Storytelling and deep fried Mars bars and silence, oh my! Highland adventures with YFGM

Emily: On Friday 24th February 2017, three of us (Abi, Jaz and me) made the journey up to Edinburgh for Young Friends General Meeting (YFGM). The agenda was full of different activities including Quaker business meetings, spiritual sessions and a discussion about Quaker values in education. It was Jaz’s and my first time to the event, after being recommended the event by Abi, and we were both very excited to get involved and meet a whole new group of young Quakers from across Great Britain.

nottinghamquakers.org.uk image: The Friends Meeting House in Edinburgh for YFGM
The Friends Meeting House in Edinburgh for YFGM

Jaz: Emily and I were both put into different groups during the newcomers session put on for anyone new to YFGM. This meant that we had introductions by Abi and the rest of the outreach committee about different topics; these included learning about the Quaker business method, which is our distinct form of decision making where there is no popular vote. In the newcomer sessions, we also got to know other newcomers by playing silly games and having discussions such as ‘what is your favourite place?’ and ‘what is something you believe?’. This lead to us getting to know other newcomers’ religious and spiritual views, as well as plenty of bonding time!

E : Having been introduced to the Quaker business method, we then participated in discernment on YFGM’s Trident Concern. We sat in contemplation about what would be the best course of action, following the government’s decision to continue with the Trident programme. The feeling of the meeting was that the concern should be put down at this time, but I found it was important that the Concern was assessed, although many of our attitudes to nuclear weapons programme haven’t changed.

nottinghamquakers.org.uk image: St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh
St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

J: We often had moments of free time, and not much of YFGM was compulsory, so Emily and I popped out for ten minutes to see the courtyard of Edinburgh Castle which was only five minutes away from the amazingly located Edinburgh Meeting House. We returned a bit windswept! Other outings included exploring Edinburgh in the evening w ith other newcomers to find (and demolish) a deep fried Mars Bar, a true Scottish delicacy, and we started our last day in Edinburgh with a two hour hike up Arthur’s Seat for some breath-taking views over Edinburgh city.

The view over Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat
The view over Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat

E: During the weekend there were a range of special interest groups (SIG) that were run during two slots on Saturday. These are sessions that run by members of the YFGM community and other Quakers on specific topics. Jaz and I took part in a storytelling workshop, led by another young Quaker. We considered how the framing of stories can influence social attitudes and then enjoyed a few stories in action. Abi also ran two SIG sessions about organising and running local young Quakers groups, but there were lots of different ones to choose from including participating in research about the meaning of Concerns. Jaz and I spent the second SIG doing door duty – sitting by the door to for security reasons as well as acting as a friendly face to YFGM members coming and going. It was great to have the opportunity to take a bit of time out of the weekend and get to know other YFGMers a bit better.

J: One of the most interesting parts of the weekend were the epilogues, which were evening sessions of spiritual time, where an atmosphere of calm was created through candles and sometimes soothing music. They ran each evening for half an hour, and were held in the main meeting room on the top floor of the Meeting House. I found them particularly calming and helpful to unwind after a day of busy-ness, and would definitely say that the epilogues were one of my highlights of the weekend!

E: One of my favourite parts of the weekend was Meeting for Worship on the Sunday morning. There was a lovely feeling in the room as YFGM was joined by local members and attenders of Edinburgh Local Meeting. It was the largest meeting I have ever been to, and as a result we were all sat a lot closer to each other than normal. One Friend ministered about the importance of the small acts of love which really spoke to me. Getting to know each other and living together over the weekend was full of small acts of love that brought us all closer. I also feel I have learnt more about what it means to be a Quaker, and the importance of food to gatherings of young Quakers! As Abi reflected about Nottingham Young Quakers on the train back “I don’t think we have ever met and not ate”! I really enjoyed YFGM, and I was inspired to include aspects of it to Nottingham Young Quakers. This includes more interfaith events and visiting different meetings in the Nottingham Area Meeting. As part of the spirituality session, we read sections of different religious texts. I read from the Qur’an and think it would be great to explore how other religions have similarities with Quaker values such as peace and simplicity.

J: I totally agree with Emily – I’d love to see more interfaith text exploration which could really enhance our other interfaith events. During the spiritual session, I read parts of a Sephardi Orthodox Siddur, a Jewish prayer book, and found a section titled ‘Rescue’, where the prayer expressed the joy at God taking away their struggles and replacing them with peace after Shabbat – the sense of peace and clarity I feel after Meeting for Worship mirrored this, and I found it striking that an orthodox prayer expressed a feeling that’s similar to something so un-orthodox. I too really enjoyed the Meeting for Worship with the Edinburgh Quakers; I’ve never felt so calm, and the Meeting felt like it went exceptionally quickly!

What really struck me about the weekend overall was how welcoming and accepting everyone was. I met so many different people of different spiritual preferences and beliefs – agnostics, atheists, Anglicans, just to name a few! – who, despite their differences, all held Quaker values at the centre, and I found this both inspirational and comforting. I also really enjoyed the attention paid to the newcomers; YFGM even has a Planning Weekend Newcomer’ role. These people attend the Planning Weekend which happens six weeks before the following YFGM and helps them plan the next YFGM with fresh eyes. I was nominated for this role and I look forward to exploring YFGM and getting to know members even further.

E: Overall it was an unforgettable weekend and we would recommend it to any young Quaker! More information about YFGM can be found here.

Emily and Jaz