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Raising Our Children in Meeting
How Our Meeting Provides a Spiritual Foundation for Its Children

A Young Friend speaks as a couple listens during the Brown Bag Discussion.Moderator: Irene Oleksiw          

For our second Brown Bag Discussion of 2009, our Worship and Ministry Committee chose the topic of "Raising Our Children in Meeting." For an hour soon after the rise of Meeting, 24 people gathered in an informal circle to discuss how our meeting provides 
a spiritual foundation for its children.

A member of our Worship and Ministry Committee read a testimony from a new Friend--the inspiration for today’s program: "I was raised in a strict, uncompromising religious environment. The range of my unpleasant experiences convinced me to spare my son from a similar upbringing. He is now an adult and I often wonder if I provided him
a foundation for a solid spiritual life." While our Meeting has a high youth participation rate at all ages, it’s nonetheless worthwhile to pause to evaluate how effective we’ve 
been at building a spiritual foundation for our children.


Each person in attendance jotted on a slip of paper a word or phrase that came to mind. The breadth of their responses below illustrates the pervasive nature of spirituality:
Gift given to all
Growing over time
I'm not much
Informs your life
Inner life
Inner peace for outer peace
LOVE thy neighbor and thyself
Obligation and development
Our place in the universe
Quiet reflection
Reflection beyond self
Searching, seeking
Unity with all
What lies beyond this life?
Why am I here on this earth?
Women from Meeting listen to the discussion at a recent Brown Bag Discussion.

What are the “bricks” of this foundation?

A Meeting member drew from her experience as a child reared in this Meeting as well as a parent raising children here, citing two positive aspects: 

1. Going to meeting was a given; it was a family commitment.
2. The quality of the community made a difference–teachers, family and friends. 

Three of the members of the panel at the discussion belonged to one family.A young adult member of Meeting said that attendance was not optional in their household. However, she didn’t think of it as a chore because she was following her parents who wanted to be here. 

Her mother added that as a family they usually discussed what they heard and felt at Meeting, on the way home. They fostered the importance of coming each week. In their house, Meeting and football were consistent focal points. 

Her father said that Meeting was part of how their children defined themselves. The touchstone was bearing witness to the peace testimony and the belief that doing so can’t help but impact others. 

For a Young Friend about to go off to college, the Meeting experience is not confined to an hours on Sunday morning. "My parents talk about it at home, reflecting with me on messages heard in Meeting for Worship and asking me what she did in First Day School. "

A panel member listens during the discussion.An active member of Meeting noted that his family started coming to Meeting occasionally 14 years ago, becoming regulars after a couple of years. "We have three teenage children, he added. "It’s been a great community with many examples for the children to learn from; leadership is spread throughout the group."

Another Young Friend, who came back from college for this discussion, said his parents were always involved in Meeting. "Attendance for me, as a child, was more of a habit. Then, in high school, I began to understand why my parents wanted to be involved. Among Young Friends, religion played more of a role than it had when I was younger. Interaction with other young people who were also growing pushed me forward in my own development."

"When I was raising my children, now in their mid-20’s, there was a small group their age," said a mother and long-standing member of Meeting. "Today, there are more children and the experience is richer. The Middle School and Young Friends have a deeper connection with other adults. My son didn’t have that until the Young Friends’ trip to Costa Rica." 

Another panel member speaks during the discussion.For a woman who has been in Meeting all of her life, Meeting was the core of it. She felt a network of togetherness. "There was an over-arching feeling that every voice mattered and that we should be open to learn together, she said. "It was a powerful message for children. It didn’t end with Meeting for Worship; there were often discussions among family members later."

Why have some children raised in Meeting not stayed connected to Quakerism?

Some children, even though Meeting provides a nurturing environment, haven’t developed a spiritual side. For others, life in flux has prevented them from developing their spirituality even though they consider themselves Friends. And some go on a journey, attending other churches along the way, but eventually coming back to their Quaker roots.

