5/03/2006

Where do all the young Quakers go?

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?

8 comments:

Robin M. said...

I first found Quakers at the age of 23. (I'm 38 now.) I had been in a period of seeking how to respond to God who was talking to me. Among Friends, I found people who were doing together what I had been trying to do all by myself. It was like flipping a switch. I couldn't not go to Meeting.

It's also true that I am part of the Lost Generation of Presbyterians.

I've never been to Boston, but I know that in New York, showing up at Business Meeting is how I first got to know older Friends, or rather that they noticed and got to know me. Probably it's different if people still think of you as so-and-so's kid, but this is one of the ways to get around that.

Maybe you'll notice that this is one of my hot button issues - young adult Friends who say there's nothing in Meeting for me. Is God not available in meeting for worship? Well, maybe not if one only comes once a year and spends the hour thinking about what it should be like instead of opening to what IS good and right and true in the meeting.

What do they expect when they come once? Or once a year? Being part of a Meeting community is not like being on a retreat. It's not all agony and ecstasy - no one could live like that all the time. Like the Penington quote, the part about how our life is bearing with each other and forgiving one another - you probably have heard it before - this means in boredom and in passion.

I've probably overstepped the bounds of good manners in this comment.

I always want to have this conversation with the young adult Friends who show up at my Meeting once and never again, but I don't want to attack them on their first day and then I never see them again. (But I've ranted about this on other blogs before. I do hope you don't take this too personally. Thanks for the opportunity to vent some steam.)

Maybe we need a ministry of calling people who come once and inviting them back - to say "hi, I noticed you were here and I hope to see you again". Not just for young adult Friends who moved here from somewhere else, but everybody. Hmmm.

Anonymous said...

I've been a Quaker since my family & I joined in my teens ( I has to join as person in my own right ie attend meetings etc first) I took part in young quaker activities while a student. My sister was not however was joined automatically and never attended - until she needed a place to get married in- of course the local group objected & she got married in her husband's church (catholic - he wasn't religiouos at all either. She emigrated to NZ and needed people arund her - the Quakers cam,e up trumps and she & family availed of their hospitality mercilessly.

I on the other hand lost interest in the RSF because it is not radical enough for me -- I am a strong environmentalist for example -- it needs to take on all the issues and FIGHT.

I agree with tye original blogger comletely - except I am now in my 40 & still not married & childless & not a newcomer -- so i fully concur with the original comments made. I shall continue to stay away.
PS I really dislike the circulated births and marriages announcements -- there those of us who have not been 'blessed' with either or both!!!!

Lynne said...

Well I realize this blog post was written years ago, but I have noticed the same thing myself - young people tend to fall away. I have not gone to Meeting regularly for the past 10 years (18 to almost 28 years old). I have often said, "I don't need it" or "I don't get anything extra out of being there" - yet I still liked the Quaker principles and thought highly of the religion.

So? I don't know what the answer is, really. Maybe it's that we (most of us) have a bigger need for social fulfillment during those early 20s - lots of us went off to college and lived with friends for the first time, had our first "real" relationship, etc. That need for social fulfillment and bonding was so strong it shoved spiritual fulfillment to the backseat of the car. Maybe.

Or, maybe it has something to do with the lack of "life pressure" during those years that otherwise forces us to question who we are and in what we believe. For example, this past year has been a tough one for me, I'm aging (30 is too close for comfort when I have so much left to accomplish), changed careers (not by choice) and relocated (from big city to small town, also not by choice).

Side note: When I say "not by choice" I am telling a half-truth. What I mean is that making the smart choice was the least desirable from which to choose.

Anyway, I only recently started thinking more seriously about attending Meeting. Coincidentally enough, all these "life pressures" were timely in my way.

Now the tough part - how to re-attend Meeting. I have been wanting to try out a new Meeting for some time - butttt, I am not a morning person. Often times I work weekends. Finally, I woke up early enough on a Sunday and had the day off (p.s. this was today). I looked up directions, went through my morning routine....and went back to bed with my laptop. I promptly talked myself out of it - "I won't know anyone", "Everyone will be old, I won't know what to say to them", "They'll want me to stick around forever over coffee and muffins...asking me questions in quiz-show fashion."

Perhaps it's in my head. It's true I am uncomfortable in new social situations. Whatever the reason, I still refrained from going to Meeting. Maybe one day I'll get there.

