WHAT YOUNGER FRIENDS ARE SAYING
on Quaker culture, the search for friendship, and the presence of role models
possible cultural problem this points to:
Our research so far supports what we have long suspected: there are some cultural barriers inside our community that are actively shutting out voices. This is unfortunate news. (To learn more about how we reached this conclusion, see our editing process.)
The perspectives shared above match with what we've heard in over 120 hours of listening. They call us to acknowledge some structural truths about our community that may be difficult to see. Below are some takeaway points from our first 20 listening sessions.
We Quakers tend to avoid the conversations that we really need to have under the guise of politeness. Our conflict avoidance creates some problems for us. It impact newcomers as well as our efforts toward a good welcome.
We've heard from multiple newcomers that they are running into briars and burrs left over from former, unresolved conflicts. When these conflicts sit around unspoken, long-term members may know about them, but new people entering the community do not. This leaves newcomers to fend for themselves when they run into hot spots. They learn by experience where to step, and not to step. What an awkward welcome!
#1: We often
in our efforts
to be polite
Practice openly disagreeing
To change this, begin opening up conversations with people when you disagree. Practice saying words like "no," "I disagree," or "that's actually not true." Ask people about their perspectives. Be willing to listen to what they say – and to keep listening from a point of curiosity. Quakers have great tools for this kind of work. See Nonviolent Communication, the Alternatives to Violence Project, and Friends' Couples Enrichment.
#2: People under
the age of 60
have a hard time
Friends get to
Open up space
to join your
We often hear from Friends under 55 that it's hard to find age mates in the Quaker world. They may have awesome friends outside the Quaker community, but these age mates don't necessarily show up at the Meetinghouse. A lot of people are meeting mentors who want to pass on wisdom, but are having a hard time finding spiritual peers. Many Friends under 55 report feeling isolated.
Keep in mind that loneliness is something that can hurt for a long time. Having just one or two companions helps to relieve the loneliness. Large-group gatherings like the FGC Gathering, Pendle Hill, and Powell House can help folks find spiritual peers.
Practical support is important too. Friends can support a younger or newer person's search by offering them a scholarship to a Quaker gathering of their choice. This is one way to be an ally, either individually or as a meeting. It also maintains autonomy for the person seeking.
Once two Friends meet in person and have a deep connection, they can continue a friendship as long as they'd like. Long-distance phone calls are affordable and can happen frequently. In our experiences, these friendships can thrive across a distance.
We recommend that if you do offer money, try to do so with an attitude of release. Keep in mind that the person might enjoy the retreat, or not. However they feel about it, you have offered someone support in meeting their spiritual needs. You are giving room for someone else to grow.
Also, consider whether your community is in a position to create social events that are interesting to the Quaker-curious crew. These include potlucks, leaf-raking, baking, service projects, and other events. These events may make it easier for young people to invite their non-religious friends. If that is your intent, then make it clear who's welcome at the event and who might enjoy it.
#3: Quakers were
cool in the past,
engaging, and exciting.
We have a community where some younger folks, including those in high school or middle school, don't have many role models to observe and learn about Quakers who are still living. To be fair, this person did mention their parents and First Day School teachers; however, on first blush, they thought about Quakerism mainly as it related to the past
We are still learning about solutions to this concern. One Friend reminds us that Quakers need to be relevant and interesting, in order to be perceived as cool. In some cases, we are doing interesting work but hiding it under a bushel! This Friend asks: "What do we need to do in order to recognize the good work that our community is doing right now – especially young adults?"
We have a call to recognize the strong and authentic leadings that are rising in our community – and to focus on present-day activism or mysticism, not just on actions from the past.
Often we are taught to live in a way that's polite and kind, to not shake the boat. Or to agree even when we know it doesn't feel right. And I would say that Quaker spaces are
– a Friend in their 30s
truth that this
#1: We often avoid conflict in our efforts to be polite.
I feel like I've been kind of lonely, a lot. There are plenty of people that I have good connections with who are older than me, but sometimes, it's nice to have people your own age. .
– a Friend who's in college
truth that this
#2: People under the age of 60 have a hard time finding peers here.
I can't think of Quakers that I would look up to. When I think of Quaker, I automatically think of George Fox, but he's not alive today.
– a First Day School student
truth that this
#3: We were cool in the past, but we're not always relevant to today.