Explore the Quaker way: read about the basics of our faith, find answers to common questions and find a Quaker meeting near you.
Young Adult Friends Epistle
To Friends everywhere,
From August 6th through the 11th in the year 2016, the Young Adult Friends of New England Yearly Meeting gathered as part of their annual sessions. The theme of the gathering was “Being the Hands of God: A Call to Radical Faithfulness.” We went into our gathering hoping to balance engagement with the wider meeting and engagement with each other. Many YAFs enjoyed the lounge space, where games and socializing were common. We went on our annual lake trip, and many friends engaged in fellowship together while catching and comparing Pokémon throughout the week.
There were also four YAF programs. Our opening program, led by Hilary Burgin, welcomed many YAFs into the gathering and allowed us to explore various aspects of our faithfulness and callings through worshipful art. In the days that followed the opening program, there was a core group of YAFs who attended programs and engaged in community together. Our next program, led by Gordon Peters, invited us to consider the dynamics of safety, namely how safe we felt to fully be ourselves within our lives and especially within the Quaker community. The third program, led by Hilary Burgin and Nia Thomas, brought the Young Friends and Young Adult Friends together to share in fellowship, reflect on our experiences of transitioning from one community to another, and examine our relationship with our spiritual communities. This program replaced the “Young Friends kidnapping” tradition, as YAFs wanted to try a more serious program with the entire body of Young Friends instead of just the graduating class alone. Our fourth program, led by Gordon Peters, was centered on naming our individual gifts and discerning the roles that they play in our personal lives and communities. We discerned that gifts can sometimes be transient, often valued in certain settings but not in others, and can feed or deplete us.
Many YAFs offered their gifts and leadership to the Yearly Meeting by showing up in roles such as staffing for younger friends, leading YAF affinity groups, serving on NEYM committees and panels, working in administrative roles, hosting meal time conversation tables, leading afternoon choices and workshops for the wider community, hosting the latter half of the coffee house for the first time, and serving on the Sessions Planning Committee as well as on the Racial Inclusivity Task Force. We also acknowledge the newly formed YAF Pastoral Care Committee that debuted at Sessions this year and honor and celebrate the newly appointed Young Adult Engagement Coordinator, Hilary Burgin.
In writing this epistle, it has become apparent that while many YAFs are scattered throughout Yearly, sharing their gifts with the wider community, this results in us not being able to fully convey the experiences or express the viewpoints of all young adults at Sessions. We recognize that Yearly Meeting is a difficult time for many of us to feel a strong sense of community within YAFs, though it is our love for this community that drives us to be spread throughout Sessions.
We observe that among YAFs, there continues to be a struggle to fully hold our youngest friends and older YAF friends as we recognize, even here, generational differences. Young Friends transitioning into Young Adult Friends are experiencing the many responsibilities of entering adulthood and thusly some have not felt able to actively participate in or attend our programs and gatherings. Similarly, some older YAFs have felt as though their needs are no longer being met in the YAF community. Some have expressed discomfort and disconnect due to feeling underrepresented and are unsure where their spiritual community lies. These difficult truths have led some YAFs to question if we should split into two different age groups. It is our intention to see the maintenance of this community that so many call home, but these sentiments speak to a deeper issue that needs to be addressed.
This issue is not within the YAF community alone. Throughout our time together many conversations emerged among YAFs concerning dissonance between the younger communities and the rest of the Quaker body. Many Friends identified spaces in which some older friends struggle to view YAFs in equal light and voiced that they sometimes feel unheard, unseen, tokenized, or infantilized. In addition to YAF circles, these sentiments have also been heard among younger friends.
These themes were present when the Racial Inclusivity Task Force asked Friends to notice the systems of racism that persists within this predominantly white culture during sessions this year. This work brought to light some unproductive patterns within the Yearly Meeting—patterns which mirrored resistance and marginalization that were existent in last year’s gender inclusivity work. While there were strong examples of this exercise being embraced by the wider community, there was a sense that some older Friends were struggling to embrace areas of growth and change in the community that many YAFs have readily embraced for some time. Additionally, members of the Racial Inclusivity Task Force met with the youth of JHYM and Young Friends to introduce them to the work and it was observed that some of these dissonant feelings were alive in those communities as well. This generational division seems to permeate amongst NEYM in different ways and different spaces. Yet through all of this, there is an undying union and sense of community.
As for us, the YAFs of NEYM, we are young adults aged roughly 18–35, we are students, we are employees, we are journeyers, we are activists, we are children, we are parents, we are elders, we are youth, we are LGBTQ+, we are people of color, we are Quakers, we are in love with this community, we are here, and we are upset. As we continue these conversations and explore the needs of our community and its members, we hope to find ways to reshape aspects of our communities that do not support us and breathe new life and inspiration into them and into the Yearly Meeting as a whole. It is in this spirit that we leave the YAF community and the larger body with these queries which can offer actionable steps forward.
What is expected of us?
Can we meet those expectations while being authentic to ourselves?
Who represents us?
Are we a unified body?
Who or What do we feel called to be?
How can these noticings be transformed into action?
How can we put our gifts to use in the wider community when it feels no one is seeking them out?
How can we truly be heard?
Can we be accepted for who we are?
In love and radically moving forward,
The Young Adult Friends of New England