Topic: Children’s religious education is vital to the growth of Friends meetings, yet it can be challenging in small communities. Quaker meetings in North America are often small with a preponderance of older Friends, yet our way of worship offers the quietude, balance and wisdom so yearned for by families who seek to raise well-grounded children in the face of these turbulent times.  In this conversation, seasoned Quaker religious educators will share insights on how small meetings can offer a deep experience for children in the manner of Friends, even when families attend sporadically or when there are few children across a wide age range. We will also explore how families can teach Quaker faith and practice at home.

Welcome and Introductions

Centering Silence

Windy Cooler: RE in the small meeting and RE in the home are distinct topics. Because most Quaker meetings in North America are small, they face a common set of challenges. RE in the small meeting is a matter of being prepared to welcome children and provide a deep Quaker experience when they come. Teaching across a wide age range is also a challenge.

Quaker RE in the home involves helping parents learn how to weave Quaker values and practices into daily life. 

Mary Snyder: (Paullina Meeting, Iowa YM Conservative) Editor and contributor for Opening Doors to Religious Education in the Home and Small Meeting (FGC, 1986). She has been passionate about religious education (RE) for many years. After becoming a convinced Friend in college, she settled in Menomonie, Wisconsin with her family. She completed a master‚Äôs degree in elementary education, which informed much of her RE work. Based on her family‚Äôs frequent participation in FGC Junior Gatherings, Mary became active in the FGC Religious Education Committee and served for a time as Clerk. She now lives part time in Wentworth SD and part time in Minneapolis MN. 

Mary’s philosophy of FDS is based on these two ideas:

  • ‚ÄúAll you need for FDS is a story and a response to story.‚Äù She learned this from a Montessori teacher in New York.
  • ‚ÄúPlay is a child‚Äôs work,‚Äù from Piaget

Sofia Cavaletti, a Montessori teacher in Rome, used sheep and shepherd stories as an entry point into religious education. Mary has come to use those stories often for children who come to meeting for the first time, and for adults, because they draw people in. Mary invites children to play through the sheep and shepherd stories and to give the sheep names of the people in the room.

FGC Education Committee Working Group produced RE in the Home and Small Meeting in 1986. There were a lot of new ideas rising at the time about what makes a family, types of families, etc.  They gathered material into a notebook which was published by FGC.  It is out of print now but is posted in the QREC Resource Library: QREC Resource Library.  Stories are still the foundation of Mary‚Äôs approach to RE. The curriculum has two sample stories: George Fox and Benjamin Wooley.

Method tips:

  • Have stories the teacher loves to tell
  • Set up the response area to be inviting to children.
  • Establish a routine (example: greeting, building the circle, story, reflection, response, closing)

First Day School Box: When children come infrequently or when there is no designated First Day School space, prepare a cloth garden carrying case with many pockets. Keep it stocked with books, activities, art supplies and figures or objects to play with. Having materials at the ready.

Cue book: The children can help make a book about a story and put themselves in the story. Adults write the lines and the children draw the pictures.

Drama: Play through the stories, whether Biblical or Quaker stories. The story of Reading Meeting draws children.  It‚Äôs about the early days of Quakerism when all of the adults were in jail for their beliefs and the children held meeting in their absence.   

Classroom routine is important for continuity especially with changes in teachers from week to week. Even when the teachers are different, a familiar routine helps children settle into the lesson.

Mary lifted up the Discovering Our Faith series: http://www.discoveringourfaith.com/, specifically Discovering Our Faith Through Story and Play: http://www.discoveringourfaith.com/storyplay.html

Quaker RE as she was raising her children often took place in the car as they drove to and from FGC and other Quaker gatherings. 

Windy Cooler: The question often comes up of how to support RE work in the home, how to support parents, how to conduct RE in small communities – part of almost every other conversation we have. So, we thought it could be useful to focus an entire conversation on these questions. 

RE in the home and meeting are very different topics but interconnected. We’re wondering how conversation starters have prepared to welcome families, when they may or may not show up.

Christie Duncan-Tessmer (Chestnut Hill Meeting, PhYM) has been involved with nurturing the spiritual lives of children in the Quaker community in a variety of ways.  She‚Äôs taught First Day School and worked as the FDS Coordinator of her meeting, worked for Junior Gathering at FGC as staff and a volunteer, and served as the Children‚Äôs Religious Life Coordinator at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting where she is now General Secretary. She is especially concerned with developing multigenerational community that includes all ages in meaningful worship, fellowship, fun, learning and ministry.

