“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.