Quakers and youth membership

I’m currently interested in how this works in Quaker Meetings around the U.S. and specifically as part of Pacific Yearly Meeting, of which my Meeting is a part, and among unprogrammed Friends ages 13-17 (as opposed to 18+ year-olds who seem to have it figured out ;-)). Why? Several reasons, really, that I’ve noticed about youth and membership, at least in my Meeting, which seem to need addressing:

"I'm a Quaker" from George Fox University

  • the decline in membership among youth ages 13-17 among my Meeting (none, of which I’m aware at this point)
  • the need to reach out to this age group in a more structured way than simple conversation
  • a need to connect First Day program to an outcome, a process, which brings this age group closer to Meeting’s spiritual life
  • a way to focus on the age range of 13-17 year olds is needed for Quakers, the way other faith traditions do, in order to support them in the growth of their spiritual lives and include them in a more meaningful way in Meeting
  • delivering a developmentally-appropriate expectation of membership that is different than but connected to adult membership and which meets the unique needs and expectations of this age group
  • moving beyond issue-driven, social action, religious, and moral/ethical education for this group and into exploration, inclusion, participation, and engagement with the life of the Meeting

Currently, I’m seeing this arise as a new group of young people are moving into this age range. A few years ago, I worked with this age group in our Meeting and now realize there was a missed opportunity there to bring them in closer, to support their spiritual growth and meet their maturity level more than simply as a social-scene (or not) for them at our Meeting. A way to ask them “but what are we doing here? and do you feel a part of it belongs in your life?”  Somewhat jealously, I imagine other faith traditions doing a much better job!Quaker star

So, I am embarking on creating a sample letter of introduction to membership. I’m expecting it will cover some basics such as an invitation to explore membership, a need to write a letter to M&O requesting a clearness committee for membership, a clearness committee process, and, if membership is recommended, a way for a young person (ages 13-17) to encounter responsibilities within the Meeting.

But, as stated in our own Faith and Practice, I want to remind myself in this process that “membership is not the accomplishment of a journey with God, but a covenant with the Meeting in the search for spiritual depth and personal knowledge of the Divine leading our lives.” The goal is not more youth members, but a way to help youth become more aware of their Quaker lives, to give it a grounding in membership and responsibility, and to help Meeting build a stronger basis for a relationship to its youth. A way for them to say more than “yes, I’m a Quaker” but to say “I’m a member of …” with knowledge, care, love and understanding of their home Meeting.

Is there a way your Meeting encourages membership among youth ages 13-17? What does membership entail? How does your meeting encourage responsible membership as this group moves to life beyond the Meeting (e.g. moving away to college or abroad once high school is completed)?

Haiti giving: what canst thou say?

Support Doctors Without Borders in HaitiAs I continue to follow the Haiti disaster and be bowled over by the magnitude, there are a few agencies I find comfort in knowing are supporting the effort.  It was a wonderful surprise to see Google put together a great page of resources to help get its users focused, one of the major online billboard spaces ever created.  It brought attention, not only to the aid workers and organizations, but also gave multiple ways to give (via text, billed via your phone company), plus free voice calls to Haiti, as well as a person-finder tool, and a mapping-tool which people can help to build.

I became a bigger fan of Doctors Without Borders after reading Guy Delisle’s book, The Burma Chronicles, which describes his time spent there with his small child and wife who works for them, so I’m sponsoring them this year in hopes of bettering the health care situation.

I was also happy to see AFSC get into the Haiti mix after they had pulled their offices out of Haiti a few years ago, so they get a little bit from me as well, mainly to help with the peace work there.

I live in an urban environment with lots of homelessness.  Once, a friend asked what she should tell her young child about how to cope with seeing so many people in need every day walking down the street–“You can’t help them all,” she said, “and I don’t want my daughter to worry about walking down the street.  What should I say?”  I think about this a lot, and it seems that helping people a little bit, all the time, thinking about it and being conscious about giving to others is really what matters.  I don’t have kids yet, but giving them a bit of pocket change to carry each day while walking around, just to hand out as they see fit, seems to be a way to connect to the problems and concerns of others rather than to ignore it or hope that someone else will care.  Making an effort just to notice and reaching out rather than turning away seems to be the way.

