Saturday, November 05, 2005

looking back

I guess I really ought to work out how to link in files so things like this don't become such long posts... anyway, I was asked to write something by the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage committee about how the pilgrimage I went on affected my life for them to use as part of the fundraising and preparation for QYP 2006. (Sometimes knowing so many Quakers internationally comes back to haunt you!) I had a go at writing something, no idea if this is what they were looking for but it's what they got =)

Quaker Youth Pilgrimage 1987 to WGYF 2005
Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your ears.... so started one of the journal entries written by by three of us in the bathroom at Quaker International Centre in August 1987 as we dyed the hair of two of my fellow pilgrims – if I remember rightly we managed to adapt a pretty hefty chunk of the speech, whilst not exactly spiritual development it certainly improved my knowledge of Shakespeare – probably the first time in my life I'd looked at any outwith a classroom situation! As we'd been to see Midsummers Nights Dream that week in Regents Park it had a certain continuity of theme – my English teacher would have been proud of me if I'd told her (and it might have made up some for the Monday afternoon lessons I'd fallen asleep in after various Quaker weekends away!)

In August 2005 two of us who wrote that journal entry were again together for a major international Quaker event along with Ute Caspers who had been one of our leaders that year. Rosie and I had worked alongside each other for years within (the British) Young Friends Central Committee (as it was then called, now YFGM) but this was the first time we'd been together again in an international context, and in the last year of us both being 'officially' Young Friends.

The World Gathering of Young Friends brought together 32 pilgrims spanning 17 years of pilgrimages. There having been 32 pilgrims in '87 (including leaders) there seemed a symmetry to the number. I'm not entirely sure though that Rosie, Ute and I really wanted to know that the youngest participant of QYP 2004 at WGYF had been born the year we'd gone on ours, but again a certain symmetry. Throughout WGYF I was reminded time and again of our pilgrimage as we revisited the 1652 Country sites, took replica photographs and had the same British English/American English 'you call it a what?!' conversations all over again with the added twist of Australian/New Zealand/Canadian versions thrown in for good measure.

There was a sense for me of having come full circle being back in the 1652 Country for WGYF, whilst not quite where my active involvement with Young Friends started it was still very early on for me and certainly my first experience of the differing branches of Quaker theology and practice.

Did QYP '87 change my life? Did it affect my spiritual journey? It was hard to answer that aged 17 when I got home and had to report back to Monthly Meeting and the trusts who funded me – just how do you process such an intense 4 week experience and put it into words? Once again I'm finding the same problem post WGYF – 'here I am but where are my words?' - ministry from an impromptu Meeting for Worship of younger Friends at the FWCC Triennial 2004 comes back to me time and again. But maybe those first three words are the crux of it 'here I am' – I'm still with Friends, I spent 5 years attending YFCC serving as an overseer and on outreach committee, I've been doing Quaker youthwork since I got too old to attend as a young person, I've served on numerous committees within the Monthly Meetings I've lived in, and served as an overseer again. I've worked for FWCC Europe & Middle East Section and was the administrator for WGYF, I've been on the wardening team at Edinburgh QMH and am now Resident Friend in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. So often I've heard people despair about the lack of young people in our Meetings and how many drift off in their teens or after YFCC/YFGM, but I am still here, and putting my faith into action, letting my life speak and living adventurously!

The pilgrimage helped instill into me a sense of belonging, not only to British Quakers (I became a member within a year of the pilgrimage) but to the worldwide family of Friends, and that has always been important to me. I'm not entirely sure that I really grasped the extent of our theological differences on the pilgrimage having been far more aware of the more personal level of our diversity but the fact that I can't really remember now who was from what tradition (with a couple of exceptions) probably says more about the way we accepted each other as individuals rather than seeing each other as 'programmed' or 'unprogrammed' Friends.

This openness and acceptance was even more apparent at WGYF and was coupled with an intense desire to learn from each other about our different traditions and share our beliefs and experiences. I'm not entirely sure that I would have been ready for WGYF at 17 or 18, mainly because it was far too early on in my Quaker experience to have gained enough confidence in what I did believe, nor had I learned how to sufficiently put it into words, that was to take another 15 years or more. However the pilgrimage helped me understand what the peace testimony meant to me (we visited Germany pre reunification and went to Bergen Belsen, an experience that will never leave me) and it gave me a good grounding in Quaker history. Some of the poems and quotations we shared in our nightly epilogues are still dear to me and have profoundly shaped my thinking. But maybe what was most important was that it fueled the 'fire in my belly', the strength of my commitment to Friends, and the desire to share that and help others gain it experientially for themselves. I knew I had been extremely privileged to attend the pilgrimage and felt what I can now call a leading to become an active part of our Society, giving not just receiving.

There is a quote that I will always associate with the pilgrimage and that became fundamentally important to me then. It has constantly remained something to aspire to, and I suppose as such has shaped both my spiritual and temporal journey through life as I have gradually built up to being able to live up to it. I feel incredibly blessed by the opportunities I have had in recent years that have given me a sense of having finally got somewhere towards fulfilling it.

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one. (George Fox, 1656)

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