Maddy Walker, Tasmania Regional Meeting
Tracy Bourne’s Backhouse Lecture Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness: Bringing children into the centre of Quaker life and worship follows in a series of Backhouse lectures calling us to rethink the ways children are considered in our Meetings, and not just for their sakes and that of their parents. In the delivery of the lecture, Tracy wove together image, spoken word and song in a compelling description of how children have been central to Quakers in the past and how we must be radical in rethinking how they can be so in the present and into the future. She links her concern for the serious impending environmental and social crises we are facing with the need to build a community strong enough to withstand the problems of the coming years, offer leadership and possibly rebuild “our broken world”.
Tracy and her husband Andrew Bray were two of the Friends I first counted as friends outside my own Meeting and it was on variations of this topic that we spent much of our time, in Melbourne at AYM years ago. How could the gifts, the joy, the unpredictable nature of what our children were bringing be more welcome and valued at AYM and at our own local Meetings? On a more pedestrian note, how could it be made easier for us, as parents of young children, to participate in the full life of the Meeting and at times to act as their advocates? I am very fortunate that in the Hobart Meeting of Tasmanian Region Meeting we currently have a vast collection of young people and my own children feel very much included, indeed more now than they did when I first started attending a dozen years ago. It cannot be denied that this has been through a concerted effort by a few members and a critical mass of children. As we heard at AYM in Brisbane, however, TRM as it is today is a model of Meetings where parents feel at ease in bringing their children to be cared for by another. Yet even here in Hobart, genuinely seeing them as spiritual equals, whose wisdom is listened to in the same way as the rest of us, is still a distance away. The JYFs reminded us that at times they feel patronised, which they demonstrated through the humorous rewriting of the Advice and Query about young people, read during the AYM concert, subverted by replacing young with old, opening to closing and so forth.
Due to some spiritual revelations that have emerged from this year’s Backhouse lecture we have decided to amend Advices and Queries no 21; the Amended version is as follows:
21a Rejoice in the presence of adults and old people in your meeting and recognise the gifts they bring. Remember that the meeting as a whole shares a responsibility for every adult in its care. Seek for the adults as for yourself a full development of the “Live Life to the Full” principle and a fully developed yearning for Peace, Love and an abundance of Ice-cream.
How do you share your deepest beliefs with adults, while leaving them free to develop their inner child? Do you invite older Quakers to share their insights with you? Are you ready both to learn from adults and to accept the many responsibilities that come with them!
Revised by Shannon, James and Robbie
Tracy’s lecture is well researched, comprehensive and admiring of those who have spoken to this issue before, yet her frustration at the lack of effective action to find a way forward comes through. Attempts to make changes she feels are needed have been temporary and a prescriptive plan has not been forthcoming even in this lecture, except to offer many suggestions that will require the young people to be heard, to be given responsibility and to have their differing needs catered for. The challenge of determining how exactly the requirements of young people of a variety of ages differ from one another and from the rest of the Quakers, and both supporting them and yet allowing them to take on significant roles and responsibilities when ready, is not an easy one. The argument Tracy makes, however, is that our tradition offers us a path through this: train our children how to be part of our silence and teach them some of our great methods of discernment.
I have found when taking young people into the silence at the Friends’ School, that some really feel a connection, despite calls from others that they are too young for stillness. Others just need explicit instructions, and still other children struggle every week to find some inner experience of enough value to warrant being still. The challenge, I often feel, is that there is nothing in their experience that values what we are doing. In our Quaker community, with children raised amongst Friends, surely perseverance and modifications to our practices will win through. This will allow us to benefit from what the young people have to offer.
It is clear throughout this lecture that Tracy Bourne has great faith in the potential of our young people- to follow their leadings to reshape this world if we can support them fully and offer them guidance. This challenge is large, she asserts, and a child’s spiritual experience may not fit with our preconceptions making the directions uncertain. Truly, though, we need to learn from them to be more like them in so many ways: flexible, curious and risk-taking. In this way her lecture is not just about young people but more about how she feels we need to change our Quaker culture to more fully include those who are the very embodiment of it. The text is a beautiful and challenging read and the live performance, which you can listen to online, is very moving. Make the effort and engage in this year’s lecture and then we can all decide how we will rise to these challenges.
Maddy adds: if you wished to have more of me, I would just add that I am a member of TRM, with my three children, Briar, Olive and Holly. I was under TRM’s care that my husband, Ben, and I were married (he is not a Quaker). We are both old scholars of Friends’, our elder children are current scholars, and I currently hold the position of Quaker Community Coordinator (since 2013). This involves running or assisting the semi-programmed Gatherings each week, organising Quakers in Residence, maintaining links between the school and the wider Quaker Community here and overseas and running information sessions for new staff, parents and interested parties about “Quakerism”. I welcome any correspondence.