The first Thread Gathering we ever held was in September of 2012 on the ministry of First Day School. There were 12 people in attendance at that first effort. This year’s First Day School Thread Gathering was held on Saturday, November 16th at Princeton Meeting in Burlington Quarter. It was attended by 25 Friends – more than a 100% increase over last year’s Gathering. Three workshops were offered:
- Making FDS for our Youngest Friends Sparkle with Sally Farneth, Middletown Meeting at Langhorne and Beth Collea, RE Coordinator of New England YM: Authors of Sparkling Still
- Caring for Children with Diverse Needs with Greta Rech, London Grove Meeting
- FDS as Spiritual Formation for Kids with Christie Duncan-Tessmer, Chestnut Hill Meeting
At the FDS Gathering, it became clear that a recurring theme among Friends was the concern for support for first time teachers. In response to this need, participants set the goal of collecting and making available practical and spiritually grounding resources for new teachers. Three people are working on this project and expect to go live with a collection of resources on the PYM website in mid-March. They are using a “Sprint” approach in which a small number of people commit a limited amount of their time of to address a concern within a defined scope. The resource is expected to be complete in April.
Comments from the attenders give a sense of the day together:
I came away from this Thread inspired and spiritually energized. I was immediately welcomed. I so enjoyed the small groups and the sessions. As the day wore on, I felt more and more inspired. I talked to other people and felt like we were friends. I loved the beginning middle and end in the meeting house.
I learned much more than I expected to – things that will really help our FDS, and things that will make me more comfortable working with the children.
I am grateful for the opportunity to learn of other meetings’ efforts on the Religious Education front. It was heartening to know that we are not alone in the challenges we face. It was also gratifying to find out that others found some of the solutions we have arrived at independently worthy of consideration. In my role as clerk of Religious Ed and as an educator who has worked with all age levels from preschool to seniors, I have been encouraging our committee (and by extension, our meeting) to consider age-appropriate ways of guiding children’s development and growth in the Light. I was especially appreciative of the fact that the Thread Gathering reinforced this value. While learning about Quakers and their remarkable history is critical to the understanding older children gain of our spiritual practice, the younger ones will respond better to a less academic approach that guides them to experience this practice as relevant and meaningful to them. The Thread Gathering emphasized that it is in the forming of relationships with caring adults who happen to be Quakers that children form themselves into spiritually developed individuals. That this process will pique their curiosity about the practice that formed the adults who are caring for them seems an organic byproduct of placing intergenerational interpersonal connections first.
We discovered that we had most of the same problems.
I was delighted to find Friends of spiritual depth committed to sharing their experience with children. I came for the inspiration and found it. I like the idea of renaming our committee, and brought that up briefly with others at my meeting, but they may not know I wasn’t joking. Maybe “Children’s Spiritual Formation Committee?”
I was expecting the other participants to come from larger meetings with very lively First Day School programs. That might have been nice, but I was pleased to learn that other people in other meetings are facing all the same challenges we face, and it made me feel less alone. I thought I would not be at all interested in the safety concerns but found it to be helpful and have shared that information with my meeting’s RE committee. We are pleased to know that PYM will help financially and otherwise with background checks as we are hoping to hire someone for childcare.
A suggestion: Many meetings have small first day schools or the ones that have large numbers of kids don’t attend the FDS thread gatherings. We can’t keep relying on new parents to reinvent the wheel when they show up with kids. It would likely be somewhat unpopular among Quakers, but it would benefit all these small meetings if PYM published a voluntary curriculum that meetings could follow. Something that could be put in front of new teachers with little experience. Something self-contained that includes the bible verses, songs, coloring pages, and stories we want to teach for the week so we don’t to find other books, etc. We have started with the sparkling still curriculum, but we only have a year or two before we will need more of this great pre-prepared curriculum.
I found sharing the experiences with other Meetings brought up some ideas such as having regular “Intergenerational” First Days occasionally, to build relationships between the children and adults of our meeting.
A few things I take away from our Thread Gathering:
1. Yearly Meeting has our (collective) back!
2. What a great resource PYM is!
In some ways our Religious Ed Committee has been reinventing the wheel, in the belief that our problems are specific to our circumstances and that solutions from other meetings would not necessarily apply to them.
Personally, I also presumed that PYM would put a strong emphasis on teaching children how to identify with Quakerism (although how you do that with a religion that has such an expansive sense of doctrine eludes me). The workshop I attended disabused me of this presumption. I gather we’re all trying to give children a vital experience of who they are, not just as Quakers, but as human beings. We’re trying to validate them in the present moment as individuals (not as incomplete, unformed adults in need of restructuring and completion). We’re trying to demonstrate in our actions how the Religious Society of Friends can support them in becoming more themselves by realizing the best of who they are while encountering others who are sharing the Light that emanates from a well-formed self.
So, I take away the hope that we will gather the strands, the threads, of our community and weave a fabric, complex in its diversity, but strong in its interconnectedness, and beautiful in the Light it sheds on the world.
We seem to be entering a time of increased collaboration, you never know!