Each year the three Children and Youth programs of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting share Epistles at the close of Annual Sessions. This year, one united Epistle was shared by Youth Programs staff. Below please find their 341st Annual Sessions Epistle.
To All Friends Everywhere,
We send loving greetings to our world family of Friends, especially the children and youth in your communities and your care. A challenge of holding our Annual Sessions online is that there are few times for us to be present to one another across all generations. We want adult Friends to know that we were here!
Our children and youth programs were reimagined for these Sessions because we listened both to our experience of the pandemic, and to the needs of young people and families. It felt vital to find a way to gather in-person. Almost 40 children, youth, and adults came together in multigenerational community at Historic Fair Hill on Sunday morning, July 25, to play, learn, work in the gardens, and worship together. We also ate ripe peaches and mulberries right off the trees.
During the week of Sessions, afternoon online programs focused on special guests and programs that explored identity, inclusion, and belonging. This included spending time with two keynote speakers: Tommy Greenler introduced their drag persona Pam to the Children’s group with a Drag Queen Story Hour, and Mai Spann-Wilson led a powerful 4-part workshop on Social Justice with Young Friends, our high school group. These programs helped us to kick off our Youth Programs theme for this year: “Building the Quaker Community We Want to Be.”
We were here, Friends, part of these Sessions, even though we were apart from you. Many youth and families in our meetings experienced a similar distance in the last year. We have heard Friends reflect on children and families being “lost” or “missing” from meetings during the pandemic. They were still there, but apart from you. Many of us were working to stay connected while apart, collaborating and supporting one another, and discovering new ways to connect with youth, each other, and the wider community during this time. We do not always know what the future holds, but we have learned that we are adaptable and always ready to serve youth in the ways they need.
While we were creative and flexible, we also struggled with feeling “Zoomed out” and planning programs that frequently had little to no turnout. Young people were overwhelmed with online school and the stressors of the pandemic. They missed their friends. We missed them. The Youth Programs communities we are returning to are not what they were before; in a way, we are all newcomers after the time apart. This week, almost all of the children and younger youth who participated in Sessions were new to PYM programs, which feels hopeful.
Our youth programs create safe spaces for children and youth to learn about Quakerism and build a sense of belonging to this faith and our community. We seek to nurture the inclusion of youth in the wider PYM community, while also nurturing Quaker identity, naming of gifts, and building unique skills of discernment and leadership in young Friends. In the process of thinking about what we’ve learned from the pandemic and new directions this leads to, we have affirmed our work is to make spaces for our children and youth to think about who they want to be and what they want their Quaker communities to become.
We encourage adults in our community to join us in the work of building the Quaker community we want to be. Reach out to families and young people you have not seen during the pandemic time. If you are leaving these Sessions with new clarity about the issues before Friends and our work in the world, invite children and youth into the witness of the community. The concerns they identified this week may sound familiar — justice, peace, caring for the Earth, and loving one another. We advise you to be flexible with responding to young people and their needs, and seek to be open to receiving feedback, knowledge, and gifts from youth.
We were here Friends, part of these Sessions, integrally part of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, all of us being held in the love and Light of the same Spirit.
For our children and youth,
- Olivia Chalkley, Young Friends
- Elizabeth Croce, Middle School Friends
- Crystal Hershey, Children & Families
- Mars Hohenstein, Children & Families
- Aeryn Luminkith, Young Friends
- Kristin Simmons, Middle School Friends
- Alix Vallery, Middle School Friends
- Melinda Wenner Bradley, Youth Religious Life