Monday, September 21, 2015

WGYF+10: nostalgia, reflection, and looking forward

I'm not sure quite why it has taken several weeks to finish this post, probably because the right words kept eluding me, but having to get something written down for Thomas helped give shape the bits I'd been struggling to encapsulate. Anyway, 'tis good enough, and it will have to do...

WGYF 2005 participants plus children
It is 10 years now since the World Gathering of Young Friends 2005, was held in Lancaster, UK. Thomas pitched the idea of a reunion event that would also be part of the preparation for those going to the FWCC Plenary in Peru in January 2016, and he made it happen. It wasn't until I got there that I really appreciated how nice it was to just turn up as a participant at a WGYF event! Something I hadn't had to organize or feel any responsibility for, that was a real gift for which I am incredibly grateful.

Accompanied by the next generation we had a very literal reminder of what 'fruit had been born' in the intervening years. Sharing the less obvious fruit that had grown out of WGYF was a really special experience. We drifted between a worship sharing mode and discussion as felt moved and there was a real depth to the time spent recalling what stood out for us most about WGYF itself, the Triennial here in 2004 that led up to it for four of us, and the subsequent impact on the following decade.

We had Ben, Lucas and Saskia join us as they are all hopefully heading to Peru in January, along with Charlotte and Thomas, so the ease with which we dropped into that deep sharing cannot fully be pinned on the collective shared WGYF experience. But the fact that we had so much shared spiritual experience between us I am sure helped us slip into the space so easily and comfortably. I found myself holding back a couple of times from saying something as I 'knew' that a someone was about to speak and I knew my contribution could, and should, wait until after it.

There are some groups where I am hesitant to engage with fully at a deep level as I feel vulnerable, and unclear as to whether that is the right space or time for certain sharings. The old 'not wanting to sound silly' anxiety is a long standing acquaintance of mine. Yet in this space there were no such worries, no holding back. Even in an over dinner conversation that included visiting local Friends I was able to better articulate something I've been grappling with in recent years than ever before. The sense of everyone really wanting to make this work, that had flowed through WGYF itself, carried on and really enabled us to all be fully present, no mean achievement with young children around!

I've been trying to distill from that weekend some coherent thoughts to pass on to Thomas who offered to write up a collective piece on the event for our national Friends Newsletter. What was it about the WGYF experience that I carry with me today in my life and into my future? Two things that really stand out for me are the Meeting for Worship to discern the theme for WGYF, and the strong sense of calling to do the administrator job. Both of which happened the year before the event itself.

The Meeting for Worship was at the FWCC Triennial in Auckland January 2004. It remains the most amazing worship I have ever been part of, and at over two hours is most definitely the longest unprogrammed Quaker worship I've been part of. Yet somehow the time flew by, it gave us some insight into the early days of Quakerism and the lengthy Meetings for Worship that seemed to to be fairly common at the time, with or without a lengthy sermon from George Fox and others. There was a palpable sense of the spirit moving in that Meeting, and yet when we looked back at it the four of us there at the weekend who had been part of it had very different, but equally high impact memories of it. In some ways that Meeting has overshadowed every Meeting for Worship I've been part of since, as none have had quite the same feel. Although there have been a few that have come close.

In a similar way the incredible sense that the administrator job had my name on it has made other leadings feel more vague and shaped by my will as much as any leading of the spirit. I'm not saying that sense of calling hasn't been there, as it has. But nothing quite like that almighty kick up the backside that sent me hurtling into a whirlwind of 18mths living, breathing, and often dreaming, WGYF around the clock. Part of me yearns for that overpowering sense of purpose, yet at the same time the mere thought of of it is exhausting! It was achievable for a shortish set period of time, but as a way of life??? Can that same drive to do whatever be compatible with ordinary life, one that has time and space for other things and people, and can it be done without being detrimental to my health?

The event itself in all honesty is a bit of a blur. In the flurry of WGYF related posts on Facebook as the 10 year anniversary came around Betsy shared a photo (amongst many others) of me sitting at a computer in the corner of the administration team's office with my back to the rest of the room engrossed in whatever it was that needed doing. I have some very vivid memories of sitting in that chair, including receiving Loida's email about getting the delayed Friends from Bolivia and Peru to WGYF 'Miracles we can do, the impossible takes a little longer'. That line summed up a lot of the achievements in making the event happen. Still I find out new things that took place somewhere along the line to make WGYF happen that I had no idea about, and I was the one supposedly in the thick of it with a finger in every pie! It really does feel like a miracle that it happened at all.

