Making Space for Young Adult Leadership

By Emily Higgs

Last summer, Pendle Hill, with co-sponsorship from Quaker Earthcare Witness, the Pickett Endowment, and Willistown (PA) Monthly Meeting, embarked on designing an innovative and powerful six-day training-oriented program for young adult Friends who have an interest in social action and environmental justice. With the help of QEW’s financial and programmatic investment, 30 young adults from across North America were able to gather together from June 15 to 21, 2012. Through worship, workshops, games, service, reflection, speakers, musicians, art, and fellowship, the young adult Friends dove into the weighty and complex work of creating a more just, sustainable, and spiritually connected world. The conference demonstrated the power of collaborative experiential learning and provided a model for a new and cutting edge approach to young adult Quaker programming.

YAF gatheringHere are just a few comments from the evaluations we received:

"The future of Quakerism is being and will be defined by the young adults. I want my activism to be led not just by the philosophy of my faith, but also by the spirit of it."

"I have a fervent belief that our world has to change drastically…I would like to find how my faith as a Quaker and my spirituality with this earth can inform the way I live and walk on our planet."

"The conference tapped into the deep pain and the exhilarating opportunity that many young adults feel about the daunting tasks that rest upon this generation’s shoulders when it comes to creating a more just and sustainable world for the future. The group gathered laughed together, cried together, struggled, debated, sang, worked, and planned social change campaigns."

Our program included several elements that QEW members would find inspiring: we enjoyed a keynote address from Transition Town activist Steve Chase; former QEW clerk Hollister Knowlton led an Awakening the Dreamer mini-workshop; EQAT Campaign Director Zachary Hershman led exercises in nonviolent direct action campaign design; and former Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Eco-Justice Coordinator Michael Gagné, alongside Viv Hawkins, facilitated a training about activism, organizing, and gathering the tools needed for social change.

Every participant told us that they would attend another conference in the future, and more importantly, that they would recommend it to their friends. With such a powerful confirmation that the program was meaningful and valuable, we began planning the second year of the conference.

2013 Conference: "Be Brought Low, and Back to the Root"

This year’s conference, "Continuing Rev_l_tion," will be held at Pendle Hill from June 14-19, 2013 and will focus on the Simplicity testimony, following a similar format and structure to the 2012 conference. Young adults from around North America will be invited to come to Pendle Hill for six days of programming, including speakers, workshops, silent and programmed worship, creative expression opportunities, skill-building activities, and fellowship. The program itself is still in development, but our plan to focus on simplicity will allow us to use that important Quaker testimony as a lens through which we can examine all personal, communal, and global implications of living in the world, not of the world. We hope to bring 40-45 young adults to Pendle Hill for another successful year of Continuing Rev_l_tion. 

This conference is one of the only opportunities available for young adults to come together for spiritually grounded training and capacity building around issues at the heart of Quakerism. We have the potential to nurture a generation of well-connected, environmentally conscious, and mobilized young adult Friends. We are so glad that QEW is a co-sponsor of the 2013 Continuing Rev_l_tion conference. Here are two things you can do to ensure the success of this summer’s program:

  1. Spread the word! Please tell every young adult Friend (between the ages of 18 and 35) you know about this conference and encourage them to attend. Last year we had many participants from across the US and Canada that were informed of this program by QEW members. Participants do not need to be members of a monthly meeting, but they do need to be prepared to engage the questions at the heart of this conference from a spiritual foundation, and they must have at least some familiarity with the Religious Society of Friends. More information and applications are available at www.pendlehill.org/yald.
  2. Please consider giving a financial gift to ensure that each and every young adult Friend, regardless of their financial situation, is able to take advantage of this incredible opportunity. Please see Anne Mitchell’s request for your support in the box following this article.

Quakers have played a leadership role in other important change movements throughout history. It is my hope that the Religious Society of Friends will be at the forefront of the much-needed environmental awakening yet to come in the world. Empowering and making space for young adult Quaker leadership is one of the best ways to ensure that Quakerism will be not only relevant, but will play a vital role in the transformation ahead.