Thursday, July 14, 2005

FGC Gathering 2005: The Experience of a clerking young Friend - WEDNESDAY, Meeting for Worship with Concern for Business

Note: Friends, it is important to read the entry immediately prior to this one before reading this one. This one and that one were posted simultaneously. Please heed this request.

The Wednesday night FGC Gathering High school Program Meeting for Worship with Concern for Business began as it usually does. After a period of open worship for centering, visitors were introduced, and announcements were made. I think there were some smaller agenda items to attend to, but then the first major issue was introduced.

I didn't mention that this particular issue was an agenda item earlier, but it was certainly important. When we reached this point (not very far into the meeting), the clerks opened the floor to thoughts, concerns, and leadings on the topic of our openness to LGBTQ Friends, and the accepting nature of our community as the high school program. Considering the events of the week - such as the Witness to Marriage Equality - we felt it was an issue that needed to be included in the Meeting for Business to allow thoughts, feelings, concerns, and emotions to be expressed. Part of the reason we (clerks) decided to address this issue first was that we were aware that it was something the community had the potential to bond and grow together over considerably. We felt that not only was this issue important - we had planned it as an agenda item before we even knew of the drug issue - but also that the state of the community would be important when the drug issue did, indeed, arise later in the meeting.

Pertaining to the LGBTQ agenda item, many Friends became emotional. Many times, feelings of overwhelming love and acceptance in the high school community over the years was expressed. Some told of how they only began to open up to themselves and/or others about the issue while in the high school program at Gathering, and of how it changed their lives. Some even mentioned how accepting the community was of those who were different in ways other than being LGBTQ, as well. There were some comparisons to other less accepting environments, and an emphasis about just how important it was that this community was so open and loving. It was quite moving, and the community did bond over it as the topic remained open for over an hour. In the end, we came up with a minute about the openness and accepting nature of our community. I was so grateful to have been there for that process, and also grateful that I was able to remain grounded and focused enough that I was not distracted by the issue I knew to be coming up, nor by my own exhuastion.

By the time we closed the topic and were ready to move on, it was almost midnight. Since the building we were in closed at midnight, that meant it was time for us to return to the dorm, take a break for pizza (which arrives at midnight Sunday and Wednesday, regardless of whether we finished our meeting yet or not), and then meet together again in the large lounge of our dorm. By this point, all the visitors our Meeting had had, had left, as it was getting quite late. I knew that we still had a huge issue or two to come, and was as emotionally prepared as possible - I was spiritually grounded.

After moving everything, re-setting up, eating some pizza, and a number of hugs, it was time to settle in again. I was almost in disbelief at how late that it was and how we hadn't even touched the drug concern yet. I held on to faith that it would come up in good time, and that we would all perhaps at least get a little sleep that night.

The next issue we came to had to do with intervisitation hours and curfew. Currently, no intervisitation (that is, no one was allowed to hang out in a dorm room other than those who roomed there) was to occur after midnight, and we were all supposed to be in our rooms in bed by 2am. These were guidelines we had revisited on Sunday; we had changed the intervisitation guideline for a trial period - prior to Sunday, intervisitation would last until 2, and we decided to try having it end at 12 until Wednesday Meeting for Business. Despite the fact that we had visited the guideline as a community on Sunday, there had been a great number of infractions of this guideline every night that week. The counselors were beginning to feel like 'cops', which is not what they came to do - the community was supposed to hold itself accountable for its own guidelines. Again, I believe the heart of this problem rested in a lack of understanding of Quaker process, and a lack of understanding the every single guideline was alterable by us as community. None of the guidelines were there just because they 'had to be'. While we were supposedly re-addressing whether we were content with the shift in intervisitation time, we instead were raising concerns about the infractions.

Friends began to speak of trust and respect in our community.

At this point, the clerks at the table (Erik and Tamsin co-presiding, Madeline recording, and Tara supporting) found that the next agenda item, the drug concern, needed to be introduced before this one was closed - they were both concerns along similar lines. It was then about 2:00am. I was conscious, grounded, and feeling solid as a rock in my centeredness. I couldn't be shaken even if I tried to be (which I did - I'll explain in a moment). I was fully present, and feeling like a pillar of strength as I held the entire community in the Light. This state of being did not take conscious, purposeful effort, but was what I naturally fell into that night, despite my incredible exhaustion.

