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.
Genevieve Beck-Roe grew up in West Rogers Park in Chicago. In May 2014 she graduated from Earlham College where she majored in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Genevieve attended Baltimore Yearly Meeting Camps as a child and was involved in BYM’s Young Friends and Young Adult Friends programs. While at Earlham, she spent two years living in Earlham’s Quaker House. Genevieve is excited for the opportunity to devote time to being intentional about exploring and expanding her Quakerism. In fall 2013 she participated in Earlham’s Border Studies Program based in Tucson, AZ, learning about the political economy of the US/Mexico border, grassroots activism in Mexico, and the humanitarian aid and sanctuary movements in the US. While in Tucson, she interned with Casa Mariposa, an ecumenical intentional community engaged in hospitality activism. In visiting immigration detention centers with Casa Mariposa, she became interested in the role community activism can play in the legal system. Genevieve will be serving at Southern Center for Human Rights.
Hannah Monroe graduated from Warren Wilson College in December of 2013 with a double major in Sociology/Anthropology and Environmental Studies. She received the Algernon Sidney Sullivan Award from her college, an award that recognizes spiritual values applied to daily life and a commitment to serving others. She also received the Sociology/Anthropology Senior Award for her senior thesis, which looked at how animals in children’s picture books are gendered. In college Hannah organized many events around social justice issues, particularly focusing on feminism, LGBTQ equality, and animal advocacy. In her last semester she brought ecofeminist theorist, Carol Adams, to speak on her campus. During her summers, Hannah interned at three animal advocacy organizations and an LGBTQ youth center. After graduating she returned home to Rhode Island where she is working at Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living as an environmental educator and interning with American Friends Service Committee. After this year, she plans to go to graduate school for sociology or environmental studies, focusing on animal studies and eco-feminism. Hannah has been Quaker her whole life. She will be serving at Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc.
Isaiah Day was born and raised in a small town in the mountains of Western Massachusetts, where he attended a small alternative high school which was extensively involved in the surrounding community. He graduated from Guilford College in 2014 with degrees in Sociology and Peace & Conflict Studies – it was here that Isaiah discovered a passion for social justice and peace-building in a multicultural setting. His senior thesis was titled “Oppression through Policy: A Human Rights-Based Review of the International Whaling Commission.” Isaiah worked for two summers at a sleep-away camp for children with developmental and behavioral disabilities, and furthered his joy of working with children more recently as an intern at SML Good Neighbors, a summer academic enrichment program for kids in rural VA. Isaiah’s interests include playing the cello, soccer, ultimate Frisbee, and electronic music composition. Isaiah will be moving to the Atlanta QVS House and working at the Kindezi School in 2014-2015.
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.
Portland Volunteer Hye Sung Gehring recently posted some great thoughts on his blog about his journey with the Quaker Way and the months to come with QVS.
Check out this compelling quote and visit Hye Sung’s blog to read the rest:
“Have I become convinced that Quakerism is true? I think I have. Maybe the form of Quakerism I have found to be true is some idealized version that only exists in my head and maybe this is me romanticizing a culture and community so that I can finally have a home, but I cannot deny that I am inspired by the vision of Quakerism—even if that may be just my vision. It looks too much like Jesus and reeks so much of the gospel that I cannot help but pursue whatever this is.”
by Willa Keegan-Rodewald
For my year in the Quaker Voluntary Service, I’m working at New City Initiative, which aims to engage faith communities in ending the cycle of homelessness. In November, we organized the annual Day of Homelessness Awareness in downtown Portland. This year the event included a call to action, which asked Portland’s faith communities to write letters to their state representatives and senators and urge them to restore funding for emergency housing programs. On November 22nd, the Day of Homelessness Awareness started with a walk through downtown past agencies serving those living on the streets. It continued with a rally in Pioneer Square featuring speeches, songs, and prayers from diverse faith leaders. Finally a delegation of leaders carried the 613 letters to the State Capitol in Salem. Before delivering the letters, the leaders spoke before the Oregon legislature about why this restoration of funding was imperative. The day before the event, my boss asked me to be one of those speakers. How could I say no? These are the words I spoke:
My name is Willa Keegan-Rodewald. I’m 22 years old, and my whole life I’ve seen homelessness. It’s a fixture in my world. It makes me wonder, will there always be homeless people?
This year I’m working with New City Initiative as part of my time in the Quaker Voluntary Service. I was raised in the Quaker tradition, but this year I’m engaging my faith more deeply as I spend a year serving the community and practicing living my principles.
