Sunday, August 2, 2009

"Here comes the sun..." A new youth program at PYM

After five days of gray, foggy weather at Walker Creek Ranch, the sun broke through the clouds, and blue skies appeared, just as we were coming to a decision about hiring a full-time youth coordinator.

A coincidence? Perhaps, but I don't think so....

Coming to this point had been a long, tough slog. During our first consideration of this proposal, we had not come to unity and the clerk called us back for a second session that lasted almost two hours longer than anticipated. As a result, we had to cancel interest groups and were late to dinner.

The old Quaker expression “laboring with a concern” vividly describes what we went through. We were like a mother giving birth as we struggled over whether or not to move forward with this proposal.

The youth were unanimously and passionately in favor of hiring a youth coordinator, and so were most adults who had worked with youth. The youth and their adult supporters had done painstaking research to prepare their proposal and had visited or contacted over 20 meetings for feedback, which was mostly positive. They also consulted with other YMs that had hired youth coordinators. They developed a budget, goals and objectives, an evaluation process, and a job description for the coordinator. Their report (including appendices) was over 120 pages long.

But for some Friends, this was not enough. They were concerned about the cost, which would double the assessment from $38 to $72. They felt that the age range was too broad, from pre-teen to young adult, and would doom the program to failure. They felt that the YM did not have the experience and competence to run such a program. They questioned whether the YM should even hire a paid staff person, since we are committed to being an all volunteer organization (unlike the “other” PYM, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which has 30 plus paid staff). Two Friends with considerable experience in youth work felt that they had a better plan, one that would cost much less and focus not on a coordinator, but on empowering local meetings.

Underlying many of these concerns was the old bugaboo: fear of change, and suspicion of young people.

Some older Friends expressed their concerns in ways that sometimes felt hurtful to young people, such as referring to the program as "five parties a year." Some adults were annoyed when young people expressed joy and said “This Friend speaks my mind” whenever someone expressed a viewpoint they approved.

During this time of laboring, the clerk showed amazing patience and allowed the Spirit to work. He called for periods of silent worship so that we could reflect more deeply. He stayed firm and clear when strong feelings were expressed. As a result, we were able to listen to the deep wisdom and the "still, small voice" that arose from our youth, and from adults.

Little by little, slowly and often unsurely, we came to unity.

A turning point came when a weighty elder arose and expressed his concerns that the program was ill conceived and doomed to failure. He spoke eloquently and convincingly, as is his wont.

Then another weighty Friend arose and shared a personal story.

“In high school my daughter had the idea of hanging up a huge condom in front of her high school on AIDs awareness day,” this mother explained. “I told her this was a terrible idea and she shouldn't do it. A few hours later, around 10 PM, I got a call from my daughter. Her friend was stuck in a palm tree in front of the high school. Would I come to help? So my husband and I went to the school, brought ladders and other equipment we needed, and we helped her to put up the condom. It turned out to be a great attention getter and was written up in the local paper.”

As she told this story, laughter erupted in the room and it became clear that if the program did go awry, we older Friends would do everything in our power to make it work.

As the mood shifted from fear to trust, from "No, we shouldn't" to "Yes, we can," it became clear that Spirit was calling us to make a leap of faith and to trust in our young people. As we came to unity and approved the proposal, I heard in the back of my mind the Beatles’ song: “Here comes the sun…”

It was an historic moment, one that makes me happy I am a Friend. I have a deep commitment to youth and to youth work. The picture in today's blog shows Pat Smith and her husband Steve. Pat was the clerk of the Southern California youth service program, and it couldn't have succeeded without her wise, patient, and loving efforts.
I was especially happy to see that several of the young adults leading this effort to hire a full-time youth coordinator had been active in the AFSC/SCQM youth service program that I helped to start fifteen years ago. Thanks in part to that program, they have the confidence to affirm: "Yes, we can!"

This has been a week of tears and laughter, as it says in the old song: "Give yourself to love." In an earlier posting I mentioned that I encountered a lot of Friends who are grieving the loss of loved ones.

During our meeting for memorials I rose and reminded Friends of my wife, who was not listed but had come to YM meeting several times and was instrumental in my decision to come to California. "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for Kathleen," I explained. "She has been my inspiration."

On the final night of YM, my grieving turned to laughter. During "family night" Friends of all ages did silly skits, sang songs, told stories and jokes, and shared their "talents," such as they are, to an amazingly appreciative audience.

I decided to do a skit about "laughter yoga." I told Friends about this practice and led them in a laughter yoga exercise. They laughed so loud and long it was hard to get them to stop so I could finish my act. When they finally settled down, I introduced my laughter yoga guru, "Sri Elmonanda" (aka "Tickle Me Elmo"). When Elmo started laughing, so did the audience. Elmo laughed so loud that he fell off the table. Everyone laughed even more. Finally, Elmo righted himself and stood up and said, "More, more!" By now the room was rocking with laughter. When it subsided, I said, "Elmonanda never ceases to amaze me."

The same could be said about Friends.

This laughter yoga skit was another testimony to my dear Kathleen, who had a gift for laughter. (Her loud, irresistible laugh was one of the reasons I was drawn to her). She and I both went to a laughter yoga session when we were exploring various spiritual healing modalities. Afterwards, we recorded an "Encounter with the Laughter Yoga Guru" for you tube, which I have included in this post.

Laughter is good for all that ails you, whether it's cancer, or a week of long and sometimes painful meetings. S whenever you're feeling blue, try this mantra (recommended by Sri Elmonanda): "Ho ho ho, hee hee hee, and couple of fa la las....That's how we laugh the day away in the merry old land of Oz..."


  1. Hi Anthony - I too noticed that the sun finally came out as we finished our discernment about this stage of the Youth Program Coordinator position.

    It was good to see you, even so briefly at PYM, and I'm glad to find your blog.

  2. I'm glad to hear of your experience at PYM. I was at PhYM during that time. Our yearly meeting ended with a torrential downpour. Hmmm.

  3. Dear Kathleen, We could use some rain out here: we are having a drought. Could you come for a visit and bring the rain with you?