Thursday, July 14, 2005

FGC Gathering 2005: The Experience of a clerking young Friend - WEDNESDAY, late afternoon, evening

Note: This is a very long post, but incredibly important. I suggest leaving a decent amount of time to read it, or deliberately read it in parts. The full story is very important.

..picking up where I left off from the last post..

In Nurture Committee on Wednesday afternoon, Kri brought to us a major concern. The staff (counselors) had had a very lengthy meeting about it that morning, and they ended up clear that this needed to be brought to the community - via Nurture Committee - for discernment. A participant had brought to their attention that there were some in the high school community who had done alcohol and marijuana during Gathering this year.

Let me open this issue with a description of what happened
last year. Last year, a participant had unlocked his room on the first day to find the smell of marijuana. It was not actually clear if this was from another participant (as the participant whose room it was was in a single for the week and had just arrived), or someone not involved with Gathering, previously there. Just in case, though, the community addressed it as if it were a single, unknown member of the high school community. [Last year I was a member of Nurture Committee, but not a clerk of any sort.] Kri (co-coordinator last year, too) brought the issue to Nurture Committee. We, the Nurture Committee, met on Monday for a very emotional two hours, trying to discern how to address this issue. Eventually, it was clear what needed to happen: during Wednesday night's Meeting for Business, the clerks would set aside a 40 minute period of time for the concern. During this time, there was open worship for Friends to express their feelings, concerns, and leadings on the issue - a period of time was set because action did not necessarily need to be discerned by the community, and the Meeting for Business did not necessarily need to go way into the night. If more time was needed, it would have been granted.

This 40 minute period involved an outpouring of emotion. Friends were hurt and upset. It is VERY important to emphasize what hurt the most here: our
trust and respect had been violated. The guidelines we have in place are ours. We discerned them in Meetings for Business, and we have the ability to change every single one of them as a community. A violation of a guideline was more than just a guideline violation - it was a strike to the trust on which the community holds its foundation! Such trust is vital to how deeply we connect and bond together during the week, and how we function! Naturally there was a lot of emotion involved when this issue came to being, even if there was question about whether it was actually a member of the community - in fact, the fact that we didn't know was irrelevant. Some Friends shared very personal and stories of how drugs had negatively affected their lives. Also, though, the beauty of this was that while Friends were very upset, there was an outpouring of love to whoever this individual may have been. "Whoever did this, we love you." Friends offered to be named specifically as people to talk to if anyone needed to talk about a drug problem. The community, while upset, was able to express love and an openness to help anyone who may have been the involved.

We did not want this to happen again. We wrote a minute about what had happened, to be read at this year's Gathering during the first Meeting for Business. (If I had that minute right now, I would post it. I'll try and track it down -someone out there has it.)

Indeed, this year that minute was read at the beginning of Sunday night's Meeting for Worship with Concern for Business. Unfortunately, it clearly did not have the impact we hoped it would. In fact, on Wednesday, many Friends on Nurture Committee (who had not been at Gathering the previous year) didn't really remember it, or they remembered that something about it was read, but didn't remember much else about it. As soon as I realized this, I described what had happened last year in detail. I was sure to be clear that while it was important to know what happened, I was not presenting it as the way to resolve the issue this year.

This year was a little different. This year, we were sure that members of our community had been involved. This, coupled with a large number of guideline infractions surrounding curfew and quiet hours within the dorm every night so far, reinforced in me the idea that this year's community did not have a full understanding of Quaker process and the trust and respect involved in this community, especially pertaining to the FGC Gathering High School program. In fact, some of the main concerns brought to Nurture Committee earlier in the week had to do with a multitude of minor guideline infractions. In an attempt to address this, we asked that the topic of Quaker process and Meeting for Business be brought up for discussion and questioning/answering during support groups. I made a point to be clear about this in my support group, and I think those in my group who did not understand before, had a much better understanding afterwards (this is speculation on my part). I have a strong belief that the root of almost all of our concerns during Gathering this year were due to this lack of understanding about the basis of our community on Quaker process/Meeting for Worship with Concern for business, and the incredible trust and respect we need to (and usually do) hold for each other and expect from each other.