(Side note #2: I realize that the reasons I suggested above might apply to any religious group. It certainly seems that all my friends stopped attending their own religious services at the same age. But since their religions had bigger populations, it might not have been so obvious how many young people "fell away" - surely there were still some young people at the Catholic church.)

My background: Born and raised Quaker.

Lynne said...

Well I realize this blog post was written years ago, but I have noticed the same thing myself - young people tend to fall away. I have not gone to Meeting regularly for the past 10 years (18 to almost 28 years old). I have often said, "I don't need it" or "I don't get anything extra out of being there" - yet I still liked the Quaker principles and thought highly of the religion.

So? I don't know what the answer is, really. Maybe it's that we (most of us) have a bigger need for social fulfillment during those early 20s - lots of us went off to college and lived with friends for the first time, had our first "real" relationship, etc. That need for social fulfillment and bonding was so strong it shoved spiritual fulfillment to the backseat of the car. Maybe.

Or, maybe it has something to do with the lack of "life pressure" during those years that otherwise forces us to question who we are and in what we believe. For example, this past year has been a tough one for me, I'm aging (30 is too close for comfort when I have so much left to accomplish), changed careers (not by choice) and relocated (from big city to small town, also not by choice).

Side note: When I say "not by choice" I am telling a half-truth. What I mean is that making the smart choice was the least desirable from which to choose.

lynne said...

Anyway, I only recently started thinking more seriously about attending Meeting. Coincidentally enough, all these "life pressures" were timely in my way.

Now the tough part - how to re-attend Meeting. I have been wanting to try out a new Meeting for some time - butttt, I am not a morning person. Often times I work weekends. Finally, I woke up early enough on a Sunday and had the day off (p.s. this was today). I looked up directions, went through my morning routine....and went back to bed with my laptop. I promptly talked myself out of it - "I won't know anyone", "Everyone will be old, I won't know what to say to them", "They'll want me to stick around forever over coffee and muffins...asking me questions in quiz-show fashion."

Perhaps it's in my head. It's true I am uncomfortable in new social situations. Whatever the reason, I still refrained from going to Meeting. Maybe one day I'll get there.

(Side note #2: I realize that the reasons I suggested above might apply to any religious group. It certainly seems that all my friends stopped attending their own religious services at the same age. But since their religions had bigger populations, it might not have been so obvious how many young people "fell away" - surely there were still some young people at the Catholic church.)

My background: Born and raised Quaker.

Elizabeth Bathurst said...

Thanks for commenting, Lynne. We've really been neglecting the blog lately.

Gwendolyn Fyfe said...

I just found this post, years after it was written, and it resonates with my experience so much. It's been almost a crisis of faith for me - how can I call myself a member of this religion when the gatherings don't feel comfortable to me any more? And how can I address those worries without any Friends to speak to about it?

It's so sad. I want to be a part of the Quaker community where I live now, not just where I lived as a child. Everyone is perfectly polite when I show up, but the only person who has really shown any interest in welcoming me individually was actually a visiting Unitarian...

It's ironic and tragic that this phenomenon of young people really wanting to participate but feeling uncomfortable and isolated seems to be such a hallmark of a religion called "Friends".

Cybil said...

I am a newbie to Quakerism. I have been attending a small Quaker meeting for a year. I am 32 with a boyfriend, but no kids. I started becoming involved in the activities of the meeting from the beginning like the annual book sale. I am now on two committees, as I continue to explore other opportunities to connect with the larger Quaker community.
I find one of the best ways to feel connected and useful to your community is to find new ways to communicate, so that more people can feel connected to the community, whether they are out of the country on a service project, away for personal reasons, or an active member. All attenders/members should have a way to find connection to their community meeting. And I think the best way to connect to other Quakers, young and old is using the internet.

I think every meeting should have a website. A community website, not a calling card for outsiders. A website, where members/attenders can communicate with the community about things that are important to them. All Quaker meetings should have an online community calendar for attenders/members to add events that they think the community should know about. Our meeting has also been working on creating a bi-weekly YAF evening to socialize and create a safe place to retreat from the larger community of elders. We are still experimenting, trying to find an equilibrium of the kind of space we are seeking to create. Some want to explore the Quaker faith, others want to create a support group. Maybe the time has come to try to reconnect?