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
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
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 peace for outer peace
thy neighbor and thyself
Obligation and development
Our place in the universe
Reflection beyond self
Unity with all
What lies beyond this life?
Why am I here on this earth?
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
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.
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
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
"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."
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
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
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.
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
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?
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
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.
has Meeting helped parents in raising their children?
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.
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
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 &