13 September 2006

Reaching out to Youth

Some months ago, a young man got up in Meeting and talked about his hunger for connection with the adults in his home Meeting. He spoke about his confusion in trying to transition from being a child of the Meeting to becoming an adult Quaker.

He didn't want religious education classes or a formal program designed to turn young Friends into adult Friends. What he wanted was for individual members of the Meeting to reach out to him personally. He wanted them to call him and invite him over for coffee. He wanted them to treat him as a unique person, not just the child of his parents.

I imagine that the adult Friends in his Meeting were watching him fondly, never dreaming that he would welcome such overtures from them. We Quakers hold our youth lightly, not wanting to impose our ideas on them. There's a hesitancy in transmitting our traditions to our youth. We imagine that young folks will be bored by worship and Quaker process and that they have much better things to do with their time than hang out with old Friends.

My recent experiences with young (and not so very young) Friends suggests that we might be selling both Quakerism and our youth short. Many young Friends find value in worship and are eager to become more deeply connected with their Meetings. Yet they hesitate on the borders, intimidated by the very weighty Friends who are scrupulously avoiding trying to push them.

Several young Friends have suggested that they need the adults in their Meetings to reach out to them. While I agree that this is important (and older Friends would do well to continue to reach out to the youth in our Meetings), I think our process works better when the young folk stand up and let the Meeting know that they are ready for more.

When the teens in our Meeting stood up and said that they needed support in making the transition from Quaker children to adult Friends, the Meeting found numerous ways to offer concrete support. Individual Friends made a point of appreciating the teens for standing up. Committees discussed how the Meeting might better serve young Friends, and many Friends made a special effort to invite the teens to join ongoing Meeting activities. One individual spearheaded a proposal that the Meeting sponsor young Friends at Quaker Center programs.

The teen business meetings provide a special opportunity for support. I am touched to see the tender support offered the two teen clerks, not only by adult Friends, but also by other teens.

Older Friends offer young Friends the gift of freedom of conscience. We want our youth to come to us freely, as they are moved by their own small, still voices within. This is a precious gift, and one that is integral to the Quaker witness in every way. A young person can't truly take her place in a Quaker Meeting unless she accepts both this freedom and the responsibility that accompanies it.

Many young Friends don't know what it is that they're being offered. Many seem to be waiting for a sign from their Meeting that the Meeting views them as adults, something the Meeting will only do when they stand up. There are Friends in their 30s and 40s who are still waiting for some rite of passage to mark them as adults in their Meetings.

We can help our youth by reaching out to them, by staying in fellowship with them, and by inviting them to both to Meeting events and to our homes. We can tell them about what we find most precious in Quakerism. We can also tell them why we give them the gifts of freedom and space, and that we are there for them.

04 September 2006

The Marriage of True Minds

Over the past several months, I have been thinking a lot about our Meeting community and the work needed to tend it. To me, our Meeting seems a precious, living jewel, a beacon of light that shines steadily in the world. Precious and delicate, held as it is in the hearts and hands of frail human beings.

As I go forward in my work on Worship & Ministry, I find that I am called to a deeper faith. Now more than ever, I need to trust to the process of worship, to the ability of God to fix what human hands cannot. Instead of thinking that I need to solve all problems with my own mind, my own experience, my own efforts, I need to let go and trust that I will be led to serve my Meeting as it needs me to.

Another blow to my ego! It's not about how well I do this job; it's all about the job I need to do. I don't have to take the entire weight of the Meeting on my shoulders; all I need to do is to listen to what I am called to do and to do it faithfully.

This is hard for me.

One of the things that I have become aware of recently is how many people want to bend the Meeting to their own wills. Most of us have figured out how Meeting is supposed to be and what Quakers are supposed to be, and we try to get everyone else to conform to our ideas. I have a sneaking suspicion that this goes against the ideas of continuing revelation and the inner light. I also think that we are always in danger of substituting the correct forms and terminology for direct experience of the Divine.

The remedy, it seems to me, is to go deeper, to dive down below the surface disagreements to our place of unity. In worship, where we share communion with one another and with the Spirit. In that place, we don't risk putting God in too-small a box. In that place, we aren't prey to petty disagreements and hair-splitting. In that place, we can find peace and that shining beacon of love that unites us.

I have been thinking that the advice of Shakespeare works as well for Meetings as it works for relationships:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment. Let's not quibble about terminology or dogma or what makes a true Quaker. Let's go deeper, and follow that ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken. Let's find our star and steer our wandering bark to it instead of trusting to our own frail minds as the star and rudder of our craft.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment. Help me remember that it's not all about me, that I am a small and frail being with faults and limitations, that the Truth is bigger than my mind can compass, that it is not right for me to impose my limitations on the eternal. Help me remember to say, "Dear God; I don't know how to handle this situation. Show me what I ought to do."

"And then help me have the faith to do it."