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.
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.
Following an extensive search process and interviews with several finalist candidates, PYM Youth Programs are delighted to welcome Aeryn Luminkith as the new Assistant in the Young Friends program. She will begin her work with Young Friends at their Christmas Gathering, December 27-30. We’re really pleased to welcome her to the staff team. Aeryn brings experience with teens and younger youth, has worked as a teaching assistant, art teacher, tutor, and photographer. During the interview process, Aeryn impressed us with her warmth and concern for inclusive youth community, and her interest in creating a balance in programming between playful and grounded energy.
From Aeryn: While working at Greene Street Friends School over the past year, as an after school program assistant and substitute TA, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for Quaker beliefs and values.The Quaker commitment to social justice and equality, where the voices of all community members carry the same weight, resonates very deeply with me. During my time at Greene Street, it has greatly influenced the ways that I interact with students, peers, and colleagues. I have multiple years of experience working with children and youth including two years working with high school students as a photography teacher and tutor in a non-profit youth center. I have also done LGBTQ advocacy work with non-profit organizations in this city. I strongly believe in supporting youth leadership and emotional development through fostering environments of mutual respect, understanding, and equal opportunities. Guiding youth to help them understand and dismantle systems of oppression is something that feels especially important to me, particularly when working with teens and young adults.
Young Friends program Facilitator Lori Sinitzky shared: “I’m excited to work with Aeryn as we plan and facilitate upcoming Young Friends gatherings together. Aeryn brings many gifts to our community, including experience with photography and a commitment to working with youth. I know we have fun times ahead!”