In my work with New City Initiative, I meet people every day who are homeless. We try to support people as they transition out of homelessness by helping them train for jobs, express themselves creatively, find rides to important appointments, and get involved with their communities. While these initiatives make a difference in the lives of the people we work with, the biggest need I’ve been made aware of is one of the most basic. There is a profound need for housing. We all need somewhere to rest our heads, physically and mentally. We all need somewhere to feel safe. We all need a space to go to that can be a foundation to build our lives upon. There aren’t enough of those spaces in Oregon, and restoring these housing programs will make a difference for thousands of people.
In working to end homelessness, I’m proud to be following in the long Quaker tradition of social activism. A common Quaker tenet is to let your life speak what you believe. Lucretia Mott, Jane Adams, and Bayard Rustin, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Wednesday, are just a few of the many who have made their lives speak for others. They’ve worked through nonviolent means to ensure that every person has equal rights and opportunities. They are living the Quaker belief that there is something of the light or spirit in everyone. Every person needs a stable foundation where they can find and express what that something is to the world. Right now that means every Oregonian needs a place to call home.
One of my favorite bits of Quaker wisdom comes from George Fox. ‘Walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.’ These letters and these voices today are the call for change, and it’s time for Oregon’s lawmakers to answer.
On March 7th, we received word that the Oregon Legislature voted to allocate an additional $2 million for emergency services for homeless families! The additional funding will make it possible for over 1,000 new families to receive shelter, deposits, and rent support.
This past weekend, as I prepared to speak at a forum at West Hills Friends, I enjoyed thinking about the different kinds of moments of my year in QVS. Speaking at the State Capitol was one of the big ones, surging with adrenaline and intensity. But my work has also been made rich by more ordinary moments with the homeless families I meet and volunteers I coach. Those moments don’t make the kind of difference that you can necessarily see in five or six months, but I see the light in them. So I like to think that sometimes, instead of focusing on how I can “let my life speak,” I should pay attention to how I can “let my moments speak,” big and small.
“What is your experience of waiting worship?”
I do not remember where I first heard the term open worship, or waiting worship, but I distinctly remember not understanding it at all.
Sooo….you just sit quiet in a room?
Where is the worship there??
Where are the instruments???
Why aren’t we exclaiming how big God is and how broken we are??!?!
….ok the last one was a bit of a joke, but when I heard about open worship, it was a couple years after I had left a rigid faith system, so I was kind of a cynical fellow. Now, I’m writing this as a convinced Evangelical Quaker, and a Christian mystic. Hearing about the Friends of the past was a big part of what kindled the fire of my early curiosity. I wondered, what did these Friends find in the stillness? What did they find that gave them the courage to defy the divine right of Kings? What did they find that gave them the strength to endure prison and mistreatment without striking back? What did they find that gave them the eyes to see that slavery was not a norm to be passively accepted? Whatever the answer is, I believe that Friends across all expressions of Quakerism still seek, and find, the same.
Below are the responses of my house and Atlanta QVS staff to the query at the beginning of the blog. We centered down on a QVS day to write our answers, and we decided that we wanted to share them with you.
“My experience has been full of…silence…and I love it. As I sit in Quaker Meeting I’m able to calmly collect my thoughts, meditate, and be aware of the light that is shining upon myself and those around me. Too often, in life, we talk & talk & talk & we don’t take time to listen…listen to others or to ourselves. Waiting worship gives you that much needed spiritual time.”
“Waiting worship…sacred sometimes, deeply moving sometimes, selfish sometimes, secular sometimes, deeply grounding oftentimes. Oftentimes consciously realized, sometimes its hard for me to settle. When my life feels hard, its easier for me to see the “light of god” in human interactions, rather than waiting for the divine in silence. I’m feeling jaded toward divinity but the light is so clear in all of you.”
“When I begin to center down into open worship, I feel like I am leaning my head back into a gently flowing stream. I am always by the stream, and every other person is by it too, I just tend to forget most of the time. Sometimes when I’m worshiping at my Meeting, I feel like there is more happening in that room than would be if we were a choir or an orchestra. It is holy, precious, and magnificent. Usually I rest in the query, ‘God, what do I need to learn today? or ‘God, what are you trying to teach me?’ Sometimes the answer is in words, pictures, or memories. Asking the question is like wandering into the woods; I don’t know where I’ll end up. When I feel led to rise and give vocal ministry, my heart races, I don’t want to speak, but I know that I need to. It is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.”
“Usually I enjoy worship once I get into it…but rarely get to the point that I would consider waiting worship. Prayer feels more like a monologue than a conversation, so I would rather read something than wait to receive a message that I am not convinced will come. But like I said, I value/enjoy reflection, just it doesn’t come very naturally.”