A movable feast: Quakers in a mobile society

The network of Friends meetings is still limited.  Based on this map, (and this one) Quaker meetings are mainly in North and South America and Africa, followed by fewer in Europe, Asia, the Middle East.  According to a Friends General Conference map from 2002, even Friends in the U.S. are spread out, leaving a lot of room between meetings for Friends to live.

In this modern world, as people begin to marry and move due to work or calling, I find it compelling to look at how Quakerism is working with those less geographically rooted members in terms of membership to local meetings; members who join a local meeting but find a calling beyond the geographic reach of either their local meeting or even the reach of Friends meetings currently serving local communities around the world.  These are the Quaker middle-ground: neither fully participatory in the life of the meeting, nor missionaries for the spread of Quaker community.

mobile phones

However, as Quakers find themselves more and more mobile, it seems that Meetings are still central to their lives–friendships, spiritual affinity, and participation in the life of the Meeting remain an important part of being members of Quaker communities. I would posit that as this group of mobile Quakers joins meetings and then spend more time away from them than in them there is a certain strain on the meeting.  More members mean more care is needed by the localized Quaker community with mobile Quakers now being a part.

In my limited knowledge of Quaker history, it seems that in the past, when Quakers moved beyond their local meetings, they would set up a similar system at their new location–meetings based on locality–which drew in new members.  A new localized community of Quakers would grow up.  However, today, Quakers may live half the year in another part of the country, with another meeting, or even live abroad for several years, with no local meeting, before returning to their home meeting.  Setting up a new meeting is a long endeavor and, with mobile Quakers being mobile, probably twice as challenging due to the geographic restlessness they are a part of.

Personally, I’m feeling the strain of a Friends community which is localized and in need of care, while committee membership dwindles, and those members who are beyond the immediate community who need support for their callings and leadings.  I’m sure this is not uncommon in today’s world–many demands are placed on us for service to our communities and others.  But how should we, as Quakers, respond to these changes?  I offer some queries:

  • What roles do meetings play for the more mobile Quakers?  What does membership mean to them?  What does their membership mean to the Quaker community they are joining?
  • What roles to Quakers who are more mobile play in their home meetings?  What are the responsibilities they can hold?
  • What are a meeting’s responsibility to maintain community with members who do not live in their geographic area?  How can meetings support their members living abroad for an indefinite time if there are no Quaker meetings available to them?
  • How do new technologies promote community among disparate members of Friends meetings?
  • How does the new global economy impact local membership in Friends meetings?  How can meetings respond to this change by supporting members who are mobile, while maintaining responsibilities to localized members?

Moyers on faith and social justice

Once again, Bill Moyers demonstrates his mastery at bringing together powerhouse thinkers on proBill Moyers Journal on Faith and Social Justicegressive thought.  The July 3 show of Bill Moyers Journal titled “Faith and Social Justice” featured Cornel West, Gary Dorrien, and Serene Jones who collectively teach a course at Union Theological Seminary called “Christianity and the U.S. Crisis” (which can actually be watched via iTunes–thanks, UTS and Apple!).  I wish I could post the segment here, but you’ll have to use iTunes to dig it up for yourselves.

His panel’s expertise is so diverse in  its voice that his questions range from the non-believers view of who speaks for Christians today to how do non-believers view the Christians of today beyond the lens of the majority, while also bringing the tangent of politics and social justice to bear on the current economic crisis as well as one of the most succinct summaries of the history of social justice that I’ve come across (let we forget that working unions are, fundamentally, based on love for one another in the face of oppression).  His panel, rooted in teaching, is often used not only to frame current teachings in their class, but how and what students are looking for in today’s faith practices.

Cornel’s voice is strong and, as always, his wit and street cred (academic and pop) are what make this panel pop and snap.  But it’s also quite undeniable that both Dorrien and Jones are looking forward to bringing a freshness to progressive Christian faith beyond academia and Bible study, in order to look to how faith is or is not being integrated into the daily practices and politics of Barack Obama’s administration.  And Moyers plays along–urging each of them to help us look backward and forward while standing at this intersection of faith and social justice.