Among Friends

Since Friday, I have been at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI for the New England Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker). I will be here until Thursday working as a full-time volunteer for the Young Friend’s high school program. As a result, I will not be on-line much this week.

These teens amaze me, in fact, after being a part of their community two years ago, seeing their love and their integrity, I felt that I could once again be part of a spiritual group.

Here is an idea of the kind of teens I’m talking about. What are their biggest complaints about the worship service with the 800 or so adults? That there is not enough silence and that the messages shared in the meeting for worship are too personal and light. The teens would rather spend most of an hour in total stillness and silence punctuated with a very few messages and plenty of time to contemplate these messages.

They felt so strongely that about 1/3 of the 60 teens left meeting for worship half way through. Some of them then formed their own silent meeting for worship in the dorms. Later as a group, all the young friends approved a minute written by one of them which stated their concerns with a direct call for the adults to consider the youth’s desire for a deeper worship experience.

Crazy amazing. To see them operate their meetings for worship with attention for business, to form committees to address peace and social justice, to encourage each other to not take to much food at meals so as not to waste, I wonder, where am I?

I am in good hands this week and feel certain that I will grow more deeply in my faith.

This post has 10 Comments

  1. Martin Kelley on August 8, 2005 at 5:48 pm

    Whoo-hoo! Go New England teens! That’s totally fabulous. When I was at a youth ministries retreat a few months ago, one of the tasks that got a lot of youth support was “mentoring to older Friends.” Sounds like it’s happening. Keep us updated and let us know if any of the teens in questions have blogs they’d be willing to share. Your Friend, Martin

  2. Srina on August 8, 2005 at 8:26 pm

    hey, when you have a chance (and a mind to), how ’bout spending some time brainstorming with me how we might import some of that “friendly” circumspection into the wat culture. seems like we all could do with some. maybe a silent contemplation group for 20 mins once a week? starting small, you know . . .

  3. Willie Hewes on August 9, 2005 at 7:01 am

    I’m glad you’re doing well, Peterson, it sounds like you’re in good hands indeed.

    Wish I could join you. Feel agitated and restless. I should give this silence thing a try.

  4. Amanda on August 9, 2005 at 1:55 pm

    I was very moved by this minute too. The only thing I would have ammended about this entire situation was that perhaps instead of walking out of worship, they might have remained and held the meeting in prayer, and then gone off to worship in silence together. I know a bunch of YAFs that did this.

    That said, I know the YF program is a lot more…programmed…and so there might not have been time afterwards. I was only at YM for a few days, but even I with my constitutional terror of teenagers saw a lot from them that inspired me and warmed my heart.

    It was great to meet your for a few seconds yesterday, Peterson, and I enjoyed your workshop hugely.


  5. Peterson Toscano on August 10, 2005 at 7:26 pm

    Well, the big coffee house talent show and the all night dance party happens this evening (I will sleep through the dance, thank you very much), but we have had some very deep and meaningful worship. The seniors are starting to get choked up about leaving the Yound Friends’ program and going off to college. It really is a traumatic and exciting time for them. Such big changes.

    Martin, I sent the word out to YFs that if they blog to let me know, and I will let you know.

    Can’t believe Yearly Meeting is almost over. It flew by, now I have to get ready for my gigs in Detroit.

    My laptop crashed and I hope it can get fixed. YIKES.

  6. Liz Opp on August 10, 2005 at 10:30 pm

    I have posted a summary of the teens’ minute that you mention, if you or other readers are interested. Thanks for the “eye-witness” report!

    Liz, The Good Raised Up

  7. Rich in Brooklyn on August 11, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    I haven’t attended NEYM and can’t evaluate the young Friends’ critique, except to say that it sounds quite plausible. Large worship meetings, particularly at big gatherings such as a Yearly Meeting, seem prone to “pop-corn” messages and other abuses.

    That said, I can’t think it’s a good idea to walk out of a meeting for worship while it’s still in progress just to make a point. It seems like an extreme form of “answering” another’s message (or many others’ messages in this case). Holding another quiet meeting later sounds constructive, as does sending the minute to the YM.

    Another possible approach might have been for the young Friends to try “youngering” (like eldering only different) individuals whose messages they found troubling, instead of criticizing the gathering as a whole. The advantage of one-on-one conversations is that (1)It doesn’t paint everyone with the same brush. (2)It gives the Friend who is spoken to a chance to speak back.
    Rich Accetta-Evans (Brooklyn Quaker).

  8. Rich in Brooklyn on August 11, 2005 at 4:49 pm

    P.S. The concept of “mentoring to older Friends” mentioned by Martin Kelley is pretty much what I meant by my term “youngering”.
    – – Rich Accetta-Evans

  9. Liz Opp on August 17, 2005 at 1:43 am

    Rich, there is a similar comment and concern on a parallel post, and I feel a nudge to repeat most of my reply here:

    After sitting and reflecting on a number of things [regarding these posts and their respective comments], I find I am clear to add the following:

    That I resist the temptation to raise more questions, share other concerns, make additional conjectures about how things came about at that moment in New England Yearly Meeting. I was not there; I cannot know, through immediate experience, how things transpired.

    Thankfully, the questions and concerns posted here prompted me to check in with a New England Friend, for which I am glad. I have a clearer picture.

    I hope others will consider being in touch with New England Friends, so that more of us may understand how Friends there experienced the movement of the Spirit.

    Liz, The Good Raised Up

  10. Peterson Toscano on August 19, 2005 at 4:28 am

    Perhaps, given the chance again, the young friends who walked out of the worship service, may respond differently today (or next year). They now have the advantage of having processed their actions.

    When they walked out of worship, it was not in a “huff” or with attitude. Although I was there, I cannot speak to all their initial motivation, but I did witness the humble, loving and careful conversations that immediately followed the action.

    I felt deeply moved by their integrity and the respect they exhibited towards the adults in the community as they discussed, wrote and presented their minute.

    They desire extended periods of silent worship with a few spirit-filled messages and the time to sit and reflect on these messages. From the many letters and spoken comments to the Young Friends from adults in the community, the young friends are not alone in this desire.

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