Multigenerational worship (vs. intergenerational) PhYM is moving toward ‚ÄòHeart Sharing‚Äô creating an environment at Annual Sessions in which children and adults engage together in an active worship experience. They are getting away from a format that leaves most kids out, of sitting in a circle in silence and responding to a query one at a time, possibly at length. They have developed a process for all ages worship sharing at Annual Sessions that gets adults out of ‚Äòbrain‚Äô and into ‚Äòheart‚Äô mode and puts children on equal footing. Recognizing that the voice of each person brings wisdom and reflects a multivalent experience of Divine presence, Friends of all ages break into small groups. They respond to queries with one to three words, or movement, or pictures.  The room fills with a different connection between children and adults around what is truly important.  Everyone is engaged on a deeper level. 

Multigenerational Learning: Is when we all do the things of our lives together.  Adults get to do things they would not otherwise do ‚Äòbecause it‚Äôs for the children,‚Äô but the adults also benefit directly with movement and laughter and responding from the heart.  When verbalization is limited to 1 ‚Äì 3 words, adults must get to the core of the message. Children get to express things of importance in worship sharing with people of all ages. 

Nurturing children in small meetings: Thinking about Quaker RE, there are both challenges and opportunities. There can be a feeling of ‚Äòless than‚Äô but intimacy is more possible. A small meeting can be like home and family in some ways. It‚Äôs more ‚Äúall the time‚Äù with opportunities for deeper, day to day relationships between children and adults. Adults can take part in children‚Äôs lives at times other than Sunday morning, supporting parents and providing role models for children. Children, especially teens, can take part in the Meeting‚Äôs committee work.

Welcoming families as a Meeting: It is important to be intentional about welcoming families.  The Meeting for Business should discern how to say ‚ÄúYes, we want to be engaged with children and families as a whole meeting,‚Äù rather than relegating children‚Äôs RE to a few volunteers or to parents.

In a small meeting it is more difficult for a child to get lost in the crowd.  Adults are more likely to notice them and engage with them.  This is particularly important with shy children or those who are not forthcoming about their needs and interests. 

Ami and Elizabeth: Question about the multigenerational worship: How did that take place?  Was it during the Meeting for Worship time or at another time?

Christie: The process took place at Yearly Meeting Session, but it can be used in monthly meetings as an example of the WFFLS philosophy: Worship, Fellowship, Fun, Learning and Service. On fifth Sundays or quarterly, as an alternative to the traditional practice of having children enter Meeting for Worship for the first 15 minutes, all adults are invited to join the children before regular Meeting for Worship in the children’s space in the Meeting House. Only some adults participate, but they enter worship with a sense of service, in expectant waiting, to create a sense of Meeting for Worship. Worship is semi-programmed, possibly with the small group brief responses to a query described above, or a story such as Godly Play or Faith & Play, or singing, art or movement. At the close, children begin class and adults go to Meeting for Worship.

Allyson Jacobs (Chappaqua Meeting, NYYM) She has experiences in both small and large meetings with varying types of religious education. She would particularly like to have a discussion about how to ‚Äòbe‚Äô a Quaker family at home and the importance in encouraging children to get involved in Quaker activities such as camps and weekend retreats. 

Allyson has 4 children, who with 2 others, are the entire First Day School in their small meeting.  It‚Äôs a challenge to have 4 siblings in a class, but also a blessing because the conversation from FDS carries over into the home. There is a woman who consistently teaches, which is great for parents. 

Because she and her husband are co-clerks of the Meeting, their children see them at home doing Meeting work. They are also intentional about giving the whole First Day School ample experience of the wider Quaker community by participating in retreats at Powell House (NYYM retreat center) and New York Yearly Meeting annual and quarterly sessions.  They also work to help the children realize that they are part of a whole world of religions.

Allyson lifted up the Wellesley Meeting practice of All Ages Worship which takes place periodically one hour before Meeting for Worship.  There is usually a speaker, with multigenerational conversation and activity.  Wellesley is a good-sized meeting, though the First Day School is small.  This approach to All Ages Worship may be more difficult in a small meeting. 

Small meetings offer the intimacy we crave, including children.  Adults in her previous small meeting took the time to listen to her children and really got to know them.

