If you bring your children to a Quaker meeting, what will their experience be?
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- Lisa Graustein says that “one of the great challenges of Quakerism is what we do is so physically internal in meeting for worship that it can be very mysterious for kids.” What are some ways that meeting for worship can be de-mystified? How has it been de-mystified for you?
- Kathleen Wooten says that it is important that adults in her meeting treat her child like a full member of the spiritual community. What are some ways that children can be engaged as full members of our meetings?
Honor Woodrow: When I was a kid, my parents were looking for a place—they were not Quakers—and they were shopping around and looking at different religious education programs. And when they got to Framingham Meeting, they said, “We’re here looking for a religious education program for our children. Can you tell us about it?” And the story is that this elderly woman looked at my Mom and said, “Religious education? Don’t you live your lives in a way that teaches your children what you believe?” And that was what sold my parents on coming to Framingham Meeting, because I think the teaching that we have to offer is about how we live.
How Do Quaker Meetings Welcome Children and Families?
Lisa Graustein: Particularly when I think about the challenges of raising kids in our current culture, Quakerism has a lot to offer on how to parent in a way that is about raising kids to be whole and full human beings who have compassion and care for other people on this planet.
Nia Thomas: Well, I think some of the biggest things that Quaker youth groups and youth programs have to offer youth are a space for reflection, a space where the adults there trust that youth have a piece of the answer.
Angela Hopkins: And in Quakerism, I think that we really get the fact that… the importance of nurturing our children and supporting them in their spiritual growth. Early on, I think that that’s really important.
Introducing Children to Silent Worship
Lisa Graustein: I think one of the great challenges of Quakerism is what we do is so physically internal in meeting for worship that it can be very mysterious for kids. And so as a parent of a young child, one of the things I really try to work on with other parents and adults in this meeting is: How do we make what I’m doing in meeting for worship something that my very wiggly four- or five-year-old can connect to and understand?
Roger Vincent Jasaitis: Our method in Putney Friends Meeting has been that the children do not come in initially when we start worship. They come in for the last 15 minutes or so, and have a joyous entrance with lots of noise and lots of smiles. Reuniting with their parents is a joyful thing, and it lifts the meeting up I think.
Kathleen Wooten: I think that it is hard for kids sometimes to sit in meeting for worship, and that’s okay. I think it’s hard for adults to sit in meeting for worship sometimes, and that’s okay.
Lisa Graustein: A few years ago I got together with some other parents and we did a twenty-minute program before meeting for worship once or twice a month. It was open to anyone in the meeting, but it was geared toward 4 to 8 year olds, and we did a lot of physical activities that mirrored the internal centering process, so ways of taking our bodies and coming to that centering energy, but always with an outward expression for someone else.
Doug Lippincott: We do kind of practice silence, and we’ll do kind of like a yoga pose and we’ll have contests on how long we hold the pose. It’s remarkable how kids you would think would never be able to sit still for a second, if put in the right frame of mind, are able to do it pretty easily.
Nurturing Children’s Spiritual Lives
Angela Hopkins: When it comes to First-day school, and what will happen with your children, the most important thing is the sense of love and community that they will receive there, and that’s primarily what will happen at Northampton Meeting.
Jeremiah Dickinson: Our model is one that we started several years ago, which we call All-Ages RE. We start an hour before worship, and we have adults and children joining together, and not only do we find it valuable in itself, but we’ve also found that it’s enhanced meeting for worship. Very often, when Friends come into worship, we hear themes that have gotten started in AARE.
Kathleen Wooten: So all of those kids both get to experience worship in the body with us and have that modeled for them and share with us, and also get to have their own experiences where they talk about being a Quaker or Quaker testimonies or what worship actually is.
Abby Matchette: And I think that’s important for them to be able to have that freedom to just explore in their own way who god is, and to be able to share hand in hand the curiosities of their world and “What’s it mean to be Quaker?” “What’s it mean to be spiritual?”
Honor Woodrow: When I was a kid, there was a lot of making cookies and singing songs and opportunities to just talk about what was important to us and to feel seen, to feel recognized, to feel whole, to feel like your contribution matters in the world and that there is a place for the uniqueness that you have.
Making Our Children Feel Seen
Abby Matchette: How Quakers approach religious education is really being grounded in that belief that there is that of God in all people and things, and I feel like that really is… that’s the thread that’s at Burlington Meeting too. Meeting with the children and their families and seeing that of God in all of them.
Lisa Graustein: And one of the things that I really value about being a parent in this meeting is how many of the adults in the meeting make a point to get to know my kid, engage with my kid. I had to travel for some family emergencies, and Friends in the meeting wrote him letters and let him know that he was being cared for even though his Mom wasn’t around. And so there’s a real sense of family in the meeting in that way.
Kathleen Wooten: I feel like no matter if there’s two kids or twenty kids, I feel like the spiritual journey of my individual child is also held by the meeting community, and when they ask her, “How was worship today?”, they’re actually asking her as a spiritual person, not just as a fun kid that did a craft or did a little dance–she loves crafts and dances too–and that is crucial. I think she feels like a member of the meeting.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.