Erik read the preface we had previously written, and opened the concern to the community with no suggestion of what direction to go with it. We had to have a considerable amount of faith that the community would eventually come to a place where it needed to be with the issue - there was no way to resolve this but through the Spirit. I remained solid as emotion began to pour from the community. Many expressed anger and hurt - the individuals who were involved with the alcohol and drugs were present anonymously in the room, and the community was aware of this. There was love, yes, there was a lot of love, but love was angry, too. These actions had hurt the community deeply, trust was violated deeply. Trust was violated deeply. There were so many personal stories of struggles with drugs, either personally or with a family member of dear friend - Gathering was supposed to be a place free of that, safe, trusted. Everyone hurt. So many were crying. A friend of mine near me needed considerable calming down, and at points had to leave the room or get water. I remember sitting there, right next to the desk, holding hands tightly with someone, at one point hugging someone strongly, solidly, groundedly.

I need to emphasize that love and forgiveness were strongly expressed, right along with the concerns about trust and respect, and the anger and pain. The entire community, together, felt all of this.

I saw and felt others around me crying, releasing, feeling the pain. I felt the pain, and tried to allow myself to cry, but only a few times did tears come, and they didn't last long when they did. I was so steady and grounded - I'm not trying to imply that this groundedness was a bad thing; the community needed the support, and I did all that I could. (I just wished a little that I could have such a release as others were having.) Through the week, and especially at this point in time, I discovered more about how deeply rooted my strength is. I found more strength than I ever knew possible, and kept going, supporting, being.

It was difficult to find a clear sense of the community about what needed to happen. At some point the clerks directed attention to the issue of what to do about it. There was mention of the minute from last year, and how clearly ineffective it had been. We did not want this happening again. If I remember correctly, we wrote a minute about this year's experiences - and a committee met again in the next couple days to make sure the minute included some of the feelings and emotions from the Meeting for Business; it had been mentioned that perhaps the minute from last year was too formal-sounding. Also, when the minute from this year is read next year, we discerned that a Friend or two who was present this year rise and explain what happened and how it felt to be part of it, just to re-emphasize the gravity of it all to next year's community. When we had finally reached clarity, we had some closing worship for the Meeting, and finally finished. It was 4:00am.

Many Friends took some time to process a little before going to bed. I was still too grounded and centered to become emotional enough to release. I gave (and received) a great many hugs, talked a little bit to a few people, and finally, after nearly 12 hours of emotionally and spiritually intense meetings with barely more than one short break, I went to bed (and almost immediately to sleep) around 4:30am.

[For a little more clarification about the logistics of the response to drug issue, it turns out there is a wider Gathering policy about such an incident. Erik, Tara, Tamsin, and Hilary ended up meeting with a few other Gathering clerks about the issue on Friday evening - Madeline and I were clerking a Nominating Committee (which Susanna was part of not as a clerk) when this meeting happened, and thus were not present at that meeting, so my version of the details is perhaps incomplete, and perhaps flawed. From what I understood from what one of the clerks who was at this meeting told me, those involved in the drugs or alcohol (some came forward after the Meeting for Business, and some names had been given when the incident(s) was(were) originally reported earlier in the week) were to meet with a counselor about it, and a letter explaining what had happened (and including the minute written about it) was to be sent to all parents of participants. There may be a little more to it than that, but when I was told about this, I was just a little exhausted as it was the middle of the night on Friday.]

After laboring many hours to write this post and the one right before it, I am now about to go to bed rather late. This was exhausting to write, but so dearly important to express.

Friends, I thank you deeply for reading through all of this - it was even more intense being there. There is more to come - next I will share about my experiences the day after such a meeting, and then the most amazing experience clerking the Nominating Committee. The intensity has not quite ended yet.

Love and Light,

EDIT: I received the letter sent to all High School program participants, parents, and sponsors, and feel it's appropriate to copy it here at the end of this post. Here it is.

21 July 2005

TO: All Participants in the 2005 FGC High School Program
cc: all counselors, parents and sponsors of High School participants

FROM: Bruce Birchard, General Secretary
David Miller, Clerk, Long Range Conference Planning Committee

RE: Alcohol and Illegal Drugs in the High School Program

Dear Friends,

On Friday, July 8, at the end of the 2005 Gathering of Friends, we were informed that alcohol and marijuana had been used by some members of the High School community. We met Friday evening with the High School Coordinators, two of the High School counselors, and four of the High School clerks to discuss this.

This is a serious violation of both the law and the commitments that High School participants made to us and to one another in joining the High School community at the Gathering. All participatns received a letter welcoming them to the program which stated, in part:

In order to gain the most from you Gathering, it is important to prepare for the experience. Please take time to read through the guidelines and expectations (included as a separate sheet) and discuss them with your parent/guardian and/or FGC sponsor. By attending Gathering as part of the High School Program you implicitly agree to abide by these guidelines. The guidelines have been developed and approved by the High School Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business, and they represent our collective wisdom on how to construct a safe, supportive, and fun community ....