Windy Cooler: Agrees with the importance of offering avenues for deep connection between children and adults in Meeting.  At her previous Meeting an elderly man spent hours each week preparing for FDS lessons with her son who was the only student in the class.  As a result, they became very close.  Her son carries that learning with him to this day. 

Kri Burkander (Princeton Meeting, PhYM) became a convinced Friend in middle school and was a frequent attender of PYM’s Middle School and Young Friends events through high school, where she met the man who is now her husband. Their experiences in the Young Friends program, and as staff in FGC’s high school program, serve as a critical touchstone for their relationship and inform the way they parent their children, now 10 and 12. She served as Lake Erie YM’s Youth Program Coordinator for 5 years, and also served on FGC’s Religious Education committee. She carries a concern for nurturing youth involvement in every aspect of Quaker community and has presented several workshops at Pendle Hill and in various YMs regarding how to support youth in smaller meetings.  

Kri attended Philadelphia Yearly Meeting during her youth and was profoundly affected by the personal connection of the high school community. Then she moved to Michigan where she worked for Lake Erie Yearly Meeting and was struck by the difference and helped her appreciate what she had left behind. She is drawn to work in H.S. programs and emphasizes their importance in faith formation and personal growth. She worked with others in LEYM and nearby YMs to organize ‚Äúthe Quake that rocked the Midwest‚Äù for LEYM, OVYM, NYM and ILYM.  It‚Äôs still going today,

She weaves this background into her family life today.  Her husband is also a Quaker who was in the young Friends program, so they teach Quaker values in the course of daily life.  Even mundane things can open an opportunity to teach groundedness and intention such as a conversation in the car about something that happened at school.

Kri has learned to make space for intermittent conversations; day to day offer opportunities to explore ‘Who we want to be as a person‚Äô It‚Äôs never planned but as a parent, she watches for the doors to open. These conversations seem small, but they are not actually small, and they have a cumulative effect over time. She has also learned that teens want to have those doors opened even if they seem not to be interested.   

Quaker parenting is a way of being: Open to opportunity.

Queries:

  • How can a small meeting offer a deep Quaker experience to children when families attend sporadically or when there is a wide age range?
  • In what ways can a small meeting support children‚Äôs spiritual growth and sense of community?
  • How can parents weave Quaker faith and practice into home and family life?
  • What resources can families use to teach Quakerism at home?

Conversation Summary:

Elizabeth: Related a successful lesson using a fishing rod, curtain rod with string and magnet, strung with a gummy worm, and paper ‚Äòpeople‚Äô with paper clips attached.  The lesson was around, ‚ÄúHow do you fish for people? You‚Äôre kind to them.‚Äù The point is that any story can become play.

Harriet: In the Quaker Parenting Initiative (QPI): https://quakerparenting.org/ we take a query based approach to parenting according to the Testimonies. We work in online groups to bring Quaker values into our homes.  We put our beliefs into action by working through mundane situations. For instance, with the common problem of fighting between siblings we focus on the testimonies of equality and peace.  We look on every opportunity, no matter how small, as an opportunity for learning.  That approach builds over time to become a way of being with each other.

What is your experience with doing things with children and families at times other than Sunday morning Meeting for Worship? Wellesley is a large meeting with fewer families which has some of the challenges of a small meeting. Families are so busy often say Sunday morning is the only time they can rise slowly and spend family time.

Margaret: London Grove hosts a Friday night potluck, gathering, worship and social with some first day school elements. Friends other than parents cook the main dishes to enable families to ‚Äòjust come‚Äô knowing dinner will be on the table even if they don‚Äôt have time to cook.  Wednesday after school is similar. The Meeting also hosts ‘parents out,‚Äô with childcare at the Meeting House while parents go on a date.  Some parents have come back early to socialize with each other.  

Christie: Chestnut Hill offers simple breakfast foods before Meeting for Worship to simplify the process for families of getting to the Meeting House.

Liz: Friends Meeting of Austin offers breakfast with gluten free options.  The children are seated at one table while the parents get to sit at another table and socialize.   The Meeting has also hosted a parents‚Äô night out on Valentine‚Äôs Day. Consistency is important to build children‚Äôs trust in adults who care for them in the Meeting.

Greg: I always make sure that events have food available. People are always welcome to bring more but I always have ample food

Leanne:  We use Faith and Play material intergenerationally on Sunday afternoons with Friends in Common. We gather to share prouds and sorries, enter centering silence, then I present the lesson. Following the lesson adults and children take 15 minutes of silence to process the lesson with legos, playdough, drawing, journaling, meditation, or walking meditation if the weather permits. We regather and share our thoughts and creations. It‚Äôs fabulous! Life giving for all.

