Quaker despair

Martin at Quaker Ranter is feeling the burden of the work: Youth Ministry, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Style:

So why not just admit that the yearly meeting is irrelevant to younger Friends? Why not turn our meetinghouses into retirement homes?

PS: How I wish I weren’t so cynical about the yearly meeting.

I left an equally heartfelt, but I fear somewhat less than helpful, comment:

I wish you weren’t so cynical, too. I’m sorry each time I read of your difficulties, Martin. I share your concerns about the narrow age range of most of those in Quaker leadership and wonder about the reasons. I agree that often there is explicit ageism as well as implicit indifference or lack of imagination. On the other hand, I’m also often mystified as to why our experiences have been so different.

I came to Friends when I was 26 (in 1986). I was single and not particularly consumed with making any particular kind of life or career; I was ultimately available. I joined meeting (Central Philadelphia) within months of first attending, I was so certain I belonged. I took advantage of every opportunity for involvement and service. I worked for Friends for the better part of the next 15 years.

And I found many opportunities. I was often given opportunities specifically because of my age. Sometimes I had to press for what I believed was right for me. (I refused appointment to Peace and Social Concerns Committee; I think I was approached because I was an out gay man. I told them I had come to Friends not out of social concerns but out of spiritual ones. I wasn’t immediately appointed to Overseers, as it was then called, but I was the next year. I also served on Worship and Ministry, which I clerked while in my early 30s.)

Chance put some opportunities in my way. I transfered my membership for a time to the meeting in Camden, New Jersey, which had a tiny resident population. I spoke up about something at business meeting and wound up appointed to Representative Meeting (now Interim Meeting), which was unlikely to have happened at CPMM. I left work early once a month in order to go. By the time I left Interim Meeting some ten years later, it began its meetings after dinner, although still on a weeknight. The range of age and economic situation of the members had radically changed. I was clerk of Interim Meeting at 38, having already served as recording clerk, as well as having previously served as one of the recording clerks of yearly meeting.

At Central Philadelphia my ministry was soundly supported. I was young, and I was relatively new to the meeting. But I was a member, not an attender. My experience of CPMM was that membership was considered to make a decisive difference. (CPMM is one of the few meetings I know that has gone through an in-depth process to figure out just what membership does mean.)

I don’t want to go on about what I’ve done. I don’t think of myself as an unusual person. But it wasn’t much of a struggle for me to be usefully involved with Friends even at a leadership level, although I did have to give up some things and make some sacrifices. I had the liberty of job flexibility and no children.

I began thinking and teaching about eldering in my early 30s and constantly had to tell people eldering wasn’t about age (how many foolish old people do you know?). But on the other hand, I do have to admit that my ministry situates me among a relatively small group of Friends. Perhaps I shouldn’t try to draw any conclusions from my experience. I wish I could figure out if there’s anything about my experience that could help others feel more at home or more effective. I’m ever mindful of the fact that I am NOT young, even if I am among the youngest in a group.

All through this life, there have been some things that may be clues: I enjoy getting to know and working with people of all ages; I’m willing to submit to community discernment and needs; I’m accustomed to working within the status quo even while changing it; I’m passionately committed to learning from and building upon the past; I’m a good politician; I consciously try to be patient; I’m generally cheerful.

If yearly meeting is in session, then the star magnolias in the courtyard must be in bloom and perhaps there are even bulbs blooming in the lawns. Here in Boston it’s notable just to see snowdrops in bloom.

3 Replies to “Quaker despair”

  1. I always appreciate it when you write about Quakerism, Ken!

    I don’t think you’re alone with your experiences with Quakers. I didn’t find any sort of “generation gap” when I was younger either (I started attending in 1986).

    I wonder if, as our generation has moved into greater levels of influence and authority, that those who are now in their 20’s & 30’s (or at least some of them) are having different experiences? I haven’t been involved with FLGBQQ concerns, but the last time I attended (in 2000) the group seemed more “gray” than when I first started attending years before. Do younger sexual minority Friends feel excluded or at least not feel compelled to join in because of a “generation gap” (if indeed this is still the case for the group in 2005)???

    My local Meeting is a “younger” Meeting overall and I suspect this contributes to younger adults being more involved. But, I wonder if this is the exception to the rule amongst some Friends.

  2. Thank you from me as well. I am new to the whole blogosphere and just found Martin’s page, although I admit to becoming quickly addicted. I share many of his concerns about language and faithfulness. I am 37, married with two little kids, currently a member of the Ministry and Oversight Committee of San Francisco Monthly Meeting, formerly attended 15th St in Manhattan and a couple of others in between. And I have felt generally supported and offered opportunities. I have had to say no to some because my family life takes priority, at least sometimes. I am wondering if Pacific Yearly Meeting is in a different place around youth than Philadelphia, or if it’s the same issues and I am more of a glass half full person, and I don’t see it quite as dire as Martin. I haven’t met him actually, just through reading his blog. And I don’t know if it’s really a breach of etiquette to argue with someone on their website.

  3. Hi all! Joe & Robin raise interesting points, one which I try to keep in mind: these issues are constantly shifting and aren’t the same everywhere. What was true for me wasn’t necessarily true for someone half a decade earlier or a yearly meeting over, or someone who lucked out to find a supportive Friend to guide them along, etc., etc. And my experience won’t be true for the current twenty-somethings. Between the blogs (self-help) and the slowly-rising consciousness around supporting youth (needing more help but better), there does seem to be some opportunities opening up (the flip side to my cynicism is a hopefulness that keeps me going).

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