Conversation Circles April 2021

Conversation Circle Summary: Quaker Youth

Faith formation through action, November 2021

Quakerism is an experiential and experimental faith. When working with Quaker youth, it is more effective to demonstrate our faith than to talk about it. When teens feel truly heard and respected by the adult Friends around them, when religious education stems from youth-led Quaker process, and when teens have opportunities for community service in the company of Friends, big questions can arise, and they may want to know more.


  • What types of experiences or practices can ignite curiosity in young Friends about Quaker faith and practice?
  • How can we offer meaningful experience of Quaker practice as young Friends come back together after this long time apart?

Conversation Starters

Andrew Wright is children and youth coordinator from Durham Friends Meeting (NCYM Conservative). Andrew will describe their work in Durham Friends Meeting of engaging youth in the meeting, of teaching experientially through youth-led decision-making in the manner of Friends. He’ll also talk about QUAIL, a sexuality and relationship curriculum based on Our Whole Lives that is evolving in Durham Friends Meeting.

Ed Doty is a member of Purchase Meeting (NYYM) and Executive Director of the Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP) which he founded in l983.  YSOP’s mission is to engage students in service to needy people under the guidance of adults committed to volunteer service.  Before the pandemic forced the closing of programs in New York City and Washington DC, each school year over 3,000 high school students, college students, young adults and adult volunteers participate in YSOP workcamps, providing service to approximately 500,000 homeless and hungry people.  In the fall of 2020, YSOP began a virtual intergenerational program linking students with senior citizens. Ed will share YSOP’s work to offer meaningful youth service experience from a Quaker perspective through orientation to the issues, hands-on volunteer work and reflection. 

After Andrew and Ed seed the conversation with their experience and insights, we’ll open the conversation to exchange experiences, questions and leadings in work with Quaker youth. Feel free to use the chat or to speak aloud as you are led.

Conversation Seeds

Andrew Wright, Durham Friends Meeting Children &Youth Coordinator

For many years, Durham FM has had a lively Jr. Meeting. They hold monthly Youth Meeting for Business, report to main Meeting for Business. Greatest youth participation is on Jr. Meeting weeks because there is a sense of empowerment and agency. Youth like making decisions together.  Jr. Meeting adult advisors help young Friends learn Quaker process. The teens like talking with adults other than their parents about what is important to them. Jr. Meeting has done social events, fundraisers, service projects and has served the Meeting.


  • Built a little Free Library together. Met with Grounds and Facilities Committee. Youth remember the project fondly because they can see their work when they are on the Meeting grounds.
  • 2021 youth garden: Decided to do it, worked with G&F committee to plan. Drew up a design Placed in the front yard in the sun. It was a project that could be done during the pandemic because it was outside. Had some challenges with watering. Reviewing for next year and planning to partner with the Friends school on property.

QUAIL is a human relationship & sexuality program for older middle schoolers. It evolved from Our Whole Lives (OWL), a Unitarian curriculum, but is adapted to better align with Quaker faith and practice. Durham Friends Meeting has taught QUAIL five times over the past 10 years.  We put Quaker formation right there, in human relationships & sexuality, where the teens are most interested. Central to their developmental focus is being interested in other youth, changing body, engaged socially, interested romantically and sexually with other kids.  Some are afraid of the conversations about sexuality and relationship, yet most are interested. 

Format: A 24-hour introductory retreat, 3 weekly sessions, and a closing 24-hour retreat. The first retreat focuses on anatomy/physiology, body changes with adolescence. Three weekly sessions focus on relationship skills. Teens change so much during that span of time, and it is interesting to see how they work with the material. A couple from Durham Meeting who are Couple Enrichment facilitators come and share about their relationship. We work on consent and assertive communication. The closing retreat looks at the mechanics of intercourse, pregnancy, STDs. We show and learn about birth control devices.

There are exercises to explore sexuality from Quaker perspective such as:

  • Guided body scans
  • Place you can go inside where God is there
  • Testimonies woven throughout

Ed Doty: Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP)

Ed was drawn to the Society of Friends by social concerns in the 1960s. He found that Quakers were less about talking and more about action.  He worked with AFSC for years.  For some Quaker youth, experiencing service is important to spiritual formation. There are many ways to come to a sense of the Divine, but service is a vital path for many.

