This is the first of a two-part story focused on local meetings and their experiences with programs and support for children and youth, and their families, in the last fourteen months of “pandemic times.” Families in our local meetings come in all different varieties; these stories are focused on families with children and the people parenting them (who also come to that relationship in a variety of ways, including foster parents and grandparents).
The people who support children and youth programs in meetings, in their Quarter, and the Yearly Meeting have expressed many feelings in this time — sadness at separation, joy in creativity, mourning for connections lost, delight in new ideas, frustration with lack of support, fear that families will not “return” when others resume community in person. I’ve written about the liminal time we’re in, and the opportunities this disruption/interruption provides to think in new ways. I’m also holding a keen awareness of the exhaustion and longing to return to “normalcy” that Friends may be feeling; it feels important to balance encouragement about new possibilities and succor for what feels lost or overwhelming.
This first story focuses on where we’ve been, some of the things we’ve tried, and what we’ve learned. It won’t encompass the experience of all meetings — we’re not monolith in our generational composition, locations, or conditions. Part two will look ahead to what’s next, with some tools for meetings to use as they think about continuing or resuming programs in the fall for children and youth.
Where have we been?
In 20 responses to a questionnaire sent to the religious education contacts in 93 PYM meetings, a number of stories were told:
- Many who responded had been using online spaces to offer programs.
- Others had not had the bandwidth or ability to move programs online.
- Friends found creative ways to be in-person, when possible.
- One meeting offered monthly fellowship for parents during this time and other meetings connected in multigenerational spaces for game nights and similar fellowship.
- Meetings worked hard to stay connected with emails, notes, birthday cards, care packages with program materials (and other things just for fun), pizza delivery and dinner together.
- There was a lot of creativity around Christmas celebrations! (See related PYM website story)
Needs of Families
One of the experiences of the pandemic, cited in many questionnaire responses, was the incredible strain it placed on people parenting school-age children. Much has been written on this, and families in our meetings were no exception. There were also differences in family needs. Some appreciated the connection online programs provided (examples in addition to local meeting programs include the Family Devotionals hosted by Friends, PYM Giant Children’s Meeting, and the NYYM Parent Support Groups). In other cases, children and families were truly Zoomed-out, and meetings made intentional choices to offer other kinds of support or programs that did not ask more of parents already helping with remote schooling.
Shared below are just two examples of how meetings asked, listened, and responded to the needs of families:
Birmingham Meeting’s Religious Education Committee reflects on their experience supporting families and a variety of ages of young people, and also the support the committee felt in this time through our community of practice (see full letter here):
- “Early in the pandemic, members of our RE Committee called parents to find out how their families were faring and to ask how best we could tailor programs to support them. Several approaches opened up from those conversations. […] With the blessing of parents, we moved ahead, planning for safe, outdoor programs whenever weather permitted. With masks on, in rain or shine, we have enjoyed hikes, learned about indigenous people, sharpened our observation skills, planted seeds, tested a landmine detector, and painted rocks to share with friends and neighbors who were unable to leave their homes. Following CDC guidelines for indoor gatherings, we have also been able to hold programs indoors for our small numbers of young people as needed.”
- “After a parent of teens confided his kids were drifting away from the meeting, a Friend began offering a monthly discussion group on Zoom for our middle- and high-school-age youth. The teens have had input on the topics and the time they meet — later on Sunday morning than our in-person programs are held. One of these sessions, on the theme of disabilities, was led by one of the young people.”
- “One Friend has emailed a short note to parents each Thursday describing the theme of the coming Sunday’s in-person program(s) at Birmingham, as well as options for joining a virtual Sunday program with other Friends in the wider community in case the young person might prefer to stay at home that day.”
- “We are deeply grateful for the nourishment that comes from being able to listen to and talk with others who are finding similar challenges and opportunities in their meetings in the virtual Conversation Circles hosted by QREC and PYM.”
Third Haven Meeting responded to the expressed needs of families with young children with deep care and flexibility. A recent meeting newsletter included this story about the children’s program coming back together for hands-on fun and service in the meeting gardens after months of being “Zoomed out.” During the months of being apart, the meeting stayed connected to families with care package drop offs and monthly online Godly Play story sessions.
“What fun First Day School families had on Saturday morning digging in the gardens at Third Haven! The raised beds near Annie’s Cottage are all shaped up for the season now, and the new peace pole garden is newly planted (and looking lovely!). Even the mud kitchen has been restocked, and has already been busy with little bakers mixing up mud cookies and dirt soup. [Children are] happy to report that the earthworm population is thriving in the gardens, and the swing is in full working order! There are a couple open spots in the sensory garden that could use a couple new plants – if you happen to be splitting something from your garden, please feel to pop it into the children’s garden next time you think of it (looking for plant that are non-toxic and appeal to the senses). Thank you to all the families who helped out!”
What’s Been Uncovered?
There are learnings from the pandemic for us to notice and consider before we move into “what’s next” for our local meeting programs for children and youth. Some observations from talking with meetings and Friends:
- Supporting pastoral care for parents and spiritual nurture in the home is vital.
- Offering a Sunday morning program at the same time as meeting for worship is not the only model — We’ve experimented and demonstrated in these months that new times and ways are possible that might meet the needs of more people and gather our meeting communities more actively.
- Planning that centers “why” we have programs/events/traditions may reveal and reshape “how” we do them in more inclusive and joyful ways.
- In the same way that meetings are discerning choices about hybrid, in-person, and virtual worship, creating synchronous and asynchronous programs for children and youth supports flexibility, accessibility, and engagement.
- Worshipping with all ages together reclaims generational connection that we may have been missing during this time — and before it.
- Rest and reconnection will be important in returning to being together. Centering relationships, care, and community more than focusing on content may feel rightly ordered after the challenges and trauma of the last year.
- Read more here, including queries and articles for looking back and ahead.
Read Part 2 in June!
The second part of this story will look ahead to the fall and religious formation program planning. Part 2 will include ideas and resources to support the adults who care for children and youth in meetings, including tools for program planning and connections through PYM Youth Programs. There are also questions to discuss about safety (masks, vaccines, etc.) with children and youth in our all-ages communities.
Together, we will find our way Friends!