Megan Gianniny grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, as a part of Cambridge Friends Meeting. She graduated from Scripps College in May 2014 with a Gender and Women’s Studies major and Dance minor and her senior thesis was entitled “’Other than Dead:’ Queering Vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Interview with the Vampire, and The Gilda Stories.” While at Scripps, Megan worked in the Office of the President and Board of Trustees, as well as volunteering with the Office of Admissions, New Student Program, and Family, Scripps’ Queer-Straight Alliance. She spent her summers working at a Quaker camp in South China, Maine, which she had attended as a camper during her teens. When not working or studying, Megan enjoys reading, playing ukulele, and blogging about her love of all things nerdy. She is excited to spend a year exploring Atlanta and serving at the Phillip Rush Center.
Charlotte Cloyd grew up in Atlanta attending St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, but quickly fell in love with Quakerism after attending Guilford College. She majored in English with a minor in Ceramics and wrote her honors thesis about the connection between Quakerism and William Wordsworth’s Romantic poetry. While at Guilford, Charlotte played on the school’s co-ed ultimate frisbee team, Biohazard, and co-captained the team during her senior year, enjoying the challenge to coach and captain while also being a team member. Charlotte had the opportunity to study abroad twice, once for a semester in Gaborone, Botswana studying Public Health and a second time during the summer in Sikkim, India working to create sustainable relationships with elementary schools in the foothills of the Himalayas. Charlotte will be serving at Atlanta Habitat for Humanity during the year.
We wrote this minute in profound gratitude for Atlanta Friends Meeting, and read it at the rise of meeting this morning:
We, the inaugural Quaker Voluntary Service house, would like to thank each of you as part of the Atlanta Friends Meeting community for your faith and presence with us this year. We are grateful to you for taking the risk to enter into relationship with QVS and with each of us as individuals. We have felt mutual respect and trust as the Atlanta Friends Meeting body walked alongside us as a vital partner. You nurtured, shared, and witnessed our journey. Your collective and individual support has allowed us to experience this year fully, with profound faith that our spiritual and tangible needs would be met. Relationships we have witnessed within the Atlanta Friends Meeting community have served as important models of the richness and possibilities of community life. We feel a deep urgency to thank you for your ministry of welcoming and weaving community.
Notes From Our Worship Sharing While Writing the Minute
Someone recently asked me how I have seen God most in this year, and without hesitation thought about my relationships at Frazer Center. Coming into the center my first week struggling to remember the 100 adult participants names, 150 children’s names depending on which class I was in not to mention my coworkers who are weary of another employee who may not make it past the first week (a hard to break pattern of new hires). I knew it would be a difficult adjustment to settle in and get to know all of these new people, but had no idea what the end point would look like, or how rewarding the journey would be.
At the beginning of the program, I had very little direction on what I should be doing day in and out, which was incredibly challenging. Wandering around amidst strangers asking where I could be helpful, trying to figure out how the program functions and runs without much knowledge on the wildly diverse behaviors, abilities, and attitudes of the developmentally disabled population we serve. Every day was a struggle trying to make friends with adult participants and co-workers alike while trying not to look overwhelmed—which I was wrestling inside. For these first few months, I gravitated toward working one-on-one with adults in different classrooms, which allowed me to begin to build trust and friendships.
One of the pivotal moments of my experience at Frazer came when I was trying to figure out how to handle one of our new and most difficult adults who presented dangerous and self-destructive behaviors. Something I have learned from years of exploration along my own spiritual journey is the importance of being understood and listened to, and how
important language is in that understanding. Our adult is mostly deaf, and communicates mainly through sign language and gestures. When looking at our staff, only one or two have had any sign language experience and didn’t really use it with this adult. I began to notice his behaviors stemming from confrontation amongst
peers and adults where he couldn’t communicate, and I saw a deep need for ability to communicate with him—so I began to learn some basic sign language.
Starting with “how are you?” and “stop” I began looking at sign language books, taking online sign classes, and learning from those with experience around me. I now teach a weekly sign language class for both hearing and deaf adults, and have also been working with staff to learn easy ways of communicating with the many adults who use sign at the center every day.
