Our Gathering Anew process began the week of the Gathering/s in the summer of 2022. Feedback was collected at two meetings. A virtual meeting was held for Virtual Gathering attenders and an in-person meeting was held at the YAY Gathering for Adult Young Friends (AYF).
Focus Group with a General Theme Open to All 9/19/22
Focus Group with a General Theme Open to All 9/16/22
Focus Group for FGC Staff 9/15/22
Focus Group for Past Gathering Clerks 9/14/22
Focus Group for FLGBTQC (Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, and Queer Concerns) 9/13/22
Focus Group for People of Color Only 9/11/22
Workshops and Centers Focus Group 9/9/22
Junior Gathering and Families Focus Group 9/7/22
Focus Group 2
This Focus Group met on August 28, 2022. They used Google Jamboard to record their feedback.
Long Range Conference Planning Focus Group (LRCP)
LRCP met on August 27, 2022. This Focus Group used Google Jamboard to list their ideas.
Feedback Gathered from Adult Young Friends (AYF) at the YAY Gathering.
Barry Crossno, General Secretary of FGC, facilitated the AYF session. Below are the notes from that session.
Eighteen AYF attended.
Very engaged group. They were under the weight of the ways that the Gathering is unsustainable and are deeply concerned with both evolving the Gathering and seeing Quakers grow numerically.
There were many very concrete suggestions:
There was widespread agreement that shifting the Gathering to a new location every year created enormous amounts of work for volunteers and staff. There were several visions for how that might change.
i. Utilize one location year after year – By picking one location the Gathering can hone systems, room assignments are easy, and where to locate everything is relatively automatic. We could also invest in the infrastructure of that place, perhaps even choosing a Quaker property that we could further support and develop.
ii. Utilize three locations (East Coast, Midwest, West Coast) rotating among them. This was by far the most popular option discussed. This would give us the benefits of reducing advance teamwork once the three campuses were identified and still dramatically reducing the logistical work. It would also keep the Gathering relatively accessible by having it recur in three different geographic locations. We would need to change how we utilize the local yearly meetings; instead of having a big team from that YM do the advanced work we focus on the relationship with Friends in those areas. This was not said but is inferred that the Gathering co-clerks and Gathering Committee could be from anywhere if we were rotating among three fixed campuses and not relying on the local YM for horsepower. It was also felt that arriving at a campus every three years still likely allowed us to have a strong relationship with each campus which would yield various benefits. It was also seen that having three locations would make travel relatively predictable for regular attenders encouraging carpooling and other forms of shared transportation.
iii. Utilize five locations—there was a concern from two Friends that three locations was not enough geographic dispersal and might get stale. So they suggested 5 locations to rotate among. This does not confer as many benefits logistically and there did not seem to be a lot of energy in the group for it.
iv. Urban location—it was lifted up that it’s been difficult to secure an urban location, but that this was needed in terms of inclusion. How much energy was behind this was unclear.
Why they come to Gathering
There were recurring themes on why they each come to the Gathering and AYF. It was seen as important that these qualities of the Gathering be preserved and strengthened:
i. A safe and accepting place to come that centers our values; especially important to GLBTQ youth.
ii. A community container where there are people who love you
iii. A place to find other Quaker parents and Quaker kids; the values piece is again important in this context.
iv. Breaks down the isolation of being in a small Quaker meeting, especially for AYF and kids
v. Gives a place for AYF who are unattracted for various reasons to their local Quaker meeting
vi. Theologic diversity is important
Volunteerism at the Gathering
Volunteerism was not seen as sustainable in its current form. It was described as “extractive” by a few Friends with lots of head nodding. The current volunteer model relies disproportionately on well off Friends, often older, who have free time, but even they are burning out.
The Gathering relies on the experience and wisdom of individual Friends to make systems and programs run. Therefore, the same people are called on repeatedly. Burn-out was a common refrain, especially for volunteer and staff positions related to logistics work. Could the work be broken up into more chunks and spread over more people? Could the work be documented so it is easy to have new people take on positions. It was seen, again, that fewer locations would help make it easier to transfer and share knowledge through documentation.
Putting work in smaller chunks was also seen as beneficial for AYF who often have limited free time.
There seemed to be a desire to still co-create the Gathering through volunteerism, but that it needed to be less demanding individually; co-create the community, not burn-out the individual.
Gathering length and timing
No one said they were against every other year with YAY in alternating, but it was hard to tell if there was enthusiasm. The three rotating campuses seemed to imply a keeping of the annual Gathering.
It was lifted up that having the alternating might allow YAY to be held at a Quaker summer camp lowering the cost. YAY being fewer days does have some value for AYF who have less vacation time than others.
A few ideas were lifted up to allow people to split the week like the half Gathering. It was recognized that it would have to feel like the Gathering was built for this, but not an add-on. In other words a 3-4 day experience should be the structure of the Gathering. So there might be two 3-4 day experiences. Some people could choose the 1st. Some the 2nd. Some both.
One person lifted that the Gathering should go Monday to Monday instead of Saturday to Saturday. This might enable it to be broken up into two experience blocks where some people can arrive for the second block on Friday night and leave Monday morning. Two days off.
Operations & Programming at the Gathering
Communications at the Gathering is a problem. The need for text notifications and Discord was raised again and again. The daily printed news was seen as having value as well.
More open space in the schedule was requested. There is too much hurrying from one event to another. Have a flexible time that the group can program or not program in the moment is seen to have value. Overprogramming is seen as reflective of the wants of older Friends. Less is more was repeated several times.
Interestingly, relationship building was seen as more valuable than plenary speakers by many in this group.
Affinity groups are incredibly valuable: AYF, High School, Children’s program, Friends of Color, GLBTQ, Parents, Mens’ Groups, Women’s Groups, etc. These are big draws.
Being able to stream the plenaries to watch parties both at the Gathering and beyond was seen as attractive. Sitting in an auditorium “jammed in with hundreds of people in a hard seat” is not attractive to some in this group.
There is value to intergenerational activities; it feels strange to many AYF to be so isolated all the time from the rest of the Gathering. There should be purposeful ways to pair Friends across generational lines.
There was some energy that there needs to be ways for newcomers to feel more loved at Gathering.
There was some discussion of hybrid. Some seemed to feel that having online offerings was important, but that it didn’t have to happen while the in-person Gathering was happening. Others felt that streaming the plenaries has value both for in-person and away participants.
Scale of Gathering
Some Friends said the scale of Gathering doesn’t matter at all. Their focus is on relationship building which can happen regardless of size.
Others thought the scale of the Gathering mattered a lot in terms of programming and logistics. They felt the Gathering needs to be large in order to populate interest and affinity groups, which also requires both staff and volunteer support.
Quaker Visibility, Culture & Growth
There was a difference of opinion about whether Quakers are growing or shrinking; though there was agreement that Quakers who attend meeting at meeting houses on first day are shrinking. There was a longing to see Quaker community available across the week, at different times and in different forms. There are many Quaker young adults who feel Quaker, but have no desire to try to enmesh themselves in the structure and culture of traditional monthly meetings.
There was some discussion that falling numbers in meetings is reflected in falling numbers at the Gathering.
Some lifted up that they can only be Quaker in their “free time” and wished that there were more Quaker jobs and companies.
I asked “should Quakers be more visible in order the grow the RSoF?” Some felt the answer was so obviously yes, they were surprised it would be a question. A couple lifted up that the concern of older Quakers conflating outreach and proselytizing is misplaced and harmful. There was a strong belief that we should never go back to missionary work or proselytizing, but that visibility work is not those things and we should be more visible.
It was lifted up by one Friend that “it pisses me off” that there are organizations and companies that use the name Quaker, don’t have Quaker values, and have more visibility than actual Quakers. There was a concern that Quaker schools are often seen by Quaker adults as being our visibility vehicle when many of them are barely Quaker (coming from a Quaker school grad).
It was felt that Quakers are very fearful of making mistakes and older Quakers often stifle innovation and experimentation. There is a lot of “no.” They wish that they were given the opportunity and resources to fail.
I was asked my thoughts on the future of Friends and I shared that I thought the future of Quakers was local in large scale meetings that could support lots of affinity groups, children’s programming, and small group work spread through the week and at various times of day, but that Quaker structures would have to change a lot to enable that and we would have to be highly visible and welcoming. There was some limited head nodding and then we ran out of time.
Feedback Gathered at the Virtual Session July 7, 2022
The Word Cloud below emphasizes the words that came up most often in the feedback gathered at the virtual session. Notes are below.
FUTURE OF THE GATHERING
Meeting 7/7/22 at the Virtual Gathering
Notes taken by Joan Broadfield, Michelle Bellows
Directions to focus group
We have before us a chance to imagine and bring to reality the Gathering that will serve us in the future. I would like Friends to find a piece of paper and markers or crayons or a pen and draw a picture of themselves at a Gathering 5 years from now – what are you feeling, what are you doing, what do you see, what do you smell? What is happening at the Gathering now?
Let’s take 5 minutes to draw and then get back together again.
Bring your pictures back with you and we will share those pictures and our visions of what if the Gathering —–
Imagine an 80-year-old who has traveled by train to some wonderful place in the Midwest, where I’m taking a 3-day workshop, 2 days for doing other things and music in the afternoon… with many ages.. yes engaged and connected
newcomer, relieved not in Radford VA due to distance and travel.
speakers and lots of POC and AYF
Recalling now that my original proposal was for regional gatherings BUT have national applications for giving workshops and have workshop facilitators and speakers travel to (with financial support) to the different regions so that there is something different than a slightly bigger YM and some of that great cross pollination
tents and buildings to sleep, out in nature, variety and different costs so sleeping and being is option – getting away
like the collective experience of regional virtual
interspecies! with dogs.. and cats??
A path, interactive, many different things, games .. art.. program .. singing/music/ some other activities, reading and a sense of movement around the circle, … channeling the evening at Gathering when people are out and about… and yes tents … organic and natural
cut carbon footprint and costs.. decentralize .. in person optional – an international view, and other options around
I like that a lot!
Rose labyrinth with many openings for joining share they can
remembering a survey, what they must have info desk and cafeteria
not able to go in person, so happy for zoom
worship sharing, workshop and bible 1/2hr
outside space, eating ice-cream, random conversation, walking, sitting, talking about that which is eternal
people dancing in a circle miss that on zoom, hard to picture folk dancing virtually, … plane and train… used to go in advance… climate change problem and getting older travel is harder… torn. computer screen… bus to both? smaller regional with central content . .
bunch of people around water others doing something else, lovely outdoors, trees… in the eternal. Interested in regional somehow.
with kids how to bring in years to come, viability, more supported though movement based or art sensory types … workshops for their ages… for a whole family experience. and more families together
retreat from daily life
and on i-pads,
books to read
things and people … grass sunshine
green and people in small groups, interacting and sitting in the grass in groups with our tents
one thing that feels important. looking at ways to unstructure gathering for those who are new.
pathways – not schedule to fit more in
AYF planned their week – exciting about showing up and planning WHAT do I need to be fed, and how can I create it and other support
to be fed and through the giving to others
creating the gathering
small groups talking deeply about the work we do in the world and about antiracism and whatever respite looks like for others
remembers her regular meeting with group worshipping with Ukraine daily and small groups that help people l know each other
spaces in gathering worked it like Rebecca is talking about
many speak what others are saying 2 things SINGING SINGING and variety of song/music
Like dancing, singing is another thing that is quite problematic over Zoom!!
I get at gathering, to plan, to make most… immediately… then God has other plans… SURRENDERING to Spirit in the moment – extraordinary with the community – which is not quite the same on zoom… maybe we’ll get used to it and all but not yet
zoom works well, not doing a lot of traveling, grateful for opportunity, love the in person, but as aging, traveling more challenging, this way I can join.
So many people who might not be able to come any other way
Dancing was a blast on Zoom last night. We got to see everybody busting their moves. Plus, we in the west got to go to bed early.
to bridge the needs with the reality of the world testing ideas
carbon footprint, every other year is an option, and smaller in between
other orgs are having the conversations – a frat doing holiday gathering … then changed to every 18 months, then annual, then [Gathering]every other year with regional annually
We already have our regional gatherings through our yearly meetings and quarterly meetings. I am part of SCYM where QMs are active since we have small and isolated MMs
This is a half-baked idea, and likely not a new one — but could FGC Gathering be merged with a different Yearly Meeting Annual Session each year (or every other year)?
Importance of remembering the key place of children and families- regional might compete with YMs, and every other year and the pandemic
regions that are big, and not simultaneously, scattered, maybe recorded plenaries
workshops might be offered (not understanding what she says about workshop)
“What happens when we come together is perfect and doesn’t need to be messed with” — but there are barriers to coming together.
brainstorming… yes and… this is just ideas… pretend we are Oprah, money no object
find something aspirational for the next 25 years, or scale down and grow into
liking possible ½ baked ideas
one thing that has come up [is offering Gathering] every other year… history, zoom [in] alternate [years], but important to continue zoom a both and… so always a zoom option. Tech is moving faster than anything else…and age has other challenges, so blended meetings are good.
recent meeting, said talking about change gathering, like iceberg and titanic, can we be flexible, adaptable, nimble, dynamic
excited about all the ideas… and want to but hoping to be remembering the staff… most practice, no workshop nor plenaries but sitting in the grass and have conversations
Mini gatherings, extravaganza .. spontaneity .. fun… talent show… music
For me to travel to Pendle Hill (from Stillwater OK) for a Friday night to Sunday morning will cost me almost $1000. For me to travel from the middle of the country to where a bunch of Quakers are the trip has to be long enough to make the expense of travel (financial and physical). A 24-48 hour in-person event doesn’t work if travel of more than a few hours is required.
having plenaries… subscription, cannot interact with plenaries anyway. People like to talk about … and interact with people maybe planning to meet with others at a meeting to hear the plenary
What if we leaned heavier on regional and virtual gatherings…but had funds available to put Friends who have time + health to travel on trains so they could go to regional gatherings other than their own, move in for a week with someone who’s participating by zoom, etc. Sort of an “Intervisitation Corps” of traveling Friends. The funds would be for the train tickets and also for childcare/lost wages/other expenses associated with the person hitting the road.
(reading aloud prior chat piece) . . .travel costly, Meeting at a distance, maybe better zoom
a push-pull needing to bring funds and costs still prohibitive
One of the treasures of Gathering is the cross-fertilization of Friends from across the country. How to maintain that is a complicated problem.
I would love it if we could keep the unprogrammed Spirit at the center of this gathering. I would love it if it could be simplified. I would love it if it could be more accessible to diverse populations. I would love it if it could be more unstructured. More open.
We already have our regional gatherings through our yearly meetings and quarterly meetings. I am part of SCYM where QMs are active since we have small and isolated MMs