“I find that in general waiting worship is not the most spiritual experience. I often use it as a time to reflect on things that are happening in my life. I have only had a couple instances where I have felt moved to give a message, and I feel that in each of these instances it took a lot of convincing myself to put myself out there share it. Both of these times I came in with a feeling or thought, and then became relevant to the sense of where the meeting was. It is a powerful and very physical experience to feel moved to share, and sort of the opposite of my other state of worship where I feel very at peace.”
“Sometimes my mind goes in a millions directions and I found myself just thinking and thinking. When that happens I try to come back to breath or repeating a phrase to center myself again. Occasionally it feels very deep, covered. It feels like a palpable presence in me and in others, a unifying experience. Very, very occasional I feel clearly led to speak. Its has happened that I felt a clear message and before I stand up to speak someone else does, and says the same thing I was going to say. Thats rare, but its happened enough that I helps me trust that something real and important happening.”
“As a child, meeting for worship felt like an opportunity to think about whatever was in my mind or even to daydream. Later, I heard that I should be focusing my energy outwards during meeting, so that others who might feel moved to speak can more easily rise. I tried this for awhile, but am myself most successful in worship when I am able to fall into a calm waiting – as opposed to one in which my thoughts are churning. To me, this state is harder to get to, it is, I think the objective of Buddhist meditation when l’ve done that, but reached in what feels like a more natural way in Quaker meeting. Focusing inward and letting my thoughts settle naturally is thus the current objective of my meeting for worships, though I do not always attain this state.”
“For me, what is special about meeting for worship is the spiritual experience of being in community. My experience is impacted and enriched by the spiritual energy of the whole community. I am not necessarily referring to members who are moved to speak and their messages, (they often do not feel relevant to me, depending on the group) but more the general positive vibrations that are palpable when a group of people chooses to sit together in silent worship.”
As you can see, there was a wide variety of experiences of waiting worship in our Atlanta QVS family. After we were done reading them, we had some fun and tried to guess who each statement belonged to. As I observed the community guess correctly, the testimony of integrity came to my mind. I am glad to belong to a group that can worship together without a shellack of holiness; we come as we are. Transcribing these shared experiences of my housemates also made me realize, while each one is meaningful in its own right, they make a special sound when they are read together.
“Oh the weather outside is frightful,” S. sung cheerfully as the snow drifting down beyond grated windows began to fall with more urgency. “But the fire is so delightful…” A few guys sprawled out in lightweight plastic chairs began to snap their fingers along with her. “And since we’ve no place to go—” A pause, as the truth of the words sat in the air, then laughter. “Nowhere to go,” agreed one participant, chuckling, as S. belted out the last “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”
The moment’s awkwardness, humor, and poignancy resembled many others moments that weekend, as Fairleigh, Maire, Talia, and I made our way through the Quaker-influenced Alternatives to Violence Program. The workshop leverages participants’ own experiences and ideas to examine and transform the ways in which they respond to injustice, prejudice, frustration, and violence. AVP workshops are held in schools, community groups, and prisons. Our workshop took place in Patuxent prison in Maryland and included ten “inside” (currently incarcerated) guys, three inside facilitators, two outside facilitators, and the four of us QVSers.
I found it fascinating to watch the inside/outside dynamics play out in the workshop. Our group was significantly divided – most obviously by race and gender, but also by education and other markers of privilege – yet somehow, these differences were harnessed to enhance, rather than frustrate or confuse, our discussions of nonviolence. We developed a sort of symbiotic learning relationship over the course of the weekend, in which the differences between us multiplied power of the experience.
On the one hand, our outside presence helped make the workshop possible. In a pragmatic sense, the authority of outside leaders was needed to open the doors of the rec room and obtain permission for the inside guys to gather. But our participation also opened metaphorical doors: a few of the guys told us that when the listeners were outsiders, they could be more open with their feelings and could bring forth and affirm the best parts of themselves. We were neither the typical inside audience who they had to impress with their toughness, nor the typical, prejudiced audience outside the prison to whom they were forced to prove their human worth. We were, as much as possible, listeners and collaborators.
Conversely, doing the workshop in a prison and in the company of prisoners was for me (and I think the other QVSers as well) the kind of world-warping perspective-bending culture shock experience that allows for maximum learning and growth. I was floored by the clarity and thoughtfulness of some of the things the guys said, and by the ways they discussed using humor, empathy, and honesty to transform potentially violent situations. Perhaps because the stakes they had in conflict resolution were so much higher – they were thinking through relations with corrections officers, gangs, and gun violence while I was considering dirty dishes and friendships – there was a sort of intense buy-in to the discussions that made them very powerful.
