One of the reasons for my family’s involvement in Quaker meeting was my awareness that my children were growing up without close relationships to their grandparents. Both my husband and I have parents who live at a considerable distance from us. Of course, my kids see their grandparents on holidays and other special occasions. But, we were concerned that they would not experience the kind of meaningful relationships we had both known with our own grandparents when we were their age.
Cross generational connections are important in a child’s development. They give children a perspective on life that their parents simply just don’t have. They also teach children how to relate to grownups with greater kindness and politeness, if you will. At my meeting, this kind of cross generational relationship building is valued. It is a place where we can be kind and loving with each other because we are spiritually intimate and connected. When I first started attending meeting, I could see this in the way the children in the First Day School related to the older members of meeting.
The meeting is welcoming to its children in ways that go beyond merely “tolerating” them. The children feel that they are cherished and valued by the adult members. But, moving beyond tolerating our children in meeting is not something that, once achieved, can be forgotten. It is something that needs to be regularly affirmed if it is to become part of the culture of the meeting community.
At my meeting, we still do have the occasional interaction between grownups and children and their families that strain our ability to be a welcoming community. Fortunately, we have parents who are not easily scared off when concerns about their child’s behavior are raised. They are willing to remain in dialogue and the meeting is open and willing to learning about the needs of the family. But, most importantly, the meeting understands the value of relationship building, of staying engaged with families and children when the limits of tolerance are tested.
In some cases, a family may feel tentative about their faith community’s ability to tolerate their child’s behavior, especially if that behavior falls outside the range of what is considered acceptable. Then families can feel rejected by their meeting. If the meeting is unable or unwilling to respond to the unique needs of their children, many parents leave meeting and feel shunned. From a pastoral care perspective, developing consistent and honest relationships with children and their families is the only way to provide the kind of loving presence that nurtures and supports the spiritual lives of children.
One way for a meeting community to attend to the care and nurture of children is to create opportunities for their parents to attend meeting for worship. This is often an overlooked way of supporting children. If parents can be nurtured by worship, their children will benefit. And, these opportunities give the children a way to get to know the adults in the meeting who may be leading a FDS class or working with the youth group or giving ministry in meeting for worship. In these ways, they begin to have their own relationships with the other grownups.
This greater inclusiveness reinforces the strong presence of the children in the life of the meeting and gives them a greater voice. Listening to that voice is an intentional act; it takes energy. It must be paid attention to and valued. But, the rewards of listening and responding are great: richness and a love that is warm and embracing of all of us. It is my belief that the meeting’s children are its greatest treasure; one which we must steward with great care and intention. We do this through relationship building, knowing each other in love and joy.
Margaret Sayers is a member of Abington Friends Meeting. Her blog “What Kids Want Us to Know” can be found at http://wkwutk.wordpress.com/