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Meeting at the Corner of Wisdom and Power (abridged)

Paul Christiansen, Zane Freewyn, Hazel Jordan, Adam Billen, Jane Snyder, Jerry Graville
On Healers (September 2023)
Annual Sessions

Meeting at the Corner of Wisdom and Power: Intergenerational Presentation to North Pacific Yearly Meeting; July 9, 2023; Western Oregon University, Monmouth, Oregon

The following text was abridged from a transcript of this presentation, which is published online at: https://westernfriend.org/media/corner-wisdom-and-power-unabridged


Paul Christiansen, Eastside Friends Meeting

The title of this panel probably takes a little explanation. Over and over, I have heard the same thing from both older Friends and younger Friends. They feel that their group has so much to teach the other Friends. But the other group has all the power.

We’ll consider a number of queries today, including: What do you wish other generations of Friends knew about your experiences as a Quaker? Do you think there are things that the other generations aren’t ever going to “get”? And do Friends on the panel feel that they’ve been lectured at or condescended to by Friends from other generations?


Zane Freewyn, Multnomah Monthly Meeting

I am grateful we’re having this panel because it shows that people have been listening to the problems that Junior Friends brought forth last year and in previous years.

Some of our struggles between generations are because we don’t connect in a similar fashion. Younger Friends know how to ask the computer for help, and we don’t ask other people as much. Because of details like this, we grow separate from each other.

Even so, I do see similarities. A lot of older Friends were around during Vietnam, and my generation faces a similar problem of violence – gun violence.

Certain things, like issues in the LGBTQ community, are things that older Friends can learn more about, and younger Friends are willing to teach it. We can always learn from each other. But if information is presented in a condescending way, we don’t learn well from it. So, we need to teach information in a way that is kind and caring.


Hazel Jordan, Olympia Friends Meeting

I was raised in Olympia Friends Meeting. We had a consistent youth group, and as a child, I felt surrounded by loving elders who treated me with respect.

Reflecting on my generation now, on interactions with other students at Earlham College, during this very mobile state of life, community with Friends means community with the people we’re around, wherever we are.

For my generation, time and money create barriers to engaging in faith communities. It takes extra effort to step out of the system we live in and join another community. So, we want to be able to see what would be given back to us. I think that that is true for people of any generation.

One difference I see between generations of Friends is the way we’ve held our peace and equality testimonies. Today, if I introduce myself as a Quaker, no one really knows what I am talking about. They don’t think of really active protesters, like in the 60s. My generation is active on peace and equality in a very different way. I think we turn towards smaller communities more and building support for marginalized groups within their communities, rather than big public protests. Even so, I hear the similarities in our values.


Adam Billen, South Seattle Friends Meeting

I’m calling from Washington, DC, where I’m at university and where I have largely drifted away from Quaker communities – not intentionally, just by circumstance.

Even so, everyone in my life knows I’m Quaker and knows how that affects my relationship with them. For instance, something I learned in Junior Friends was: “No exclusive activities.” Ever since that time, whenever I’m in a new space, I try to make sure that nothing is happening that not everyone is actively invited into it.

Thinking now about different generations, sometimes talking with older Quakers, they seem to assume I don’t understand the basics of the faith. This can be irritating, since I’ve been a Quaker for 21 years. I just want to connect with you guys on the level that you connect with each other.

Also, sometimes I hear from young Friends who aren’t active in their meetings that they still get calls about being on committees, which can feel like the opposite of welcoming. Of course, there’s value in being on committees, as long as you’re also active in the community.

But really, I think we’re all coming to the faith to explore the same things. I think we can connect on that basic level.


Jane Snyder, Multnomah Monthly Meeting

Joe and I came to Quakers 52 years ago, right after we got married. When I started taking on positions of leadership in the meeting – I was clerk in my mid-twenties –nobody gave me a bunch of spoken information. But when I looked out from the clerk’s table, I could see several beloved Friends, and I felt their respect for my ability. Of course, I made a lot of mistakes, but people were super understanding and nice about it. I did have a few experiences of having people “Quaker-splain” to me. But not too many.

We have three daughters who are now, 40, 41, and 43. They grew up in North Pacific Yearly Meeting, but none of them participate in Friends any more. And in Bridge City Meeting, I count about thirty individuals in my daughters’ age group who don’t come to meeting. Our kids will tell you one of the things that keeps them away from religion is student loan debt, because most people in the younger generation are working every weekend. So, one thing we could do – if we could wave a magic wand – would be to eliminate student loan debt.


Jerry Graville, Lopez Island Monthly Meeting

My wife and I moved to Seattle in 1981, when Iris was about six months pregnant. When we found out we were having twins, maybe it was out of pity, but all these people wanted to meet us and talk with us. I am just so honored and moved to be part of this faith community. It hasn’t always been easy. But there’s been a real connection of honoring each other, being close to each other, challenging each other. And a huge part for us was being with other families with kids.

When I was new to Quakerism, I don’t think I ever really felt lectured at, but sometimes, somebody might “elder” me. Then somebody else might say, “Well, you know, that is one person’s perspective. That’s not necessarily the belief of this whole community.” So, it helped me not to take it too personally and also to consider if there was something I could learn.

With all the social changes over the years . . . we’re all trying to stay on top of them. I think it’s a healthy challenge for some of us older folks who see ourselves as progressive to admit that we struggle to really get a handle on some of the newer issues, some of the subtleties of them, and that we need to be taught so that we can come up to where we would like to be.


Paul Christiansen

Alright Friends, one final thought: You can’t be what you can’t see. What are we showing each other? And what opportunities are we giving each other to show us, especially people of a different age group? That’s a final query for you all. Do with it what you will.  ~~~

Intergenerational relationships Spiritual Development Quaker practice

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