New staff! The Youth Programs team is delighted to announce that Crystal Hershey has agreed to serve as the Children and Families Program Assistant. While Crystal is a new addition to our team, she is a familiar face in youth programs and the PYM community.
Middle School Friends
October 18th – 20th, Middle School Friends joined together in community and autumnal fun at West Chester Friends Meeting. We are grateful to the meeting community for hosting us, and their warm welcome after worship on Sunday morning.
We had a busy weekend playing next-level hide and go seek with the lights off, having a birthday party for a newly minted 13 year-old, as well as cooking and sharing meals together. We visited a local orchard to pick apples, enjoy cider and cider donuts, and explore the orchards in the last moments of warmth in the season. We were also visited by a friend of the MSF program, Tara Rubinstein, who heeded our call that MSF was interested to learn more about the complexities of gender. Within this workshop, we learned about pronouns, the gender unicorn, and even explored within our gender affinity groups about what we value and what challenges us within these affinity groups. On Sunday morning, some participants attended worship with the meeting, and others joined with their Young People’s Group for an exploration of ”The Questions We Ask,” a lesson created for teens to explore the creation story in Genesis laid alongside the Big Bang Theory. The approach is addressed to “Quaker skeptics,” the young Friends who are questioning stories and information in our religious faith and wider culture.
The weekend was filled with community, learning, and fun! We hope to see everyone on November 2nd for Continuing Sessions!
ERICA: Dear Friends Everywhere, We are the Middle School Friends of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
We gathered at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, New Jersey from July 24th to July 28th, 2019 for Annual Sessions. We grew as a community and expanded our knowledge by learning about the LGBTQIA+ and people of color communities. We learned about microaggressions and how to work as a community by talking about our disagreements and vulnerabilities with Pushed Learning Media.
By Melinda Wenner Bradley, Youth Religious Life Coordinator
What does the intersection of intention and action look like among Friends? The programs planned for children, youth, and families at Annual Sessions, and our practices in the Quaker community of PYM Youth Programs, are among the possibilities!
However you attend Sessions — commuting or in residence, with a group of friends and family or on your own — the Youth Programs staff hope that you will leave this week with a sense of the participatory joy we feel in our work, and with an awareness that PYM youth return home with new tools, evolving questions, and renewed support for exploring faith and practice in their lives.
At our staff retreat last May, the Youth Programs team discerned and named five themes that feel vital both to guiding our planning for events, and to sharing spiritual practice tools we hope young Friends (and friends of Friends) will take into the world after participating in our programs.
As we finalized our planning for Annual Sessions, I was delighted (but not surprised) to find that what we had identified in our visioning is happening now in “real time” together in community. What’s shared here isn’t an all-inclusive list of what’s happening this week, but snapshots of where you might see our intention in action:
- Quaker Community: Youth meeting for business is clerked by youth; at Sessions this includes discernment about writing epistles and planning for events in the year ahead.
- Creative Spirituality: Spirit moves among us throughout Sessions, including in worship sharing groups and during our Sunday morning “worship experiment,” that gathers all youth for a final community worship.
- Building Relationships: This is a central part of our Game Night, Talent Show, and the Family Neighborhood. Field trips to Snipes Farm and Mercer Meadows will extend community building during off campus programs, too.
- Play and Joy: Everyone participates in this one throughout the week! We especially look forward to the Giant UNbirthday party, and our Slip and Slide play with PYM’s inflatable unicorn, Frank.
- Stretch and Surrender: We’ll experience this in planned workshops with special guest Pushed Learning & Media, and our Artist in Residence Eric Berdis, and during all-ages worship with the body.
We hope Friends will also explore these five areas of focus at home in your local meeting communities in the coming year! They are applicable both in plans for youth programming and in how we move the intention to be a multigenerational faith community into action and practice. Interested in support for how to do this? Be in touch and let’s collaborate!
Our community of children, youth, and families this week is grounded by the amazing creativity, planning, and facilitation of the Annual Sessions Youth Team: Elizabeth Croce, Virginia DeWees, Colleen Hayes, Kimani Keaton, and Aeryn Luminkith. Stop them sometime and share a joyful, “thank you!”
Friends of all ages are welcome to join the action at Berks on Saturday, March 23, as well as the alternative multigenerational program at Reading Meeting that morning, from 10am-Noon.
At Reading Meeting that morning, we will welcome Friends who are not participating in the action at Berks and would also like to participate in a morning program focused on community and witness. Youth Programs staff Amy Connelly and Melinda Wenner Bradley will be present to facilitate a multigenerational program that includes fellowship, worship, and an exploration of welcoming the stranger and loving our neighbors.
Like the action at Berks, the morning at Reading Meeting will be grounded in semi-programmed worship for all ages together. Following a Faith & Play -style story and worship, all ages will participate in a workshop on how we welcome one another in our homes, schools and work, meeting communities, and PYM. There will also be an activity to write letters to Governor Wolf and make cards for children held in detention centers.
In addition to the all-ages program at the meetinghouse, child care for our youngest Friends will be available there throughout the whole day, beginning at 9:30am. Parents are welcome to drop off children at Reading Meeting and proceed to Berks for the morning action there.
Children and youth of all ages are also welcome to participant at the Berks action. Children in 5th Grade and younger should be in the care of their family; the Children and Families program Facilitator Kimani Keaton will be present with families. Middle School Friends and Young Friends (high school) will gather with their Youth Programs staff on site at Berks: Elizabeth Croce and Colleen Hayes with MSF, and Lori Sinitzky and Aeryn Luminkith with Young Friends.
Children and youth will convene at Reading Meeting for lunch, and in the afternoon Kindergarten-12th Grade will gather for a “one room schoolhouse” activity to debrief their participation at the Berks action or the morning program at the meetinghouse before spending time with their program age-group. For more information about Youth Programs in the afternoon at Reading Meeting visit the Youth at Continuing Sessions event page.
Let us know you’re coming by filling out the Registration for Continuing Sessions and clicking “Going” to RSVP on Facebook!
“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.