By Christina Repoley
Imagine with me at a time in the not-so-distant future when a young Quaker is graduating from college and discerning what to do with her life. She knows she wants to make an impact in the world, and she knows she wants to seek opportunities to be transformed herself. Imagine that she knows many others who have done a year of service in a Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) community. She knows this means the opportunity to live with others, to work for justice and transformation in partnership with communities of the deepest needs.
She knows that a year of service with QVS will mean the chance to participate in trainings and workshops in nonviolent direct action, anti-racism, Friends business process and vocational discernment. She knows that through her QVS placement she will be in relationship with a local monthly meeting or Friends church, where there will be mentors and friends to support her in her year of service. She knows that the QVS experience is not simply about community service, or a bland and possibly destructive kind of charity or volunteerism. Rather, it is about what Rufus Jones called “prophetic service,” that is, direct engagement with others, led by the Spirit and giving oneself fully. She knows that others who have spent a year with QVS have gone on to commit their whole lives to the work of service and justice, and these are people she looks to as models of the kind of person she aspires to be.
Imagine a time when Quakers will talk about our service in the world and we will not be referring to something that happened 50 years ago or more, but we will be talking about exciting, dynamic work we ourselves are engaged in right now. This is the vision that Quaker Voluntary Service sees in the future and that we are laying the groundwork to enact, starting in Atlanta, Georgia, this fall. We believe that it is time for Quakers to reclaim and re-envision our tradition of spiritual activism and prophetic service.
Where are the Young Friends?
Several years ago I began to seriously consider the question of why so many Friends in my (young adult) age group who grew up in a meeting are no longer active with Friends. Certainly that is a problem for many churches and faith communities, but it seemed a bigger issue for us. At the time, I was living in community with some Mennonites my age and the situation was very different for them. Though they had many questions and concerns about their faith, they nevertheless remained committed to their faith community, were active in their local congregation and were part of a large network of other young Mennonites who were at a similar point in their lives.
Though there are many complicated historical and theological reasons that the sense of self-identity for Mennonites and Quakers is different, I found one reason that kept coming up. For young Mennonites, there were many opportunities to engage in meaningful work as young people, work that was firmly rooted in and explicitly part of the overall Mennonite faith and church structure. Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS), a program designed for young adults to live in community and work in service-related internships, and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), facilitated these kinds of experiences. Many of them and many in their families and friendship circles had served a year with MVS, or had spent time overseas with MCC. These experiences were well known, accessible and, most importantly, transformative. They served to firm up their identities as Mennonites, their commitment to the church, as well as their convictions about social justice and their role in the world.
Where was this kind of experience in my own Quaker community? When I have asked older Quakers what the most important event in their lives was, or what caused them to become or remain a Quaker or what had given rise to their long-standing work for justice, the answer was more often than not an AFSC workcamp. Unfortunately, these workcamps were laid down and nothing has arisen to fill that need. Nothing was filling this role for Quakers of my generation.
At the time I began asking these questions, I myself was a recent college graduate looking to be of service in the world and live in community. It was extremely challenging to find anything within the Quaker community that could support me in this. Those programs that did exist seemed to be small, often not directly recruiting Quakers and certainly were not connected to each other so that it would be easy to find them all at once. It was easier to find programs like the Peace Corps, or other non-Quaker programs like MVS. I became convinced that Quakers needed something that would fill this need.
The Creation of Quaker Voluntary Service
Since 2008, I have been actively working to create Quaker Voluntary Service, a national network of programs, projects and interested individuals who carry this concern and vision for opportunities for prophetic and transformational service in an explicitly Quaker context. We held a consultation in 2009 that brought together Friends engaged in service, community and spiritual formation work to discern together whether a national network or organization would be beneficial. The clear sense then was that we could do more if we worked together and shared resources. Since then, I and others on the QVS board have done extensive research and engaged in dialogue with staff, volunteers and alums of other faith-based voluntary service programs like Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Mission Year and Brethren Volunteer Service. These people have offered their expertise, encouragement and prayers as we move forward to build a Quaker voluntary service program.
QVS intends to strengthen and nurture the Religious Society of Friends by providing transformational opportunities for individuals to live their Quakerism in an experience of direct service and faithful community. The QVS volunteers, who may be mostly young adults (though older Friends have expressed interest as well), will make a commitment to a full year of immersion experience in QVS. They will live with other volunteers in a QVS house or community. These QVS participants will work in organizations and placements that are consistent with some of our most deeply held commitments, such as an immigrant or refugee rights organization, a project of earth care or environmental concerns, an anti-death penalty organization, an inner city school or even a local American Friends Service Committee office.
I have never felt so clearly led in any endeavor I have been a part of. There is so much hunger in our Religious Society of Friends. In our travels among Friends, as we share our vision for QVS it speaks so clearly to that hunger.
QVS is excited to announce that plans are moving forward to launch our first service house in Atlanta in the fall of 2012. We hope this house will be the first of many more in multiple locations. We are actively exploring expanding to areas such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Portland, Oregon, in 2013. We invite and welcome your support in prayer, financial contributions, time and information. Please help us spread the word to young adults (ages 21-35) who may feel led to apply to be part of the inaugural class of QVS, and to others who may want to explore hosting a QVS site in the future.
The QVS Board includes Clerk John Helding, North Pacific Yearly Meeting; Noah Baker Merrill, New England Yearly Meeting; Bruce Birchard, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting; Jennifer Foster, Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association; Recording Clerk Cheryl Keen, Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting; Kristina Keefe-Perry, New York Yearly Meeting; Trayce Peterson, Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting; Christina Repoley, Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association; and Greg Woods, Illinois Yearly Meeting.
For more information and application materials, please visit our website: www.quakervoluntaryservice.org, find us on Facebook or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. To make a donation, please see our website or send a check to: Quaker Voluntary Service, 668 Elbert St SW, Atlanta, GA 30310.