Melinda Wenner Bradley is PYM’s Youth Religious Life Coordinator. She is also an accredited Godly Play trainer and co-author of Faith & Play Stories and serves as the Religious Education committee clerk for West Chester Meeting. Here are some insights on what’s out there for young people.
Where to find reliable resources
A lot of online resources have been popping up in the last three weeks that can be used to support young people’s spiritual lives. Many children’s books have been recorded on YouTube, plus children’s songs. There is the Rise up Singing work by Annie Patterson & Peter Blood, with a website that has all manner of songs that can be selected and played. I don’t sing well, so when I need to do those parts of Religious Education that involve songs, I am usually queuing up Annie Patterson do the singing for me!
There are digital sources for print materials that are now being offered for free. One of my favorite ones is an organization called Illustrated Ministry, and they do beautiful coloring pages. They are progressive Christian, some materials can adapt to Quakerism, some of it you might not choose to use. They are currently sending some free coloring pages every week on Fridays if you sign up, as their gift to people in this time. One of the topics they’ve dealt with is what to do when you feel anxious or scared.
The Quaker Religious Education Collaborative has resources for all ages. They offer conversations every month on particular topics of religious education, both for children and adults. You can join those conversations if you check the website.
How to acknowledge the difficulties we face, and give youth access to resources during shared worship.
It’s important to say that we are living through a hard time. In online worship, adults may need to share vocal ministry that is sad, angry, upset or scared. You may—as a parent or caregiver in the home—choose that to be something children hear, or not hear, because you’re at home and on a computer where you can turn the volume up or down.
I am encouraging parents who join Meeting for Worship via Zoom to have access for children to use quiet things during worship that leave space for Spirit, the way we do it at Annual Sessions where we sit on the floor with a basket of books and a basket of things for kids to color with. We’re making parents comfortable with the idea of their children staying during worship times and making them feel welcome. We know that it’s not just about keeping kids busy, though, it’s also about the fact that you are all participating together in worship.
We should also be aware of the false assumption that children aren’t participating in waiting worship in their own way, because they are.
It’s a real gift to be gathered on the living room couch snuggled up with your parents in online worship, being present with your meeting community even in that way. Some people may not find Zoom worship as spiritually satisfying as in the meetinghouse, but it’s a different kind of way of being together, with new opportunities for multigenerational gathering and support for one another.
Godly Play and Faith & Play stories, breakout rooms, and integrating Youth Religious Education into community worship.
Religious Education could be scheduled in the half hour time before or after worship. There are also meetings that are using the breakout room function on Zoom. So that while adults are in worship, the children can be in their own program with an adult facilitator. This feature will require a family to have more than one device, and there is some caution about that accessibility as well as having parents on a laptop while the kids are on a tablet in a different room.
I’ve told Faith & Play and Godly Play stories for the children’s program and our community worship at West Chester Meeting, using Zoom. Children are very adept at unmuting themselves and sharing vocal ministry, often reflecting on the story they heard. In our all-ages community worship, I had told the Godly Play story, The Exile and Return, about the Hebrew people being exiled from Jerusalem and then returning home. A young person reflected that in the story, the people had to go away from their home, and we’re stuck in our homes, but we still are finding ways to worship together, like they did.
Another child said her favorite part of the story was that even when the people were marched away by the soldiers they still stayed together and took care of each other. So, stories in this time are a pretty powerful way for children to have a way to think about and frame their experience at this moment.
What about Families that want to go screen free on weekends, people who don’t have multiple devices, and child safety in the virtual world?
Some families are choosing to be screen-free on the weekends and have wanted to know about another time in the week that meetings have been having religious education programs online. The PYM website has some resources for “at home and online together” that could be used by families at home.
We need to be mindful of that caution when we plan for programs with families, and also that as we go virtual we still need to be thinking about child safety, applying the ‘rule of three’ so that no young person and adult is left alone together in a space, even if it’s a virtual space.
One of the things that PYM’s Youth Programs have been talking about is how to provide some kind of outreach and pastoral care to young people, with friendly adult presences—wonderful adults who volunteer to be the adults in community with our PYM young people.
Really important relationships between young people and those adults can be formed over time. We can all remember the great teacher, or neighbor, or person in our meeting or church, who was not our parent, but was somebody who we could connect with in important ways.
Being aware of how we do this on Zoom is something we’re figuring out – and it is preferable that two adults are in the breakout rooms with youth.
How have you been doing youth programming each Sunday at West Chester meeting?
We’ve moved our religious education program for children and young people to the half hour before worship, and encouraged families to continue into the worship time on Zoom. West Chester Meeting also does what we call community worship a few times a year. This happens on fifth Sundays, and then a couple other times a year, seasonally. It is all-ages worship for the whole period of worship and it looks a little different.
When we first started seasoning this post Covid-19, we had a discussion between Worship & Ministry with the RE committee: did we want to do a community worship? We decided that even though things were different, maintaining practices that are part of who we are as a community felt really important. We let everyone know it was happening, and gathered at 10:30, everyone together.
The Godly Play story formed the first 15 minutes of our hour of waiting worship and it felt very different—it’s not like doing Godly Play in a lesson kind of atmosphere. The story felt deeply shared. I just lifted up the wondering questions for people to consider as we settled into waiting worship.
There is a tool on Zoom’s setting, that’s called spotlight that you can use for a situation like this. In this case, when I was sharing the story we used the spotlight. We also sometimes use it to feature our meeting room on Zoom. It gives people have a sense of ‘being in the meeting house’ and features our beloved meeting room as one of the participants. When spotlight is so used, that’s the only thing you see on the screen. You can’t see what we’re all doing, and that was helpful in focusing people’s attention during the story.
Youth work is developed best in a ‘community of practice’. We all carry ideas and wisdom and possess different perspectives on things. We need everybody’s voices! If I can’t answer your question, there’s some other wonderful Friend who can.
Friends are always welcome to reach to reach out to Melinda at firstname.lastname@example.org.