Friday, May 06, 2011

A Review: Build It!: A Toolkit for Nurturing Intergenerational Spiritual Community

Soon to be released through FGC's Quakerbridge Press, Build It!: A Toolkit for Nurturing Intergenerational Spiritual Community contains common sense strategies for building a Young Adult and Young Friend presence. Along with practical solutions is straightforward logic that many Friends have vocalized but few have felt the need to document until now. To cite only one example, the book encourages younger adults to serve on committees within their greater meeting or church. And it also proposes ways that older adults can best guide and direct Young Friends and Young Adult Friends, mindful of their unique concerns. Some meetings and churches make an effort towards this end, but aren't quite sure how to translate plans into action. And it is partially for this reason that Build It! was written. Seeking to close the generation gap so unfortunately prevalent in places of worship these days, Build It! is meant to get the conversation started.

Summarizing the challenges facing what it terms "Intergenerational" participation, the workbook points to several common oversights. Among them is the belief that basic Quaker literacy has an understood quality to it. This means that an expectation routinely exists whereby everyone already established in a meeting or church automatically assumes that everyone else understands parlance plus basic meeting or church functions. And, as well, this also refers back to the unfortunate fact that many Friends are uncomfortable with performing basic outreach. The intention and purpose of specific committees, to cite one instance, should not be shrouded in mystery, but yet they so often are. Quakerism is a mystical religion, but while the Spirit cannot be easily discerned, this does not mean that this should be true for everything else, also.

Noticing, naming, and nurturing Spiritual gifts are essential for Friends to understand and use gifts in ministry. Without this recognition and support by others, we are like people who cannot find which gift is ours in a beautiful room. Or, if we have found our gift, we do not know how to use it for its intended purpose.

Meetings and churches often assume that Quaker 101 classes or workshops will be sufficient to educate new members or new seekers, when they are often ineffective. Build It! stresses direct face-to-face contact as the best means of retaining and growing active participants. Should anyone be left alone to navigate their spiritual calling in the metaphorical wilderness with no assistance, this strategy is bound to be ineffective. The workbook believes that Elders are a vital force in this process of spiritual self-discovery. It defines Elder as a mentor and wise councilor, not as chief scold and naysayer as is so often believed. Instead of fragmenting and separating into specific interest and identity groups, as is too often the case, the tool-kit states that everyone's participation is necessary and crucial to achieving meeting or church health.

If any word defines what the text seeks to accomplish, "action" fits best of all. At least half of the tool-kit is full of suggested activities. One Friend explains in detail how to establish a Quaker Work Camp from the ground up. One other whole section is full of icebreaking activities to use within small groups. The implication is that process has its place, but that organic community can often be reached more effectively without it. Young Adults and Young Friends may often find existing structures unintentionally foreign and isolating. The text encourages those inclined to do it themselves. This self-sufficient attitude is much in keeping with Quaker principles.

The tool-kit addresses ways to encourage growth in several specific groups, usually clustered around age. I take some small license with a few of its recommendations, only seeking to clarify them, not to reject them out of hand. One of these, First Day School, in my experience, rarely requires much work to get it off the ground. Parents feel a strong need for First Day School and with it a corresponding intense desire that their children should learn basic moral teachings within it. This is why the workbook's recommendations are relatively few in number as concerns this group. But I know this isn't true for every meeting or church, particularly when few parents of child-rearing age are found.

A second section suggests strategies to build a campus ministry/outreach to local college students. In this situation, a variety of factors beyond anyone's control complicate what is already a difficult issue. Only meetings and churches with a robust budget will be able to enact and maintain the kind of on-campus direct outreach which is absolutely crucial to success. In larger cities with multiple colleges and universities, making personal contact will be even more difficult and be potentially expensive. Coordinating class and work schedules that change from term to term is a challenge for organizers, as is the reality that few students will wish to sacrifice late night weekend activities to show up to worship on Sunday morning. Sometimes a Friendly presence on any campus will need to be centered there and should not expect to reach very far beyond its borders.

A third group targeted are teenaged Young Friends. This challenge is similar in some ways to that of their slightly older compatriots, college students. Adolescence is a time of inward questioning and sometimes even outright rejection of prior identification. But this by no means is standard to every Young Friend. Some drift away for a time, only to return later in life. Some still attend worship. Many participate in First Day School for the social network and outlet it provides. But I do understand the importance of at least offering space and programming for every group which identifies and coalesces around a certain age range. Every meeting and church will need to devise its own particular mix based, again, on factors entirely beyond its control.

Build It! then laudably proposes we combine all these disparate elements into an Intergenerational event. This will be easier in smaller meetings and churches. Coordinating overbooked schedules all around can be challenging. Younger children have a smaller window of available time. In my own meeting, I'd suggest something not quite so ambitious. Nevertheless, I agree that we do need to make a concerted effort to break out of our comfort zones for the sake of closer community. Build It! encourages us to put our best foot forward and to not be hamstrung by preconceived notions. At times we all find something comforting in the familiar, but sometimes the sense of security we build around ourselves is patently false. If we wish to go deeper, we are going to have to take a few risks along the way.

To purchase the tool-kit, please follow this link.

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