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EMEYF Gathering 2019: bridge building

Peter Doubtfire of Young Friends General Meeting (part of Britain Yearly Meeting) reports on the EMEYF Gathering in Russia in April 2019

25 young adult Quakers and 10 children gathered in the village of Peski near St Petersburg for the Spring Gathering of European & Middle Eastern Young Friends (EMEYF). The theme of the week was ‘building bridges’.

We took the opportunity to visit St Petersburg and to learn about the Russian Orthodox Church, sharing in local Easter celebrations. This brought up difficult questions for some of us, especially about the relationship between church and state, but was also a reminder that Quakers do not have a monopoly on transcendent spirituality.

Young Friends at the EMEYF Gathering 2019

We were pleased that several young Friends from Russia, Ukraine and Finland were more easily able to join due to the location, along with those from the more regularly represented Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. Living as a community for the week, sharing worship, activities and meals helped break down cultural and language barriers, and strengthened the spiritual connection we feel across borders.

The Epistle from the EMEYF gathering (in Russian and in English) can be read here: https://bit.ly/2ScoaYH and is reproduced below.

“To all Friends everywhere,

We have gathered, 25 adults and 10 children from Russia, Britain, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany and Ukraine, in the small village of Peski at the coast near St Petersburg. Standing on the shore of the Baltic Sea, looking to the ocean, the rhythm of the waves reflects the rhythm of our community life. Waves come in and out as we did this week: between adventurous journeys and the safety of a loving community; between the bustling city of St Petersburg and the quiet village of Peski; between speaking to friends in familiar languages and sounding out words in unfamiliar alphabets; between the need for silence and theneed for play and laughter. This rhythm of community life inspired us in many ways, even as we struggled with challenges – trying to connect with the light in each person.

EMEYF Gathering 2019 - Jigsaw

Our theme for the week was ‘building bridges’ – not always easy, but we are glad to be trying together. Being invited to share in the celebration of Easter in the Russian Orthodox church – with rituals and customs very different to our own – has helped us to reflect on our own Quaker faith. We hope we can take from this gathering a willingness to carry our worship out of the closed room of the meeting house onto the beach, where silence and stillness can sit comfortably alongside the excited babble of children exploring.”

As part of the Spring Gathering Epistle, all participants decorated a puzzle piece, and the puzzle was completed together in the final business session. It formed a river, crossed by a bridge, bearing the above text. (See the photo above.)