Abigaile Brace-Higgins is a member of Mickleton Meeting and serves on the planning circle for PYM Giant Children’s Meeting programs. This article originally appeared in the Salem Quarter News, Fall 2020.
On March 16th, 2020, I laid down in the cool, muddy-grass at the foot of a tree in my backyard and looked up at the bare branches crackling like brittle-veins across the clear sky in the stark morning light. My two and a half year old son, Keegan, played quietly in his sandbox next to me. The heavy news of Covid-19 was thrashing like a storm all around us, but in that moment we were still. Nowhere to go, anytime soon. The impossible sadness of tragedy befalling thousands of people around the world pounded deep inside me. As a parent of a young child, my mind swelled with questions: How should my child understand this? How should I help him adapt? To cope? To stay safe? How long is this going to be? How are we going to move forward and stay connected to all those in our lives we hold dear?
Melinda Wenner Bradley was wondering, too. Melinda is PYM’s Youth Religious Life Coordinator. She is a Godly Play trainer and co-author of Faith & Play Stories and serves as the Youth Religious Education committee clerk for West Chester Meeting. At the onset of our physical isolation in the spring, Melinda had her finger on the pulse of the problems facing our children. She understood immediately that a creative, long-range vision to give children access to their religious education, community of Friends, and spiritual hub was imperative.
Recognizing that we were all standing at a doorway opening to an uncertain journey, Melinda sought clearness and focus by asking WHAT? What could be discovered? What has become most important in the present? What have we taken for granted? What do we have to work with? What can we do to strengthen our connections to each other and grow stronger? What can we change to create a more vibrant and inclusive space to meet each other in? In her abundant attentiveness, Melinda asked of our Meetings’ families, “What do you need?”
In answer, Melinda has helped organize numerous free programs for youth and families accessible online with Zoom that may be registered for on the PYM website. Through the rest of the year, ‘Children and Families (K-5th Grade) Community Playdate’ series staff lead the ‘Community Playdate’ series that includes games, journaling, and art projects. ‘Giant Children’s Meeting’ will be held monthly on 4th Sundays at 9am. Friends and families of all ages from across the Yearly Meeting will join for multigenerational First Day School. The focus of the Meetings are to nurture the spiritual lives of Quaker youth. Each 30-40 minute program will have a theme, and leaders who guide the group through exercises in grounding, creating, exploring, and WONDERING.
Wondering is a special talent of Melinda’s. It is an important part of the way she reaches young people and invites them to explore stories, issues, and themselves. Keegan and I have been fortunate enough to sit in circles with her and listen to her stories. Although my son is not in pre-school yet, he still connects with Melinda through whatever space she leads him through. Some of the open-ended questions she asks remind me of Quaker queries. When Keegan was last asked to wonder about a question, his answer was to lean into me and whisper, “She’s wondering, Mommy.” The essence of querying was understood, if not the question. It seems that to teach a child to wonder is to bring them closer to that of God in themselves. What finer gift could be given?
I spoke with Melinda recently and asked what she was thinking about at this point in our collective journey. She has been exploring the power of asking: WHY? Why do we do what we do? How different and more meaningful can you make your experiences by asking yourself why it’s important to you? “Affirm the WHY. Perhaps it will clear a path to where you really want to go.”
Let us all delight in the possibilities Melinda has opened for us. Let us ‘meet at the virtual feast’ as family and give each other strength. Let us give our children the space they need to show us all the way. See you there!