The aim of the World Gathering of Young Friends 2005 was to bring together, at Lancaster University, United Kingdom, Friends aged 18–35 from around the world to build community within the next generation of Quaker leaders. We studied and learnt from our heritage, shared our present-day expressions of faith, and tried to discern how Christ was guiding us to facilitate understanding within the Quaker family. By sharing experiences of living Quaker testimony from our varied cultures, we sought to ask humbly for guidance and to open ourselves to the possibility of transformation. Unfortunately, the British government refused even temporary visas to many participants from India and Africa. Therefore, a second conference was held in Kanamai, Mombasa, Kenya from 20–24 October 2005.
Epistle from the Gathering at Lancaster
To all Friends everywhere,
Greetings from the World Gathering of Young Friends 2005. 226 Friends gathered together in Lancaster University, United Kingdom, from 16th - 24th August 2005. Our theme was 'I am the vine, you are the branches. Now, what fruit shall we bear?' taken from John 15; and William Penn's challenge 'Let us then try what love will do'.
Among us, 58 Yearly Meetings and 9 monthly meetings and regional groups were represented, with speakers of more than twenty different languages. We were called to be gathered together at the place where our Quaker movement first bore fruit, the heart of 1652 country. We returned to our shared roots, to the birthplace of our collective spiritual identities. Through climbing Pendle Hill as a community, to live out George Fox's vision of a great people gathered together, we found a unity with the place and one another, among the bright green hills, surrounded by grazing sheep.
We felt great joy in being together and many Friends gave thanks for being here. However, our hearts were filled with sadness too. In the hall where we met there were many empty chairs, and we were always aware of those Friends who could not join us here in Lancaster. Many were absent because they were denied visas, others because they found when the time came that they could not join us after all. Their loss is our loss as well, for without their presence we could not feel their truth reflected in their words, their experiences, their faces and their smiles. However we could feel their presence in our hearts. We have selected 2 representatives from each region to go to a post-WGYF gathering in Kenya to share with these brothers and sisters the Love and Spirit that we felt in this gathering.
Twenty years have passed since the last World Gathering of Young Friends, held in Greensboro, North Carolina, USA. To what purpose were we summoned once more? Here we tried each others' forms of worship, silent and programmed, songs in many different languages, scriptural readings, hand holding. We were open, amazed, stretched and blessed. We learned that the great presence in our lives can be called by many names, Jesus, Christ, God, Inner light, Spirit, Love or many others. Ultimately, through listening to the Spirit that moved us, not the words in which we expressed our movement, we strived to become one organism, one body made up of many different parts (1 Corinthians 12:13). We were united not so much in the expression of our faith as in our common desire to be unified and by the power of the Spirit amongst us during these 9 days.
We were challenged to put aside the labels we hide behind, programmed, unprogrammed, liberal, evangelical, and come together as Friends of the Truth, seeking together for the common truth behind our language. We have not finished this process. We are only at the beginning of a long path, but the love and joy we have felt in being in this place together have allowed us to come this far, and we pray that they will lead us further yet.
The time here has been a chance to reflect on our lives. We have been challenged to recognize ourselves as God's children, and respond in willing devotion. The love we have found here is not for us to own but to share. We desire to show our love by doing good and avoiding harm to all people and to all the Earth. We must let others see this love and know its source so that they may come to share it. The Spirit present in our gathering summoned us to be a gathered people, and spoke through the many different people and cultures here to remind us of its glory, power and purpose. The Spirit is at work in all of us, and it is calling us not to judge one another's forms of worship but to examine our own hearts, find our own calling.
We are called to take what we have experienced here and give it back to our communities. Far away meetings now have faces, stories and friendships that make them real to us. Bridges have been built at our Gathering which we call on Friends everywhere to nurture and support. We will keep this contact alive through exchanges, more frequent gatherings and opportunities to work together. Through this contact we will give strength to each other and share our gifts. We must face the future challenges of the Religious Society of Friends together. Where we explored the theme of the vine and the branches we found that its fruits are born from love.
We have experienced what Love can do in this Gathering, now let us try what it can do in the world.
Epistle from the Gathering at Kanamai
TO ALL FRIENDS EVERYWHERE
Greetings from the World Gathering of Young Friends – Africa. It has been nearly two months since the World Gathering of Young Friends held in Lancaster, in the United Kingdom. During this gathering, God led Young Friends around the world to work for a post gathering, to be held in Kenya, Africa for those Young Friends who could not make it to Lancaster, mainly due to visa-related difficulties.
The WGYF-Africa was held in Kanamai, Mombasa in Kenya from 20th – 24th October 2005. 81 Young Friends gathered together, both from around Africa and representatives from the regional groups that participated in the Lancaster gathering. These Friends were from 27 Yearly Meetings and communicated in five different languages though more than twenty languages were represented. The gathering in Kanamai shared the same theme with the gathering in Lancaster – “I am the Vine, you are the branches”…now what fruit shall we bear? (from John 15).
It was a collective idea of the WGYF in Lancaster that the representatives should take with them all the experience they witnessed, and pass it on to Young Friends who participated in the WGYF-Africa. This WGYF-Africa was another great opportunity that brought joy to Young Friends who represented most of the Quaker Community and enabled us to exchange our different traditional backgrounds of faiths and practices, cultures and spiritual journeys. Our presence together helped heal the deep hurt that was felt at the denial of visas for the Lancaster gathering.
During our time in Kenya we were able to visit various local attractions, and we were enriched by our wonderful surroundings. We worshipped and danced together, worked together in much valued workshops and heard three valuable talks by our guest speaker Dr. Esther Mombo. We also enjoyed regional and yearly meeting presentations and an exciting cultural night.
Similarly to those who participated in the WGYF in Lancaster, Young Friends at WGYF-Africa felt that we had an opportunity to explore different interpretations of the theme as mentioned above. We believe this opportunity has revealed to us the diversity that exists among us, and it has challenged us to always recognise this diversity of religion and faith, not only among the Society of Friends, but among all people.
Young Friends at this gathering also felt that the following were the challenges and opportunities that will help us grow in our faiths and practices in various ways: Experiencing different forms of worshipping among Friends was an opportunity for Young Friends to share, understand, and accept each other no matter how we relate to God. We believe this has led our minds to be more liberal on our faiths and practices, thus challenging us to always promote love and unity among Friends regardless of different traditional and faith backgrounds. Young Friends experienced what we believed to be Quaker Faith in action as we experienced the Love of God working through us in different ways.
We felt, however, that we are faced with some challenges. We had to think of how to question others without seeming challenging. We felt challenged to carry the theme of this gathering, along with our experiences here, to other Young Friends across the world. We find the world’s socio-economic & political barriers increase the weight of this challenge. Young Friends also found the leadership and structural conflicts among Friends in their different Meetings to be a great challenge facing the future of Quakers.
We recognised that we have no right to judge each other, but leave judgement unto God. We call for love and unity among Friends worldwide as we are all branches of the one True Vine.