Tuesday, December 29th, 2009
When 300 plus Quakers gather in Adelaide next week for Yearly Meeting, their annual national gathering, Monday night’s public lecture will be delivered for the first time by a group of Quakers aged 16-30.

The Backhouse Lecture will be delivered at the Michael Murray Centre for the Performing Arts at Westminster School at 7 .30pm on Monday, 4 January, and is open to the public.

Quakers call one another ‘Friends’, from the organisation’s full name, the Religious Society of Friends, so 16 - 30 year olds are known as ‘Young Friends’ — but not all who call themselves Young Friends see themselves as Quakers, a distinction that will be made clearer in their lecture.

More than 50 Young Friends used email, Skype and face-to-face gatherings to produce the lecture titled: “Finding our voice: our truths, community and journey as Australian Young Friends”. The joint authors bring a wide range of perspectives: some are married, some single; some are parents; some are gay, one married in the first gay Quaker marriage service in 2008; some fled Burundi to grow up in refugee camps in Tanzania before coming to Australia.

Despite their differences, the Young Friends found commonalities in their desire to put their beliefs into practice, in their daily lives, but this is not easy, as can be seen in the following quotes from Young Friends:

“Saying you’re a Quaker can lead to being put into a religious box … given the questioning among our peers about whether organised religion or spirituality is relevant any more, even where it is as loosely organised as Quakers.”

“Often our paid work is one of the ways we contribute to creating the kind of world we want to live in. Sometimes this means choosing work which pays little, working for an organization whose values match ours, whose values we hope to influence, or that has an important role to play in an issue we are passionate about. It can be hard doing this kind of work ….”

One Young Friend writes “Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by how many factors there are to consider in every decision I make. It can seem impossible to make a choice that is in line with all my values and that doesn’t hurt anyone. At these times, I think the best I can hope to do is to make a decision that feels right in that moment and to trust the process.”

Even going to the weekly Quaker Meeting for Worship can bring challenges: “I go to Meeting for Worship pretty much every week — and often I’m the only person in the room who’s under 40.” But she is committed to the one hour silent Meeting without priests or order of service: “if you are looking for an experience of the Divine, how else could you ever approach it other than through silence?”

Young Friends talk about the importance of their twice-yearly camps which can be their only chance to see one another face to face: “it was the context in which I grew up … I started to think about Left politics, sexuality, God …Young Friends is a place where I get to explore spirituality. … When I am around Young Friends, everyday activities such as cooking and cleaning are transformed into opportunities to express my creativity.”

They wrestle with the expectations placed upon them as young people within a spiritual community, a dilemma familiar in other religious groups, and decided: “we feel more free to question, and being free to explore new ways is being more open to the Spirit to move more freely and guide Quakerism to where its going. That’s pretty exciting”.
All are welcome to attend Westminster School on Monday evening to hear the optimism and challenges of this group of young spiritual seekers.

Released by Judith Pembleton, Yearly Meeting Secretary

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The national gathering of the Quakers features an annual public lecture in Adelaide by a group aged 16-30 years old.

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