I am a member of a Quaker Worship Group. This means that we are still small enough to need to be under the care of a Quaker Meeting. We are somewhat rural, so that our Quaker Meeting is about a two and half hour drive from us. They take wonderful care of us, including having our latest Friend in Residence spend an overnight with us. We are often visited by members from our “mother ship.”
Did I say we are small? With a core attendance of about 8 folks every First Day, we are about to celebrate our THIRD year in existence. We meet in a small room at the local “church center,” which houses Lutheran, Presbyterian and Episcopal churches. It also provides space for many non-profits, such as Boy Scouts, AA and NA. We place out sandwich board sign out in front, directive signs indoors and meeting for worship begins at 3pm. We are unprogrammed and have struggled to meet the needs of those among us who like music.
The one thing we don’t have is anyone under the age of FIFTY. We are GRAY. We have been concerned that some day a family will show up and we will need to have an instant children’s program.
As the retired play therapist, I have offered to be on the “instant” list for provisional child and adolescent care. So as I attend Yearly Meeting and Quarterly Meeting, I’m always looking for ways to interact in “Quaker Mode” with any youth that might come our way.
Here are some of my observations as an unprogrammed Quaker:
- Quaker children are met with gentleness from both parents and others.
- Quaker parents give their offspring a lot of choices for participation and commitment to the offered program.
- Adult Quakers appear to be quite intellectual with each other and with their children.
- Intense emotions are not something experienced too often within the Quaker community.
- Adult Quakers long for and enjoy their quiet Meeting for Worship, which means that for most adult Quakers, that those adults who care for children during Meeting for Worship are “sacrificing” themselves for the rest of the adults.
- Children participating in First Day School are given the option of “finding Mama” during Meeting for Worship.
- Adolescents are often of two categories: those who are willing to provide care for children; and, those who really want to only be with their peers. (Sometimes it is hard to find adolescents at Quaker Meetings.)
All of the above is disquieting to me. I believe that to give our Quaker children a clear experiential understanding of what it is like to be a Quaker, we need to offer them a Quaker structure that has an embedded parental/Meeting EXPECTATION that they will participate in the program being offered.
Our natural inclination towards the combination of gentleness, intellectualism and choices does not always meet the developmental needs of our children. Sometimes children need to have a clear structure without the anxiety of making the decision themselves—or—demanding that every adult accede to granting immediate gratification.
As a “kid person” I find volunteering to be with youth as joyful; and, an opportunity to spiritually enrich both myself and youth during our time together. Playfulness can be both mystical and spiritual.
I realize that Quaker Meetings often struggle with crucial variables:
- how many children of what age will be in attendance on any give First Day.
- Limited space for children and adolescents.
- Concerns for types of programming (what parents want their child to learn in First Day School).
- Adult burn-out in the Children’s Program
What I do believe is that unprogrammed Quakers may want to continue their dialogue “about what to do with the Children’s Program” with the additional Query of “What happens to our Meeting if we put the children first in our concerns for worship, business and testimony?”
Let me know what your thoughts about this subject.