When I signed up for the Young Adult Friends Fall Retreat memories from past middle and high school gatherings started stirring. Those gatherings were a welcome reprieve from my school life, they were familiar and whole. I remembered sleeping below the pews, foursquare taped on the floors, the smell of old wood, kitchens utilitarian yet soft with mismatched mugs and linens, staying up all night. I realized that I was missing the equivalent of those gatherings in my adult life.
Abington Friends Meeting was the perfect place for the retreat. Plenty of space, a large kitchen, tea kettle, beautiful grounds for walking, and an enormous fireplace. The property caretaker was good to us. He set up the space well, let us know the expectations of the meeting and left us on our own with enough wood to last the weekend. The retreat began with a shared meal and then settled into worship. These first few hours were important yet laid back, they were full of introductions and schedule notes and laughter. I felt balanced and whole, relaxed – nothing rushed. Plus, there was plenty of hot tea and the vegan chili for dinner was delicious. It felt good to gather together on a full stomach in a warm place.
Because I felt so comfortable, so welcome that first night, I think it opened me up for the next day. In my everyday life, I like routine, I like to know what is happening and to make choices as far in advance as possible. But at the retreat I had space to give over to the group, to trust in the programming and to make choices in the moment. During meeting for business volunteers were requested for the reorganization and revamping of the YAF pastoral care committee. I was open and comfortable, able to listen to a little push that said ”you would be good for this. look how important hospitality and care is for you at this moment. wouldn’t it be good to help make this possible?” So, in a rare move, I raised my hand and volunteered for what could end up being my first committee.
On Saturday, I chose to participate in the yoga workshop with Larkin Silverman, mainly because it was held in the fellowship room in front of the fireplace. I’ve never done yoga in front of fire before and it was the best yoga experience I’ve had. By the end I was enveloped in breath, connected, yet free from the stream of thoughts normally running through my head. Then it was lunch prep followed by…lunch! I was on breakfast prep earlier that morning and thoroughly enjoyed it. It didn’t feel like a chore to wake up and help cook for everybody. It felt good. The menu was consciously chosen and wholesome with vegan and vegetarian options. This was one of the things that stood out for me – how different yet filling and delicious the community cooked meals were from what I eat everyday. I realized how ingrained my habits are when I am shopping and preparing meals for myself. It was a moment for reflection – how can I easily change small things in my routine to be more conscious about what I eat and how I eat it? To know where it comes from? Easier said than done, but thinking it was the first step.
The YAF Fall Retreat was a welcome escape from my normal schedule. It pushed me outside of my boundaries, asked me to try new things. It was safe, and felt good to be with my Quaker peers. I would definitely attend again, and I would definitely recommend it to other interested YAFs.