It was a gathering of Friends, and of young Friends, from throughout the nation. This was my third gathering, all as a high school Friend. The feeling of connection in the group is phenomenal given the fact that it only meets once a year for one week, with a greatly different group each time. This year our gathering numbered close to 120 high schoolers, 40 percent of whom were new to the High School Program. I feel closer to some of the people I met at the Gathering than people I’ve known for my whole life. I think that this is mainly because of the chance to spend so much time together with the freedom to do whatever you want, and to choose the amount of structure you want. Every day there are only two things that you are required to do, both of which can be great fun: a workshop in the morning and a support group in the afternoon.
In the course of the week we held two business meetings, each clerked by high school Friends, to discuss the policies, activities, and immediate concerns of the High School Program. Two of the main topics this year were smoking and accommodating disability. Smoking has been an ongoing issue for the business meeting for as long as I’ve been part of the program, and as I’ve heard, for years before that. The reason that it keeps coming up is that every year we have a different group of people with different concerns. Last year smoking came up at both of our business meetings. Initially nobody brought forth opinions because everyone wanted the meeting to run quickly. Then, in the second business meeting, we spent three and a half hours discussing the smoking policy. This year we had what looked as though it would be the same issue of people not speaking their minds about smoking. One of our clerks was able to remind Friends of what had happened the previous year and asked them to share anything they were thinking, inviting them to use the process instead of trying to rush things along. It worked. Because she asked, people got a chance to speak their minds and be heard, and to feel that the issue was resolved. Not all business will be enjoyable to do, but all business is necessary to the community. People know this. They aren’t always excited about business meeting but participants understand that it’s a necessary process for the community.
On accommodating disability, we decided this year to encourage support groups to try out a blindness awareness exercise. Each group blindfolded one of its members for an entire day, and others had to take care of that person and help them get to the places where they needed to be. It was a valuable exercise to have people have a chance to depend on each other and to use each other to the fullest extent of their capability. This exercise showed the strength of the community.
During most afternoons we held separate groups for men and women for an hour. These groups were optional, but very well attended. They seemed to provide good support for people to share experiences, to think about new possibilities, and to think about challenging themselves. In the middle of the week, after having separate groups, we met as one whole group, both men and women, to share information that we thought was necessary for the other group to know. It was a very good environment for sharing information and asking questions.
The community has a way of allowing you to feel connected to everybody, whether you actually speak to each person in depth or simply say a greeting in passing. For example, there was one person in my support group who I never had much conversation with outside of the support group, but could tell every time I saw her that we had a connection. Knowing that’s something that will happen with more than just one person, and that each person in the community has that experience many times, creates quite a feeling of connectedness in the whole group.
I noticed that we had no closing worship scheduled for the last day of the Gathering. For me, worship is symbolic of the way the group could function as a whole and a centered community. I made sure that it was put into the schedule and got the word out. In that meeting there were a few people who gave the message that even though they had Quaker parents and were raised in the Quaker tradition, it wasn’t until now, after having experienced the FGC Gathering, that they felt they were truly Quakers themselves.