Many Friends know me as Jo Juchniewicz, married to Joseph. When people saw the name Juchniewicz before meeting me in person, they assumed I could speak Polish. I can’t. So when I became a teacher and then a civil celebrant, for practical purposes I decided to use to my maiden name, Jordan. My passport is still in the name Juchniewicz, so when I am visiting my sister Eleanor in Minnesota, I have to think twice what my name is.
Joseph is a lapsed Catholic, however he has always supported my commitment to Friends. Our three children attended my local meeting as well as Junior Young Friends gatherings at Yearly Meeting and later two of them attended Young Friends gatherings. I think Peter attended just about every JYF and Young Friends’ gathering at Yearly Meeting for 15 years. Yearly Meeting was our annual family holiday for many years. My two sisters, Priscilla and Eleanor are attenders, so over the years my whole family has learnt to be in tune with Friends’ ways.
From an early age I was aware of Quakers. My father, a conscientious objector during the Second World War, was defended in court by a Quaker lawyer and my parents spoke highly of him. While at university I admired a fellow student Lynn Arnold, a Quaker who led moratorium marches and organised student tutoring for Aboriginal school children. I became one of those tutors, but I was too timid to join the marches. While studying at university I valued the knowledge and insight of many teachers, including Michael Tolley, whom I knew was a Quaker.
A year or so later I came across the book Quaker by Convincement by Geoffrey Hubbard which, even as an agnostic, impressed me. I remember thinking that if I did believe in God, it would be as a Quaker. When I was a young mother with our first child Ruth, we received the tragic news that a young family friend had been thrown from a horse and died. At that moment it dawned on me that life is a precious gift which we have for just a short time. The following Sunday I went to Meeting for the first time. After eight years of reality testing, in 1981 I applied for membership.
Has being a Friend changed me? I am aware that I am a braver person now than I was as a young adult. Feeling respected and trusted by a group of caring people is an ideal environment in which to grow up. I discovered AVP at Yearly Meeting for the first time about 20 years ago and since then my understanding of “peace” has deepened to become a daily, practical challenge. I have found amongst Quakers many inspiring people who are also good friends.
My grandchildren and my garden are two of my greatest passions. It is a great joy spending time with each of our three grandchildren and I am excited about the arrival of our fourth grandchild in May. I love flowers, and I am fortunate to be able to fill vases with fresh ones all year round.
My work as a funeral celebrant means I am in frequent contact with people who are grieving. I find that being close to new life, whether plants or children, restores my flagging energy and optimism, lifts me into the present and turns my focus to the good things around me.
Stories are another passion. I studied literature at uni and I worked in libraries for some years, but it was while reading to babies and children that I understood the beauty of a well-made story, which improves with each retelling. When I taught English to senior school students I enjoyed the novels we studied just as much. I still love picture books, particularly the work of Bob Graham, and I always have a good novel close by. My favourite author at the moment is Marilynn Robinson. As a celebrant I hear many inspiring stories. When a family story forms part of a wedding or funeral ceremony, I sense the collective pride amongst guests or mourners.
My deepest sadness was the loss of our son, Peter, first to depression and then to suicide three years ago. A dark cloud descends at the anniversary of Peter’s death every year, but in June we come together as a family to share a meal and celebrate Peter’s birth. We were blessed to have had Peter with us for 31years. I am now more sensitive to the suffering and anguish that mental illness inflicts on people and their families, and how little is known about it.
My mother was a skilled dressmaker who made clothes for all of her children. I don’t have her skill, but the simple garments and toys I sew and knit give me a great sense of achievement. Music was my father’s passion. He played the piano daily, took us to concerts as children and encouraged us to play musical instruments. I no longer play the piano or the cello, but I love music of all kinds, classical, jazz, blues and rock. However I have not yet acquired a taste for hip-hop.
My parents were devoted members of their faith community, the Bible Student Movement, and our family attended Bible class every Sunday afternoon. The adult discussions went over my head while my sister and I, the only children, entertained ourselves quietly. Although I rejected the religious language of the Bible class, and for a time even the Bible itself, I have great respect for my parents’ whole-hearted commitment and their faith in a better world.
I see the role of YM Clerk as being open to the wisdom of Friends, past and present. I know from experience that Quaker tradition and processes guide us well. I know from experience how important it is for Friends to have a voice, and I know the power of silence when discernment is needed.
Many of the tasks that Meetings have given me over the past 30 years have arrived as surprises from nominations committees, but each one has been rewarding. The experience of coordinating the Junior Young Friends camp at YM Adelaide 1995 was one of the highlights of my life.
I have learnt to trust Nominations Committee, so I am now on a mission to serve Friends and to live adventurously. I know that I am surrounded by Friends who have knowledge, experience and great wisdom. I feel honoured to be entrusted with the responsibility of being the next Yearly Meeting Clerk and at the end of YM 2016 in Hobart, when I move into this role, I will give it my best.