In the 1980s, opportunities to do service under Quaker auspices diminished. AFSC youth service programs were closed down. AFSC was emphasizing urban services and peace, which were important, but there was no room for youth service. Ed had participated in AFSC work camps in the 1960s and valued the opportunity to work with others and talk about what was important: to explore pacificism, and silence as worship.  In 1983, Ed founded YSOP because he was concerned that youth did not have enough opportunity to do service, to put a human face on serious social problems.  YSOP began by providing a day camp for refugee children. Have done food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless programs.

He worked with other Friends to form Youth Services Opportunities Project (YSOP) in New York. Mostly offer short term opportunities (weekend, one-day), because kids who do regular volunteer service work don’t need the additional push. Youth who have other extracurricular activities, who can’t commit regularly still deserve the opportunity to experience service. YSOP keystones:

  • Focus on real service – something that is definitely needed
  • Orientation to the issues to help youth understand safety concerns and think about the bigger issue
  • Focus on service to people who are left out by society – areas of great need (i.e., hungry or homeless people)
  • Must be things teens could do – not requiring professional skills
  • Short term: weekend work camps, day projects
  • Something they could do with their hands.
  • Hands-on work
  • After service, reflect on what they had just experienced.
  • Many adults work alongside kids (1-5 ratio of adults to young people) to experience a variety of styles

YSOP intent: Incremental change in kids’ lives through the experience of service.

One way to involve teens in Meetings is to challenge them with service opportunities. They can meet obligations for school as well. Kids are often required to do service projects for school credit. 

Pandemic: YSOP Connects. Virtual project connecting senior citizens and teens in small groups (see below). About to start an in person intergenerational in person service project.  150 students and 120 seniors involved in the program over the school year.  Seniors participated from NY, Washington DC, schools.

Conversation Summary

Cameron: Biggest struggle in the pandemic: how to do things that are safe but face to face?  Goose Creek (VA) Teens are going to the Meeting House cemetery, sketching the layout of cemetery, grave rubbings, learning history of the Meeting, Researching the ones that capture their interest, how people died of things we are now able to cure.  Goose Creek was a big spot in underground railroad.  They will submit what they find to the Meeting archives and tell the Meeting what they learned.  It is connecting us to the community in our area. 

Goose Creek Meeting also encourages teens to participate in 3 different Meeting committees per year.  They have joined the religious education and anti-racism committees.  Having youth participate in Quaker process rejuvenates committees and helps kids learn Quaker process. It’s empowering because they like to tell adults what to do. Cameron also facilitates an online parent group (open to any parent anywhere). The group (among other things) helps parents cope with changes in teens.  They have a virtual teen group that is now dwindling. We are doing outdoor projects. 

Older son is going to a youth conference in Charlottesville, sleepovers with BYM.  They ask kids get vaccinated and tested the week before

Ed: There is a paradox with the dwindling number of teens in Quaker meetings in that Quaker schools are thriving. Ed has been involved in a number of Quaker schools over the years.  Alumni of Quaker schools care deeply about Meeting for Worship whether or not they belong to the Society of Friends.  Many Quaker school students are not Quakers, though they get an extensive education in Quaker process and practice.  

 Tom: The monthly meeting has been only virtual since the beginning of the pandemic. Youth participation has dwindled to almost nothing.  We are now exploring possibilities, including hiring a youth director/minister for the monthly meeting.  Minneapolis Meeting supports a Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) house in Minneapolis.  Want to find ways to connect the QVS house with youth in the Meeting.

Melinda will share a write-up on hiring a RE coordinator. In years past, a group of PhYM youth went to YSOP. The YSOP approach to working with young people is wonderful. In terms of Quaker youth work overall: it’s hard right now.  In middle school we have been reading the book, Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints by Daneed Akers. Friends, Bayard Rustin & Alice Paul are included.  We just read a chapter, then kids talk about what’s on their minds.  

 In PhYM, youth programs have taken a hit despite efforts to do online & in person activities.  We are in a place of rebuilding.  Recently the RE committee met and realized that it’s about taking the YM to the youth rather than expecting them to come to a YM gathering, “How might we take this conversation out among Friends?” Teens have a lot of pressures on their time.  Sunday morning is not always the best time for them.  “How can we help it feel authentic and vital to them?”