Is First Day School a precursor to membership or does it serve another purpose?

Everyone agreed that our First Day School program provided a lot of good background on history and beliefs, but the community was equally important. First Day School amplified the cohesion.

A Young Friend pauses as he thinks about what he's going to say.For some Young Friends, many Friends have become like extended family members. Our college-attending Young Friend added, "Meeting is a safe place, spiritually." But is that a benefit or a handicap for Middle School and Young Friends outside the Meeting community?

Although Meeting has been a good home base for him, he finds it different to talk about it among his friends at college. But for others, like the Young Friend above who’s soon off to college, Meeting has taught her to accept a huge range of beliefs because of the diversity within our religious community. It’s heightened her curiosity about the beliefs of others.

Our young adult Friend found that being a Quaker afforded her a sense of being a minority.

"When you’re younger, it can be intimidating because you want to be like other kids, but as I got older, I realized that many people were interested, and I developed pride in Quakerism." 

For the daughter of one of one of the coordinators of our Young Friends program, Quakerism makes her more willing to reach out to others, especially those who are different, the so-called "freaks". She has successfully drawn a large group of these teens together at school into a circle where they feel safe.

Do the programs of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting play a role? 

A lot of Middle School Friends and Young Friends from Downingtown attend these weekend programs throughout the year. It’s enlightening for them to hear about other Meetings. There are a lot of spiritual activities, for example, experiencing dance as a form of spirituality, and opportunities to talk about their spiritual lives. Through these programs, Young Friends have grown together.

The spiritual growth of many of our Meeting children begins with Young Friends. Their

gatherings help them sort themselves out. Also, when with 40 other Quaker kids, it makes spirituality acceptable.

Participation in our First Day School significantly improved 10-12 years ago. What happened?

A panel member, active with Young Friends, relates her experiences in working with them.Two actions led to this change. First, the curriculum has been divided into four sessions so teachers would not have to forego full Meeting for Worship for the entire school year. However, that made it difficult for the children to bond with them. A few teachers committed to full-year assignments for the Middle School and Young Friends. As a result, the teenagers have forged deeper connections with these adults and behavior problems have evaporated. Second, the basement, an unappealing, somewhat trashy location, was renovated to an inviting space for the teens. It was Meeting’s investment in its youth.

Most recently, the Religious Education Committee spent a great deal of time defining the objectives of First Day School. A couple of these committee members wrote a concise, comprehensive document to inform both parents and teachers. The Committee also overhauled the curriculum, with lesson plans that are tied to these guidelines.

What can adults do to encourage spiritual growth among our children?

Meeting also provides opportunities for children to interact with adults. Children, especially Young Friends, see how adults solve problems and work together.

"Kids don’t think like adults," said the convener of our Outreach Committee. "They’re listening and watching us, and we’re having more influence than we know." It’s important to remember that while kids think differently than adults, they are people who can do a lot. There have been many opportunities to tap that energy, especially at our annual Fall Festival.

Discussion participants jot down words that come to mind regarding brining up children in Meeting.How has Meeting helped parents in raising their children?

 long-standing families.

Meeting members and attenders are expected to take action on their beliefs, whether it be leading Opening Exercises, organizing discussion groups or some other activity. Children see their parents make these contributions and this makes them want to do the same.

What we’re cultivating is less a structure with building blocks, but more an awareness of the living organism that is our spirituality. It is not based on ritual but on an experience with God, nurtured by our Meeting community.

Young people desire and need to have a creative part in the life of the Meeting.  Friends should recognize the contributions that young people can make.”--from the Committee of Overseers section, on the care of young people

Care of the children of the meeting should be the responsibility of every Friend.  Let us share with our children a sense of adventure, of wonder, and of trust and let them know that, in facing the mysteries of life, they are surrounded by love...Friends are advised to seek for children the full development of God’s gifts, which is true education.”--from the Extracts section, # 252 of Faith & Practice

Read about our Young Friends Program

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