So come and gather around me my contemporary peers
And I'll tell you all the story of
Jesus...The Missing Years
--John Prine, Jesus, the Missing Years
It seems that many young Friends drift away during their 20's. Some come back. Some do not. For a religion that is slowly dwindling away one might think that this would be more of a concern to Friends. It is true that Meetings will embrace the young people that stay faithful, and are more than happy to welcome back lost lambs who show up when they are ready to settle down into partnerships and raise children.
But for us, single, childless young Quakers, who occassionally turn up at meeting we get a hello and asked where we are from and if we are new to Friends, but often once it is found out that we are not new to Friends we are rather less interesting. However, if we come several times a month for a few months we become worth investigating. Especially, if we might be open to lending our youthful energy to committees and such.
Now it is true that I have not been to meeting regularly for over a year. However, in the last place I lived, I began going regularly for a time...When I moved home after college I also tried to attend meeting with some regularity...However, I just have not been able to stick with it. It is not a case of needing to seek out that which can speak to my soul, I know I have already found my spiritual home. However, my comfortability with my spiritual home does not extend beyound worship. Now community and the corporate experience of worship are important to me as they are to the larger body of Quakerism. Yet I have not felt comfortable and accepted amoung Friends after meeting has risen. This speaks perhaps of my own discomfort in groups and other issues I have with Friends...but what is interesting to me is that many of the birthright Young Adult Friends and Friends who have attended since before they can remember, do not attend regularly either.
Out of the 15 or so young adult Friends (that come easily to mind, who are between the ages of 25 and 33) who fit into this catagory, only two attend meeting regularly. These are not people who have dabbled in Quakerism. They are all members of meetings somewhere, were raised Quaker, and many of whom were in a Quaker scholarship program in college. I believe all of the individuals I am thinking of still consider themselves Quaker, and are not seeking other spiritual homes. Yet we do not attend meeting. One would think these are the type of young people we would want to encourage to remain connected to Quakerism. However, many I have talked with have had experiences with meetings similar to mine, when they have attempted to return--because they have longings to return--have felt isolated, underwelcome, and alone. Some come to meeting and cry because we are so lost. Some of us come and feel we have nothing in common but worhsip, some of us want to go but will never make the effort.
Now we could look at these as the "lost years" similar to the time in the Bible where Jesus disappears around 12 and re-appears at 30-ish. Or it could just be that all young people go through a period of being in the desert...being tempted by Satan, but that is only supposed to be 40 days, right?...or perhaps we are to wander like god's chosen people for 40 years...but I don't think have seen any manna, much less had the joy of eating it. But why are there "lost years?" Do we just need time to be of the world for a time, to be better grounded in our faith later? Is it some type of spiritual test? Or is there something lacking in Quakerism that we keep stepping over like a dead dog in the center of the Meeting room floor?