Young, Broken and Beautiful
by Jocelyn Dowling
The last weekend in March I had the honor to act as a Friendly Adult Presence (FAP) at the PYM Youth Friends Gathering at Greene Street Meeting in Germantown, Philadelphia. When I was in high school I was active in the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Young Friends community and it truly changed my life. Now, as I returned to a YF community as an adult, I was reminded of the power and beauty of the Young Friends community.
I was not raised Quaker, but started to attend Quaker sleep away camp when I was 10 years old. Once I was too old to be a camper I started to attend Young Friend Gathering during the year as a way to see my camp friends more often. But YF gathering became an important part of my life: it was a loving community that felt comfortable and welcoming, unlike the everyday social scene of the public school environment. It was the only place I felt like I could be myself and that people truly loved me for who I was.
On Saturday night I accompanied the YF group through the rain to the historic Arch Street meeting to attend the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s annual William Penn Lecture. The speaker was QVS’s very own Christina Repoley and her speech was entitled “Prophetic Service as Formation and Transformation.” Christina spoke of the calling she had to establish Quaker Voluntary Service and of Quakers’ legacy of service work with American Friends Service Committee’s workcamps.
I sat in the audience listening to Christina share stories that resonated with my own experience as a young Quaker. But it was Christina’s mention of prophetic service that struck a chord with me – when she said that “prophetic service is not just about serving others, or operating out of a set of values, but it is about offering yourself fully, it is about building relationships, and it is about recognizing your own brokenness as you meet the brokenness in the world and in others. It comes from a place of worship, integrating the inward and the outward, prayer and action.”
I have struggled with the idea of service for a long time. Service work has been a form of experiential learning and direct action for me but it always seems to get tangled in ideas of privilege, guilt, patriarchy, and temporary relief to systematic oppression. But Christina’s reference to “brokenness” as part of prophetic service brought clarity and affirmation to this service tornado that was whirling around in my brain. I recognize that my role in service can be a Band-Aid of privilege and guilt that is patching up another person’s suffering that is a result of a legacy of inequality. But can that band-aid be my brokenness? This adhesive bandage that is used to cover-up and injuries, with the theory that it will help heal, when in actuality it just keeps people from seeing or reminding us of a discolored and damaged imperfection. I think hiding our imperfection, hiding our brokenness, does not allow for any action to prevent damage or to watch a transformation take place, and even avert us from taking pride in our ability to both heal and change.
Collective brokenness within Quakerism seems to be a historic theme. I experienced this brokenness in my senior year of high school, when the collective soul of BYM Young Friends experienced a great tragedy. Our former Youth Programs Coordinator, Tom Fox, made the decision to resign his position and join the Christian Peacemakers team in Iraq. Tom would write letters to the YF community, filled with powerful stories of his experience in a war zone. On November 26, 2005 Tom and 3 other CPT members were taken hostage by a terrorist group known as Swords of Righteousness Brigade. Four months later on March 10, 2006 Tom’s body was found dead on a garbage heap in Baghdad, shot through the head and chest.
The night I got word of Tom’s Death I was on the phone all night crying with other young Quaker from different parts of Maryland, DC, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Over the course of 2 months I attended 5 different memorial services for Tom. This time, there were no Band-Aids. Our collective brokenness was exposed and painful. Tom’s death was how I directly experienced the War in Iraq as a liberal middle-class teen. I always complained about the cracks in the US’s social system but this was my personal witness to how our nation’s broken system to solve conflicts could affect me and my community. To quote the poet Rumi, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Out of our collective brokenness came stories, stories that brought so much light and love to the Young Friends community. Stories of Tom’s legacy and stories that proved the strength and resiliency of the Young Friends community.
My most clear and significant memory of Tom was on the Sunday morning of my first YF gathering. I was sweeping up the meeting room of my home meeting, Adelphi MM, and Tom approached me; he said “Jossie, you have been very helpful this weekend and I want you to know that I think you will go very far in life.” The sentiment that Tom shared with me is exactly how I now feel about the members of the current Young Friend community. I see so many wonderful and promising attributes in all of them. Their love for one another as well as their compassion for the world reassures me about the future of Quakerism. I love talking to them about their ideas and what they foresee in their future. The best part of it is that I know that when that inevitable experience of brokenness comes along, it will make them stronger and they will continue to grow as beautiful, wise and resilient FRIENDS.
To watch Christina’s Lecture, follow this link: