Last Sunday, a handful of families in my meeting decided to try online Children’s Meeting (our First Day program for children) and worship together online. It was a last-minute decision to fire up my Zoom account and see how it worked. We posted the information on Facebook and sent out a quick email on the meeting listserv. Two hours later, when we gathered across households, we were joined by a former attender now living in Seattle, and three other PYM families who had seen the Facebook post. We came together across miles and even time zones to share songs, a reading, queries, and waiting worship. [Read more…] about Gathering Together: Support for Families & First Day Programs
First Day School
View a downloadable/PDF version of the report here.
The bulk of this report is made of minutes of exercise taken by PYM Recording Clerk, Jim Herr. The minutes review the proceedings of the day. Following the minutes of exercise, the report contains a transcription of collections of “advice to the yearly meeting” in response to several queries that participants wrote down in small groups. Find in Appendix A the advance documents that were provided ahead of the threshing session.
The September issue of “Vital Friends,” the e-newsletter from Friends General Conference (FGC), highlights “Religious Education Programming for Children.” Melinda Wenner Bradley, serving PYM as Youth Religious Life Coordinator, was asked to contribute to the issue.
FGC staff write, “Melinda’s work as a consultant and trainer for religious education programming has produced several worthwhile resources for Quaker parents and teachers. Here, we’ve included highlights of her work, beginning with a beautiful essay about her ministry.”
The essays and articles shared can be found — along with other great resources for children’s religious education programs — at this link. They include pieces on fostering community, exploring vocal ministry, a lesson on being present and worship, and nurturing children’s spiritual lives.
See the PYM website page, “Writings on Religious Education: Practical and Prophetic” for more resources for welcoming and nurturing children, their families, and the people who support programs for youth in meeting communities.
“Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers,” was wisdom I learned from my mother, who was an advocate for children and families in all her work. It was some of the most important learning I took into the classroom with me as a teacher. It is of course true as well in religious education, though I would widen the role to include grandparents and other caregivers helping to raise a child. Stories often provide common ground across generations for sharing what’s in our hearts and teaching about our faith.
Amy Owsley from Third Haven Friends Meeting shares how families in the meeting came together to share the Christmas story with their children, and with one another. In a season often focused on worldly delights and diversions, how could the time before Christmas — a day that Friends did not traditionally celebrate as a holiday — also be about exploring the “meaning and relevance of the Christmas story in our lives today.”
Last September at a First Day School family open house, the PYM Youth Engagement Coordinator, Melinda Wenner Bradley, spoke to us about “Children, Families, and the Quaker Community.” One of the resources she shared was a story about the Advent season, adapted for Friends from the Godly Play story. It was just one of a whole batch of rich resources, but the idea of this particular story caught the heart of several families. We wondered if we could use this story to imbibe the busy, hectic Christmas season with more meaning? And we could we do this individually with our families at home, but in a way that built community among our families in the Meeting?
Right after Thanksgiving, several families gathered together with reams of felt, little wooden peg figures, paint and sewing needles to make the materials needed to tell the story. One our Meeting members, Susan Claggett, began the evening by sharing with the parents a Faith & Play story, and giving us some pointers on storytelling at home. Together we then made a handful of “Advent story kits” that we could take home. The kits are humble little collections — not a bit of polish to them! They are simple, made with heart, and carry our collective hope for creating connection and quiet in our lives during the holiday.
The Advent story can be told in four parts, so on each of the four Sundays of Advent, we share one more part of the story with our family at home. Then we informally share our experiences the next Sunday among our group at Meeting. The weeks unfold the Christmas story from the perspectives of the knowing prophets, the waiting and journeying of the holy family, the shepherds in the fields who are first to receive the news of the baby’s birth, the travels of the three Magi, and then the animals who witness the wonder of the birth of Jesus. We are finding such magic in a quiet moment with our families each week, dwelling on the meaning and relevance of the Christmas story in our lives today. Again, there isn’t any elegance or perfection here, as we are all fumbling a bit as we learn . . . but somehow this imperfection makes the experience sweeter and accessible, as our kids deepen their curiosity about the mystery of Christmas, and we parents deepen our kinship with others in the Meeting.
“In worship we listen very carefully. Sometimes a person feels something happening inside that won’t go away. That person listens very hard to answer questions: “Is this from God or from somewhere else? Is this for me only, or for the group? If it is for everyone, do I share it now or later?” Sometimes the person feels words inside that are from God, that are for everyone, and that are for now. Then the person shares the message in a clear voice so everyone can hear the message.” These words are from the Faith & Play story, “Prayer and Friends Meeting for Worship,” that explores the spiritual practices in meeting for worship, including vocal ministry. How can we use experiential learning to explore with young people how Friends share Spirit-led vocal ministry as part of our communal worship? How can we provide opportunities to learn about and practice discerning the source of what we’re led to share, and lifting up our voice in community?
Openings for children to share their Light begin with creating safe spaces for them to share. The time we spend gathering and “building the circle” in programs for children and youth welcomes young people into spiritual community. Inviting each other to share and practicing deep listening when we do introductions or begin programs should be part of our process every time we gather. Before starting a lesson or story in the circle of children at meeting, we take the time to introduce newcomers and share something from our week. An exercise that I sometimes use in a new group is to invite each person to bring and share about a small object that is special or has significance to them. Set up a small table in the center of a circle and invite Friends when ready to share why the object they have brought is special to them, and place it on the table. You build a scared space together where images, words, and feelings can all be shared.
A way to approach worship sharing with children or in multigenerational groups is “Heart Sharing.” In Heart Sharing, we lift up a query for response, inviting the response to be “from the heart” and just a word or two. Rather than a thought-out response from the mind, it is from the heart. You can do Heart Sharing in a whole group, or break into smaller multi-age groups of 3-4 with suggested queries. Heart Sharing taps into the here-and-now of children’s spirituality. Children don’t necessarily differentiate between worship time and play time or work time. When we move beyond (or back from) the intellectual nuances and details often in adult responses, we make space for everyone to share from where they are.
Faith & Play stories are tools for teaching children about our faith and practice as Friends. The “wondering questions” that follow sharing a Faith & Play story make space for children to listen and reflect inwardly, or to wonder out loud with the group. The open-ended wondering questions can be used in response to any kind of story, whether it’s a Bible story, a children’s book, or asking how a child’s day at school went. The questions are open, invitational, and there are no “right” (or “wrong”) answers when we wonder together. It’s a place where all voices are invited, and yet not forced (children in the circle are not called on to answer the queries). There is also room for silence in this practice; when no one shares out loud, we can trust that wondering is happening inside. We can allow the pauses and spaces to model our Quaker practice of waiting worship and practice deepening how we listen inwardly. After many years of storytelling, I came to see the wondering time after the story as a place for children to practice sharing vocal ministry and hear their voices lifted up in the spiritual community.
How do we “teach” the practice of listening for God and knowing when a message is from Spirit and for us to share with the whole group? You can find several versions of “vocal ministry flow charts” from different Quaker sources online and see how they speak to you. One or more of them could be given to small groups and discussed, or you could make them into a kind of movement activity, like “red light, green light”: if the answer to one of the questions you ask yourself is yes, it’s a green light. If no, it’s “stop” and return to center. Teens at Friends Meeting of Washington were inspired by writing on this topic to create a skit for their meeting community about vocal ministry. The “Vocal Ministry Skit” is a playful and insightful resource to share, and can be found posted on the Quaker Religious Education Collaborative’s website. It’s a great conversation starter for a multigenerational group, as the skit requires “audience participation” and references contemporary tensions that can occur as we listen to the still small voice within.
Another resource that might be of interest to youth and multiage groups of teens and adults is the QuakerSpeak video, “How to Deepen Quaker Meeting for Worship.” At the 4:34 minute mark, a speaker lifts up several of the questions about when and whether to speak but stretches that discernment to include a question we might ask after sharing: “Do you feel that you were faithful in your speaking?” She opens a space for reflecting on our vocal ministry and seeing that practice as a skill we continue to develop.
Melinda Wenner Bradley, Youth Engagement Coordinator
(A version of this story first appeared in the November 2016 issue of “Spark” the New York YM newsletter.)
Featured image by Jacob Hoopes, Valley Meeting.
- This group should meet no less than 4 times per year, and be available for consultation as needed with the Youth Engagement Coordinator
- Support the staff and volunteers in carrying out the mission and vision of the PYM youth programs
- Serve as a sounding board for Youth Engagement Coordinator
- Ongoing evaluation of the MSF and YF guidelines to ensure that they still meet the needs of the group and serve to support the vision and mission of youth programs
- Support the organization and coordination of Youth Resource Friends
- Consult with Administrative Council on any matters related to Youth Program staff
- Provide policy guidance for staff and volunteers throughout the yearly meeting, including those related to child safety
- Assisting with communication between youth programming and various communities within the YM
- Regularly evaluate that the YM youth programs are supporting the Strategic Directions of the YM and that programs are serving the needs of youth (recommend surveying youth who are involved and those not involved to identify areas of improvement)