Let love be your highest goal! But you should also desire the special abilities the Spirit gives--especially the ability to prophesy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them.- 1st Corinthians 14: 1-3I admit that I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at YAFCON. As I flipped through the folder describing the nature of the programming, I learned a few general details here and there. It wasn’t until about halfway through that I recognized the focus was on leadership development. What I’ve learned about leadership has come from my own direct experiences. Without formal training and formal strategies, my education has been largely self-taught. I’ve never held a specifically Quaker job in any formal capacity, nor been a paid advocate for social justice, but have been extensively involved within my Meeting.
For me, it was appropriate that the theme of the gathering was Community. Community is a great challenge in my Monthly Meeting. Gatherings of Young Adults display this Testimony in abundance, but elsewhere this desired state can be very hard to find. During the six days we were together, I found reflected back at me many similar concerns to my own. It was profoundly comforting to me to never have to explain myself and my own leadings, nor the feelings of exasperation that crop up from time to time.
I chose the Scriptural passage above to illustrate a point. Each of us has a purpose in the Kingdom of God. Some of us are seekers, working diligently towards a path of self-exploration. Others have scaled plateaus of their own in the recent past. They now look to incorporate the progress they’ve made with their life goals, putting intention into action. We have the ability to realize a profound Truth, even if at first we peer through a glass darkly. Life for me began in ignorance, though with every passing year the picture becomes clearer.
The work I do for others has varied. I moved to DC about six years ago, and saw an immediate need. Our Meeting is blessed with an abundance of Young Adults, very rare in this day and age. At first, there was little to no organization. YAFs who attended Meeting for Worship didn’t stay around for coffee and fellowship after Rise of Meeting.
Four or five of us recognized immediately that we shouldn’t squander a golden opportunity like this, and we spontaneously began to schedule activities. Before long, a core group of attenders sprang up. Ten to twenty Friends became actively involved, and several others attended sporadically when they had time to participate.
The challenge before us now is to develop working relationships with older adults, even when this is not easy. I served as my Meeting’s clerk of Ministry and Worship, which expanded Community for me. Members and regular attenders ceased to be abstractions, or people who only sat across the way from me during Worship. Those who comprise liberal faith traditions are not always the best or the most effective in reaching out to others.
When I was in high school, my parents decided to take myself and my two younger sisters to a Southern Baptist church. I never agreed with the theology or the politics, but I did appreciate the emphasis in tending the flock and taking an interest in the lives of what we as Friends call Beloved Community. Being involved was never optional. If one was part of their Spiritual community, it was their duty to come to the aid of those in need.
Following Worship, several Young Adult Friends have taken it upon themselves to be conscious of newcomers and new faces. Many have arrived very recently, knowing no one, feeling isolated. By contrast, it has taken me five years to know many established members and to learn which people are in charge of particularly important tasks. I’m not entirely sure why liberal faiths are laissez-faire to an extreme, because it seems to me that each of us have basic needs to be met. We are human, therefore we have feelings.
I’ll tell a story. When I first became a Friend, years ago, a man from Wisconsin contacted me by e-mail. He found my writings interesting and wanted to interview me for his podcast. I agreed to participate and he called me shortly thereafter. Explaining the format of the talk, he had a question for me as an aside.
“Where did you ever find such strange people?”
I wasn’t entirely sure how to respond, whether to laugh or to ponder the question further. Certainly Quakers have their share of eccentrics, and I concede that I’ve always felt somewhat different myself. The interviewer may have given me at least a partial answer to many challenges in Community. As Friends, we call ourselves a peculiar people, though many Friends are unaware that "peculiar" really means “People of God”. It’s an archaic term that dates back to the wording of the King James Bible.
For many who have grown up feeling different from the norm, it’s easy to internalize not being a part. In 1st Corinthians 12, Paul writes about interdependence and Community.
Now if the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it.
The challenge for me, at age 33, is to know how to form relationships with those who are not close to my own age. In a year and a half, I will age out of YAF and fall under the category of an Older Adult Friend, though oddly enough I don’t necessarily feel older. The skills and relationships I formed at YAFCON 2014 are still percolating and I find I’ve felt a need to sit and think since I’ve returned. What I experienced was blessedly intense, but I now have inner work to do before I engage in outer work.