Sita: Madison Meeting has a monthly youth gathering from 5-7PM on Sunday with a meal, projects and fellowship. Teens are so busy the rest of the week, but that time slot seems to work for them.

Mary: How do you make your faith part of family celebrations, part of daily life? 

Christie: When her children were in elementary school, the family gathered each morning for a few minutes of worship. Sometimes there were messages. Family Meeting for Worship closed with announcements. The practice helped settle their family life in general.

They also develop ‘friendly’ traditions at holidays, such as:

Decorate a living plant rather than cutting down a tree.

Before Christmas, review what can be moved out of house, mended and given new life

Light candles and remember in gratitude and wonder

Praying together, sometimes the Lord‚Äôs prayer substituting other names for God.   

Sita: Her family ate supper each night sitting around a table.  Before the meal, the family sat in waiting worship for a few moments until a child felt moved to sing grace.  During advent and Christmas, they sang Christmas carols instead of grace. 

What are your favorite children’s books?

What is God’s Name? Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, http://www.skylightpaths.com/page/product/978-1-893361-10-2

The Apple-Pip Princess, by Jane Ray https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2434435.The_Apple_Pip_Princess

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch: https://robertmunsch.com/book/the-paper-bag-princess

Beautiful Moon, A Child’s Prayer, by Tonya Bolden: https://www.tonyaboldenbooks.com/beautiful-moon-a-childs-prayer-tonya-bolden/

Because Nothing Looks Like God, by Lawrence and Karen Kushner: http://www.jewishlights.com/page/product/978-1-58023-092-6

Children of God Storybook Bible, by Desmond Tutu, with illustrators from all over the world: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8571920-children-of-god-storybook-bible

The Family Story Bible, by Ralph Milton: https://www.wjkbooks.com/Products/0664221084/the-family-story-bible.aspx

God Created by Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/528316.God_Created

The Heavenly Village by Cynthia Rylant: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1019986.The_Heavenly_Village

Creation by Gerald McDermott: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/126855.Creation

Lighting Candles in the Dark, FGC: https://quakerbooks.org/products/lighting-candles-in-the-dark-2254

The Power of Goodness, Friends Peace Teams: https://power-of-goodness.info/

Quaker Meeting and Me, a small booklet given to Quaker meetings everywhere; for programmed and unprogrammed traditions, bilingual text in Spanish and English.  Unprogrammed version is not currently available until it is reprinted: http://quakers4re.org/sites/default/files/2017qmandmpostertoweb.pdf

Sparkling Still online library (FGC) posts children‚Äôs books suitable for First Day School lessons.  The books are catalogued by topic and age group. https://www.fgcquaker.org/deepen/religious-education/sparkling-still/sparkling-still-librarything-collection 

Seeking suggestions for a small First Day School where half of the class is from one family and it is difficult to help the other children feel included.

Sita: Facilitate activities that involve working in pairs and match children from the sibling group with non-siblings. 

Christie: Beyond First Day School, involve children and youth in the life of meeting such as serving on committees, helping clean on workdays, or assisting with fellowship events and activities. This broadens the siblings’ focus from each other to the Meeting Community as a whole.

Final thoughts:

Not all adults want to be involved in First Day School, but they can take part in helping children and families feel valued as members of the Meeting Community.

Facebook opens a way for parents to engage in Friends‚Äô community and connect with each other from their homes and at convenient times.  FGC (https://www.facebook.com/fgcquaker/) and QREC (https://www.facebook.com/Quakers4RE) both have active conversations on their Facebook pages.

For small meetings with no regular First Day School:

First Day School in a bag, where a book and supplies for a response are kept handy in a zipper bag, and volunteers are prepared to teach should children come. 

First Day School in a box: when there is no dedicated FDS classroom.  Stock a garden tool carrier (https://www.amazon.com/Housolution-Gardening-Organizer-Wear-Resistant-Reusable/dp/B07K75KFMZ) with First Day School books and supplies.  Have a group of volunteer prepared to teach.

