer while letting the group get into a flow (or let the spirit move them). The feedback is often along the lines of it was good to be able to reflect, pause, and consider deeply; sometimes people feel they are not leaving with enough "stuff", but I am ok with quality over quantity.