“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed
all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
-Romans 8:35-39 (NRSV)
This weekend, I had the honor of attending a weekend at the Young Friends of North America (YFNA) reunion, in Barnesville, Ohio, where several dozen Friends gathered to remember their experiences as young adult Friends as a part of the YFNA, as well as to look toward a future revitalization of the North American young Friends movement. This gathering, as of this writing, is still taking place, and will be continuing until the end of the week. I speak to my experience of what I took part in between Friday evening and early Sunday afternoon. During the weekend, there were two primary focuses that were programmed into the gathering: Celebration of the past YFNA movement, and a chance for current young adult Friends to meet together and discern the will of the Spirit for us as Quaker youth.
It was in this context that the Risen Christ created space for the power of the Holy Spirit to be felt amongst us and to guide our gathering to dare to speak aloud our greatest hope and to be broken open to our tenderest wounds. In addition to the twin roles of this gathering as a place for YFNA nostalgia and discernment of way forward for North American young Friends, the Holy Spirit gave us two additional, complimentary charges this weekend: We were called into radical discipleship in the Way of Christ Jesus, and we were moved to wrestle with how the Holy Spirit is leading us into integrity in our sexuality.
On Friday evening, during our first group session, there were in attendance mostly older YFNA “alumni” as well as a dozen or so current young adult Friends. After spending a full hour and a half on introductions, the evening was moseying along primarily as an opportunity for the older folks to indulge in a fair bit of nostalgia. However, about two hours into the meeting, an older Friend from Ireland stood up. This drew our attention immediately, as everyone previously had been speaking from their seats. This Friend, thanks be to God, called us out of a secular trip down memory lane and heralded the arrival of the Holy Spirit in our midst. His message seemed really out of place in the flow of the previous conversation that Friends had been engaged in – which, in that context, seemed like a good sign that his ministry was indeed from God. Friend spoke about the growing tide of darkness in our world and our need to stand up and take seriously the implications of following Jesus, though it be unto imprisonment or death. This message, accompanied by a covering by the Holy Spirit, led the group into a half an hour of open worship, out of which more ministry was given.
On Saturday morning, we broke into small groups, and most of us used that small group time to share about our own experience as being (or having once been) both young Friends and sexual beings. How does God call us to live our sexuality? What romantic and sexual practice leads to more abundant life and which ways of living lead to death? Many Friends felt that they and others had not received the guidance, support, care, and discipline that they needed from their community, which led to much suffering in many cases. While we certainly did not come to unity on any particular vision for Quaker sexuality, there was general feeling that the serious consideration of a “Christian sexual ethics for the 21st century” would be a positive step forward in strengthening our community.
By the end of the weekend, one Friend felt strongly enough about the past mistakes of her own young Friends community that she felt led to write a minute apologizing for the hurt that the unfaithful sexuality of some Friends caused in her generation. While the larger group was not in unity to approve the minute as a corporate statement, the fact that such a document was written by an individual and presented to the group is an indication of the seriousness with which Friends are taking the question of sexual ethics. I was very pleased to see this kind of serious engagement of sexuality on the part of Friends in Barnesville this weekend. If all Friends were opening themselves up to the admonishing and healing power of the Light as Friends were this weekend in Barnesville, our religious society would be far closer to living the kingdom-life in our romantic relationships.
I must admit that the aspect of this gathering that most surprised me was the amount of Christian language that I heard from so many Friends, accompanied by a deep Quaker understanding of the centrality of the Risen Christ in our midst. At the risk of unfairly maligning some of my brothers and sisters: I did not expect this from liberal-unprogrammed Friends. I know that a small gathering cannot speak for an entire branch of Quakerism, but I must say that the liberal-unprogrammed branch does indeed have its fair share of grounded, weighty – and Christian – Friends! I do think, however, that the Spirit had to make some moves, so to speak, before that reality was able to come to the surface. Two Friends in particular, as I recall, were instrumental in creating a safe space for overtly Christian language – and, in that space, a fellowship blossomed that felt far closer to the radical, Spirit-led Christianity of early Friends than I ever expected to find. I give praise to God for that.
I also praise God for the opportunity that I was given this weekend to experience more deeply the reality that I am not a lone individual, nor even a member solely of my own generation. I am an extension of my parents, and they are an extension of me; my generation is an extension of past generations, and they are extensions of us. When one of us lives in that Life and Power, it affects us all. When one generation sins, it affects all generations. We are not individuals. I am thee, Friend, and thee is me. Our faithfulness or lack thereof resonates between us, yes, throughout the entire Church. We are not individuals, not even family. No, we are something different, something more. We are the Body of Christ. We are the Children of the Light.