By Young Adult Friends retreat participant Zachary Dutton
Finally. This is the word that sprung from my mind on the first night as we gathered in a rather large circle at the Swarthmore Friends Meeting Whittier Room. Active relationships, warm joking and jabbering community, initiated our first moment of fellowship. And for a brief time, the transience and over-whelming uncertainty clouding my current life-journey ceased its distractions. Having returned after a recent move to Boston, after the recent death of my grandmother, and with the looming end to an important relationship; I needed what I got out of the Winter 2011 YAF Gathering.
I expressed myself—and I heard others’ expressions—in ways I hadn’t experienced for some time in community. And I would say that we just might have finally congealed enough such that a regular YAF Gathering like this would be possible for the future—and with high levels of attendance. I hope more will follow.
After the first night, and after having met almost everyone present at the gathering, I began to realize, though, how transient many of us are indeed. Some of us had come to Philadelphia from far away places, some of us were completely new to Young Adult Friends (having just graduated from High School), and the conspicuous gap in ages spanning 18 to 35 concerned my at-once-overjoyed psyche. There were a few people hovering around the age of 20 (give or take), many in their mid-twenties, and a handful beyond the age of 30. After repeated conversations, I learned that many had come to this particular gathering more due to its theme rather than for community per se. And I now acknowledge that the theme (discerning vocational identity) might thereby account for our numbers being dominated by people in their early to mid-twenties (people who face the tough instability characteristic of recently post-college, pre-grad school life).
I am comforted in the fact that there was a sizeable minority of people who wouldn’t have counted themselves as betwixt and between. Of those who made up this minority, there were likely many different motives for attendance. It brings to light again, however, the seemingly tremendous difference in life-experience, interest, and motivations for people between the ages of 18 and 35. How is it possible to maintain any kind of close-knit community at all with such diversity, and with the majority of its members so incapable of predicting where they will be even in one year? And how beautiful it would be, if we could show the wider Philadelphia Yearly Meeting that it is indeed possible to develop a true, beloved community despite seeming barriers of age difference and transience. But this would require some commitment and a great deal of work still to come.
I yearn for deeply held, deeply felt, deeply important community. The PYM Young Adult Friends are at a point now where “it could go either way.” We could remain mostly disconnected, or we could settle into a well-rounded, rooted rhythm of connection that carries through from one gathering to the next. So I maintain a cautious optimism. The Winter 2011 gathering seemed to indicate that we are headed to the latter. I am anxious to see what happens next.
Sincerely, Zachary Dutton