 Mim: Monthly meeting youth program dwindling due to covid. Exploring reaching out to other MM youth programs to combine attendance online throughout the Yearly and Quarterly Meetings. Were recently invited to attend the Southern California quarterly youth program. Was a lot of fun. There are still older teens who remember the before times, what it was like to be part of youth-led worship and worship sharing.  Younger teens may not have that experience.  It’s important to have older youth facilitate experience before they move on into adult lives. 

Meetings in the Pacific Northwest rely heavily on in-person community. Before the pandemic, families were limiting screens. Kids were still on screens in their daily lives, but not for Quaker events.  Kids were actively discouraged from exchanging young Friends’ social media contacts.  During the pandemic they didn’t know how to get in touch with each other. Mim had to gather youth social media handles to help them connect. Now they are just trying to forge connections and get the kids together in person.  They don’t know each other, so they don’t have a pull to gather with other young Friends. 

Inga: The biggest challenge is getting the kids to show up. During the pandemic we had been doing online FDS with youth, but no one would turn on their screens, and kids were not able to interact with each other.  Getting them back together was a real task. A Friend would prepare lessons and no one would show. Inga has 2 teens. She started an email chain to parents every Friday, saying “My kids are coming on Sunday. If everyone shows up there would be a group.  Do any of you know if your kids will come? We simplified the program. The focus is just listening.  We come with one question and let them talk with each other.  They play games like Magic the Gathering and have a good time.  It has taken about 4 weeks, but we’re ramping up.  We’re backing away from Quaker programming for now and just focusing on building community among the teens. 

 Melinda: The November issue of the New York Yearly Meeting newsletter, “SPARK” is about “Communicating Across Generations” and has a wonderful piece by Ed about YSOP!

Keenan: This is my first year in this role. Pacific Yearly Meeting is geographically spread with 35 monthly meetings, including about 50 children under 18. Across all monthly meetings, 1 or 2 youth per meeting, not a critical mass.  Before the pandemic, the main events were quarterly & yearly meeting sessions and Quaker camps. We have had a very loose structure based on committees.  In the past we have done youth trips to El Salvador based on long standing YM relationship.  Now we struggle to grow the community because we don’t have visible activities kids can participate in.  The last Zoom with Southern California Quarterly Meeting drew a good group, but that is not a draw for new youth.  We are planning one-time events to get together and see each other.  We are also looking for a stronger link to Quaker camps, connecting kids from camps to monthly meetings in the Yearly Meeting.  We are reworking the teen program which has been built around adult program (very boring for the teens). 

Beth: In NEYM, we are building intentional collaboration between the Yearly Meeting, Friends camps and Monthly Meetings.  We are hosting a weekend youth retreat at a Quaker Camp, duplicating the program with in-person pods at 4-5 different monthly meetings. We are enlisting RE Friends in local meetings to help reach out to teens in their meetings.  We need a lot more collaboration between parts of the yearly meeting. Quaker Camps are natural allies in the process.

Sita: Kids in NYM don’t want to meet on Zoom. The prefer to meet in person. Our high school coordinator hosted an in person weekend retreat at our Quaker Camp. 

Andrew: Durham Meeting has been hosting outdoor worship with childcare. We are responding to the need of parents. Families show up because parents desperately need to sit in quiet, and they appreciate the chance to place their children in a safe childcare situation.  Our middle schoolers have wide open schedules during the pandemic. We have been doing things outdoors – camping, canoeing, etc. We built an agreement with parents about what feels safe to them.  We invited (not required) parents to tell us whether their youth were vaccinated. All were, so it helped parents relax.  Andrew sends email messages and texts parents to emphasize.  We have to use both communication channels because people are overwhelmed with emails. 

Ed: Everyone is bored with Zoom except if it’s something they want to do.  YSOP is doing an online project, small groups with 5 teens and 4 senior citizens from a lot of different places.  Would be glad to gather a small group of Quakers from anywhere.  Seniors appreciate talking with kids who are not their grandchildren and vice versa.  The groups are short term: 3 sessions, 1 hour each meeting weekly for 3 weeks. A YSOP staff person keeps conversation going and lively.  The groups have been very well received: 150 kids and 120 seniors participated in the last year.  It helps if the kids know each other. 

Joan: What are the questions they start with? 

Ed: Last year we asked, “How are you coping with the pandemic?”

This year:

  • What various communities are you part of?
  • Young people were asked, “What are you doing in your community for service?”
  • Elders were asked, “In the 1940s, 1950s what did you do for service?”
  • Questions about community and empathy

Not everyone talks.  Staff facilitate, encourage talking and make sure no one dominates. 

