PYM Young Adult Friends Epistle 2016

Annual Sessions, Young Adult Friends

To all F/friends everywhere:

More than 50 Young Adult Friends (age 18-35-ish) gathered together in the Spirit of community, love, and friendship at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s 336th Annual Sessions, July 27-31, 2016 at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Many of us seek spiritual community because we need support in our work in the world. For some of us, while we live Quaker faith and practice every day, monthly meetings are not offering the depth and groundedness we are seeking. And so, we are finding meaningful communities outside of traditional Quaker structures, but we’re still searching for ways into our powerful spiritual tradition. We are searching for Truth as early Friends did, making our own spiritual paths. Though some of us are active in monthly and yearly meeting leadership, many find membership inaccessible or undesirable. Our yearly meeting structures exclude those of us who aren’t members or regular attenders—even when we have a calling to service. Young adulthood often entails transience—geographically, financially, and spiritually. This can preclude our membership in a Meeting, even when we feel at home there. YAFs who became members as children can feel trapped in the meeting where they grew up—no longer feeling part of that community, but not connected enough to a new meeting to transfer their membership. Some of these Friends long for direct membership with the yearly meeting.

Our yearly meeting is holding a corporate anti-racism witness. At Annual Sessions 2014, Friends called to this witness came together to form the Undoing Racism Group. The YAF community is working to recognize and change the structures of oppression and privilege that we operate under, as is the rest of our yearly meeting. Some of us are actively involved in anti-racism work, and yet we often do not bring that work back to our YAF community. We are just beginning conversations about how to create more space for continued work to challenge racism within our community.

This year, the Undoing Racism Group offered a proposal to establish the group’s role in the yearly meeting. During Saturday’s business sessions, members of the Undoing Racism Group called on the clerks’ table and the body to address where they fit in the new Philadelphia Yearly Meeting structure—business that was long overdue. Many Friends (literally or metaphorically) stood in solidarity with the Undoing Racism Group. Many members of our community were among the supporters of the call to amend the agenda and continue discernment. This clear leading of Spirit was shut down due to concerns about timing and process. We mourn our yearly meeting’s unwillingness to sacrifice the agenda for the movement of Spirit. We recognize the challenge of agenda-building, while at the same time holding a concern for the ways that rigid time structures perpetuate privilege and white supremacy in our yearly meeting.

Earlier this year, the Undoing Racism Group requested that we change the name of our William Penn Lecture Series because William Penn was a slaveholder, and there were African-American Friends who felt unwelcome while we used that name. A variety of concerns about the confusing name and stale format of the series had surrounded it for many years. Undoing Racism Group’s request pushed us to act upon those concerns. On Thursday night of this Annual Sessions, the YAF community approved the request to change the name, and an ad-hoc committee is moving forward with a more open format and a modernized charge. We recognize the pain of birthing structures that will call us to love each other more deeply, and we know that Spirit is already present in this work. We know that our yearly meeting has been laboring mightily with Spirit to listen deeply and come to a structure for challenging institutional racism that all of us can unite with. We stand with the Undoing Racism Group in its call to weave the work of anti-racist transformation into the fabric of every structure of our yearly meeting.

Historically, Young Adult Friends have felt called to work that challenges societal structures and norms. For example, as the yearly meeting was reminded by one of the alternate clerks on Saturday morning, YAFs were integral to the reunification of the Hicksite and Orthodox branches of our yearly meeting. We are trying to cultivate a sense of belonging, while being true to the Spirit and the wider work of our yearly meeting. Many of us still feel alienated, patronized or unsupported. For instance, we have repeatedly been referred to as Young Friends throughout Sessions, which is the name of the high school program in this yearly meeting. We call ourselves Young Adult Friends, adult participants in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. This year, we’ve struggled to find a voice that would be recognized, heard, and respected in business sessions and throughout our work in the yearly meeting. We have experienced ageism and misogyny this week.  Some YAFs are not able to be present for business sessions because many of them happen during the workweek. Our gifts are essential to our yearly meeting, but we have felt blocked from full participation—discouraged, frustrated, and ignored.

So why do we keep coming back? Because this yearly meeting is striving to transform itself into a welcoming and inclusive community so that it can witness with integrity in the world. We trust in each other, and we trust Spirit to use us well for that goal. Much of our time with each other was spent living into that trust, as we discussed difficult topics, how we live faithfully, and the work we each do. We laughed and created art and formed new friendships. We are Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

Yours in Truth,

Young Adult Friends of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting

July 31, 2016