I keep coming back to something Leith said at the weekend, and has written about for our Friends Newsletter that she has shared with us, about the importance of the stories that were shared, of the inspirational people that were there, the many and varied ways in which Friends put their faith into action in their lives. There were many there passionately pursuing their causes in life who stood out like beacons, successors of the Valiant Sixty perhaps? But there were also those whose light wasn't as blinding who still inspired a reassessment and taking stock of how our faith integrated into our daily lives. It isn't given to all of us to be 'speaking truth to power' at QUNO, FCNL or QCEA etc, or being International Observers in Palestine with CPT or EAPPI, or being out there in the thick of aid and development work with AFSC, QPSW, Peace Corps or many other agencies. To me those are the dauntingly scary tasks that I'm very grateful others feel called to do and it never failed to amaze me to hear the stories of those, often a decade or more younger than me, going out into the field or working in the political arena. These were Young Friends, between the ages of 18-35 remember, which is why it sticks in my craw somewhat when I hear older Friends lamenting the lack of younger Friends 'getting involved'. If only those Friends could hear some of the stories we did.

Equally powerful were the stories of those working within their own communities to bring people together, share resources and learning, resolve conflicts and create a better environment for all. These stories were often the ones that had the most power in that you'd more often come away thinking 'I could do that too...', which then begs the question 'so why don't you?'

It wasn't just the activists working for change that inspired me from within the WGYF community, but the depth of soul searching, prayer and seeking clearness that often accompanied or prompted it. As administrator I was privileged to get to read all the application forms that came in and get an advanced insight into those about to be gathered, and I was rather relieved when reading them I hadn't had to fill one in! I could much better articulate my readiness to perform the practical tasks of enabling such an event happen than I could find the spiritual language to express what I could give or hope to get from participating from the event at a deeper level. By the end of it all though, through a process that at times felt like total immersion surrounded by those to whom such words came more easily, I had started to find my own voice, and better articulate my experience of the movement of the spirit without feeling awkward or silly.

I met many people through WGYF who I continue to admire greatly to this day. I get a a little glow of reflected glory every time I see a WGYF name pop up on the international Quaker grapevine - whether they are working for their YM, running seminars, taking up Quaker posts in educational establishments or the kind of organisations I mentioned earlier. The mission statement spoke of creating the next generation of Quaker leaders, words I wasn't fully comfortable with when I first heard them as the concept of 'leadership' is often linked with a hierarchy we generally don't have. But I will say this, there are an awful lot of 'weighty Friends' around the world who went to WGYF 2005, which I think means we can claim that that mission was certainly accomplished! To take all the credit for it would be ridiculous, but as Jonathan put it, WGYF reinforced a trajectory he was already on. I know that for some people WGYF sent them hurtling off in a new direction, for others more the quiet reassurance that they were on the right track.

For me, it felt like a stepping stone in a journey of having faith that the universe will show me the way; the next step being to get to Aotearoa NZ and be Resident Friend in Wellington, the one after that to undertaking my ECE training, but the last few years I've had a feeling of being stuck midstream. Not without things to do mind, and maybe I've needed this time to take stock and sort a few things out in life.

But where is that journey taking me now? I think the simple living and plain dress discussions that I ended up in at WGYF have definitely shaped the downsizing I'm currently in the midst of. It isn't so much the 'live simply so others can simply live' ideology, worthy as that is, that drives this but an increasing awareness of my footprint on this planet and my attempt to reduce that. Being able to live less encumbered massively increases ones ability to go where the spirit blows you too. Some of the threads of conversations had and stories heard feel like they are starting to come together and form a new pattern, and I'm pretty sure that conversations from this weekend that have built on those from the last ten years will in time be seen to be milestones on that journey.

Whatever happens, I am really grateful to have been blessed with such amazing fellow travellers on this WGYF journey. I cannot imagine my life without them, even when most are only a Facebook post in my day. Seeing the energy that buzzed round in Kenya 2012 when the WGYF 1985ers got together for a photo op, as well as us 2005ers, just reinforced for me how lasting that connection is, irrespective of how well or often you've kept in touch over the intervening years. We were a great people to be gathered and we are still seeing what Love can do in our lives, and long may that continue.

WGYF+10 particpants


Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Anna Dunford! How wonderful to find your blog, and catch a glimpse of the Quaker work you're doing! (In case you're wondering who this crazy random commenter is, I was Anne Grundy when your family hosted me and we were on the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage together in 1987.) I've not been in touch with any QYPilgrims for a long time, but just a couple of weeks ago Melinda Wenner (now Melinda Wenner Bradley) visited my meeting. I didn't twig to it why she looked familiar until the next day, but when I sent her an e-mail, she replied directing me to your web site!
I probably shouldn't try to put too much in this comment, but if you want to catch up, please send me an e-mail, or whatever. It looks like "the Truth is prospering with thee."

Anna Dunford said...

It's so lovely to reconnect! I've tried searching Facebook for you and other QYP folk at various times but people who change their surnames are hard to track down! I've often wondered where you all are in life these days. A few I know the whereabouts of, but not many.

Did you see this post yet? So sad to lose Annie.

But yes, I'd love to catch up properly rather than via here... :)

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

I'm so sorry to hear about Annie - she was such a force of life!
You can email me at anne @