This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to Newcastle and hang out at the Young Friends General Meeting. Simon and I stopped on the way up north (Newcastle is about 3.5 hours north of Birmingham) in Durham for some lunch and to take a look at the Cathedral of St. Cuthbert. I was really glad we stopped in Durham because it was by far the most “English” place I’ve seen so far: cobblestone drives, tightly packed stores and houses, and of course incredible architecture. I haven’t had much chance yet to be a tourist so this was definitely a bright spot for me.
We arrived in Newcastle-upon-tyne at the Quaker Meeting house Friday evening for the gathering. The gathering consists of 18-30(ish) year old Quakers who are from all over Great Britain. The weekend consisted of various business meetings to deal with the various functions that keep the group going. We also had times of silent worship, various speakers, a number of interest groups, and activities and a lot of all around fun.
A couple highlights from the weekend:
- I loved getting to meet tons of new people. This was the highlight of the weekend. I had a blast meeting people from all over the UK, hearing their different stories and learning more about the differences (and similarities) between American and British Quakerism. Everyone I met warmly welcomed me and was very interested in the things I am doing at Woodbrooke, which made it fun to chat about a variety of things.
- Meeting Peterson Tuscano was certainly another highlight of the weekend for me (and I am pretty sure everyone). Peterson is an “ex-gay” survivor and a stand-up comedian. The Ex-Gay movement is a conservative Evangelical group that parents send their gay/lesbian kids to in order to “straighten” them out. Peterson, a Christian-Quaker from New England Yearly Meeting, travels around the world doing stand-up comedy and theater to inform people about the ex-gay movement, discuss misinformation the church often supports and challenge (sexual) exclusivity in the church. His performances this weekend were not only hilarious but very informative and challenging. I was also glad to talk with him in more detail about some of his experiences as a gay Quaker comedian (he said he’s often too into Jesus for the really liberal Quakers and too gay for the conservative ones). I look forward to more dialogue with him about his work.
- Simon and I, along with the help of another friend Mark Russ, led a special interest group on Jesus and Peace and it was fantastic. There were about 12 of us who spent an hour or so discussing various Gospel passages, Jesus’ nonviolence, and how we might live our lives in the way of Jesus. I really enjoyed doing a “bible-study” and hearing what everyone had to say. I also found that having space where issues about the Bible and Jesus could be talked about and questioned in a safe environment seemed like something that was really needed and much appreciated. I was really glad Simon put it together.
- The various “Epilogues” we did were also fantastic. In Britain unprogrammed Friends have shortened worship times in the evenings they call “Epilogue.” The lights are usually dimmed, candles lit, people sit in a circle, and have a more “relaxed” silent worship (relaxed because people are invited to bring things to worship to share). Along with the silent worship there is always a creative element to the gathering. Sometimes poetry or Scripture is read, sometimes there is music or singing, and sometimes like this weekend there are creative projects that involve drawing, cutting and reflecting on God’s work in our lives through art. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed epilogues since I’ve been in England, I have found them to be creatively rich worship experience. Epilogues look very similar to some of the forms employed by those within emerging churches and I’ve been trying to track down the history of how they got started here to do more of a focused comparison between the two. In Quaker terms I see epilogues as (un)programmed worship experiences.
This weekend’s given me lots to ponder in the near future, many new friends converge with, and some glimpses into the Quaker tradition in England.