World Gathering of Young Friends – reflections

Aidan McCartney, Coleraine PM

For me the first day of the World Gathering of Young Friends on 16th August 2005 was the end of a vision that I and some other Young Friends had worked towards for over 4 years. However, it was thrilling to see that, the last day of the World Gathering on 24th August was the start of a vision for many more Young Friends who attended. During the gathering lives were changed, Friends beliefs and practice were challenged, but throughout it all was a genuine commitment to learn from one another and to develop relationships. It was the relationships fostered between people who seemed to hold very different values that I believe were and are the key to understanding between Friends worldwide.

In a way I was surprised by the willingness of all those who attended the World Gathering to try to understand each others faith. I had expected more arguments and less desire to trust each other and to love one another. Knowing some of the diversity of belief present at the gathering I believe that this could only have been brought about by the power of God in our midst. I don’t mean to suggest that there wasn’t heated debate and awkward questions being asked, but perhaps there was more willingness to try to answer the awkward questions and not just hide behind what you have always believed.

There were representatives from 58 Yearly Meetings and 9 other Friends groups at the conference. We had Friends who practiced bread and wine communion in their churches, Friends who felt more comfortable with Buddhism or Islam than Christianity, Friends who vehemently defended the “right way” to practice silent worship to Friends who spent most of their worship services dancing in the aisles! It was a great crucible of ideas of how to live as a Quaker and for me was so fascinating. I was disappointed in a way that I was so involved in the organisation, because I would have loved to have talked to more people and learned from them. It was satisfying to know that others were having these conversations because of the work I was putting in to the organisation.

Two of my favourite days during the gathering were the trip days. This was possibly because of my role in organising sessions so I could relax on those days with less to do. One day we split into 4 groups and visited 1652 country sites at Swarthmoor Hall, Lancaster Castle, the Quaker Tapestry and Firbank Fell. I travelled to Firbank Fell via Brigflatts Meeting House built in 1675. We held a Meeting for Worship there which was a powerful experience. On another day all 226 of us climbed Pendle Hill as George Fox had done. This was a personal vision I had had of the gathering a couple of years ago, so to see everyone on top of the hill eating lunch with the sun blazing down on us was an emotional feeling and a real highlight.

My main responsibilities at the gathering were with the Programme Committee, we had planned the schedule and the events that would take place during the day. Here is a typical day at the gathering. We started each day with a worship session which was lead by a different regional group each day so some days it was programmed and some days unprogrammed. Then we met in base groups, these were groups of about 10 people representing the diversity at the gathering. There was a curriculum for this time to ensure we covered similar issues, we shared about our experiences of being a Quaker, what our meetings were like, our views on Jesus Christ and our vision for the future of Friends among other things. After lunch there were workshops or interest group sessions. This gave Friends a choice of activity and were in slightly smaller groups of around 50 people. Workshops were held on anything you can imagine from trampolining to American Friends Service Committee, from Plain Dress to Learning Nepali! After workshops, there was a period of free time around dinner time which was a great time to talk to people, throw a Frisbee around or check your email.

In the evening we had a second plenary session of the day. We began with some worship and then it was over to our plenary speakers. We had 4 speakers who stayed with us for the whole gathering and spoke on three occasions each. They were Colin Saxton, Northwest YM, USA, Deborah Saunders, Philadelphia YM, USA, Oliver Kisaka from Kenya and Ute Caspers from Germany. These 4 speakers spoke in very different ways and about different things at times but were all challenging. We were challenged to forget our own human desires let God work through us. Also to give God the glory for what He can achieve through us. All of our speakers approached their task with great sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and also with good humour and I appreciated their words so much.

Some evenings we had further activities, including a Bible Quiz, singing, dancing and the compulsory cabaret session! There was also plenty of time to get to know each other, the weather was kind to us and many Friends stayed up long into the night talking on the lawn or in the square beside our accommodation block.

In conclusion, I can only say that the World Gathering of Young Friends was a great success through the friendships made and understanding built across cultures, languages and ways of worship. My thanks to you all for the financial and prayerful support for me personally and for the gathering.