National Orientation is the only time in the fellowship year when all QVS Fellows and staff participate in a single event. Our time together embodies many of the aspirations we have for the rest of the program year: We build relationships through vulnerability, “try on” spiritual practices, and embrace the challenges of personal growth and social change.
Read below for a reflection from Hilary Burgin, our Executive Director, who shares about what it meant to safely return to an in-person National Orientation.
A few months ago I read about the term “collective effervescence,” which describes the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose. During the pandemic, collective effervescence has been largely absent from our lives. It has been one of the things I’ve missed the most.
Quaker Voluntary Service is made up of moments of collective effervescence: Fellows cooking and sharing meals together, gathering a “sense of the meeting” during house business meetings, building systems of care to anticipate each others’ needs, brainstorming with colleagues ways to assist a client at a Fellow’s site placement, listening for Spirit during meeting for worship, meeting with Local Support Committee members, attending a neighborhood block party, and so many more…
National Orientation is the strongest moment of “collective effervescence” that I experience with QVS — when our young adult Fellows and entire staff team gather at the start of the program year and become more than the sum of our parts.
Gathering Around a Shared Purpose
Last year, we hosted National Orientation online. While this was the best option during a challenging year, we were thrilled to have an in-person National Orientation last month.** This year’s gathering had a real felt energy and harmony — the buzz of vulnerable pair-shares during workshops, vocal ministry shared at worship in the barn, and outbursts of applause during our coffee-house / talent show at the end of the week.
During National Orientation we build a shared language on community, conflict, equity, class, and spirituality that Fellows grow into, grow on, and contribute to throughout the year. We discuss expectations for Fellows, and describe the roles, responsibilities, and network of support each Fellow has access to. Fellows set intentions for the year ahead, which they will return to throughout the year, and they leave National Orientation with a blessing by staff.
The Collective Effervescence of Worship
We worship each day throughout the week, sometimes with the Pendle Hill community (including 100+ people on Zoom!), and sometimes on our own. We engage in unprogrammed, waiting worship as well as semi-programmed worship. Staff offer queries, movement meditation, and space to debrief, which is especially helpful for Fellows new to Quaker worship.
These last few weeks, I’ve returned often to the memory of our closing worship together. The final morning before we left Pendle Hill, worship included singing “The Ocean Refuses No River,” a beloved tune sung in rounds and brought to us from Baltimore Yearly Meeting Camps.
A song sung in rounds is rife with spiritual metaphors. We learn a song together, singing the words and melody as one. We practice together, until everyone sings the verses confidently. We then move into three clusters — smaller groupings within the larger body — where we focus on being together within our cluster. When all three clusters are singing, we must listen closely to our own group while also hearing others, so as to stay together and continue producing something shared.
During our worship, the last several minutes were spent milling in the group. Each singer could choose what to do: sing the same verse over and over again, digging into the words, finding others singing that same section but then diverging; sing all verses as part of a cluster going through the same process; or take a break from singing, taking it all in and allowing others to lead.
Worshipping in this way embodies ways of being part of one body. We are the same and yet we are incredibly different. We each breathe in and out, and yet we produce something distinct and unique. Sometimes we choose to work together, and sometimes we work towards a similar goal through different methods. Sometimes we step away in order to pay closer attention to what is happening around us, or in order to take a deep breath. Each one of us is needed in order to create something beautiful.
The collective effervescence produced at National Orientation sustains me.
The workshops providing shared language, the mealtime laughter about new found hobbies and connections, and the opportunities for worship come back to me as I work and worship from home. I’m so grateful for the Fellows who are breathing and living into their intentions; for the QVS staff nurturing communities; for the local Friends and site placement supervisors that walk alongside us; and for you, those who are dedicated to supporting QVS. Thank you for your investment in Quaker Voluntary Service. I can’t wait to share the next verse with you!
**This year, we took precautions to ensure a safe in-person experience was possible. We required vaccination from all Fellows and staff and requested participants observe social distancing for the two weeks leading up to the event. Pendle Hill has introduced commercial grade air filters for many of their meeting rooms. Additionally, half of the Fellows opted to drive to Pendle Hill, helping the group lower possible chances of exposure.