Announcements:

Gratitude and Closing Worship

Resources:

 

Tuesday, 1/21/20 1:00PM Eastern

Name

Meeting-Organization

Windy Cooler

Sandy Springs, BYM

Sita Diehl

Madison, NYM

Kody Hersh

Orlando, SEYM

Mary Snyder

Sioux Falls WG, Iowa Conservative YM

Allyson Jacobs

Chappaqua, NYYM

Christie Duncan-Tessmer

Chestnut Hill, PhYM

Ami Corleto-Bales

Mohawk Valley, NYYM

Linda Warner

Klamath Falls FC, Sierra-Cascades YM

Elena Rosales-Anderson

PacYM     

Barbara Babin

Redwood Forest FM, PacYM

Ellie Rosenberg

Ithaca NY, NYYM

Gail Fletcher

Norman OK, SCYM

Marissa Walker

Bethesda MD, BYM

Katie Green

Clearwater FL, SEYM

Indira Martell

BYM

Beth Collea

Dover NH, NEYM

Monica Tetzlaff

South Bend IN, ILYM

Anne Collins

Stillwater OK, SCYM

Greg Woods

FM Cambridge, NEYM

Rebecca Morehouse

Ann Arbor, LEYM

Sally Farneth

Portland ME, NEYM

Ann Nunes

Wilton MM, NYYM

Beth Anderson

FM Santa Monica, PacYM

Kaia Jackson

Richmond IN, OVYM

Faith Kelley

Berkeley Friends Church, WARSF

Nora Pollack

Chappaqua NY, NYYM

Lisa Thompson

Lake Forest, ILYM

Barbara Finkelstein

Clearwater FL, SEYM

Pamela Kuhn

Northside FM, Chicago, ILYM

Harriet Heath

Schoodic WG, NEYM

Dancan Sabwa

Kitale FM, Kenya

 

Thursday, 1/23/20 8:00 PM Eastern

Name

Meeting-Organization

Sita Diehl

Madison WI, NYM

Kody Hersh

Orlando FL, SEYM

Mary Snyder

Sioux Falls WG, Iowa Conservative YM

Kri Burkander

Princeton NJ, PhYM

Christie Duncan-Tessmer

Chestnut Hill, PhYM

Gail Eastwood

PacYM

Mary Tierney

PhYM

Beth Collea

Dover NH,  NEYM

Nikki Holland

Belize

Anne Collins

Stillwater OK, SCYM

Sarah Kamau

Kenya

Nancy Alleman

 

Rachel Guaraldi

Hanover NH, NEYM

Lianna Tennal

Middlebury VT, NEYM

Frances Devine

Haverford PA, PhYM

Leann Williams

Sierra Cascades Assoc. of Friends

Anna Dulin

Vassalboro ME, NEYM

Virginia Kristl

Dover NH, NEYM

Liz Yeats

Austin TX, SCYM

Margaret Walton

London Grove PA, PhYM

Amy Connelly

Buckingham MM, PhYM

Karen Meadows

 

Cynthia Ganung

Wellesley MA, NEYM

EiIeen Zingaro

Clearwater FL, SEYM

Greg Woods

FM Cambridge, NEYM

Margaret McCasland

Ithaca NY, NYYM

An Introduction

The Quaker Religious Education Collaborative (QREC) is an international, cross-branch, grassroots network of Friends sharing a stewardship for lifelong Quaker faith formation through religious education. We formed in April 2014 and now serve more than 300 Friends in our network. We actively engage and support each other across languages and continents. We gather for regional and annual conferences and offer monthly Conversation Circles via an online conferencing platform. 

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We share leadership as part of our collaborative mission, making decisions using the Quaker ‘sense of the meeting’ process, sitting in expectant, worshipful waiting for the emergence of shared truth. Read more…

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Finders Guide, a sampling of the collection

The QREC Resource Library is a place to share lessons and other educational information in support of our work as Quaker religious educators. This library is a forum for curricula, articles, videos and other educational materials on Quaker themes. You will also find principles, policies and procedures to strengthen operation of your child, youth and adult religious education programs.

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Find renewal, companionship, and help for nitty gritty issues in Quaker religious education, all the while opening spaces for Spirit to work and listening together for God’s way forward.

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Online conferences for Quaker religious educators to share about their work. Conversations are scheduled for two sessions per topic to encourage international participation.  Join the conversation…

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Faith at Home

Home is the heart of faith formation for all families. This is especially true for Friends. As an experiential religion, Quakerism is best learned through living in loving community. Indeed, the vast majority of faith formation for our young Friends happens at home in the busy swirl of daily life.

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