Each evening after the workshop concluded, the six of us outsiders would leave the rec room, show our badges to a guard to pass through the gate to the elevator, and then move through four more gates and guard stations to exit the facility. As we made the drive from Patuxent to our hosts in Baltimore, I watched the highway stream by though the window and appreciated the comfort of seeing new landscapes and moving about the world freely. I began to understand at a gut level why many of my colleagues working in criminal justice reform are challenging long-held ideas about punishment and calling for the abolition of prisons.
AVP challenges the violence that stems from mismanaged interpersonal conflict, but my site placement at the Institute for Community Justice has given me insight into the many layers of violence that intersect in our criminal justice system. Over the last few months I have begun to trace how bad schools, blighted neighborhoods, mass unemployment, and social immobility tangle with personal choices to lead to involvement in crime. Crime itself is defined through other violences, including harsh sentencing policies, colorblind (but nonetheless racist) political rhetoric, and drug wars fought primarily in poor communities. When they are released from the court room or the prison, victims of these violences face another wave: the stigma of the “criminal” label, the possible loss of voting rights, the legalized discrimination in housing, employment, and public benefits. While it’s important to remember that people have agency and important to hold individuals accountable for their choices, the relatively privileged among us are frequently blind to the herculean strength it often takes to escape such cycles of violence.
The theme of last month’s QVS days was nonviolence, and our house had some interesting discussions around the idea that “violence” is actions and structures that inhibit human flourishing. As I participated in AVP, I saw glimpses of human flourishing in the inside guys, as I learned that among them were poets, entrepreneurs, teachers, cooks, spiritual leaders, and caretakers and as I admired their hard-earned skills in community building, democratic facilitation, de-escalation, and fellowship. When it came time for goodbyes on Sunday, the walls surrounding us seemed more impenetrable than ever. I wanted to share M.’s music with the world, so you could feel the same chills I have. I wanted R. on my team at work, doing outreach and advocacy with formerly incarcerated people. I wanted to take M.M. to a Quaker meeting, because I think he’d like what we’re about and because I know few people with such a gift for vocal ministry. But what flourishing that happened in Patuxent seemed to happen despite the prison system’s best efforts, and seemed to be a constant uphill battle. American prisons are frequently little more than warehouses for lawbreakers, predicated more on ideas of punishment than healing or growth.
Throughout the weekend, I often found myself glancing up at AVP’s list of ground rules and reflecting on one rule in particular: “We look for and affirm one another’s good points.” In a way, this seems like a secular version of the Quaker ideal of recognizing that of God in one another. And at the moment, that felt like the most important thing in the world. Witnessing the transformation that happened in one room in a prison outside of Baltimore as people listened to one another across differences, I had to wonder what would happen if such transformation was extended beyond the walls.
The theme for October’s QVS common programming was “Creation Care.” For the second Friday in the month, we had the opportunity to gather at Germantown Friends School, where some of our time together was devoted to exploring our relationship with Creation as a community.
Prior to Friday, everyone read two articles: Forget Shorter Showers by Derrick Jensen and The Pleasures of Eating by Wendall Berry. Each presented a perspective on the actions we can – and often are encouraged to – take and the effects these actions have upon ourselves and our world. We had queries to reflect upon for our discussion.
Forget Shorter Showers made us face the overall small impact our personal actions have in contrast to the harm the industrial economy is causing to the environment. Jensen criticized his perception of some environmentalists, who treat personal actions as political work for environmental change – and then don’t go beyond that to act in ways that would change the system which is inherently harmful to our world and ourselves. In our discussion, we explored our motives for engaging in environmentally friendly habits, and what we thought about Jensen’s idea of political action. We felt in agreement that it seems like there is a problem when many people are satisfied to make their own lifestyle “green” and not move beyond that into activism.
The Pleasures of Eating emphasized the spiritual importance of engaging with eating as an agricultural act. Berry’s concerns lie with the separation of the urban consumer from the origins of his food. Because food appears on the grocery store shelves prepackaged and preprocessed, there is a disconnect which keeps food and agriculture separate in an average shopper’s mind. Understanding and asking questions about how our food gets to us – and what we’re paying for beyond the food item itself – can lead to a spiritual well-being around eating, and a natural arc of food production that begins with the earth and ends with thoughtful enjoyment of a meal. The article led to a discussion about how we experience this disconnect in our own lives, and how we see it to have affected urban concepts of agriculture. We recognized the privilege that goes hand in hand with the opportunity to engage in the practices Berry advocates and explored how we handle this conflict in our own lives.
The articles didn’t stand in direct opposition, as it seemed they might when we chose them to discuss at the QVS day two weeks prior. Jensen kept us unsatisfied with merely what we could do within our house, and we recognized that to have an impact we would have to engage in actions which create systemic change, not just personal adaptations. Berry reminded us about the spiritual self-care that is important to maintain, and how awareness of our food’s agricultural history will keep us nourished and connected.