A Canadian Teen Friends Epistle

Intermediate Camp, 18-28 August, 1996

To all with a concern for the nurture of young people, our elders and our peers, greetings:

This epistle has arisen from the communal living and worship at Camp NeeKauNis, a residential Quaker camp in Waubaushene, Ontario. Young people ages thirteen and fourteen, along with their staff, have shared a loving and growing ten days together. The result has been an increased spiritual awareness so strong that we are now moved to share it with a wider audience. We are aware that an epistle is limited by the inadequacy of words to express the true essence of our experience, but we hope that at least some of the special quality of our time together will shine through.
A major focus throughout our stay at Camp was the belief that there is that of God in everyone. Many of us came to understand through our experiences here that these words are not just an abstract phrase but an expression of something real. We were amazed at the concentration of spiritual energy produced by a "gathered" Meeting and at how community worship clearly revealed the inner Light of each person. Our daily Meeting for Worship was not the only place we experienced this; by experimenting with First Nations gathering techniques such as the "Seneca Circle" and a "smudge," as well as by talking with two Native spiritual leaders, we came to see how two cultures can harmonize despite the differences in their spiritual traditions. Concepts formerly perceived as abstract crystallized into living belief; one participant expressed this as a sudden perception of how his past gropings towards God actually formed a single cohesive path. The Way was revealed, but to our delight, all our road was not before us; rather, we had already made part of the journey without knowing it.
In the words of another participant: "Something strange and amazing about being in a teenager-oriented community, as well as a community with so much love, communication, and understanding, is the extent of sharing that we feel comfortable with. And as much as we share our fears, problems, and past pains with others, and as much as everyone feels others' hurt, we create an almost fearless, really connected kind of environment. Here we feel we could do anything if we tried together... We all must know that miracles happened here, since we started with all different kinds of people, and we all came from different backgrounds and different thoughts and ideas, but somehow we all reached the same understanding and same wavelength, involving the healing powers of love. We all ended up loving one another almost unconditionally, and that definitely seems like a miracle."

The fact that the combined energies of this camp spoke so clearly to so many may strengthen our faith that our ten days together have been in response to some calling from a higher source that we may perhaps be permitted to call the sanction of God.
On the other hand, the pain that was in the "outside world" became sharper and more real to many of us, and we came to fear the evil that was in society and in ourselves. One participant was seized by an anxiety that everyday life as he knew it was so inferior to Camp life, so morally diseased, that he could not bear the thought of bringing his children into it in the future. There was widespread fear that the harsh realities of the world could weaken our faith in our experience, and moreover that the doubt and darkness within us might be strong enough to overwhelm our newly-strengthened inner Light. Yet this sharpened terror of the "real world" increased our resolve to bring it our acceptance and love. We saw that people could change, as those of us who had arrived at Camp in the grip of our past habits of suspicion and hatred learned to trust and befriend our fellow human beings. To those of us who were afraid, the answer came: "It is a joyful thing to treat others with care, kindness, and love." This above all is the message we would like the whole world to hear and believe.
As teenagers, we often hear our elders discussing "what to do with us;" we read it, too, in psychology books, parenting manuals, and even the advice columns in the daily papers. What we ask of you is the love, time, and space to work out what to do with ourselves. One of the distinguishing features of Quaker worship is its "unprogrammedness." No one tells us what to believe: we discover it on our own; that's the way it must be. This basic approach of Quakerism won wide admiration from the group. We urge Friends to reflect on their own surety of faith and the Quakerly methods by which they have attained it, and to apply what they may learn from their reflections to the raising of their children. Young people need to be given their own power in order to develop their own responsibility. Rules are often imposed too strictly; if we have a chance to make a mistake, we have a chance to develop better judgment. Yet other adults say, "There are no rules," but neglect to identify their own unconscious prejudices and beliefs. Whether we teens disobey the expressed or the unspoken set of rules, the anger we provoke is the same. We believe that our experiences at NeeKauNis demonstrate the willingness and ability of young people to think for themselves and thereby create a community that is loving, caring, and supportive. It is our hope that this epistle will strenghten our elders' faith both in our ability to find the right path and in our resolve to follow it.
Perhaps the following words from a participant can sum up what we hope to express: "When given the space, the love, and the circumstance, young people here have blossomed spiritually; it has become apparent to us that the God in us all has been there from the very start. At thirteen, fourteen, and older, young people are looking both back and ahead to acknowledge the spirituality in themselves and others. This spirituality has amazed us all in its power, eloquence, and abundance. We have all felt the power of God among us and we ask you to be nurturing to that growth. Just as a fire needs air, young people need space and freedom to explore all aspects of their lives, including their spiritual convictions."
May you go in the Light.

Intermediate Camp 1996, Camp NeeKauNis, Wabaushene, Ontario, Canada
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

The Director of the Family Camp and Intermediate Camp programmes is Beverly Shepard, 374 Philip Place, Ancaster, Ontario, L9G 3G8, CANADA. bev.shepard@freenet.hamilton.on.ca
The clerk of the Camp Committee, for general information, is Georgette Kreher, 22 Linnsmore Cres., Toronto, Ontario, M4J 4J7, CANADA.


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