Jenny Turton, Victoria Regional Meeting, Children and Junior Young Friends Coordinator
YM 2014 in Brisbane was not only the first Yearly Meeting I have attended, but also the one in which I took up my role as the Children and Junior Young Friends Coordinator for AYM for the next 12 months. As such it was a very full week meeting with many new (to me) Friends, participating in the children and JYF program and in sessions of relevance to young people, and ensuring that I spoke to relevant people.
I would like to give a bit of background about myself and why I applied for the Coordinator position so that Australian Friends can learn a bit about me. I live in the city of Geelong, a coastal city about an hour southwest of Melbourne in Victoria. We relocated here after my husband John was offered a position at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory 12 years ago. We have 2 young children: Lizzie, who is 9 and has just entered grade 3, and Alex, who is 6 and has just entered grade 1. I have been a stay at home mother for the past 9 years, as I have wanted to prioritise bringing up my children.
I grew up in Melbourne, qualified as a veterinarian from Melbourne University, and have since then worked in a range of roles for animal health organisations in Australia, Africa and Southeast Asia. This has included private dairy practice, government veterinary work, technical support in the pharmaceutical sector, vaccine production for tick borne diseases, developing training material for small scale farmers, research on ethnoveterinary medicine, control of transboundary diseases, and policy development for foot and mouth disease control. I obtained a research Masters Degree in tropical veterinary science related to the farmed crocodile industry, which included some work in crocodile farms in indigenous communities. Living and working in developing countries made me appreciate the broader socioeconomic issues impacting on communities, and led to me completing a Masters Degree in International Development.
I became interested in Quakers through reading about them whilst living in Zimbabwe, and when we moved to Australia in 2001 I started attending the Eastern Suburbs meeting in Melbourne, and then the Geelong Worshipping Group when we moved to Geelong a year later.
I was just contemplating returning to meaningful part time work that I could fit around school hours when the Children and JYF Coordinator position was advertised. I was drawn to it because I had experienced firsthand the difficulties of involving my own children in a small local meeting, and I was excited to see that there was national support for addressing this important issue of putting our children at the centre of our Quaker worship and community. I felt that I had a great deal of experience to bring to the position in communication and networking, project management, research and problem solving, development of resources, and community development training.
For those of you that are not aware, the aims of the project are to:
- Improve access to information and resources for local and recognised meetings so that children and JYFs can be more fully included in worship and community
- Develop and foster a communication network between Regional Meetings in order to better care for children and JYFs
- Foster opportunities for skills development of carers
- Work directly with the JYF community to support leadership and service
- Develop opportunities for greater inclusion of children and JYFs in Quaker practice
YM was a fantastic opportunity to get started with my role, meet people, participate in the activities and sessions, and develop a sense of the huge importance but also the challenges of bringing children into the centre of Quaker practice. I was greatly touched by the welcome I was given, both as a new participant of YM and in my Coordinator role. It was a deeply spiritual experience for me to participate in the largest Quaker meetings for worship that I had yet experienced, with a depth of both stillness and ministry, and I was very moved by the meetings for worship that were led by the children. I greatly enjoyed meeting the diversity of Friends from around Australia, and learning of their great passion for specific Quaker testimonies, which clearly informed them in how to let their lives speak. One of the most profound experiences for me was the Backhouse Lecture by Tracy Bourne about the importance of bringing children into the centre of Quaker community and worship. Towards the end of the lecture when her husband Andrew and her children Emily, Rosie and Miles joined her to sing Turn the World Around, I had a perfect glimpse of including children in the centre, and I was very grateful for her vision, passion and challenge.
One of the things I was asked a number of times during the course of the week was why I didn’t bring my own children. I was sad to have been separated from them (the week of YM was the longest that I had ever been apart from them), and sad that they were not there to take part in the richness of the Quaker community and the wonderful children and JYF program on offer. However, it was important that I had the flexibility to focus on my role, and to stay up late for the evening sessions and the spontaneous conversations that evolved. They will certainly be joining me at YM 2015, and we are lucky that the next venue is Melbourne in our own RM.
Attending YM was certainly a great highlight for me, and I often found myself wondering why I hadn’t done it sooner. I can see why people become addicted to participating in YM every year, and I can see that I will become one of them. I look forward to sharing this journey of including our children and JYFs at the heart of Quaker practice with you over the coming year.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org