Live and Learn
Epistle from Holiday School 2015
We gathered together at the beginning of our week, old friends full of hugs and smiles, new friends bravely putting aside their nerves as they were welcomed on arrival. They gradually found their way into the Holiday School community through games and dances in our first social. One day in, it was becoming increasingly hard to tell who was at Holiday School for the first time, and who was an old hand.
Our theme this week was “Live and Learn”. Guy Milner, a member of our own Holiday School staff team, introduced the theme and ourselves to each other in our first interactive session.
As well as getting us mixing and discussing, he talked of John Woolman – a man who would score highly if you were to ever produce a game of Quaker Top Trumps. Woolman’s moral stance against slavery became stronger as he was went from refusing to draw up wills which included the inheritance of slaves, to eventually leaving his profession and preaching to convince others that owning slaves was essentially unchristian.
We considered choices we would make when faced with a range of ethical dilemmas, questioning how strongly we would be able to stand up for things we believe in or to stand against those we don’t. There was no right or wrong answer to these scenarios. Those of us who are older realised our responses were shaped by our life experience - we were not always sure we would have had the same confidence to stick up for our beliefs if posed the same issues at the age of 13.
Our second session of the week followed on well. Phil Lucas, a Friend from South East Scotland, came to talk to us about Quaker Objections to War. We learnt how Quaker views about the First World War developed as the War progressed. A sense of loyalty and national duty led some Friends to join the armed forces despite our peace testimony, and others joined the newly founded Friends Ambulance Unit. It was enforced conscription that strengthened the Quaker anti-war stance at that time.
Many of us learnt for the first time what a tough path conscience objection had been for Friends as they faced appalling prison conditions, mental anguish and possible execution. We thought about conscience objection in the present day context and watched the film ‘The Unseen March” questioning the militerisation of UK schools.
Learning more about our Quaker faith continued in our third session as we welcomed Howard Nurden and Lucy Sam from the Children and Young Peoples Section of Friends House. We got to know our way around Quaker Faith and Practice before following separate exercises which focused on different aspects of the book. Some of us explored themes through drama, while others re-wrote sections of Advices and Queries or reviewed how passages had changed over the years. The written contributions from this session will go to editorial board of a new book which will serve as a Quaker Faith and Practice for young people.
Our final session, titled Mission Blue, was presented by Kat Sanders, a marine biologist working with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. She was an engaging, inspiring speaker who communicated her love of the ocean and its wildlife to us all. With a colourful, but sometimes distressing slide show she took us through an exploration of some of the major problems facing marine species, and explained the vital importance of oceans to our human existence. She then told us about some local initiatives to improve awareness of the North Sea habitat.
Fitting in with our theme, she presented lessons for us to learn in the context of the environment, suggesting you can’t change what you refuse to confront, and encouraging us to become the change we want to see in the world. Her love of life shone through and she urged us to embrace the opportunities we have to live our own lives to the full.
The sessions give our week structure and content and this week they were particularly thought provoking. However, they are only one part of what makes Holiday School such a unique experience.
Our game this year also got us thinking. How would each nest group try to win its planet’s elections? We were given the problems our planet faced in an intergalactic landscape and we had to win hearts and minds by presenting our manifestos on HS TV. While some parties gave reasoned arguments about how best to solve food shortages or immigration problems, others seemed more intent on maintaining or abolishing the supremacy of left-handedness in their futuristic world.
The game was one of many opportunities for our nest groups to have fun and work as a team. Potted sports is another favourite occasion for fun, teamwork and lots of laughter. We enjoyed the pirate theme and all the ways in which the student helpers could think of for getting us wet; the water slide has become an annual treat.
Our nest groups provide us with a home for the week. We can make new friends across the age groups and get to know people we wouldn’t otherwise expect to talk to. We share our experiences of the day, continue talking about issues raised in the sessions, enjoy games, and have space to be ourselves in a supportive network. This year we had an additional focus for our creativity as we worked on lip synch music videos. Talents emerged as we interpreted Kate Bush, Taylor Swift and even Jesus with our own individual flair, not to mention the group that covered itself in peanut butter in the cause of its artistic endeavor. The first of these videos viewed in our final social was ‘Happy’ and this must have been how we all felt as we watched the imaginative and fun ways the groups had risen to the challenge.
Throughout the week, in our socials, activity groups and free time we build our community – an inclusive, friendly place. We celebrate each other’s talents and enjoy each other’s company. We recognize what an amazing experience we are having, often bringing out what’s best in ourselves, sometimes allowing us to loosen the ties of what holds us back.
Our Meetings for Worship and Epilogues are the spiritual backbone of our week. We try to allow our thoughts to settle as music guides us into the silence. The Epilogues take different forms and can add magic into our shared experience. When taking a silent walk, holding hands in the evening darkness smiles broke out as we excitedly but silently pointed out a hedgehog on our path.
Meeting gives us a point of stillness, calmness and reflection. Although our tiredness grows through the week, we maintain a sense of gathered togetherness in silent worship. Ministry in Meeting can leave us with memorable words that are part of our spiritual growth.
It was in Meeting that we heard William Penn’s words paraphrased: Love is the hardest lesson; but for that reason, we should take the most care to learn it.
This week we have lived. We have learnt. And we have loved.
We leave enriched, ready to continue to live and learn, and, importantly, to love.
A huge thanks to Eleanor for penning the Epistle this year. Your words capture the true essence of Holiday School and continue to inspire us.