Joining the Young Adult Friends (YAF) group was not something I planned. In fact nowhere in my journey did my plans include anything even remotely spiritual or religious in nature. The idea of community seemed irrelevant. The notion of God seemed absurd. Yet one Sunday morning, after an absence of more than a decade, I found myself sitting on the same bench in the same meeting house I would visit as a child. Prior to my arrival it had become apparent to me that my life was not going the way I had planned. While today I am grateful for this fact, it has taken me a long while to get there.
My parents were brought-up Jewish (on my mom’s side) and Catholic (on my father’s). They were married in a Quaker meeting house and decided to raise my brother and I in that context. However, my spiritual education took a back seat when other “more practical” life matters arose. On that day, I remember sitting in the car before worship began with my heart beating out of my chest. I parked in the back of the lot so nobody could see my face, sheen with anxiety. I decided to drive away at least a dozen times, but there was this tug in my soul that I just could not ignore. I knew that if I left I would regret it. Also, I did not know that I would be able to bring myself to return. It had already taken a great deal of effort to come this far, but before I even made the decision to do so my feet were carrying me through the large white doors. As I approached the familiar black stone foot-path I had a very curious sensation. It was like a tingling through my neck and spine. Like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. It was the sensation of arriving home. It had been awhile since I had that feeling, even at my own house, and it took me awhile to identify exactly what it was. Yet once realized, I found the emotion as unmistakable as the earthy smell of the meeting house grounds. Both were something I dearly missed. Without missing a beat, the joyful faces of the members greeted me warmly as if I had been there just last week. Many of them remembered me from my youth, which says a lot because this all happened more than two years ago and I’m still learning names. The warmth and unconditional acceptance I found there was overwhelming. It was only then that I realized, I could not live without this being a part of my life.
From there, my involvement has grown. First, I started helping out wherever I could around the meeting house. Though the members of my meeting treated me as if no time had passed I believe they appreciated younger arms and legs to do some of the more physically strenuous chores. Next, I joined the property committee and got involved in the day to day operations of our house of worship. Through my participation on the property committee I heard about a group of young adults involved with PYM that got together on a regular basis for the purposes of community and support.
My first YAF retreat was in the fall of 2016. My experience was very similar to that one I had in the parking lot of in Haddonfield. I had to drive from my isolated home in South Jersey, through the crowded city streets of Philadelphia, to the meeting house in Chestnut Hill PA where the retreat was to take place. Every time I approached a convenient intersection I made the decision to turn around and return home, but something made me continue my journey. I don’t quite know what kept me going, God, hope, faith… I’m still not sure… And I certainly did not know what to expect at this gathering. However, in hindsight, it seems that all of my worrying and angst were trivial in comparison to the amount of kindness and love I found there.
Acclimation came easily in the presence of so many good-hearted people. With Young Adult Friends, I found a whole group of people, my age, who held the same values I do, each with their own understanding of God, but united in their desire to help their fellow human-beings and planet at large. It is this common goal, which seems so elusive in the outside world, that I find so attractive among the YAFs. The fact that a group of young people are willing to put the needs of others ahead of their own and come together for the purposes of worship and caring is what keeps me coming back.
I have since made it a point to attend as many of the YAF events as my life permits, for I know that the power we have as a community is many times greater than the sum of our parts, and I leave each event feeling recharged and more ready and able to face the world at large. Though I know the path I must follow at times may be a difficult one, I am comforted by the fact that it will not be one I must go alone, and I look forward to trekking this road with the group wherever it leads. So I hope to see you my fellow travelers, with the Young Adult Friends, on the corner where faith and community meet.
Joshua Ponter is a member of Haddonfield Friends Meeting
The next Young Adult Friends Retreat is April 7-9 at Newtown Friends Meeting