Young Adult Quakers between ages 18-35 from Philadelphia area and beyond gathered together virtually for a successful at home spring retreat, “In Light Together, Apart” on 15th and 16th May. The idea behind the retreat was to collaboratively create something that speaks to where young adult friends are.
The zoom break out rooms functioned well for intro games and we even had an off-line scavenger hunt. Friends noted how “connected” they felt despite being apart. On Saturday, we were split into groups exploring written and visual creative practices, all with the intention of creating a zine to capture our day: May 16, 2020. The themes that emerged were: time, place, people, loss, change, searching, and reflection.
In the coming weeks, artworks of the attenders from the YAF retreat will be shared on the PYM News Site in a series titled “In Light Together, Apart.” This week, we see “Maile’s Home” visual art from Maile Munro, and we hear from Catherine Campbell, Co-Clerk of PYM Young Adult Friends, member of Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia. Catherine will also be facilitating this week’s Young Adult Worship on Thursday at 7 pm: https://www.pym.org/event/yaf-community-worship-catherinee/
If I were to write an epistle, the “To all Friends everywhere” would address not only its readers, but its writers, too. We are spread from West Virginia, to the west coast, to West Philadelphia, and many points in between. However, we have gathered on May 16, 2020, for a spring retreat we can share virtually.
I have been to a half-dozen or so in-person YAF retreats. I relish sleeping on a meetinghouse bench, and waking early for a quiet chat over oatmeal. Last winter, a Friend and I watched the deer outside the windows before we started the breakfast prep. We are often singing together, and always cooking together, and we will celebrate when we can again carry huge pots of bubbling beans and vegetables, and platters of sweet potatoes, and hot brownies, out to a couple of tables set together.
But like every other kind of community, right now we are learning, by necessity rather than plan, something new about what is possible now. COVID-19 has touched everyone differently. There are meetinghouses that formerly held ten or twelve, which now routinely “hold” a hundred. When we emerge into the world as a whole community again, what will we take with us? Can we continue to think this flexibly, and this expansively, about how we sustain our little communities? How we maintain our crucial connections through the most enormous of societal and personal upheavals?
When we discuss the inclusion of young adults in religious and spiritual communities, one of the themes on which we tend to dwell is the transience that defines our experiences. I am at a point that exemplifies that idea, finishing one phase—graduating from college, and moving away from Philadelphia—and beginning another. Under ordinary circumstances, this transition would mean moving to Indiana to start a new adventure at ESR. As it stands, however, I am in my childhood bedroom for the foreseeable future. None of us is quite literally “transient” at the moment. Still, the questions that we usually try to answer, when asked about how to best serve our community, are not just about the constant moving about. They are also about being spread out, over both space and circumstance, and isolated as a result. As all our communities adapt to best serving this way of life, it seems that the needs that leaders in the YAF community are always trying to fill, are a little bit closer to the needs all are feeling now.
To be twenty-one years old now, means not knowing what jobs will exist in a fast-changing economy, and it means not knowing where it may be safe to live in a fast-changing climate. To be a YAF means looking ahead to a Society of Friends that may well be unrecognizable in a decade or two or four. One result of that kind of uncertainty is that for me, sharing this retreat with my f/Friends at a distance feels extra important for the moment. We hope that we will reach the day when the pandemic is over, and we can sleep in a meetinghouse again, and share a pot of hot soup. But that does not mean that the needs for flexibility in the way we gather, and for ways of being together that are accessible under lots of different circumstances, will disappear along with the coronavirus.
Right now, this feels like a tiny slice of what the future of spiritual community could mean, in an ever more unpredictable world. My fellow YAFs’ creations among these pages represent a day we spent together, grounded in the work Spirit does through each of us, and supporting one another in bringing the fruits of that work into the world. That will always be possible.