From an Address to Ireland Yearly Meeting, Dublin 27/4/2019 – Giving Young People’s Issues A Quaker Context
I bring greetings from the 23rd annual Central European Gathering of Friends, from across 12 countries in the region – the CEG, which recently met from 12th to 15th April 2019, for the first time in the beautiful, friendly country of Slovenia, my adopted homeland.
Also for the first time, we held a children’s programme for the 15 youngsters present aged 3 to 15, all with English as a second or emerging language. And our common theme centred around our Quaker concern for animals.
So what did we do? How did we do it? And why?
The first thing that happened a year in advance, was the young people were asked what they wanted to happen this year in their programme? What themes they wanted to explore, what activities and issues? And then we built a programme around this.
Their request for animals became the overarching theme for the whole gathering, under the title: ‘Our connection, care and concern for animals’.
Sessions included songs, personal stories and legends, animal puppet play, painting, clay work and games. Some of these were all age and many included a specific Quaker element or reflective activity. We even coined the term Qanimals!
Here’s a sample session from the CEG inspired by our Advices & Queries number 19 – sharing beliefs and insights with children and young people:
Postcards with locally taken photos of animals, combined with phrases drawn from 12 different Advices and Queries, were scattered on the floor and the youngsters along with some accompanying adults, were invited to choose one, which they could talk about and keep.
In a circle we shared why we had chosen a particular image, and if language permitted, whether any of the printed words also spoke to us.
An image of a ladybird drinking from a small puddle on a tablecloth, elicited a comment from a child who imagined herself even tinier in a large world, viewing things from a ladybirds perspective. Did I sense a child’s emerging compassion in her response?
An adult in the group chose the image of a caterpillar and spoke movingly about herself being in the process of transformation. The evening before we had heard several references to the symbol of the butterfly. The words on her postcard included, ‘Rejoice in the splendour of God’s continuing creation.’
Another remark from the session, came from a boy who chose the photograph of chickens. He mentioned how when he heard a cockerel calling out of the silence, at any time of day, it woke him up. He didn’t refer specifically to the words on his postcard, ‘Be honest with yourself. What unpalatable truths might you be evading?’ But his comment might easily be interpreted along similar lines. These words combined with the image of chickens may indeed be a wake-up call to anyone struggling with the dilemma of consuming animal products. (What unpalatable truths…?)
Which brings me to my final thoughts as we here at IYM are fast approaching lunchtime and the question of food, not overlooked at our own gathering around a concern for animals!
So, another first at the CEG in Slovenia was that all meals were vegan, with an occasional vegetarian option. This decision came out of a sense of wishing to celebrate integrity and community on an interspecies level, and our joyful mealtimes gave us an opportunity to do just that.
Living as I do now, in the heart of mainland Europe, I am witnessing how veganism is a growing enthusiasm and reality among young people across the region, Quakers or otherwise. And I am joyfully struggling to get on board. I share the vegan philosophy but the practice ain’t so easy!
However, it’s one issue that touches everyone, every creature, the whole planet.
And I continue to ask myself, how am I in touch or out of touch with THE issues that will shape our young people’s future?
I believe there is a place for teaching Quaker values to young people; our testimony, history and ways of worship. But there is an equally important place (to again quote from Advices & Queries 19) for, ‘learning from them,’ for, ‘leaving them free to develop as the spirit of God may lead them.’ And consequently to be open to following in their young, wise and tender footsteps.
Each generation is graced with fresh gifts and insights that reveal the spirit’s unfolding mystery. Are we ready to listen and receive?
Let us offer the last words to the young people themselves. In their visual epistle presented during the final evening of our CEG, via a hand puppet meeting of Qanimals, were written the following words: ‘Animals are the mystery of the nature… We are animals too… Animals bring us joy, so let us bring joy to them!’