Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Continuing Rev_l_tion -- by Emily Higgs

A Young Adult Conference on Ministry, Earthcare and Social Action
Throughout the spring of 2012 we began asking young adults all over North America if they wanted to explore revelation, and revolution, through a six-day intensive training program at Pendle Hill designed for young adult Friends with an interest in social action and environmental justice. The answer was a resounding YES!, and thus Pendle Hill embarked on designing an innovative and powerful new iteration of the Young Adult Leadership Development program. Co-sponsored by Quaker Earthcare Witness, the Clarence and Lilly Pickett Endowment, and Willistown Monthly Meeting, the conference was held from June 15 – 21, 2012, and through worship, workshops, games, service, reflection, speakers, musicians, art and fellowship, dove into the weighty and complex work of creating a more just, sustainable and spiritually connected world. We are now planning another  training program in June 2013: Simplicity – “Be Brought Low, and Back to the Root”.
The participants
30 young adults participated in the 2012 Continuing Rev_l_tion program. Of those 30 participants, the average age was 24 and there were 9 men and 21 women. We welcomed young adults from Canada, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Indiana, Oklahoma, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and we even had one participant from Korea. Our participants were exceptionally passionate about leaning into the intersection of faith and activism, and the following quotes were excerpted from their applications to the program:

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 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.”

Program and Activities
Our six days together were packed with opportunities for personal and communal growth, and were designed to be an intensive and fast-paced training-oriented program. In so doing, Pendle Hill established a new model and framework for young adult gatherings – demonstrating the power and potential of skill-building and thematically focused conferences for the younger generations of Friends. Here is a small snapshot of our activities:

Awakening the Dreamer Symposium
The program began with a day-long multi-media training designed to educate citizens about the biggest problems facing our planet today, to empower them to move beyond the fear and grief often accompanying that awakening, and then to inspire them to bring forth an environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling world. We welcomed long-time environmental activist, Hollister Knowlton, former clerk of Quaker Earthcare Witness as the symposium facilitator.

Creative Maladjustment,” A Talk from Steve Chase
Well-known Quaker scholar and activist, Steve Chase, joined us for several days of the program. Steve was our keynote speaker, offering a talk entitled, “Creative Maladjustment: The Prophetic Call of Quaker Faith and Activism.” Steve is the educational director of the environmental studies master’s program in Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability at Antioch University of New England. Steve’s words and presence were energizing and inspiriting for participants. Steve has continued to stay in touch with all 30 participants through the program’s Facebook group and new book club!
Evalyn Parry Concert
For many, the highlight of the week was the public concert with Evalyn Parry. Evalyn has toured music, storytelling, pride, poetry, and theatre festivals across the continent over the past decade, taking her unique perspective on the world and transforming it into art that spans genres, genders, and generations. Much of Evalyn’s music has a social justice or environmental focus, and she did a phenomenal job of picking both songs and stories that dovetailed beautifully with the conference trajectory. Evalyn also stayed on campus as a sojourner for several days following her performance, allowing our participants to engage with Evalyn informally and talk with her more about her own creative process and what it means to her to be an artist and an activist.

Called to Action and Campaign Design Workshops
The Called to Action workshop with Michael Gagne and Viv Hawkins allowed our participants to experiment with bold, spirit-rooted activism, theories of social change and social movements, group work and the resistance to change, skill building around nonviolent direct action, and personal sustainability in seeking to live in Right Relationship. Building upon Michael and Viv’s workshop, we were later joined by Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) organizer Zachary Hershman, who led two workshops about creating and implementing a successful social action campaigns. Our participants had the opportunity to practice designing their own campaigns about issues close to their hearts and their home communities, and to present them to one another for feedback.

Lobbying and Legislative Advocacy
Social, economic and environmental justice requires people working for change from all sides, and we were fortunate to have Friends Committee on National Legislation staffer Jose Aguto, Legislative Secretary for Sustainable Energy and the Environment, join us to lead a workshop on the ins and outs of legislative advocacy, the policy arena and how to lobby. Fellow FCNL staff member, and YALD participant, Sandy Robson, joined Jose and was able to share about her experiences working at FCNL as a young adult.
Art for Social Change with Spiral Q
Participants had the opportunity to get their hands dirty and be creative with Tracy Broyles, Executive Director of Spiral Q Puppet Theater in Philadelphia. Spiral Q led a three-hour workshop on the intersection of art and social change, providing the materials for the young adults to plan, create and run their own mock demonstrations. Spiral Q’s work is nationally recognized for its originality, its capacity to inspire individuals of all ages and backgrounds, and its ability to creatively revitalize communities throughout Philadelphia.
Discernment Workshop and Pickett Endowment Panel
Participants were invited to explore how they felt called or drawn to particular work, and to listen to how this has come about for them. Using spiritual discernment tools, participants engaged with one another through some guided reflection, small group sharing, journaling and worship. Building upon the exploration of one’s own calling and path, the Pickett Endowment Board led a panel and large-group discussion about the nature of leadings and how Quaker organizations can best serve and support young adults in their work for justice, peace and sustainability.
Did we inspire revelation and revolution?
The program was challenging, energizing, full of laughter and fun, creative, generative, transformative and packed with opportunities for participants to go inward for self-reflection and reach out for help brainstorming about their own personal social justice work and goals. Here are just a few comments from the evaluations we received:

We’re part of an incredible young adult movement, and if the first conference was this awesome, I see great things for its future.”

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, planned social change campaigns.”

I felt that our presence was really held and cherished by all the support of Pendle Hill and our other allies, and can’t thank them enough for it.”

It was good to have a conversation about what it looks like to make activism a full-time occupation – something I had never really considered before.”

Steve Chase presented such compelling material in such an inviting way. He helped me internalize and memorize the main things Quakers believe – A love for the Divine, the other, and the creation. I’ve heard of the Perfection Standard idea before, but it’s good to hear again that we can’t let our desire for total and perfect coherency destroy our chances of accomplishing something smaller but still good.”

Following the program, participants brainstormed a list of ways to continue to build upon what they had begun, how to stay in touch with one another, and how to serve as ambassadors to other young adults promoting what they had just experienced. The group formed a private Facebook, complete with a book club to encourage one another to read books about important issues from a spiritual grounding. They use the group to share their individual struggles with activism, organizing and changing the world.

Every single participant told us that they would attend another YALD 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 believe we sent 30 young adults back into the world more grounded, more spiritually whole, and more empowered to “be the change they wish to see in the world” than how they came to us.

Planning for the future
The enthusiasm we felt, the strong call we heard for continuing this program in the future, and our own excitement around the dynamic work of planning such cutting-edge young adult programming, all lead us clearly and unequivocally towards running another training-oriented YALD program in June 2013. We hope to increase our participant enrollment and diversity, deepen the content and capacity-generating focus of the workshops, and build off of our momentum from last summer. While we are still in the visioning phase for Continuing Rev_l_tion 2013, we are planning to focus on Simplicity and use the Quaker testimonies as a lens through which we can examine all the personal, communal and global implications of living in the world, not of the world.

We are seeking program co-sponsors who would be interested in investing financial resources and programmatic expertise in what has already proven to be a critical opportunity for us to nurture, energize and empower the next generation of Friends.

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