The oldest participant in YSOP Connects is 96. Kids are fascinated; the elders are fascinated too. 

 Joan: This sounds a lot like Rachel Dubois’ work in ‘group conversation’ in the 1940s and 1950s

Ed: Next service YSOP project will be in person in Pelham, NY.  Youth and senior citizens will gather to make birthday bags for kids who are homeless: Will work together to assemble boxes, then reflect afterwards.  Bags contain craft activities, soft toys and things the kids and seniors have made together. We are not proselytizing, we don’t talk much about Quakers, we try to follow where the kids want to go in the conversation.   

 Sita: Ed, when you do reflections, what arises?  In middle school kids talk about the concrete, “What we did.”  Staff ask probing questions to try to get to the bigger picture and underlying issues.  High school and college kids get to the bigger issues quickly.  We try small group reflection, reporting to large group and silence. 

Marybeth: Service takes a lot of work to organize. Meetings need to think about paying RE Coordinators in order to have successful programs. Friends schools pay people to be service coordinators. 

Ed: Friends schools pay people to be service coordinators.  We can tap into that. There is a lot of resistance.  There are teachers who are experts in engaging young people.  There are people who are good at teaching sexuality in high schools.  Contact Ed for further information:

 Holly: Is YSOP local to New York or will you be going nationwide? The in-person projects are in New York, touch we would like to try doing things in northern Virginia where we have a staff member. For YSOP connects, older people and younger people can be from anywhere. 

 Monica: I’m encouraged. I feel these things are replicable.  I organize community service in a community college. Love the cemetery project from Goose Creek. North of us in Michigan, there was underground railroad line and quite a bit of Quaker activity. 

Holly Lapp: Would like more information about youth business meeting.  Andrew: One piece that helps it be a monthly thing is that we also have a youth ministries meeting with a variety adults who are involved with youth, and also the Jr. Meeting youth clerks.  Part of each Jr. Meeting is announcements where the youth clerks tell the others what is happening in the Meeting in the near future. Youth clerks come up with a query as a check-in to spark sharing.  In the fall and spring, they generate a list of projects they want to do.  Adults help them winnow the ideas and plan projects. Jr. Meeting is half hour to 45 min during Meeting for Worship one Sunday per month.  The meeting averages  13- 15 middle and high schoolers.  Clerks are usually 9 – 10th grade and they model Quaker process for middle schoolers.  By the time teens get to 11th and 12th grade they are usually less active.

Are there opportunities at the Yearly Meeting level?  Most of the kids in NCYMC are in the Durham Meeting.    Durham youth have gone to the SAYMA youth group, SAYF, at various times. 

 Ed: One of the things we haven’t taken sufficient advantage of is the relationship between Meetings with Quaker schools.  We regard them as separate entities, yet the schools talk about Quakers, teach Quakerism and do service projects. Their teachers are professionals who are expert in dealing with kids at varying developmental levels.  We should not assume that kids raised in meetings are more ‘Quaker’ than kids from Quaker schools. Children of Quakers have ambivalent feelings about the Society of Friends. Connecting Meetings and Schools requires constant relationship building over time.  We should start with conversations with the head of school about collaboration and service.  Quaker schools often have once a year meeting where they invite Friends to come and talk about Quakerism, but it’s not a genuine interchange. 

Marybeth: Service takes a lot of work. Need to think about paying RE Coordinators.  Friends schools pay people to be service coordinators.  We can tap into that.  There is a lot of resistance.  There are teachers who are experts in engaging young people.  There are people who are good at teaching sexuality in high schools. 

 Holly: Encourage Andrew to write up QUAIL into a form that Meetings and Yearly Meetings can use. QUAIL started as OWL, but we use a lot of different resources.  We need to get clear on what parts are derivative of OWL and what is our own creation. We will talk with the Unitarians about developing an agreement. 

 The testimonies are made for ethical conversations and can be well used to explore values around sexuality and decision-making at this age.  There is something about how Friends are grounded and listening in our worship that offers a profound relationship between body and spirit. They are not in conflict as they are in some other types of faith communities.  Kids can learn sexual education in school, but there is something life affirming about doing  it in your faith community. 

 Monica: ILYM teaches OWL and would be very interested in connecting with Andrew about QUAIL.


Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints, