Transience and monthly meeting community

Next week will be my last meeting for worship of the year at Sarasota meeting, where I've been attending since starting college in the fall. That struck me this morning at worship; my last time for quite a few weeks. Between now and the end of August, I'll be worshiping at home in Miami and, I hope, many other places as I travel around the country. But not here, and part of me is grateful for it. The year has been full of the kind of ups and downs that I'm ready to distance myself from for a bit.

I wandered in this morning just as most Friends were entering the worship room. I noticed how many people greeted me with a smile, knew my name, shook my hand. I didn't think I knew people there very well. I didn't think people there really knew me.

I've spent a lot of time this past year talking with other high school and young adult Friends about how they feel alienated from their monthly meetings. College students and other young Friends who regard themselves as transient seem to experience this particularly acutely; in many cases, they are displaced from the meetings where they grew up, and in almost all cases, they say that the meetings they attend don't embrace them, don't involve them because they are "only passing through." Many of the most active and involved Young Friends I know don't attend meeting while they're away at college, a loss to both them and the communities that might have been enriched by their presence.

But I realized today that, at least in my case, maybe some of the feeling of isolation is self-created. It is hard to walk into a room of white-haired folks and feel like an equal member of a community, and far too easy to excuse myself from the labor of building community with things like, "I have to write a paper," or, "I wish I could stick around for fellowship, but I have to get back before the dining hall closes." Why do I make these excuses, instead of reaching out for a place and people to belong to? I think it's because I convinced myself coming in that I would never quite belong here; I would come along, ruffle some feathers (one of my gifts), and be gone before anyone really had time to know me.

But despite myself, I have made some connections. I can harp all I want about the difficulty of fitting into a new community (it can be difficult, I don't want to underplay that) and about the scarcity of young adults in my meeting (Sarasota is primarily a retirement town), but when it comes down to it, people know my name, if not my pronouns, they ask about school, though they sometimes forget to inquire about anything else, and they value my presence. One of the meeting elders made a point of going up to my mother at yearly meeting sessions and telling her what a wonderful addition I make to Sarasota meeting, and it really meant a lot to me.

Next week, the other college student and I are going to teach Quaker songs in First Day School. My mother will be here to pick me up for the summer, I'll bring my guitar in, and we'll all share the kinds of silly, semi-historical songs that every Quaker kid should know: George Fox, Lucretia Mott, "Wear It As Long As You Can". Somehow that plan seems to encapsulate the kind of community I need while at school. I want to be part of the meeting community through service to it. I want to share my gifts in whatever ways I can, and been seen for that. And I want to recognize for myself and share with others that creating a new set of connections doesn't sever old ones; we are all part of one vibrant, slightly disfunctional Quaker family, and when I worship someplace new, I am just connecting with new members of it.

I have much to be grateful for.


Blogger Liz Opp said...

Often I reflect on my time at Haverford Meeting (PA) while attending a nearby college, back in the 1980s. I didn't have any prior experience among Friends, so it is only in retrospect that I see how the demands of college and the activities of campus life superceded the opportunity for me to be involved in the life of the meeting.

It's hard to split one's energy between two significant communities...

Your post makes me wonder if college students are simply the epitome of being in transition--that no matter where we go, no place will feel quite like the home we knew before we went to college. And teenagers already feel everything so acutely, so why wouldn't they unknowingly add to the sense of isolation, confusion, conflicting desires...?

Well, I've been sick so I'm keeping this short, though it feels incomplete. Maybe I'll check back later.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

12:40 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Sullivan said...

Kody I know how you feel. i am only in High School but i am having a lot of the same problems of being a child of the meeting but wanting to be looked at as another adult that is taking part. I am in the process of applying for membership and am finally getting looked at as an adult. i don't always have to come with my parents to worship so people are getting that i make my own dessisions now.

I have been wondering some about how it will be to be away from my meeting sometime in the next few years and trying to find a new meeting but right now i am thinking about going to a meeting in my yearly meeting and almost everyone knows me as Rebecca because i was co-clerk of our high school group.

i went a way for a semester of high school in the fall and it was really odd because at first people wanted to know how my parents were but then they started to just ask about myself. It was nice to now that people started to know me as my self and not as my parents child.

I am trying to figure out how to be a Quaker but still be in school. i feel like i don't go to everything i would like to because i have a softball game or homework so that i am not connecting in the ways i want to but we will have to play with this balance for the rest of our lives.


1:04 PM  
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