Sitting in silent worship can be challenging even for adults. How do Quaker youth programs help children connect to Quaker spirituality through movement, play, and joyful creation?
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I don’t think American culture asks us to be in a state of reflection on a daily basis, on a weekly… it just doesn’t ask that of us at all. And so I think that Quakerism offers a tradition of roundedness and an access point to that state which I think is really good for humans and really good for me. Even though it’s tricky in my body too—I’ve got a lot of movement. So I had to practice being still and listening, and that practice was really hard for me as a kid. But it’s been really beneficial for me as an adult.
How Do We Teach Quaker Worship to Kids?
My name is Benjamin Camp. I live in South Philadelphia and I just became a member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, after transferring from Norristown Friends Meeting.
Working with Quaker Youth
The most recent programming I was involved with Quaker youth was I was the children’s religious life program coordinator for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. So I worked with the kindergarten to fifth graders. I felt like my work was the set up and framing of community experiences that were Quaker-led and rooted in an opportunity to explore God and connection to one another. I’m also really interested in play, so a lot of that was play-oriented, play-based. We had great conversations, but conversation isn’t always the way to get to God if you’re in second grade.
So I really thought a lot about the family and community and joyfulness, and joyful spirit. How can we set up a situation that feels Quaker and help kids figure out what Quaker means for them?
Encouraging Joyful Creativity
My approach to Quaker youth work, which is very much informed by people I got to work under and with, is that the act of joyful creativity, the act of expression, is an act of God; that creativity and God are synonymous. When we talk about the Light, we also talk about joyfulness and creativity. We say that Quaker worship is people listening, but you listen together. And so it’s that light of God, that creative moment, but it’s togetherness. I think when a Quaker space with youth is at its best, then we have an understanding and we leave space for that aspect of God to really come forward with one another.
Creating Structure and Trust
So sometimes that looks like projects together; sometimes that looks like putting on a little show. Sometimes that looks like writing in journals; sometimes that looks like worship, same as adults. It definitely looks like trusting the kids to know what their leadings are and offering the structures to help them not get distracted, which is really easy for anyone.
An Embodied Approach
If there was something that I gently encouraged Quakers towards as a youth program coordinator, it was to get everyone a little more physical. To create in large groups of multigenerational community situations, playing a game where everyone was dancing a little bit or coming into physical contact with one another. I think the state of Quaker worship can kind of imply a non-embodied experience. I think we do ourselves a disservice if we forget the ways that the body is connected to the spirit.
- How do you talk to children about Quakerism?
- What was your religious education like as a child? What impact would you say that has had on who you are as an adult?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.