The ability to listen and understand these adults has been paramount to my settling into the program and feeling like a part of the community. Each of these adults has an amazing and unique personality that is essential to the vitality of the community. Letting their voices be heard, often through non-traditional forms of communication is the challenge that I face everyday, and it pushes me to listen in ways I’m not the most familiar with.
I can’t describe what it feels like to walk into a room and see smiles of people who are genuinely happy to see me and to be heard. It’s the sustaining quality of this work, where it seems that much of the rest is setting one up for burnout.
Watching the first QVS volunteers arrive to the house in August…
Growing faith in our abilities to cope with and thrive in new settings –
Home could be here – or anywhere.
If you ask, they will be there…
Balancing strong and gentle is an ongoing process.
Remembering to love helps.
Feeling stressed isn’t just about not having time.
It can be hard to find 10 minutes a day to pray.
Large gatherings of different people in sunny parks
And the scents of treats outside amongst the building of friendship
A penny for you and one for me,
Put it on the railroad tracks
Then in the Boo Radley Tree!
Sitting around the fire at Dean and Christina’s Atlanta reception,
Talking and watching the fire
And bonding with Dean.
Sitting on the blue denim couch,
Talk about Quaker History.
Greater clarity on the things I’m seeking –
Clarity from both presence and absence
Making the mod-podge chore wheel
There is a balance between obedience and efficiency
Lasting community, that understands the full me.
Spiritual journey sharing
And that time I was almost hit by a car
There is an oft used and important time and space to talk,
And there is a harder to find but equally important time to listen.
Two people crying on my couch
So many tears, swollen up with love
Moments and stories of people who find their passion.
The people you live with fill your house with warmth and joy.
A tolerance for ambiguity
When surprise magic happens
The future being better than we expect it will be…
At our retreat in February, the volunteers, Christina, and Erica wrote this collaborative poem.
God beneath you,
God in front of you,
God behind you,
God above you,
God within you.
Recently a few of our QVS cohort attended a Fund for Theological Education conference about exploring vocation. We all had different experiences I’m sure, so I’ll just tell you a little about mine. I was pretty wigged out arriving, honestly. It was hosted out of a fancy hotel and I felt out of place. I also felt like a bit of an impostor. Do I have to pretend to be confident about my faith to be here? Will they judge me when they find out my god doesn’t look like their God?
We began each morning and ended every night with prayer which was nourishing even when the structure was different from my familiar silent worship. I chose to take workshops on The Theology of Howard Thurman, the L’Arche Community Learning Vulnerability as a Way of Life, and Love Conquering Borders with the Alterna community. They were awesome. I also attend a panel discussion on Seminary and visited Mercy Community Church, which were both well timed adventures for me. Keynote speakers included Anton Flores-Maisonet about breaking cycles of violence, Leroy Barber about what we can learn from slave spirituals, Dr. Anna Carter Florence about teaching others to preach. Aspects of each of their stories spoke directly to me.
Some gems for me from the conference:
-The notion that boundaries need not be stagnant, that they can be fluid and used as a spiritual contemplative practice.
-Speaking to my living situation this year, that idea we as humans begin in community. That even before we experience a sense of self, we experience community.
-I was struck by Thurman’s affirmation of doubt as faithful, of asking as a way of praying.
-And also by the different ways that each of the presenters chose to meld their work and home life in a vocation of the heart.
None of us are finished ever. We are each constantly being shaped and transformed. The conference re-inspired in me a sense of following the divine, of learning to trust, of knowing that doesn’t mean I have to stop asking questions, and of loving my community for what it is. For that, I am grateful.
