Over the last four weeks, more than 50 Friends registered to gather on Sunday evenings for an online adult religious education series exploring Advent — the time of expectant waiting before Christmas — with scripture, discussion, guided activities, prayers, and readings.
Each week, elements of the traditional Nativity story were lifted up through the lens of liberation theology and the participants’ hopes and leadings for peace and justice in the world. PYM Friends were joined by participants in other parts of the US and Canberra Quaker Meeting in Australia.
Resources Shape Program
Two available resources anchored the structure of the series, and the four sessions were organized into weekly themes: Prophets Watch and Wait, Mothering a New World Into Being, Messengers and Visitors, and The Child Who Will Change Everything.
The weekly focus followed the structure of the Advent stories from the Godly Play curriculum, which has been adapted for Friends by a Quaker trainer of this method. The Nativity story told in this way is linked below, and is also on the Faith & Play Stories YouTube channel.
The other resource available to participants, if they were led to use it, was the Advent reader, Keep Watch With Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers. The collaboratively-written devotional features diverse contributors: black, white, LGBTQ, Latinx, Palestinian, incarcerated, Native American, Australian, Americans, Irish, South African, clergy, laity, activists, authors, and organizers.
PYM’s Program and Religious Life department purchased books for the Friends who requested a copy on their registration, and many others indicated that they would have their own copy to follow through the weeks of the program.
Advent – a way to listen to Spirit
The season of Advent, in preparation to celebrate the birth of Christ, is not a traditional Quaker practice. It is part of the cycle of church liturgy that Friends left behind in separating from Anglican traditions. In not “keeping days” on religious holidays, Friends have underscored the holiness of each day, each moment, as we seek to be close to God and listen for how Spirit is speaking to us and guiding our lives. Perhaps, though, something has been lost in moving away from the rhythm of turning seasons and the Biblical tradition that runs through these times? This wondering, along with an interest in exploring Advent specifically through the lens of liberation theology, led to the creation of this program.
Advent can be a penitential season of reckoning with our needs and the needs of the world. The adult religious education program, and concurrent readings in Keep Watch With Me offered stories, reflections, prayers, and spiritual practices to sustain the faith and practices of those who work for justice and peace. The online Advent program created a welcoming space for Friends to process both in small groups and with individual time to write, draw, or reflect inwardly. A participant reflected afterward that the time breathed new life into the season of Advent for them in this time of societal pressures.
Melinda Wenner Bradley, PYM Youth Religious Life Coordinator, planned and facilitated the program. While her work for the Yearly Meeting is focused on children, youth, and families, she also leads workshops and worship experiences for adult and intergenerational communities.