As soon as I got off the bus on Monday evening, I knew I was locked out of the house. I also knew exactly where my key was: on top of the bookshelf inside the door. I wasn’t really surprised. I am a creature of habit and whenever my schedule gets off, I do things like forget my keys. Between the heat, recovering from my trip, changes at work, and Alivia coming to visit, I was feeling pretty scattered.
I was also distracted by a Friend’s request after meeting that I participate in a panel and talk about my experience as a Quaker. The idea was to have Quakers of different ages speak, and I am supposed to be the token 20-something.
As I have mentioned before, I have a deep and abiding dread of public speaking. Also, I am not sure where to begin to describe my experience at the meeting―it sometimes makes me feel like I have multiple personalities. I feel like people see me as anywhere in the range from some sort of Hope for the Future mascot to wayward college student. I feel like a Friend summed it up when introducing me by saying, “This is Ashley. She will be weighty when she grows up.”
I called my roommate to see when he would be home and he told me he would be there in about an hour. It had been raining off and on all day and I was hungry, so I decided to go to the local Chinese restaurant for dinner in the meantime.
On my way out, I checked the mail and discovered that the pamphlet Aimee recommended, Coming Into Friendship as a Gift: The Journey of a Young Adult Friend, by Christina Van Regenmorter, had arrived, so I brought it with me.
As I ate delicious shrimp chow mein with homemade noodles, I read, and got chills from recognizing myself in Van Regenmorter’s writing. It wasn’t just that our backgrounds are similar―rejecting the faith one grew up in and becoming a Quaker as an adult seems like a common theme for a lot of people―it was the experiences she had as a Young Adult Friend.
Van Regenmorter talked about being the only person between 16-30 that she saw in most Quaker meetings. She finally spent time with Quakers her own age at FGC Gathering and said,
That week, with the young adult friends, I was caught between the twin emotions of "These are my people!" and "Will I ever belong?" I felt at times like I’d fallen in love with a guy named Quakerism, gotten married to him, and had just now come home to meet the family―most of whom had lived with Quakerism their entire lives and weren’t that impressed.
When I read that portion, I laughed out loud, sitting by myself in the Chinese restaurant. It was so similar to how I felt when I first moved to Seattle and spent time with the Young Adult Friends here. I knew we were all Quakers, but it seemed like they were speaking in a different language, relying on acronyms and places that they all knew and I did not.
A difference between Van Regenmorter’s story and mine is that her meeting did not immediately accept her request for membership. Instead, they told her to visit several other meetings before they would call a clearness committee. This proved to be a wonderful experience for Van Regenmorter, but it would have been devastating for me. When I joined Freedom Friends, I needed a place to just be, and they embraced me as I was.
Van Regenmorter describes her experiences as gifts her meeting gave her: sincerity, trust, affirmation, accountability, support, friendship, play, and love. I too feel blessed to have received these gifts from Friends. I am especially grateful right now for the support I have from Freedom Friends Church. One of the things Alivia brought up to Seattle was a minute of service for me. I do not have words to express how much it means to me that Freedom Friends considers me a “beloved and highly respected member.”
On the lack of younger people at meetings, Van Regenmorter writes,
It can be tempting to look at the absence of young faces in our meeting houses and blame it on the "digital age" or on young people needing "something more lively." However, I would like to hold up the possibility that people coming into Quaker meetings are not looking for a certain prevailing skin phenotype or age presence, but for the Spirit to be evident in the lives of the Friends who are there. I believe that they, like me, ache to have a spiritual community where they feel truly seen, truly, held, and deeply challenged.
Last Sunday at University Friends Meeting, another Young Adult Friend shared a powerful message, asking what happens when we settle into the silence. She described members as fires, some were like small embers and others glowed. She invited us all to join the bonfire.
I have had many different experiences in the silence of meeting, but lately I have felt nearly overwhelmed by the presence of God. This is a struggle for me. I want to be there, but I am worried that I will not be able to handle it. Sometimes I feel like I will not be able to stay upright. And yet, I feel like I am only experiencing the smallest portion of a vast and incredible God. Struggling with God is not easy, but I believe that if we take the challenge and really engage, God will bless us.