For my work here in Atlanta I am co-planning and co-facilitating a Community Transformation Training based on the methodology of Paulo Frerie, Brazilian educator and social organizer. Freireian methodology is about people connecting to their own emotions and using them as a vehicle for action. To that end, one of the first things we do with people is put them in small groups and ask them what they are worried about, what they are happy about, what they are sad, angry, and hopeful about. From those answers we listen, and we ask everyone to listen, to threads that run through many of their emotions as a group. It’s not all that different from listening for the sense of the meeting, and involves discerning what comes out of people’s hearts and what pieces are narrative from the mind only. Similar to listening through a popcorn meeting for the ministry that is stirring. Listening, no matter what vocabulary is put on it, is a powerful tool for human connection, which can lead to change making in the world. No matter what the generative theme (Freire’s words) of a group is, identifying it is the beginning of being able to identify useful and motivated action steps. So I ask you: What are you worried about? What are you happy about? Sad, angry, hopeful about? What would it be like if you talked to people about emotions and found that a group all had a thread running through their lives?
This morning a group of us sat around the kitchen and living room talking about what we want for our personal Bibles: translations, covers, red letter or not. Some of us have independently started reading the Bible and are exploring how we carry it in our lives. We found the following link helpful as a starting point for examining differences in translations: Translation Comparison Chart
This post is the first part of a series on how the QVS experience has shaped volunteers’ views of Quakerism.
I didn’t grow up Quaker. I haven’t spent years figuring out how to best explain that, yes, I can use electricity, and no, I don’t have strong feelings about particular brands of oatmeal. That being said, I was raised in the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church, so I am used to getting blank stares when I talk about my religion. Growing up, religion came up occasionally, but I could control the situations when I would have to go into an in-depth theological discussion to times when all parties were interested in sharing about their faith.
Since I became a QVS volunteer, though, I have gotten used to the idea that questions about my faith will come up on a regular basis–from coworkers and new friends outside the Meetinghouse–because the name of our program is Quaker Voluntary Service:
“Are you a Quaker?”
“So what are Quakers?”
“Well…can we just not talk about it right now?”
Of course, that’s not how the conversation ever goes. I always give a longer answer–and almost always feel uncomfortable about it. Beyond the UU church, I come from a world of non-spiritual academics and a college that (while it does have a strong Quaker population and student community of spiritual practice) has secularized Quakerism for consumption and use by the general student body. The idea of being religious on campus–and actually using that faith to inform decisions–was not, in my experience, widely acceptable. I now live my life much more closely connected to a network of people of faith. Many of my coworkers are active in their Christian churches, but some are not.
At this point, I’m answering questions about a religion that has a lot of theological diversity to an audience that I don’t know very well, and simultaneously hoping that I don’t offend anyone and that I can actually say something meaningful and authentic about what I believe. I usually start with the testimonies:
Quakers don’t necessarily all believe the same thing, but there are five testimonies that most Quakers agree on, and that we try to live out in our daily lives. They’re sometimes called Quaker SPICE: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality. A lot of Quakers are active in social justice work, and that work can be a way of living the testimonies. But everyone is going through a journey with the testimonies, so people might have different understandings of what simplicity means, for example, and be living differently because of it.
That answer is certainly not perfect, and I get much shakier from there. I frequently hear Friends use the term “inner light” to describe how we think about how each person is related to God–but I actually feel more comfortable saying that we believe “there is that of God in every person–we sometimes call it an inner light.”
And then I mention that when I go to Meeting, I sit in silence and wait. I don’t usually say what I’m waiting for–I know it by feel, but not quite in words (Friends General Conference uses these words, which sound mostly right to me). I tend to be most comfortable socially when I gloss over the experience of worship in my explanation, but it also feels wrong and incomplete. It’s like describing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as “You make a sandwich with white bread, jelly, and some other spread.” Clearly, the peanut butter is not just “some other spread”. It’s peanut butter! It’s wonderful! It’s critical to the sandwich!
I spent a few months waiting in worship before I had really any idea what I was waiting for, and another year or so before I was moved to vocal ministry. But even in those months, there was something going on in worship that kept me going for the rest of the week, and then brought me back again and again. Sometimes it was a chance to rest my brain from a tough academic schedule. And often it was that I couldn’t get the experience of worship–the silence, the calm, the community, the connection with God in ourselves and each other–anywhere else. So I want to talk about worship every time Quakerism comes up, but I don’t yet know how to do it.
Okay, other QVSers and rest of the world: how do you describe Quakerism to acquaintances and colleagues? How do you handle the balance of authenticity and comfort?