This fall, about 35 students from Bryn Mawr, Haverford and Swarthmore Colleges took courses at the Friends Center in Philadelphia as part of a new Tri-College Philly Program.
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.
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!”
The Indian Affairs Committee of Salem Quarter, Society of Friends, holds a concerned for biases, stereotypes, and myths, portrayed in predominant media and views held by non-indigenous peoples about indigenous peoples. We recently participated in a webinar with guest Dr. Debbie Reese, Founder of American Indians in Children’s Literature, hosted by EmbraceRace.
Media has long portrayed Native peoples in stereotypical imagery – feathered headdresses, fringed leather clothing, sitting around fires, telling legends, living in tipis, hunting buffalo, and attacking pioneers. When choosing books by and about American Indians, Dr. Reese suggests the following four tips:
1) Choose books written or illustrated by native people, #OwnVoices books, in which “the protagonist and the author share a marginalized identity,” help us to push against the idea that Native peoples no longer exist. Selecting a book by a Native writer allows you to use the powerful verb IS: “Let’s read Jingle Dancer! It is by Cynthia Leitich Smith. She is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation. Her main character, Jenna, is Muscogee, too.” Most books by nonNative authors – like Island of the Blue Dolphins and Julie of the Wolves – misrepresent Native people and relegate us to the past.
2) Choose books that include information about the nationhood status of native peoples. It is crucial that everybody become familiar with the fact that Native nations pre-date the United States and its nationhood status. Our status as sovereign nations is based on treaty and trust agreements made between early European nations, and later the US government, and Native nations. Sovereign nationhood is the defining feature of Native identity. Native individuals are citizens of sovereign nations, all of whom have ways of determining who their citizens are.
3) Choose books set in the present day. Most books about Native people are set in the past, but we are very much part of the present day. Some of us live on reservations, but some of us are in suburban and urban areas. You can see that when you open Jingle Dancer. Jenna wears the same kind of clothes any little girl wears, and lives in a modern-day house in a suburb with tree-lined streets. Other Native people live there, too, and there is a powwow coming up. Jenna will be doing the Jingle Dance at that powwow.
4) Choose books that are tribally specific. Just as Mexico, Canada, and the United States have significantly different histories, cultures, and contemporary dynamics, so do the 500+ Native tribal nations that have state-to-state relationships with the United States government. Native peoples are different in many ways, including the languages they speak. For example, a common error is crossword puzzles that ask for “the Native American word for baby,” as if we all speak the same language. The puzzle maker thought Native people all use “papoose,” but that is not the case.
When asked about the use of, “…American Indian? Or, Native American?” Dr. Reese replied, “There is no agreement among Native peoples. Both are used. It is best to be specific. Instead of ‘Debbie Reese, a Native American,’ say ‘Debbie Reese, a Nambe Pueblo Indian woman.’” Dr. Reese also addressed non-native people’s confusion of native peoples as a “race” rather than nationhood. For example, when considering if there is a way to be ½ Pueblo, a rhetorical question might sound like, “Is there a way to be ½ American? No, it’s citizenship.” Tribal Nations’ citizens are determined by their relations and history, not based on looks; there is a range of appearances among American Indians.
We also heard of equally corresponding inappropriate pre/ post reading activities by non-natives – creating Dream Catchers, Totem Poles, and unauthentic creation stories – that exemplify sacred pieces of specific cultures, not to be appropriated. Such activities are misappropriations of culture, as would be an activity to create a new Bible story. Non-native peoples are guided to ponder a) what we are doing, b) who is represented, and c) what are we trying to do? Let’s consider a reenactment; it is not acceptable to “dress-up” like a Native American. Why? Because it perpetuates harms, it is dismissive to indigenous peoples, and this “push back” projects burdens that are subsequently carried by an indigenous person and/ or community.
Dr. Reese also recommends the following resources:
1) Lessons From Turtle Island: Native Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms by Guy W. Jones and Sally Moomaw;
2) AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES – FOR YOUNG PEOPLE adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese, from the original work of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz; and
3) Dr. Reese’s website, American Indians In Children’s Literature, http://www.americanindiansinchildrensliterature.net.
