This weekend approximately 90 Friends of all ages, the majority of whom were between the ages of 18 and 35, met together at Deep River Friends meetinghouse in Greensboro, North Carolina to explore how we are being led together as Friends who seek to follow in the way of Jesus. This gathering, hosted by Deep River Friends Meeting and organized by the Friends Center and the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program at Guilford, had as its theme, “A New Kind of Quakerism.” It sought to bring Friends together in an intergenerational gathering to explore the relationship of Friends to the “emergent church” and to the Young Adult Friends movement. Though most Friends came from North Carolina – perhaps a majority from Guilford College – there were many who traveled long distances to be present, including Friends from Earlham College, Earlham School of Religion, Wilmington College, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia, among other places.
The gathering was very brief, taking place on Friday evening and Saturday morning and afternoon. We heard two speakers, Betsy Blake and Evelyn Jadin, who shared with us from their own experiences of growing up as Friends and finding that their ministry led them in exciting and scary directions that challenged their inherited assumptions and their community. We also had the chance to share in several workshops and worship-sharing groups where we were able to share our experiences – our hopes and dreams as well as our struggles and fears – across branch divisions.
I was struck by the diversity of this gathering. While I am uncertain about exact numbers, I feel confident in saying that a very sizable portion of those in attendence were from pastoral backgrounds, and that the group that was gathered at Deep River Friends meetinghouse was well-balanced in terms of background, perspective and life experience. For the first time at a cross-branch Young Adult Friends event, I did not feel out of place as one who names Jesus as Lord.
I was impressed by the spirit of Love that I experienced, particularly on Saturday evening, during our closing worship. While there were many who I believe felt impatient to see us change and grow as a Religious Society, to mature and be a sign of God’s presence to the world, I did not feel impatient that evening. For those who know me, this is strange. I am an impatient person by nature and, in fact, see myself as being one of those who is calling for Friends as a body to move more quickly and deliberately in orienting our lives towards faithfulness to the Kingdom of Christ. But, Saturday night I felt inwardly at rest. I felt in my spirit that the power of the Lord is over all.
God reminded me of how Jesus called God “Abba” – “Papa.” God is the Papa. An image that came to me was that of a mother who is so excited when her baby begins to use words and says “mama!” for the first time. I was shown that God is like that. God is like a mother to us, Her children. She is so delighted when we reach out to Her by putting names to Her. She is overjoyed when we seek to establish relationship in that way, by naming. She is not so concerned with what name She is called; She is pleased above all that Her children are expressing their desire for connection. She responds with unconditional love.
Of course, God wants us to grow up. We can’t stay babies forever. God wants us to mature, and She will provide us with that spiritual milk, that inward sustanence that will lead us into all truth and full maturity in Christ. But God loves us. Though God asks us to change, God does love us as we are. Unconditionally.
Come, Lord. Come, Mama. Let your people know that they are held in love without condition. Let your people know that you long for relationship with them and that you delight in our human attempts to reach out. Let your people know that you love it when we put names to you in love. And let us know that you will stand with us in love and help us to grow, to mature in you. With your assistance, with your care, with your nuture, you will help us to grow into who we are meant to be.