2018 Annual Sessions – Young Friends Epistle

Annual Sessions, Epistle, Young Friends

Dear Friends Everywhere,

The Young Friends program of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM) gathered at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, New Jersey, for the days of July 25, 2018 through July 29, 2018. Our community welcomed Friends, both old and new as well as the new incoming Young Friends Facilitator, Lori Sinitzky.

The gathering program began with light-hearted introductions, part of ensuring that there were a variety of different opportunities throughout the gathering for self-care and fun. We enjoyed spending time Thursday evening playing games with the rest of the youth programs. The Young Friends  community continued its traditions, including the vigorous physical activity of Wink and the playing of board games while connecting during Late Night. A new addition was a fun personality test. We had the opportunity to cool off with Frank (the unicorn who spouts water out his horn) and a slip-and-slide. Young Friends were also led in a weaving workshop led by Anna Decaria. Numerous Young Friends were  inspired to continue practicing this new skill throughout the gathering, and are grateful for Anna sharing with them.

The Young Friends are also a seriously introspective, spiritual group, and attended many various forms of meditative activities. Apart from regularly attending meeting for worship, we also had daily sessions of worship sharing and had many thoughtful discussions. We also were a part of the multigenerational All Together Time, a time where young and old alike explore spirituality as a single group. Those of us who identify as LGBTQ+ and Allies took part in a unifying time during dinner, to strengthen bonds between those Friends. Some of us finished our evening with a multigenerational vespers, which allowed us to settle in for the night with a state of calm.

Our Nurturing Committee enjoyed providing opportunities for deeper connections and spiritual growth by writing worship sharing questions both for Young Friends and for all of Annual Sessions. Young Friends decided during their business meeting to affirm our work of writing worship sharing questions for Annual Sessions in 2019.

A very controversial issue among the Yearly Meeting and the Young Friends alike was the PYM Staff Voice Policy, which limits the ways PYM staff can share information and opinions related to PYM policies and operations. Led by a call to unify Young Friends, some of us sat in on a discussion with the PYM Personnel committee, in order to give our individual opinions, which were received by the committee.

The “World of Loss” activity was a memorial to victims of gun violence from the Philadelphia area, as well as victims of the Parkland School instances of gun violence. Names, ages, and death dates were written for each victim onto a t-shirt. These were then placed on a stake to represent the victim in a handmade memorial. Those that participated were deeply moved.

Later, the Young Friends conducted their business meeting, where they attended to various pieces of business for the care of their community. They then heard a presentation from the Undoing Racism group about challenges in the broader PYM community regarding anti-racism work. The Friend from this committee shared that a report regarding a multicultural audit process was about to be shared with the adult business meeting. After reading and reflecting with this report, many Young Friends felt that Quaker process had not properly been followed. Some Young Friends felt strongly inclined to share their concern for this report and hustled over to adult Business Meeting. From that group, many Young Friends attended an extended portion of adult Business Sessions on the same topic. After sitting with this information and reflecting both individually and as a community, some Young Friends continued to show an interest in this work and attended the evening adult Business Session to hear the next steps for the Multicultural Audit Committee. They then brought their impressions back to the community for further reflection during worship sharing.

Another important issue that was discussed in the broader PYM body in the presence of Young Friends was the Youth Program Vision and Mission Statement. The Young Friends community shares its gratitude for having our input heard in the Vision and Mission Statements. As Friends entered the plenary space at the outset of the evening business session, Young Friends spontaneously sat at the clerks’ table and held the space during worship.

The Young Friends attended many different workshops. Young Friends had an opportunity to show leadership in the wider community of PYM by facilitating an intergenerational workshop, which was planned collaboratively in advance of the gathering by a group including Young Friends and adults covering a wide range of ages. The workshop topic was “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change”. The workshop, which was created by Paula Palmer working with Indigenous North Americans, provided participants with an opportunity to learn about, and to experience, the taking of the land of the Indigenous Peoples by European settlers. Participants took on roles of Indigenous Peoples, and facilitators took on roles of both Native peoples and Europeans. The workshop included a script that summarized 500 years of North American history from the view of Indigenous Peoples, as well as opportunities for group discussion and reflection. Each Friend who attended received a corn seed to symbolize reconnecting with Native Peoples.

Another workshop was a guided discussion in a worshipful setting relating to Liberation Theology and the application of the nativity story to today’s marginalized peoples. Young Friends opened with a discussion of our understanding of the nativity story. Many Young Friends created stories, artwork and poetry expressing their application of the nativity story to today’s world.

We were led in a combination of a Panel and a Workshop, or a “Panel-Shop”, in which three guests- Dana Robinson, Lane Taylor, and Sa’ed Atshan- told us a personal story about their work relating to Earth Quaker Action Team, Fat Acceptance, and education and Quaker involvement in other countries, respectively. The Panel-shop started by each Friend sharing a personal story that explained how they found their true calling. After these three Friends finished sharing individually, the community broke into small groups with our guests to share further about finding our true callings. The Panel-Shop helped us embrace the knowledge that we may find our true calling in life at any age.

After this long gathering, the Young Friends of PYM Young Friends have joined together to laugh, worship and make business. We were grateful to share this gathering with each other and the wider community, and we are looking forward to gathering as a Young Friends community again at Camp Onas in August, and to gathering as part of the entire PYM community again at Continuing Sessions this Fall.

Thank you, PYM.

Respectfully submitted,

– PYM Young Friends Epistle committee on behalf of the Young Friends body

– Committee members: Joe Schiffer, Kaise Coyle, with support from Adult Co-Clerk Robert Rosenthal