Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Gathered Meeting?

My FCG workshop this morning touched on the idea of a "gathered" meeting--that special meeting from which Friends leave feeling that they have been a part of a unity, joined together in what happened in a special and spiritual way. "Covered" is another adjective that people use to describe such a meeting.

Or, perhaps it would be better to say how they describe their experience of such a meeting. Someone in the workshop said that she had the experience of having felt a meeting to be "gathered" and someone else in attendance didn't feel it was anything like that.

That made me think of the Tuesday night meeting for worship/plenary here at the Friends General Conference Gathering. Two young friends spoke in a meeting for worship "format." Precocious would be an understatement from my point of view. I don't usually like the large scale meetings of the plenary style that we have at FGC (or even NPYM annual session, for that matter) because they seem disjointed and what happens often does not meet my own needs or my expectation of and for a meeting for worship.

This large meeting, however, was an exception to that experience.

At least, it was for me.

The next day a friend asked me how I viewed the experience and I said it was very powerful and edifying. He said that he thought so, too, but that he had heard some comments indicating that some in attendance didn't think it was very good. They thought that the "format" of meeting for worship was not appropriate for the message.

I mentioned this in the workshop this morning, agreeing with the woman whose experience was that sometimes one leaves a meeting thinking it was a powerful experience while others didn't see it that way.

Another woman in the workshop said that she thought that there might have been some personal blocks and barriers that people had to receiving the messages last Tuesday night as I had received them; they may not have been able to hear because of an aversion to overtly Christian language, or they may not have been able to hear important things from people so young (19 and 25).

I have been thinking, since, of the barriers that keep me from entering into a unity, at times, with people because of factors like this.

A later and unrelated conversation I heard about this Tuesday night plenary was that young people, the high school and the adult young friends, were not represented very heavily in the meeting. They were annoyed that there was a dance, jointly sponsored by the two groups, that was going on at the same time, and that the young people would have chosen the dance over hearing from their peers.

Aside from the scheduling problem--if one had the expectation that this plenary was at least partly for the young people--I think one has to accept realities about reaching people. Jesus left the temple to reach the tax collectors and the other outcasts of his time. If people wanted these young people to reach the young people in attendance at the Gathering--given how separate the young people's Gathering is form the Gathering in general (a topic about which much could be said)--then an effort should have been made to take these speakers to them. (Perhaps that was actually done and the people of whom I heard that complained about the young people not showing up didn't know that there was another time, another place that the connection was made).

We all have unrealistic expectations of others, especially "others." Whether we think that the modes of communication that reach us should reach everyone (or that people should know what reaches us and approach us that way if they expect us to respond), or we think that people should prioritize their time to suit our values or our expectations of them, we often fail to see ourselves in the shortcomings we perceive in them.


MartinK said...

Hi Timothy: you're kidding, there was a dance scheduled for the same time as Kody and Joanna's plenary? I guess I can't say I'm really surprised but gosh, I am. If pulling the Gathering's generational divide were really an important goal then I can't see how this would have happened. The real work isn't these one-shot "let's hear a young person!" events but the long term building of relationships. It's really hard at Gathering though, there are so many structural divides... Thanks for blogging about it, that plenary is one thing I really missed by not being there (off to the garden now, where's that smelly bug spray, should use the bathroom first).
Martin @ Quaker Ranter

Rebecca Sullivan said...


i don't think the plenary was for the young to hear from the young. i think the idea was for the older to hear from some of our younger and active Quakers who are being faithful. i wish i could have been able to be there but i had to work and was not able to make it to Gathering at all. I am sad though that more youth did not show up but the two schedules do not line up very well.

Paul L said...

You're right about the semi-independent nature of the Junior and High School (and Adult Young Friends?) Gatherings. I think the rationale is that most people find their deepest connections in small groups, and not in plenaries. So the young people have workshops like everyone else -- either HS only, or intergenerational, or as participants in non-age discriminatory workshops -- and then have their large group activities -- e.g., business meeting, dance -- in the evenings.

I am sorry that I didn't think to suggest to the HS coordinators that they consider altering their schedule so they could attend the plenary. . . .

P.S. It was nice to meet you at the blogger dinner the other night.

