Young Friends conversation

Last week, I was invited to speak to young adult Friends at my local meeting.  I didn’t have so much a typical presentation as lots of question about what it means to be a young Friend today.

As one who might not even be included in this group, I actually felt there would be a cultural divide based on something as small as ten-year age difference as well as the modern culture that had developed during that gap in time.  For example, I grew up without the Internet completely, while those 10 years younger would basically have been incorporating it into their lives almost seemlessly.

I was interested in several questions and topics:

  • Modern Quakers and Quakerism–what does it look like, where does it come from, post-modernism and the progressive Quakers, technology’s affect on Quakers, modern day eldering, remixing the Testimonies for today
  • “Let your life speak”–evangelism, progressive missionaries, and speaking truth to power
  • Beyond “spirituality”–essential religious literacy, a Christ-centered life, Quakers and the Bible, life in spiritual community, connections with other Anabaptist movements
  • Touching the elephant–strands of Quakerism, Bible stories among Friends, our relationship to the Divine
  • Inclusivity–radical inclusiveness, “diversity” among Friends, Friends we disagree with, Quaker history and its inner-contradictions, modern “face” of Quakerism

  • What do young Friends want from Quakerism? What does Quakerism ask from us?
  • How does evangelism and Quakerism work in today’s world?
  • What does leadership look like in a non-hierarchical organization?
  • Have you made peace with Quakerism’s roots in the Bible?  How or not?
  • How does technology and Quakerism combine?  What is “plain” in today’s terms?
  • What is membership? What does it mean to live in a spiritual community?
While I expected we’d go through these somehow, it was amazing how the conversation meandered through them.   Our description of what makes a young Friend which we built out of our own pre-conceptions looked like this:
  • 22-44 years old, “not an old Friend”
  • not married, no children
  • capable of eldering
  • “convinced” or seeking, but asking for more Quaker education
  • have shared generational-experiences
I noticed that what makes a young Friend, according to this group, is not solely dependent on age or experience, but perhaps more like a group who shares a budding attachment to Quakerism that is seeking strength through mentoring, a desire for a deeper connection to a spiritual life and pursuit of a spiritual path.  And I noticed that some of us were quickly disqualified from this (including myself!).
A big thanks to Wess for visiting with us via Skype, as he moved us to the topic of faith and how he believes that Quakerism is moving into a decline but that it will find its way beyond the modernist view of religion and will re-emerge in a new form in the post-modern world.  He noted that this new vision of Quaker faith would include:
  • an “experienced” community, including that of the Internet as well as in-person
  • a desire to escape from the modern world into a world of “real” values
  • valuing the contrarian
  • the activation of the will to move toward action rather than simple passive resistance
  • the desire to be “busted open” by our faith again and again

He noted that pluses of Quaker faith to new seekers might include that people love the unanswered questions of faith, the massive documentation of Quaker faith, and the desire of taking something, building on it, and sharing it with others.  Notably, Wess comes from the evangelical Quaker faith, rather than the unprogrammed background of our Meeting, but he accentuated the movement of Quaker faith toward the emerging convergent Friends movement.

Overall, the meeting seemed to be enlivened by the dissection and exploration of what faith means to the modern seeker.  It was a lot of ground to cover in only 2 hours, but seemingly felt to be a time which Quakerism could be explored at many levels.