Pamela Leach, Tasmania Regional Meeting
Five Junior Young Friends (JYFs) participated in staffing the Friends’ booth at the Australian Fair for Freedom of Religion and Belief held at MONA on 26 and 27 July. It was excellent to have the energetic support of Matilda Bowman, Eva Schroter, Alexandra Brosnan, Paul Barko and Vivian Imbriotis. For these JYFs, the experience was a rich one and they hope it will become the beginning of a regular event, possibly something bigger. Alex felt wider advertising would be desirable and also would like to see more faith groups participate. The JYFs thought it would be effective to include more visual elements in our booth and making their own video to tell more about Quaker activities in Australia seems a priority in preparation for such an occasion.
Generally appreciated was the bringing together of different religions and beliefs on an equal footing, from Laughter Yoga to Atheists and Scientology. Alex enthused, “it was a great experience, the opportunity to compare beliefs.” Both Vivian and Eva echoed this sentiment. For Eva, a highlight was “how nice it was to see how passionate people were about what they believed. I liked that.” For Vivian, “this was a great experience. It was worthwhile to participate in the fair because it is always good to try to get an understanding of others and their beliefs.”
Paul noted that “It was a valuable experience because it helped me develop clarity about my own beliefs and it was interesting to talk to others about these. It put me on the spot and was difficult at times. But good. I managed to deal with it but it was sometimes confronting.” Paul faced the added challenge of a radio interview. He said, “I was happy to talk to the media. Collaborating with my rostered teammate, Helen Chuter, gave us a chance to strategise about how we would present ourselves.” Others shared this sense of challenge to represent the witness of Quakers. Alex found herself repeatedly limiting herself to “this is what I personally believe” in order to reflect the spectrum of Friends’ experiences and testimonies. Like the others, Eva maintained a positive tone, commenting that she “welcomed the challenge to let people understand who Friends are.”
JYFs found it “hard to be polite and keep a smile on our faces when members of the public were being disrespectful. This wasn’t frequent and quite often the conversation ended on a good note, but there were a fair number of people who came with fixed impressions which they seemed to want to impose.” Eva recalled “it was a challenge to let people understand about Friends when they were quite shut off, but we did achieve that.” For example, one person challenged that “Quakerism is not a religion, it’s an educational philosophy.”
The eventual discovery that the exhibition was conceived as an art installation didn’t go down well with some JYFs. They felt this was demeaning, treating participants like monkeys in a zoo. Viv, however, judged this as fair game at MONA, and the theme of reaching for utopia interesting. He said he accepted the fair as an aesthetic expression. It invited the idea (like a trade fair) of marketing or forcing religion on one another but that didn’t happen, from his perspective. Some people expected the space to be a threatening environment where they would be “recruited” but that was not on offer. Some JYFs were “pushed” quite intensively, on issues such as “Quakers should focus more on sin.” Much discussion among them has ensued subsequently from this.
The participating JYFs were unanimous in their feeling that this experience could lead to very positive visits to other faith communities. Invitations to do AVP with young people from a Uniting church, and to visit the Sikhs at their temple were very well received. Viv’s answer was “They have invited us to go eat with them, and we are so cool with that you have no idea!!”