Young Friends 2010 Backhouse Lecture

Spiritual community: ‘Finding our Voice – Our truth, community and journey as Australian Young Friends’

 Although we have many things in common with the broader Quaker family, it is important to note that Young Friends is a distinct and unique expression of spiritual community. We are not just a mini-Quaker gathering and neither are we simply a social club. We are also not a spiritual community in the traditional sense; that is, a group of people bound together by a common belief. Rather, we are a community of young people exploring spirituality and life together, within an identifiably Quaker context.

We create a place for young people to experiment with, and draw from the Society’s unwritten rules and written history, as we explore our spirituality as individuals and as a community. As one Young Friend said:

I feel like I get things from Young Friends that aren’t available in the wider Quaker community. That’s why I stick around — for the ability to have spiritual conversations that aren’t really structured. I don’t have conversations that challenging anywhere else.

We recognise that Quakers have varied beliefs. For many of us this is what attracted us to Quakers, and is what sets Quakers apart from many other religious traditions. However, as a Young Friends community we experience a great tension between creating a diverse culture, embracing a broad range of beliefs within Young Friends, and maintaining our Quaker identity.

This freedom of belief and acceptance of everyone means that there is naturally a reluctance to articulate exactly what we believe, both individually and collectively. Without a corporate spiritual identity, we struggle with questions about who we are. While not having a creed serves to encourage a broader range of seekers to Quakers, it also raises the question ‘What do you need to believe to be a Quaker?’. One Young Friend thought the catchphrase for Quakerism could be ‘No God, No Problem’.

Choosing to be involved with Quakers entails either being comfortable with some ambiguity or determining one’s own views, belief and identity. However, even with these struggles for identity, Young Friends still find immense value in being together as a spiritual community, whether exclusively as Young Friends, or as members of the broader Quaker community.

Quakerism gives me the language I need to consider my spiritual journey, the framework to begin exploring questions about conflict in the world.

Finally, as a unique spiritual community actively involved in the broader Quaker context, we hope that our journeys and stories will move the whole Society in new and exciting ways.

I feel that Quakerism will change as the group of people our age grow into being ‘older’, (weightier?!), Quakers over the decades to come. Sometimes in local Meetings I feel that there is almost a pre-ordained set of rules and beliefs that must be taken on. I feel with Young Friends (perhaps like all younger generations), we feel more free to question these traditional beliefs and maybe even those ‘issues that Quakers must have a certain view on’. In doing so, we come up with our own views, which I don’t think are any less spiritual or any less valid. In fact, sometimes letting go of the way we are used to doing things and being free to explore new ways is being more open for the spirit to move more freely and guide Quakerism to where it’s going. That’s exciting!

from AYM website – under publications – Backhouse Lecture