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Sessions 2011 YAF Epistle
"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."
—1 Corinthians 12:4–7
To Beloved Friends Everywhere,
The Young Adult Friends (YAFs) of New England gathered in Smithfield, Rhode Island, from the 6–11 of Eighth Month, 2011.
The Spirit is moving among Young Adult Friends. At Sessions this year we give thanks for many spiritual gifts among YAFs, gifts that not only blessed our own small community, but also deepened the broader Meeting.
YAF gifts of leadership and vocal ministry were made public during a very tender conversation about our relationship with Friends United Meeting (FUM). We witnessed with joy members of our community faithfully following their guide. We reaffirm our love for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer (LGBTQ) community members. While we grieve the continued existence of homophobia and heterosexism in NEYM, we are grateful for the ministry which raises up this concern. We must continue to examine this within our monthly and quarterly meetings as we work with FUM towards unity.
Other YAFs have equally public and perhaps no less spiritual gifts of music. YAF voices underpinned the Yearly Meeting production of The Fire and the Hammer. For many of us, hearing a familiar story told through music opened it in new ways.
We also bear grateful witness to less public spiritual gifts. Every year, many in our community are led to staff youth programs. Their voices may be absent in meeting for business, but their gifts of nurturing and education are deeply felt. Similarly, others among us are called to a quiet ministry of listening, and sometimes simply of holy presence. It is our hope that these gifts, too, might continue to be nurtured in our community, so that the wider Yearly Meeting may share in our blessings. "Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough" (Genesis 33:11).
Our community gathered each night, after most of the Yearly Meeting had gone to bed, in a spirit of mischievous adventure. We played foyer square—an adaptation of four square played in a foyer—much to the dismay of passersby and the maintenance staff. After our dorm was flooded (we suspect Steve Chase), we spent a commemorative evening dressed up as Swamp Things. As the prophet said, "I will turn Babylon into a place for owls and into swampland" (Isaiah 14:23). Finally, we pranked Jonathan Vogel-Borne (our Yearly Meeting secretary) with such subtlety that he probably hasn't noticed...yet.
We are grateful for the wider Yearly Meeting community. Our elders have shown us remarkable patience. YAFs offered a "loud worship" of almost continuous talking; instead of resisting, the wider Yearly Meeting entered with us into a spirit of exploration. YAFs then offered a period of silent worship in which no vocal ministry would be heard; again, the wider meeting supported our need for a deep, discerning silence. Business meetings of the full body have been, these Sessions, remarkably rooted and grounded in the Spirit and have provided a model to us of what rightly ordered business can look like. Strong gifts flourish in the wider Yearly Meeting, and we appreciated being able to lean on our elders for guidance and advice.
In the midst of joy, we find a troubling prophetic vision moving in and among the Young Adult Friends of New England. Our Climate Working Group, created in First Month to grapple with the issue of climate change, continued to proclaim an apocalyptic vision of the future backed by incontrovertible scientific evidence. "I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the air had fled. I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins" (Jeremiah 4:25--26). Their ministry exhorts us towards concrete action against climate change.
The Spirit moves deep and strong in those who bring us this concern. Many YAFs skipped the contra dance (a beloved part of Sessions) in order to labor with this issue alongside Climate Working Group members. When our community feels the Spirit entering so deeply among some of us, we are communally called to act. Knowing that the Spirit works differently in each, we do not expect to all share in the same concerns, leadings, or gifts. Indeed, many of us do not find that our own ministry lies in the area of climate action. However, recognizing that each manifestation is of a common Source, we find love requires us to affirm our community by supporting those who are thus led by the Spirit and to take individual and communal action to support this ministry.
And so, entering into that universal Light which illumines every person, we came to unity on the following minute (excerpted and slightly modified in this epistle):
We accept the reality that the stability of the systems that sustain all life on earth is in jeopardy because of human activity through industrial society. Truth as understood through the scientific method has revealed that maintaining a recognizable civilization is not compatible with systematically increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A growing scientific consensus suggests that carbon concentrations above approximately 350 parts per million pose catastrophic risk; human activity has already pushed this concentration above 390 parts per million. The sooner this trend is reversed, the more likely it is that our deepest hopes for peace, stable community, equality and justice may be realized.
We know that we do not have the answers of how to do all this, but we trust our corporate understanding of the spirit to lead us. We know that we must forgive ourselves for our complicity in this destructive system. We know we must strengthen our ability to love and to build our community to rise to this challenge. We hear the call from the Climate Working Group to use our gifts in their diverse forms to take concrete action, live lives of integrity, and know that we cannot let this burden lie. We believe this is an inflection point on this journey, and that there is much work to do to ensure Friends move forward in concrete action in the coming months.
Over the last eight months, the Working Group has come up with several actions that individuals and communities can take to move us another step farther down the path to a more stable climate.
- Actively seek ways to take individual and community action.
- Be a support network for people who are taking action.
- Find someone interested in taking on a similar level of commitment, and agree to keep each other honest, encouraging each other to greater heights.
- The body of climate science goes back to the 1800s. Solidify your knowledge so that you can help others learn.
- Understand and work to modify your carbon footprint.
- Encourage monthly meeting action.
- We call for friends to celebrate their accomplishments, and to be aware of how that progress opens the way for the next steps.
We recognize that as we take our first steps, the next will become clear. We embark upon this journey with joy, knowing that we are called not to conform to the world but rather to be transformed by the spirit (Romans 12:2); to be a prophetic people heralding a new kingdom in this world. Already we feel the fruits of the spirit bubbling through us as we begin this work. We anticipate this, and look forward to the steady revelation of the path before us. The working group commits to act in ministry, leadership, and support as the YAF community moves forward on this issue.
"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.'' (Joel 2:28)
In much love,
The Young Adult Friends of New England Yearly Meeting