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John P said...

In my estimation, spirituality without the Cross of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins is really like hearing a lot of people try to make themselves feel good about themselves, and have others feel good about them too.

Unfortunately, the FGC has too much talk about things that may not be all that important, and pale in comparison to the Cross. I can't blame the young people all that much for not wanting to be a part of that. But, tell them about the One who came invited a little tax collector down from his tree, who forgave the prostitute, and who gives His good life to cover the bad lives of others, and some young will pay attention. When they see that they're sinners, they will see that Christ crucified for their forgiveness is important for them. The FGC needs desperately to understand this message.

Suzy said...

Hi, Timothy. I think I missed meeting you at the "blogger dinner" that night; I was wandering the dining room wishing I had a compass because I had no idea which was the SW corner!

I have a couple of comments about a couple of different things.

About the divide between the HS and regular program: This was my first Gathering, but my 18 year old daughter has gone for 3 years now, as well as going to Young Quakes, Northern Yearly Meeting gathering and other teen retreats. What I observe is that the HS program has been her doorway to Quakerism. At first I was dubious, feeling that it was ALL about the socializing ... which it probably was. But this, her final year as a high schooler, she has been talking a lot about worship, about community, about the importance of Quaker process. I think she is "getting it" and I think this awareness could only have grown in that teen program. I for one think it's a good thing, though it may look like barely controlled anarchy from the outside.

As for the plenary with Kodye and Joanna, I listened with an open heart and I came away with very mixed feelings -- more so from Joanna's than Kodye's message. I was concerned about her tendency to see things in black and white, the fact that she is speaking from a life experience which has been very isolated from the larger world, the fact that she is relatively new to Quakerism and seems to have grasped some of the concepts while completely missing others. Her words were challenging and provocative, and there were certainly good lessons there. But I was also reminded why it is so easy for young people to be caught up in single-minded cults (for lack of a better term) including religious cults, gangs, the military, "bad crowds", etc. (It's a brain development thing -- that pesky frontal lobe.) There is value in living out our beliefs wherever we find ourselves, be it worldly or not.

And I don't know how much Joanna interacted with peers her age, but I think Kodye is well known and well loved among the teens, especially those who rode the "Quaker train" to Gathering last summer.

Finally, regarding the plenaries in general. They were interesting, but I got so much more out of my workshop. The quality of the worship was so much deeper in that setting -- at least for me.

Suzy said...

Hey, by the way, I am a HUGE Terry Pratchett fan as well. I find his books somewhat Quakerly in a funny sort of way, and have been doing my best to spread the gospel according to Terry Pratchett.

Vimes/Ironfounderson '08!!

Laura said...

I'm pretty sure the intergenerational dance started at 9:15, which was after the plenary ended, although it conflicted with the question/answer period. The High School and Adult Young Friends programs as a policy do not schedule events at the same time as the plenaries or other all-gathering events.

That said, although more young adults attended that plenary then most of the other plenaries, I wish that everyone had the benefit of attending. I can't speak to how many high schoolers attended.

For me, having a smaller community within FGC Gathering provides a way of getting to know people better and feeling less lost. It also helps to have a chance to talk with other people who are struggling with some of the same questions about spirituality, life, etc. Of particular value to me has been experiencing Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business in those smaller communities within FGC Gathering, where MfW-B often feels far more spirit-led then at the meeting in which I grew up.

Having that strong small group within FGC Gathering does tend to lead, however, to pulling away from all-gathering activities and can even lead to not even sharing meals and informal community with older Friends. That's a real loss, and I don't know how to balance the different pulls.

On the main topic of this post, I had a moment of spiritual transformation at the plenary. It came after hearing one of the messages during the open worship period after Kody and Joanna spoke. It's been interesting for me talking with other Friends who were at the plenary--it was a powerful experience for many of us, but different parts of it spoke most strongly to different people. I'm still processing the evening, but it certainly felt like a gathered meeting to me.

Lastly, I hope that Kody and Joanna were invited to speak because they have amazing gifts of ministry and leadings to share with us, not as token young people in some attempt to "reach out to young people" or bridge generational divides. Both the speakers and FGC Gathering deserve more than tokenization.

Laura Goren