We clerks had attempted to pre-emptively address this possible issue during orientation on Saturday, the day we all arrived. We stood as clerks infront of all the participants and parents and sponsors and spoke about Quaker process, our Meetings for Business, and what it means for a meeting to be Spirit led, and how incredibly important all of it is for our community each year. (We also explained and defended why our Meetings met when they did, and lasted as long as they did sometimes - but why we had to explain that is a topic for another day.)

So, on Wednesday of Gathering this year, Nurture Committee had just been handed a great issue. After explaining the events of last year, the meeting was open to leadings and concerns. This year, it was not so clear what to do. A number of concerns came up, including the whopper - What should be done? What about consequences? Do we decide that? How would we make such a decision? It was clear almost immediately that this issue needed to be brought to Meeting for Business that night. What we ended up circling around for most of the meeting was how the issue needed to be framed when it was brought up. Did we need to direct Friends thoughts or concerns to consequences? Did we need to emphasize the gravity, or was that a given? Other important things were brought up. Finally, 10 minutes until dinner ended at 7, Nurture Committee was clear enough about what needed to happen to conclude. The issue needed to be brought to Meeting for Business, and prefaced with some of the concerns that had been brought up (greater detail about which concerns exactly I cannot remember at this moment in time). Nurture Committee then broke and went off to catch dinner.

Susanna and I (co-clerks of Nurture Committee) went quickly off to dinner to grab food and return to the dorm - we still had to meet with the other clerks. I was exhausted, a little upset - but mostly very grounded and solid, as it seems I would remain for most of this process - and very aware of how much I'd done that day (and that week), and what was still to come.

While the Nurture Committee went an hour and a half late, the other clerks had met as we had previously planned to around 6 to finish discussing everything else - earlier we hadn't been aware of the drug/alcohol issue, and they weren't yet, either. While Susanna and I were still in Nurture Committee, the other clerks had finished discussing everything else and were taking a break until we got out of our meeting. Me, Susanna, Erik, Tara, Madeline, Tamsin, and Hilary met together, with Kri present for clarifications when needed, from 7 until Meeting for Worship with Concern Business began, 20 minutes late at 9:20pm.

This meeting of ours began with the other clerks updating Susanna and me about what they had previously discussed, and finishing up some discussions about other smaller issues. We then presented the concern to the other clerks (who had previously been unaware of it), and began discussing it (again). We talked about what we felt needed to happen, what we felt about the issue of consequences, how we thought it might need to be prefaced or framed when presented to the community - we touched on a number of the same issues Nurture Committee had raised. We also were aware that we couldn't impose our own feelings about the issue on the community. Finally, we had to admit that we really didn't know what to do, ourselves. To introduce the issue, we made sure it was prefaced well - I think it included emphasis on how this was a violation of trust and respect and such - we wrote the preface that Erik (co-presiding clerk of Meeting for Business with Tamsin) read to the community when the issue was later introduced to everyone (again, I can't remember the specific details - I apologize for that).

Finally we were ready for the Meeting for Business to begin (somewhere in there we clerks had switched buildings, rearranged the furniture in the room where our meeting took place, and posted the agenda on the wall). Around 9:20pm, we clerks were beginning to settle and center after a long conversation while the entire high school community and any visitors to our Meeting for Business silently filed in and found seats. With an idea of what was to come in the next few hours, I somehow found a deep grounding, a solid focus, that would remain with me through the night.

Friends reading this, please stop for a moment, take a breather, and if you need to, just sit with this for a moment. I am ending this post here (while posting the next one simultaneously, so as you read this, it's already there, ready to be read). This post alone is already incredibly long, incredibly intense, and describes a lot to take in (imagine having been there!). I will now dive into that night's Meeting for business in the next post.

[I've been working on this post for a few hours now, taking frequent breaks when necessary. I won't go to bed tonight until I have the next one written, and both of these posted. If you're reading this, I accomplished that goal.]

Love and Light,


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