Epistle of Senior Conference 2005

To all Friends everywhere,

From the 21-27 August, eighty-five Young Friends and thirteen adults over twenty gathered in Kingham Hill School, Oxford, to consider the theme .Walking Cheerfully?.. We discussed our approach to the challenges of everyday life and came to the conclusion that this phrase held many different meanings. Sharing our personal experiences, we explored these meanings in a series of worship and speaker sessions, while enjoying the invaluable company of friends, and the bonds created by the unique combination of individual personalities in a spirit of inclusiveness.

Hank Eynatten spoke of unforgettable early involvement in social protest movements, his calling to Quakerism, and the way in which his dedication to volunteering aids him to walk cheerfully. Maggie Foyer spoke about her inspirational experience in Marda, Palestine, and of the people.s acceptance of their situation and incredible hospitality in the midst of such strenuous conflict.

Cognitive therapist Tim Akers gave a talk on the drama that we live in on a physical level, and his connection with the inner light through meditation. This helped to raise many issues and strong opinions, but we found that several of his ideals were similar to those of the Quakers. In the following session we joined together and were treated to a .Bastica. breathing exercise outside to free our minds from our bodies. We then split into base groups to meditate on the five values of happiness, love, wisdom, truth/purity and peace.

In our penultimate speaker session, a range of questions were posed by conferees to the younger members of the 20+ team. Among other things, we learnt about their varying attitudes towards the notion of .Walking Cheerfully., and their understanding of God. Our speakers then fired back our questions for discussion, and we considered how they related to our own lives.

Alice Morningstar helped us to consider our spiritual needs and aspirations, and stressed the importance that being connected to traditional theological values had in her understanding of God. She also demonstrated how acknowledging our anger and fear may help us to connect with what is true.

We found silent meditation to be an essential and stimulating part of the whole conference experience, a source of contemplation which put all the other activities in our lives into perspective, and lifted us in spiritual renewal and growth. Our sense of companionship tangibly increased and strengthened in our Prologues and Epilogues. A wonderful starlit sky provided an appropriate setting for an outside Epilogue in which the Conferees doing the storytelling workshop read their own imaginatively crafted versions of the Creation. In other Epilogue sessions, members shared songs they had written, readings from books that had inspired them, and produced a keenly anticipated fire show.

Base group sessions provided the chance to consider ideas inspired by the speakers and share our own views within a more intimate atmosphere, as well as the opportunity to play games and get to know each other better. Each conferee contributed a patch to a conference quilt, a fitting reminder of the week, providing a material legacy for future conferees to build on. We also enjoyed an assortment of workshops from Craft to Salsa Dancing. Our Entertainments team provided many more opportunities to relax, as well as tempting us to breakfast every morning with treats including hugs at the door and aerobics. Amongst other games in the evening sessions, they prepared a fabulous Pirate Treasure Hunt, with eight daring quests all leading to the .buried treasure. (in the Phone Box).

On our day trip to Oxford, we purchased everything necessary to transform for the Themed Dinner, from sequins and feathers to bin liners and .geek specs.. The sparkling mood of the following glow-in-the-dark disco continued throughout Epilogue. Conferees were encouraged to minister non-verbally by placing a luminous wand in the centre of the room, creating a pool of multi-coloured light: a physical symbol of the inner light. These tokens acted as a transition from the euphoria of the disco to the reflection of the silence. A few people stayed on, sacrificing late-night hot chocolate for a magical extended meeting.

We leave physically tired but spiritually refreshed, with fresh perspectives as well as new and renewed friendships. We hope to carry some of the spirit of conference into our daily lives, through a greater understanding of our own values and a respect for those of others.

Signed on behalf of Southern Friends. Senior Conference 2005,
Louise Alder and Julian Chou-Lambert, Clerks

Epistle of Senior Conference 2004

To all Friends everywhere,

From the 22-28 August, eighty Young Friends gathered in Sibford School to renew old friendships and make new ones, to share an experience that is difficult to find anywhere else and to escape from parents, schools and the pressures of everyday life. With our theme of America, we came to not only be a part of the warm, relaxed environment, but also to advance our understanding of the world at large and the Americas in particular.

Through temperamental weather, bringing rain and shine, we have similarly been brought through a whirlwind of deep and powerful emotions taking some to the lowest of lows and then being taken with others to the highest of highs. Our workshops, base group sessions and speakers all contributed to the Conference in varied but amazing ways.

Natasha Carver walked from Mexico to Canada in aid of Oxfam and came with anecdotes and slides to provide a fantastic introduction to our theme of America, sharing with us the beauty and dangers of the uninhabited parts of the continent that are rarely expressed. She invited us to question the nature of travel and its purpose in our lives. Investigative journalist Mark Lynas has researched global warming across the world including in the Americas and discussed its causes and effects. He alerted us to the worrying statistic that our planet will be beyond repair within half a century, unless urgent preventative action is taken. He allowed us to examine the evidence and challenge his theories in forming our own opinions on the issue. Our third speaker, Godfrey Hodgson, a retired political journalist, gave us a brief history of the United States including an explanation of the ideology behind its leadership and the American government's actions in recent years. Our final speaker, Buddhist Nun Ani Chidrun, shared with us her own spiritual journey, including a three-year retreat in upstate New York, two years of which were spent in silence. Ani Chidrun was generous in stepping in at short notice, and her talk was inspiring, leading to many questions and much discussion.

A live percussion jamboree was created in organised chaos, using only scrap metal and junk, rehearsed and performed in minimum time with maximum effect; everyone was involved in this innovative celebration of music, rhythm and dance! Other entertainment sessions included balloon stomping and a bouncy castle to allow conferees to expend their excess energy. This was equally true of our phenomenal theme linked American disco.

Respect towards the idea of silent worship, fundamental in Quakerism, allowed us to make the instant transition from exuberant activity into quiet periods of reflection. Our prologues and epilogues have enabled us to open both our hearts and minds creating a wonderful and unique sense of companionship. In an open-air Prologue, our Elders provided each of us with bottles of bubbles so that we could blow positive thoughts into the universe. Candlelit evening Epilogues have left us with glowing mental images, a fire display lighting up the last night, whilst simultaneously allowing us to examine our own inner Light.

We recognise the overwhelming commitment from the over20s whose support is essential to the functioning of the event and wish to thank all of those who have given such time and energy, being especially grateful to those for whom it is their last year. Regular workshops were provided by the 20+ team and offered a huge range of activities from walking expeditions to circus skills to documentary film making, giving time out from the spiritual and physical exertions of Conference (see www.u19s.quaker.org.uk soon for the footage!). However, the majority of responsibility for managing the event was shared as always amongst a team of Young Friends, nominated by their fellows in the previous year, to co-ordinate, oversee and maintain the Conference.

This conference, as with others before, gave us the chance to be true to ourselves in a place where there is acceptance of individuality and provided the opportunity to discover who we are and who we wish to become. We leave with a new dimension to our lives which epitomises self understanding, acceptance of, and compassion for others.

Signed on behalf of Southern Friends Senior Conference 2004,

Older Epistles

  1. 2001
  2. 2000