Friends find that Dr. Debbie Reese’s perspectives rest easy on our hearts and align with what we hear from our friends of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation.
The Jonathan Taylor Swarthmore Scholarship Fund is administered by the Stony Run Meeting of Baltimore to provide support to students on financial aid attending Swarthmore College. Students from Baltimore and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings may apply.
For more information , or to apply by the 5/1/19 deadline, contact Cindy Maier at Cynthiamaier13@gmail.com or Nick Fessenden at email@example.com.
The Quaker Life Council has recently approved an updated set of Threads, which are ways of organizing the work and witness that all of the communities in PYM face on a regular basis. The new list is:
- Peace & Social Justice
- Ministry & Care
- Religious Education
- Outreach & Communications
- Governance & Stewardship
“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.
Quakers are holding in prayer and the light the families and loved ones of those who we lost at the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27, 2018, at the Kroger grocery store in Kentucky on October 24, 2018, and in other acts of hate that will go untold.
We are called to name these as acts of antisemitism, racism, and bigotry. As a Faith centered in the belief that each person has God’s light within them, we are trying to address the culture of violence, isolation, and hate in our society. We are concerned that certain uses of internet and other media outlets foster a climate that embraces such acts of hate.
To heal from these, we are called to respond nonviolently, with love as our primary impulse.
Personally, between one shock to the system and the next, we may find this call to be tremendously difficult to follow. These days, we have little time even to mourn let alone consider how to move forward. We wonder what to tell our children.
The Civil Rights leader and author, Bayard Rustin—who was deeply influenced by Quaker and Gandhian nonviolence—wrote something that some may find helpful, in a letter to the children of Cleveland on December 3, 1969:
“…we cannot hope to achieve democracy and equality in such a way that would destroy the very kind of society which we hope to build. If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence. If we desire a society without discrimination, then we must not discriminate against anyone in the process of building this society…If we can build such a society, then we would have achieved the ultimate goal of human freedom.”
In the work that we do, we sometimes feel like we are digging holes in the ocean. But we are reminded that we all share a relationship with God and to each other. As long as there are people like us, centering our actions in love, holding each other up, there will be resilience.
In the words of A.J. Muste, another organizer influenced by Quakerism, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” We add: There is no way to love, love is the way. There is no way to beloved community, beloved community is the way.
*This statement was read today, 10/30/18, by Melinda Wenner Bradley, PYM Youth Engagement Coordinator, at a press conference organized by CAIR-Philadelphia.
With gratitude for their service, Youth Sprint III has been laid down, having completed their work on the Vision and Mission statements for Youth Programs, and with the formation of a Youth Programs Advisory Committee (YPAC), approved by the Quaker Life Council at its meeting on October 20, 2018.
The Quaker Life Council (QLC) Youth Programs Advisory Committee will consist of eleven people, including two Middle-School-age and two High-School-age members. The committee will have at least one parent of a current participant in a youth program of PYM (at a monthly, quarterly or yearly meeting level) as a member, and the PYM Associate Secretary for Program and Religious Life and the Youth Engagement Coordinator will also be members of the committee, serving ex officio.
“With Divine assistance, the Youth Programs Advisory Committee sets the overall direction of PYM youth programs under the guidance of the vision and mission. The committee works closely with pertinent PYM staff, monthly and quarterly meeting staff and community members who care for our youth. The committee helps to season issues, respond to concerns, and hold youth programs in loving care. A key operating principle of this committee is to empower youth voice and share power in the context of beloved community. The committee embodies this principle through the way it conducts its affairs and fulfills its charge outlined here.” – from the Quaker Life Council Corollary Handbook, page 7
A powerpoint presentation on the Vision and Mission for PYM Youth Programs was shared at Annual Sessions in July 2018, and is linked below.
Deep gratitude to the Youth Sprint III members, and all who contributed to the process of articulating a vision grounded in community, accessibility, Quaker faith and values, and meaningful participation.