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 Mike Huber, our Director of Program, who shares some of the shifts in programming we made this year!
This past week I participated in my second QVS National Orientation. Based on feedback we received from previous Fellows, we made some significant changes to the format of National Orientation.
This year, we were very deliberate about creating a more spacious schedule. In order to provide two hours of downtime at midday, we scheduled a 60-minute break after the lunch hour. We also incorporated a number of shorter breaks throughout the day and established a 10-15 minute “transition time” between each activity.
As conference organizers, there’s so much we hope to communicate! It’s tempting to perceive unscheduled time as a missed opportunity. That’s how the dominant culture thinks about productivity and value. Creating a schedule that communicates the importance of balancing work and rest feels like we’re adhering to a deeper truth. For the QVS fellowship year to be sustainable, Fellows need to balance the rigors of the program with opportunities to rest, play and pursue whatever feels restorative. We hope a more spacious National Orientation established this insight as foundational for the year ahead. Overall, the Fellows seemed to appreciate the change.
Because we created more spaciousness in the schedule, we wanted to make sure we were allocating sufficient time to core programming work. To that end, we selected a theme for each full day of National Orientation. This was another significant change. The workshops on Tuesday were all focused on the theme of spiritual exploration. On Wednesday, the workshops were focused on the theme of social justice. On Thursday, the workshops were focused on the theme of community.
Overall, I loved seeing my QVS coworkers come alive as they facilitated topics that are important to them and the Fellows. We watched a timeline of Quakerism appear upon the wall — from the Big Bang to 1660. We participated in worship through chanting, art-making, and unprogrammed ‘silence’ — beginning the work to support Fellows in deepening their faith, both for those who are new to Quakerism and those who grew up in the Religious Society of Friends.
We gathered into affinity groups based on race, class, and sexuality so that Fellows could consider together the ways their identities will show up in the year. We spoke about how frustration and conflict will come up during the year, and learned strategies for engaging with conflict in order to deepen relationships. We held an Alumni Panel, inviting previous participants in the program to share joys, learnings, and impact from their year with QVS.
This was the first time QVS held its National Orientation without our founding Executive Director, Christina Repoley. Many of the things we didn’t change about National Orientation reflect her insights and priorities. As our new Executive Director, Hilary Burgin did a great job of welcoming the Fellows and holding space for our work together all week. This was the first National Orientation for three of our five City Coordinators too. As staff, we place great value on the model of shared leadership and all of our new Coordinators were instrumental in organizing and facilitating this event.
Even with the focus on spaciousness, the days at National Orientation are long. It takes a lot of time and money to arrange for all the travel, supplies, programming, and activities. But our week together as a national program is so beautiful, energizing, and full of hope. I can’t wait for next year!
For more photos from National Orientation, you can see them on our Facebook page here.