The "Guidelines of the High School Program of FGC" include the following point:

9. No illegal drugs or alcoholic beverages.
Reason: Apart from the obvious legal implications, use of mind-altering drugs undermines the purpose of the community. It can lead to disruptive behavior and reduced ability to participate in the program.

These are not simply guidelines for the High School Program. In fact, ALL Gathering participants (including High School participants) are sent a copy of the "Gathering Expectations" which speaks of forming "a community of Friends living in the discipline of the Spirit" and specifically states:

Alcohol, fireworks and sparklers are not permitted. Use or possession of illegal drugs in prohibited ...

Several members of the High School community ignored these commitments, bringing (or purchasing) alcohol and/or marijuana and using it during the week of the Gathering. In doing so, they undermined the spirit of the community and put the entire High School Program at risk.

We undrsand that these matters were discussed extensively, and with deep feelings and concerns, during the business meeting of the High School community on Wednesday night. We have been informed by the High School clerks and staff that the strong negative response of the High SChoolers was taken seriously by those known to have violated their commitments. An epistle was written and read to the 2005 Gathering Committee on Friday. We will forward a copy of that epistle to all of you when it becomes available.

Yet we also understand that this has happened in other years, and we are concerned that it could happen again. Hence this letter to all participants, parents and sponsors.

We wish to make it perfectly clear that, in the future, use or possession of alcohol or illegal drugs by any participant in the High School Program will result in the violator being separated from the program. As with violations of community expectations by any Gathering attender, any action to be taken will be discerned by the appropriate officials within the FGC/Gathering structure.

In preparing for the 2006 Gathering of Friends, we will take extra steps to communicate clearlyt with each participant abou t the seriousness of the commitmens which each individual undertakes in joining the High School community. Steps under consideration include a special statement to be signed by all participants in which each individual agrees to abide by the guidelines, special discussion in the orientation of High School counselors and staff, and special discussion in the orientation of High Schoolers and their parents or sponsors on the first evening.

We appreciate your attention to this concern and encourage you to discuss this with each other. We would welcome your comments or questions, which may be sent to our Conference Coordinator, Liz Perch: All comments and questions will b eshared with the High School Coordinators, Kri Anderson and Cari Burke, unless you specifically ask that they be held in confidence.

Having said all this, we want to voice our tremendous appreciation for the extremely dedicated, caring and exhuasting work of the High School coordinators and counselors, and for the very serious commitment by most of the High School participants to making their week-long community so very loving, caring and centered in the Spirit. This is truly an awesome community of wonderful young Friends, and we do not want it to be endangered by the actions of a few.

Edit again: Here is the Epistle from the High School Program:

Epistle from the High School Program
July 7, 2005

It was brought to the attention of the High Schol Program duing the course of the Wednesday night Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business that members of the community have used alcohol and marijuana during the course of the gathering. The clerks introduced a chance for worship, stating that they themselves were struggling with the issue. From this worship, a wide array of emotions arose, including anger, confusion, and grief. Many felt sadness and pain knowing that trust could be lost not only between members of the comunity, but also between the program and the larger gathering. However it was clear that the community felt that those involved are surrounded by love and acceptance. Many members shared stories of substance abuse and addiction in their lives. It was affirmed by many that drugs and alcohol are simply not needed in such a warm and loving environment, yet it was understood that isolation and pain can be channeled through these substances.

The community struggled to determine how to move forward following the period of worship, and wrestled to develop the appropriate consequences for thses circumstances. One defining sentiment was that it is absolutely not an option to remove any members from the community, and that such actions would only tear us more deeply. To prevent any similar situation from occuring in years to come, many felt that each year the community should reexamine the emotional gravity of the drug guideline experienced during the night through a written statement or discussion at orientation each year. We will also make an effort to ensure that this experience will become part of the oral history of theHigh School gathering.

The entire program as a whole recognizes the break in trust that this event could create with the greater gathering, yet we hope that through our emotions, and the love we have expressed for each other, it is understood that this event will reverberate througout our program for years to come. Througout the evening as well as early morning, the importance and strength of our community guided the spiritual leadings that allowed for such forgiveness and compassion for all of our members. Healing the tear in the community created by these actions will only develop through love and understanding.

We offer our experience to the wider gathering as testament of our strength and with a hope that trust can be maintained.


Anonymous Robin M. said...

Thanks for adding the letter. It helps me to know that some consequences are being considered for the violations of the law and the Guidelines. I realize that I am reacting to this more as a parent of teens-to-be than as the former teenager I also am. If the strongest consequences of misbehavior are that some people cry and other people say how much they love you, this doesn't have much weight for me. I still wonder what it would take for someone to be sent home? To be banned from future Teen Programs at the FGC Gathering?

