Michael Eccles is the Young Adult Programmes Coordinator at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham. This is a new post that was created in January 2011. Michael took time out from his schedule to talk to Nayler.
Tell us about your work at Woodbrooke.
My responsibilities include organising a Friends Schools Gathering each summer for sixth formers from the Quaker schools in England and Ireland, coordinating other work with pupils from the Quaker schools, having an oversight of courses – and other activities – that Woodbrooke is running for young adults and my biggest task is the setting up of a Young Adult Leadership Development Programme at Woodbrooke, due to start in the summer of 2012. I have been working at Woodbrooke for almost 2 years now and I am also the Quaker Peace & Social Witness Tutor.
What is a ‘young adult’?
Good question. I don’t think there is one single answer to this question – it depends on the context. In some ways, Woodbrooke would say that anyone under 40 is a young adult. In terms of the programme we are developing at Woodbrooke we are defining the age group as being roughly 18-28, although I am still receiving comments on this so it may change slightly. We are using the term ‘Young Adult Friends’ rather than Young Friends to make it clear that the programme is for over-18s rather than under-18s as the term Young Friends is used in Britain to mean both these days. I would also add that internationally the term Young Adult Friends – or YAFs – is commonly used to describe 18-30/35 year olds.
What is a young adult leadership programme?
The programme at Woodbrooke will run for a year from summer to summer. Participants will strengthen and develop their knowledge and understanding of the Quaker faith and learn more about how Quaker processes (such as the way of doing business or meetings for clearness) can help them in their lives. They will develop an understanding of leadership within Quakers and the wider world. Woodbrooke will support participants’ personal spiritual development through the programme. The programme will begin and end with residential periods at Woodbrooke providing a chance for in depth learning and worship together as well as community building. During the programme there will be an opportunity to do a piece of service work and to do a project (the two may be linked). Each participant will have a personal tutor to work with and to support them through the programme. The programme will be open to Young Adult Friends connected to a recognised Quaker body (such as a local meeting or Young Friends General Meeting), although we will welcome applications from anywhere we expect that most participants will be British with maybe a few from other European countries.
Why is the programme necessary?
At present nothing like this programme is offered anywhere in Europe. We feel this it is important to offer this opportunity for Young Adult Friends to have time to develop their spirituality and to learn more about Quaker practices. In some ways this programme may help develop current and future leaders within the Religious Society of Friends in Britain, and further afield. I think there is hunger for an opportunity like this, for Young Adult Friends to be able to spend time looking at deep spiritual issues and Quaker practices – I have already received lots of positive comments from people about my proposals!
What is your (and colleagues) experience of Young Adult Friends?
I grew up as a Quaker and was actively involved with Young Friends General Meeting and Europe and Middle East Young Friends in the1990s and 2000s. I also took part in the World Gathering of Young Friends in 2005. Other colleagues at Woodbrooke have also been involved with Young Friends activities. Woodbrooke welcomes many Young Adult Friends on its courses which run throughout the year already and we are working to increase this number by promoting courses at Young Friends General Meeting and trying to make more people aware of our Young Friends offer where two or more 18-30 year olds get half price places on Woodbrooke’s courses. I will be going to YFGM at the end of May to discuss these ideas. In June 2012 Woodbrooke will be offering a Young Friends Retreat as part of our short courses programme.
What are the benefits to the individuals/Meetings/Society?
Where to start with this one? The benefits to the individuals are great I think. They will have something really interesting to put on their CV that should make potential employers take them seriously. They will have consolidated their Quaker experience and will have a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Quaker today. Meetings and the Society in general will benefit from a generation of Young Adult Friends who will be experienced in Quaker processes as well as have a deep understanding of Quaker history and practice. Of course I’m not saying that many Young Adult Friends aren’t already well versed in Quaker history and practices, but this will be a more overt way of showing the Society that people in their 20s and 30s are able to take on leadership roles and can do them as well as older Friends (and even do them better sometimes!),
Pendle Hill in the US has been running a programme. Are there links? Have you learned from their work?
Yes, Pendle Hill also runs a programme for Young Adult Friends and staff there have been very helpful in the development of Woodbrooke’s programme. I have had conversations with some of the key people involved with Pendle Hill’s programme over the past few months about what works well for them and what doesn’t work so well. At this stage we’re not planning any formal links between the two programmes. There are key differences between the two programmes, in particular the structure – theirs is an intensive seven week programme whereas ours will be spread over a year.
The African Young Quaker Christian Association board concluded a meeting at Central Yearly Meeting in Kenya recently. Their big issue is how to ensure that they stand to correct wrongs that their church leaders might be doing. Do you have any recommendations for YQCA?
For me this question raises the whole issue of leadership in our meetings and in Quakerism in general. The term leadership is one that many British Friends – of all ages – are not always comfortable with. However it is a term we should embrace, there are leaders everywhere within Friends – elders, overseers and clerks to name three. If some Young Quakers in Africa are not happy with the way their church leaders are running things they need to speak out and speak truth to the current leaders. Easy to say, but doesn’t have to be so hard to do. I hope that the Young Adult Leadership Development Programme at Woodbrooke will equip Young Adult Friends here to speak truth to power when it is required.
If you want to know more about this work or anything mentioned above, see a copy of the consultation paper on the Young Adult Leadership Development Programme or send any other comments please contact Michael Eccles on [email protected] or 0121 415 6760 (it would be useful to us if you could mention Nayler when contacting Michael). If you’re aged 18-35 you can also stay in touch via their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/youngadults.woodbrooke.
Michael’s answers in this interview are his own and he does not speak on behalf of Woodbrooke.