A first-timer’s reflection
Carol Thornton, Canberra Regional Meeting
If I was to suggest one word that best described my experience of Yearly Meeting (YM), it would be “energising.”
Elder Michael Searle’s suggestion that I attend the YM was appealing from the outset. It was an opportunity for meeting Quakers beyond Canberra, to see how others worshipped, how they aired views and how they moved forward. Also attractive was the rare opportunity of mixing with like-minded people for a whole week.
My preparations for the YM were less than ideal. My mother’s ill health was highly distracting and getting advice on what to expect at the YM was a little Kafkaesque; the clearest advice being “don’t go to every session, you’ll be exhausted”. On landing in Hobart I lost my voice and it became clear that I had not successfully dodged my husband’s cold. With hindsight, I think being gagged for the first few days was not a bad thing – it heightened my observing and listening faculties.
One of things that really did help me understand the YM agenda was my regular attendance at Canberra’s Meeting for Worship for Business; such attendance meant I had some understanding of the discernment process. I did enjoy the diversity of topics covered in the YM: Earthcare, Quaker Service Australia, Friends World Committee for Consultation and so on. Having worked in Aboriginal affairs for many years it was wonderful to connect with others of similar experience and interest.
The social life around the YM was exceptional. I had a wonderful host in Maxine Barry who, for the whole week, flexed her domestic arrangements around my presence. Maxine, thank you heaps for the companionship, the bed, and transport and for sharing your wonderful mix of colours, fabrics, paintings, hangings and poetry! Knowing I was a new attendee at YM, Rosina Wainwright suggested I join her in seeing the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) for the unscheduled afternoon. Having company who knew about the exhibits made this a most worthwhile visit. At sunset, outside the Museum, I joined others from YM in experiencing the light works exhibition by Quaker, James Turrell.
By week’s end I had met and enjoyed talking to Quakers beyond Canberra and seen how issues were raised, discussed and decided upon. But most importantly and unexpectedly, I was left feeling energized and refreshed, with a sense of somehow being in the right place; I had met people I felt at home with and looked forward to meeting again at next year’s YM, in Canberra’s weekly Meeting, and on my travels.
Impressions as a first-time participant
Maxine Barry, Tasmania Regional Meeting
It was such an enriching experience – I was going to say “beyond my expectations”, but in fact I had no idea what to expect. As a “junior” Quaker (since 2010…?), I had no idea how AYM business was conducted – that was interesting in itself and being involved deepened my sense of belonging to this community.
The people I met – their diverse and rich experience and deep consideration of the things that really matter – the sense of gathering in the meetings for worship – the age range – the interesting diversity of Regional Meetings and what that brings to Quakers nation-wide – the wonderful experience of getting to know my “billetee”….
A highlight was the forum “Clothes are a Quaker Issue”, for which Rosina Wainwright had prepared a fascinating and challenging paper to aid our discussions. It could have gone on for another couple of hours!
I had a wonderful day of “extra-curricular” activity too, meeting with a group of like-minded and First Nations people at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, where Uncle David Carline got his wish and had a pie for lunch (albeit an Thai chicken and curry one!), after we took him to the Baha’i Centre where he admired the work of Kris Schaffer and met with her. This all took place on the spur of the moment with minimal planning. I suspect that experiences like those are not unusual at AYMs where providence or synchronicity draws us to the people we need to get to know.
Reflections of “not-quite-a-junkie”
Allan Knight, Western Australia Regional Meeting
I have attended about seven or eight Yearly Meetings (so not quite a YM junkie) but it had been about 4 years since I last attended before Hobart this year. YM gave me the gift of connecting with Friends I had not seen for some time and to get to know others I had not previously met. I was enriched by the opportunity to get to know these people more deeply in both things eternal and temporal. An unanticipated gift of attendance at YM was to hear the testimonies to the grace of God in the lives of Friends who had died in the preceding year which were read at the start of each formal session. To hear the many ways in which Friends had let their lives speak to answer that of God in themselves and others was inspiring and gratifying. Sharing the witness of Friends in this way is something we should continue to value.
