This story is from Zac Dutton, the Coordinator for Western Quarterly Meeting
I was curious. Some kind of mental bifurcation formed in the minds of those for whom I began to work about two years ago as Coordinator for Western Quarterly Meeting. Somehow our Monthly Meetings were so separate from the Quarterly Meeting that it was up to the Quarterly Meeting to develop its own programming for youth and leave the “real” religious education to individual meetings. Yet out of all eleven meetings and one worship group, only five had relatively robust religious education programs. They were known informally as, “the big five.”
I wondered how this rather purely conceptual division between the monthly and quarterly meetings could prevent us from seeing the value of working together. At first there was quite a bit of resistance. Perhaps it was fear of change, and perhaps it was a desire to focus on the spiritual formation of the home monthly meeting. The biggest reason against First Day School Convergences was that it would mean that any children who showed up that day, after all the others had already gone, would be deprived of attention. If they were new, they might not return. This concern was compounded by the fact that meetings have vastly diverging times of worship. Some meetings might be completing their program while others were only just beginning their Sunday curriculum. The problem wasn’t easily solved, and it resulted in scattered solutions that varied between meetings.
The fact remained that after some coaxing, after visiting the Religious Education Committees of each Monthly Meeting, and after several months of informal discussions, many Friends were excited about this idea that hadn’t been mine to begin with. I had hosted what I called a “wisdom sharing session” for Friends involved in Religious Education—not unlike the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting thread gatherings, but just for Western Quarterly Meeting. Friends there wondered whether there were a way to organize a “field trip” several times per year wherein the entire First Day School program at each monthly meeting would converge on one host monthly meeting to experience in one big bout of community how that meeting ran First Day School.
We realized that, truly, we are not two separate entities working with separate aims, but one larger community with the same aims. We wrote down our intentions: “We want our children to be in fellowship with other children and to connect with other parents. We also want to learn about how other Monthly Meetings run their Religious Education.” So simple and profound; feel free to get in touch if you’d like to see the full proposal.
The first convergence is to be held in November of 2014, and I am excited to see how this idea progresses. An organic by-product of this effort is that we have formed our first network (in a nod to the Long Range Planning Group). Western Quarterly Meeting’s RE Network (as it is called) is made up of folks who want to receive informal invitations to the awesome things going on at neighborhood meetings without the need for lots of planning and logistics. This frees us from bondage to just one structural model, and it allows us to spread the life as widely and deeply as possible! Wish us luck.