One of the intermediate consequences I have in mind is that if you (moderately) misbehave, you have to room with one of the teen co-clerks, who agrees to help chaperone you. Love in action, as they say. What do you think?

26/7/05 9:03 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Claire, thanks for posting both the letter from FGC and the epistle from the HS program.

Accountability among Friends--holding one another accountable to being faithful to our commitments and to the leadings of the Spirit--has often been a sticking point for me, especially among liberal Friends.

I have heard of one case when an adult young Friend was in fact told he could no longer be at the Gathering after it was discovered that he was using pot. I don't think his was an isolated experience over all these years.

But the Light that I see in the epistle is the power of retaining Friends in the community if they are found to be using alcohol or drugs. Healing and reconciliation cannot happen by removing the individual from the context in which the violation of trust has occurred--unless safety has to be restored first...

The questions that emerge for me, though, along the lines of what Robin has mentioned, include things like--

1. What actions are needed to rebuild trust, between the individual Friend and the HS program and/or Gathering?

2. How might Friends who have traveled down a similar path and found a way to resist the Tempter or Adversary be made available?

3. Does the HS program have a 12-Step youth group that meets at the Gathering? I have a vague awareness of such a thing existing for the Gathering as a whole.

4. Might this epistle, and perhaps the letter from FGC, be sent to next year's (and future years') HS participants?

5. Might the letter/epistle also offer a space for a HS Friend to reply and acknowledge, privately/confidentially, that she or he will need care and support in order to abide by the commitment to avoid alcohol and drugs?

I know I am teetering on the edge of offering solutions--in fact, I think I've teetered OVER the edge--but these thoughts and concerns are with me, and I lift them up here.

Claire, as one of the outgoing co-clerks of the HS program, are you feeling any sense of call to be in touch with FGC about preparations for next year, either as an individual or as a member of the HS clerks? ...And it occurs to me that you will be serving on the Gathering Committee for 2006, is that right?

So many questions, so little time! ...But thanks for your ministry and gift of helping create community by sharing openly of your experiences, observations, and leadings. Even the difficult ones.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

3/8/05 1:57 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

Robin - you have good questions, ones to which I have no clear answer. The idea about having young Friends who misbehave room with a co-clerk is a good one, but the thing is that co-clerks are SO busy that they're around even less than most of the other participants. I was only in my room briefly at Gathering this year - to pick something up or put it down or switch shirts, or to collapse and fall asleep rather promptly at night. Thank you, though, for sharing the idea. This is quite an issue, and if not through ideas and creativity, I don't know how any answers will be found, if there are any to find.

Liz - also good questions. I can speak to a couple of them.

2. How might Friends who have traveled down a similar path and found a way to resist the Tempter or Adversary be made available?

At the beginning of this year's Gathering, during the Sunday night Meeting for Worship with Concern for Business, a group of young Friends volunteered to be people who anyone with drug/alcohol problems could come to at any point. I'm pretty sure that these volunteers had some experiences with drug/alcohol problems, either themselves or with family members (though I don't know any details and I am speculating to a degree, but the point is that they weren't just random volunteers). These Friends were available to the best of my knowledge.

3. Does the HS program have a 12-Step youth group that meets at the Gathering?

There was at least on young Friend who coordinated alateen meetings during Gathering for other young Friends. Alateen being a support group for teens with alcoholic family members or close friends. Perhaps a group for teens with substance abuse problems themselves could be started as well?

4. Might this epistle, and perhaps the letter from FGC, be sent to next year's (and future years') HS participants?

The epistle is DEFINITELY going to be sent - or if it isn't sent (which I think it will be), it will DEFINITELY be read at the Sunday night's Meeting for Worship with Concern for Business. Also during the Wed. Mtg for Business this year, we decided that a few young Friends who were present this year and are present next year will rise and speak of the experience as someone who was there and felt the emotion and intensity of our discernment process as a commmunity. (The idea is that a couple young Friends will volunteer themselves for this next year - there's no way to decide who in advance at this point.)

As an outgoing clerk of the HS program, and as a very active young Friend, I do have a sense of being in touch with FGC preparations for next year - I was going to be on the 2006 planning committee, but received a note a couple weeks ago informing me that I was, infact, not going to be. Too far a distance to travel with limited funding. While I was totally committed and ready to do anything to get out there, I do feel a little relieved. Part of my calling is to keep in touch with the wider community of Friends, outside my local community. I have found many other ways of doing this, so I feel ok not having committee meetings to attend. Way will open somewhere else, I suspect.

Thank you for your concerns! There are many questions, and not so many clear answers. I do know, though, that this issue is not completely resolved and forgotten. Far from it.

Love and Light,

9/8/05 12:51 AM  

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