A wow moment for me was when I first saw the completed tapestries set up side-by-side. At previous YMs I had enjoyed the quiet contemplative act of adding some stitches to one of the tapestries and had found that a wonderful space to find some stillness during the business of YM but I do not think I really appreciated the power of the tapestries to tell our story until I saw all those thus far completed displayed together as they were in Hobart.
Another of the things that I carry with me from YM is the generosity of spirit with which Tasmanian F/friends welcomed us – whenever I needed a question answered (which usually was because I had not read information carefully enough) I was met with a smile and a kind response. A great lesson in patience.
I also came away from YM affirmed in my confidence that Friends’ way of making decisions is powerful and one of the gifts Quakers can offer the wider community. Our process of listening to each other and for the spirit which informs the vocal ministry in Meeting for Worship for Business and our discernment as to the way forward in a matter seems to me to lead to decisions that are more life affirming than might otherwise be the case.
Experience and wisdom of Young Friends
John Coleman, Tasmania Regional Meeting
For over thirty years I have been on a rich and intentional spiritual journey – one that led me three years ago to become a part of the Quaker community here in Hobart. Like many I suppose, I have been sustained, attracted, refreshed and challenged by the silent worship that feeds us individually and corporately. For me, no matter whether Meeting for Worship feels centred and blissful or distracted or anything in between, I always leave the Meeting refreshed in spirit. A year ago I was invited to offer music/songwriting experiences to JYFs in our local meeting and have found these monthly intersections nourishing – and our music has been woven into various Quaker events over the year. I was hesitant to accept the role of convening the JYF program for Yearly Meeting because having never experienced a Yearly Meeting and as a relatively new Quaker, I felt very under-prepared. And over the course of many months as we met to prepare I confess to wondering privately why I ever said “yes”. But my experience of Yearly Meeting was one of deep and surprising blessing.
I was touched by the assistance I received from Viv and Alex, the two Young Friends who helped to lead various sessions. Their experience and wisdom was an amazing gift. They were able to model a way of relating and sharing that called the JYFs to respond in kind. And the JYFs themselves in all their diversity were inspiring to me – and they knew how to laugh! I was touched by the way they so comfortably could move into and out of silence. We had an “urban plunge” experience and I was touched by the way they related so joyfully and respectfully to the people with disability in L’Arche and the Choir of High Hopes – how they gave and received an exuberant burst of life. I was touched by the practical assistance received from adult Quakers who saw when I was struggling and were there to help steady the ship. I found the communal mealtimes nourishing. Conversation around the table fed me with an appreciation of the diverse and interesting fabric of our Quaker membership. Most memorable for me was the final celebration when we gathered, all ages, to dance and to sing – to celebrate exuberantly our essential unity. I felt and still feel, so very fortunate to have stepped into the waters of Quakerism.
Virginia Jealous, Western Australia Regional Meeting
How can the absence of spoken words have such a tangible presence? It’s the quality of silence that draws me in I think, that gathers me into the net. There’s an embodied sense of expectant waiting when a hundred or more people are gathered for Meeting for Worship and it’s quite different from my usual experience.
By “embodied” I mean it feels intensely physical to me; I am wholly present to myself, body and mind, in a way that is rare for me. When this happens I think stop! stop! you’re being too self-conscious but it’s a sort of revelatory self-consciousness that is literally beyond me. It recognises that of God in me and in all those in the room. It invites and allows God in.
This book-ending of days with Meeting for Worship and Epilogue is deeply nourishing; it’s calming and challenging in equal measure. I am envious of Friends to whom this disciplined Meeting for Worship is the norm. (That’s “discipline” as defined in Quaker Faith & Practice: “Discipline is not now a popular word…but its roots lie in ideas of learning and discipleship…[and] consists for the most part of advice and counsel, the encouragement of self-questioning, of hearing each other in humility and love.”) I am apprehensive at the prospect, again, of not having this. I wonder how I can share this nourishment with Friends at home; I wonder if and how I can, literally, keep the faith.
Everything that we are as a body of Friends AYM comes from worship and returns to worship. Heartfelt decision-making. Winter School and share-and-tell sessions. Interest groups and committees. The hospitality of our hosts. Those teatime cakes, baked with love. What a joy to inhabit that body, to grow with it towards the Light.