Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Young Friends Epistle, 2017
Dear Friends Everywhere,
Coming together in a new location, The College of New Jersey, the Young Friends program of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting gathered together to welcome old friends and new.
Our experience began on Wednesday the 26th of July, as we came together with the Yearly Meeting. We met up with the group Spiral Q, whose mission is to use art to bring people together to combat social issues affecting the world today. We specifically brought them into our community to address issues of institutionalized racism and white supremacy and to continue supporting the long process of healing. One of the activities brought to us was the story circles, during which we split off into smaller intergenerational groups and shared our tales of woe. Afterwards, Young Friends broke off from the rest of the Yearly Meeting to play games and make introductions. We introduced ourselves with our names, pronouns, monthly meetings, and hobbies (predominately watching Netflix). The group immediately began to bond as we smoothly incorporated the new Friends into our community, as well as when we were kicked out of our building, not due to rowdy behavior, but a fire drill. After the “fire,” we participated in Worship Sharing to wind down before bed.
On Thursday, we began our day after breakfast, once again joining with the rest of the Yearly Meeting for All Together Time, a debrief of the Story Circles of the previous night. The Young Friends agreed that the activity was meaningful and connected them with parts of the community that they might not have ordinarily interacted with. Following that activity (what the cool kids call “ATT”), we met up with the Middle School Friends to do a workshop with Spiral Q. We talked about what the word “book” means and made our own out of cardstock, paper, and string. Later on, the Young Friends gathered in our space for Affinity Time, during which a young friend was enlightened on the glories of feminism while people did puzzles. The Young Friend’s Nurture Committee also took up the task of writing queries for the entire yearly meeting discussing the week’s theme of “Faith Magnified.” Whilst what became known as the best meal of the gathering, Young Friends had a picnic with local Interfaith leaders. Only a few Young Friends attended the Interfaith panel, but those who did found it very valuable. A Young Friend said that the importance of love in the lives of the interfaith leaders was especially moving to them. The Young Friends who did not attend the panel enjoyed playing Bingo with the other children’s programs. A friend had extreme difficulty winning the game, despite having seven sets of four in a row! The Young Friends ended their day with a calming game of Wink, in which players tackled each other to the ground to stop one another from reaching the Winker.
Earlier, during free time, Young Friends took the opportunity to walk to “Campus Town,” believe it or not, a town near campus. In the spirit of income equality, all Young Friends were given five dollars, and five dollars only, to spend during free time. Young Friends spent their money on frozen yogurt, a vending machine, and window shopping in Barnes & Noble.
Friday was spent with the Middle School Friends on a rafting trip. Though the participants were originally supposed to leave 10:30, but due to the incompetence of our bus company, we did not end up leaving until 1 o’clock. Whilst waiting, the Youth Programs spent the time eating, reading, and playing cards. Despite a bit of chaos, we ended up bonding all the same. The community came together to collectively carpool 36 children and 12 adults, via 10 cars to the Edge of the Woods Outfitters, where we boarded our rafts. We bonded just as much on the rafting trip as we did waiting for it; with a combination of splashing friends, fierce competition, and one swallowed bug, the trip was well worth the wait. While most youth programs were on the trip, other members of the community stepped up to greet us with pizza, brownies that were inexplicably crumbly yet spongey, and the chance to watch a movie, even if we were four hours late. Upon reflection, the rafting trip was only possible thanks to the adaptable and amazing souls who volunteered in the spur of the moment. To those who helped us, thank you for rallying, sacrificing your time, and coming together to make our trip as fast as possible.
Yesterday, the 29th, The Young Friends began their day with a worship experiment created and led by a Young Friend. Later in the day, committees met, which included the Native Justice Committee, Discernment Committee, Program Committee, Graduation Committee, and Nurture Committee. Amongst the things the committees discussed were pool parties, future programs with local Native American tribes, afghans for graduating seniors, adult clerks, and Worship Sharing queries for the Yearly Meeting. The Young Friends attended adult business meeting, during which a minute was approved to begin an institutional multicultural audit. The Young Friends showed enthusiasm with the decision and look forward to beginning this process to make all feel welcome. The Young Friends appreciate the Middle School Friends for including us in their Vespers program and the Young Adult Friends for welcoming our two graduating seniors with open arms.
One of the most exciting parts of the day was the Young Friends Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business. Our adult leaders directed the group on the fundamentals of a Business Meeting. Our new presiding clerk and recording clerk led us on a fluently through the agenda. Young Friends, specifically the Nurture Committee, graciously received a minute of appreciation for our queries from a Yearly Meeting Worship Sharing group. During the meeting, the group discerned to renew the term of the adult clerk. In conclusion, the Young Friends Business Meeting went well and all agreed that the worship was meaningful.
This morning, we had a business meeting discussing this epistle, packed our bags, and evaluated the gathering. And now we are here reading you this epistle.
Finally, though our gathering was worshipful, engaging, and positive, we can not ignore this opportunity to voice a larger concern. The Young Friends would like to take a moment to share the following official minute written over the course of several gatherings regarding the staff changes at hand.
The Young Friends of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting were shocked to hear the announcement of staffing changes in March of 2017. After long discussion, discernment, and worship, Young Friends felt the need to express our concern with the changes that affect our community directly.
Friends were unsettled by both the content of the announcement and way in which the decisions were reached. We were shaken and upset at the lack of involvement of the Young Friends community in the decision process especially directly after work done with Young Friends to promote youth leadership. We do recognize that there was a brief consulting but Young Friends at the time were unaware that the feedback given would be affecting any party other than the Youth Programs Sprint and the Quaker Life Council. In the eyes of the Young Friends, the comments we gave to the PYM senior staff in no way suggested the resulting proposal.
In our opinion, the lack of consultation was damaging to our relationship with the Yearly Meeting. It made us question the validity of the decision-making process. The announcement seemed to have skipped traditional Quaker process and was to be implemented without widespread consensus. It is important to note that since the initial announcement, additional information has arisen to help identify the reasoning behind the decision and process. However even with additional explanation, Young Friends found difficulty in fully trusting and working with the governing staff of the Yearly Meeting. As younger members of this community, it has been common to have our voices drowned out or not acknowledged, so the lack of consultation felt like a harsh contrast to the ideal image of a cohesive and radically multigenerational community put forward.
While Young Friends are obviously upset about the process, we recognize that it is an action of the past and look to the future for reconciliation. We ask for not only recognition of failures in the process but active work to mend the rifts created then. We are grateful for the open discussion and involvement we have been given thus far and look forward to its continuation in the future of our community.
Finally, The Young Friends would like to thank the Yearly meeting for listening to our epistle and giving us this opportunity to come together. Overall, Young Friends had an exhausting yet rewarding week. We look forward to our next gathering next month, and to next year’s annual sessions. Lastly, the Young Friends would like to pay tribute to our lovely Program Director, Hannah Mayer, for whom this gathering is the with her current position. She has helped nurture and support us for many, many years, and although sad to see her leaving her current job, we look forward to interacting with her in her new position of Program Facilitator. The Young Friends eagerly await the next time we can come together as a whole and witness the lights of this community again.
Young Friends of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting