What is the FGC Gathering? I was faced with this question a lot when I ventured to my first Gathering as part of my Communications Fellowship with FGC in 2015. The best description I could come up with for my non-Quaker family members and friends was "Oh, it's a week-long summer camp for Quakers."
Now, having experienced it twice, I realize that the Gathering is much more than "Quaker summer camp." It's a week of Quaker worship, workshops, and community for all ages...and attenders of all backgrounds. That's right - you don't have to be a Quaker to enjoy the FGC Gathering!
If you're considering attending the next edition of the Gathering, or you have indeed registered for it and you're not a Quaker, don't panic. I was once where you are, and I found the week I spent in the company of Quakers in 2015 to be life-changing and surprisingly accessible despite being very new to Quaker culture. Below is a list of suggestions based on my experience as a "Friend of Friends," as well as the experience of the Gathering staff.
1) Read up on the Gathering ahead of time. July will come faster than you think, so check out the Advance Program on the FGC website before registration (it's usually available in January or February of each year). After you've registered online (registration begins in April), read the "Tips for Newcomers" link in your confirmation email. The more you know what to expect in the advance, the more prepared and less-stressed you'll be when you arrive on Day 1.
2) Wear your name tag. Your name tag is not just a way to help people remember your name. It's also a way to communicate your pronouns to your fellow Gatherers, and it will alert others to your "new-ness" when it comes to Quaker culture and lingo, since our nametags have the name of our Quaker meeting or affiliated organization on them. It works the other way, too - FGC staff members and Gathering volunteers have special-colored circles on their name tags that are clearly visible so you know who to turn to when you need help.
3) Practice self-care. This one's really important. There's a lot going on during the seven days we have together. Know your limits, and don't be afraid to take your time and do what is best for you. Sleep in when you need to, take a walk when you feel led, and don't feel bad if you need to go to your room to be alone when you need time to yourself.
4) Ask questions. Seriously. We were all new to the Gathering at one time. If something doesn't make sense, or you're not sure about what to do in a particular situation, ask a member of the Gathering team or a seasoned Gathering attender for guidance.
5) Make a series of connections in smaller group settings. No matter what you do or where you go, the opportunities to connect with others are endless. Get to know the people in your morning workshop. Join a touchstone group (you can make a selection for one when you register for the Gathering online). Take part in an interest group during Tuesday night's evening interest group activities. Sit at a different table each meal. Go on a field trip. Head to the Gathering store and explore the offerings of our Q-Mart vendors and QuakerBooks' book tables.
6) Take a nap. Resistance is futile. Embrace the power of napping!
7) Follow FGC on Facebook and Twitter. Before and during the Gathering, FGC will share Gathering updates on our website, so we will share those updates as well as last-minute changes and weather warnings on social media as often as we can so you are in the know. Plus, you can connect with Quakers online and ask questions ahead of time about what to pack and what to expect come July.
Did we miss anything? Email me or share your thoughts with us on social media!