Lauren Porter NSW Regional Meeting
As one of the newest members of the Religious Society of Friends (December 2014) it was with nervous excitement that I attended AYM 2015. I was joined by my English fiancé, Mark Lockwood of Chichester meeting who has attended Britain Yearly Meeting, but was also a newbie at AYM.
Feeling a little uncertain we arrived at registration. Mark had boldly decided to facilitate a summer school session the following day and so my first experience of AYM was running around finding projectors, re-arranging rooms and hunting for a working lap top. The following day’s summer school on Quakers in Business went very well. Mark’s plans for the session were cast aside fairly early in the day and the summer school took on a life of its own with enthusiasm for a group to continue into the future. I very much enjoyed my time as white board scribe.
While it was a very positive experience it was also quite exhausting, which probably quite accurately sums up my whole of AYM. Something which was helpful for us as first timers was not staying on campus. It meant that I did not find the experience too overwhelming and also that my inner-introvert was also nourished with time away from the excitement.
I very much enjoyed attending some of the prep sessions and seeing the ideas from these progress to the formal sessions. Seeing Quaker process in action was fascinating. Actually experiencing this process helped me to make sense of it in a way which simply reading about it could not do. It got me reflecting on what drew me to Quakers in the first place – a commitment to valuing all voices and opinions.
The session which stands out in my memory was the one on divestment, hearing many knowledgeable and passionate people discuss an issue which I am very interested in. It is also the session which has been a catalyst for continuing change in my life as I have recently opened an account with the Bendigo Bank and am in the process of closing down an account with the National Australia Bank, just in time for divestment day. I am still in the process of researching an ethical super fund. Hearing the practical experiences of other Friends who have also divested helped me to feel confident to proceed in moving my own money.
Being a first timer I was both relieved and impressed at the effort made to assist and support us new folks. Wearing my piece of green wool looped around my name tag I found Friends to be welcoming and helpful. As with being the new kid in any situation there were times when I felt a bit lost and as though everyone else knew each other, but as the week went on I found this to be less and less the case as I got to know more Friends.
I was also very struck by how different a large meeting feels as opposed to my usual smaller meeting. From the sense as the meeting gathers, the variety of ministry given and to the shared sense of purpose made Meeting for Worship at AYM a very different and rich experience for me. I remember feeling a deep sense of connectedness and gratitude for being part of something bigger than myself and beyond my previous experience. This was a feeling that continued for me throughout AYM; being open to learning both as an individual, but also learning about what a more collective Quaker identity means for me.
It was great to connect with old Friends and to make new ones. It was a wonderful opportunity for Mark to get to know people, make new connections and to see how he might be useful as he prepares to move to Australia in the next year. We also found it be a great bonding experience for the two of us as we heard about what other Friends are doing and how they are choosing to live. We really enjoyed Jenny Spinks’ Share and Tell about BEND, the Bega eco-housing group she and others are involved in. It really got us thinking about how co-housing and community living could be a good way for us to live as we start to plan our future together.
On the whole I found AYM to be a positive and affirming experience. I loved meeting Quakers from all over Australia, who I otherwise would not have had the chance to meet. In the future I would love to see Summer Schools sessions in areas in which I have a deep interest such as radical hospitality, chaplaincy, disability and mental health, although I realise that if I want it then I should probably consider facilitating it myself. I felt as if my understanding of being a Quaker was really stretched and challenged. I look forward to attending AYM again in the future with a bit more confidence and an open heart and mind.