On January 3rd, nearly 40 young adult friends , traveled to Swarthmore Friends Meeting for our Winter Retreat “What does it mean to be a Quaker adult?” YAFs ranging in age from 18 to 35 came from 23 meetings, shoveling out their cars or trekking through the snow to train stations in central Pennsylvania, central & southern New Jersey, and Maryland as well as Philadelphia & it’s suburbs.
In the days before the retreat with a snow storm coming, we weren’t sure if we would be able to be ready in time, or even if we would be able to make it to the meetinghouse. But it was clear that the important thing was to come to together as our unique, spiritual community of peers. If we didn’t have everything we need, we would manage. So we went ahead with the retreat. Some YAFs came early to help set up tables, make signs, and welcome Friends. And despite the extreme weather, most Friends made it as planned, and we were glad to have a weekend of worship and fellowship conducted mostly inside! Friends got to sing, play, share meals and chores, and conduct business together.
The theme of Quaker adulthood took us in many different directions, some unexpected – while some friends meditated on the use and appearance of Quaker simplicity today, others explored the concept of leadings, and still others took on the topic of Quaker responsibility for activism in a post-9/11, militarized world. These discussions were energized by the large group of YAFs in attendance, with a wide range of ages, occupations, and vocations represented.
Participants asked for more time in community with one another between our quarterly retreats – a desire we’ve been hearing from YAFs over the past year. We want to strengthen our community and spiritual support of one another by having more opportunities to be together. We also want to have more ways for young adults to be a part of the YAF community, especially those who are unable to go away for a whole weekend. In our Meeting for Business, we continued to wrestle with a proposed policy on alcohol at specific social events. While the body didn’t find unity with the proposed policy, the group seemed to draw closer to a sense of the meeting. Later in the afternoon, a breakout group worked to vision and plan shorter events for YAFs. (Keep an eye out for upcoming activities!)
Another breakout group focused on mentorship, and what gifts young adults are looking to develop or share. Input from participants will be shared with an intergenerational group that is working on developing a mentorship program under the care of the YAF Working Group. A third breakout group discerned themes for future YAF retreat; for the coming year YAF will explore healing & self-care, and issues around social justice.
Toward the end of the retreat we had the opportunity to take part in a workshop led by Lucy Duncan, who focused on helping us to articulate our “stories” in a way that is honest and effective. She began her workshop with the Howard Thurman quote “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Lucy touched on an essential element of the human experience with the need to tell stories, to garner from them a sense of our life purpose, or vocation.
We came as individuals, from different geographic locations and different stages in our lives. What continues to bring us together is our seeking to live more fully in line with Spirit’s call for us, and to create a community where we can share and support one another. Reflecting on the largest YAF retreat in two years, the need for a spiritually-grounded peer group is clear; young adults need a place where we can explore and wrestle with what is deeply important to us, as well as laugh and play together. As one YAF said in her evaluation, “YAF Retreats facilitate a Spiritually-nurturing space where YAFs can experience joyful fellowship and learn and grow together in the Society of Friends.” Another young adult wrote, “I left feeling rejuvenated, supported, and celebrated. This gathering was exactly what I needed.”
– Elizabeth Piersol Schmidt, with Christy Tavernelli & YAF participants
(See more photos of the Winter Retreat!)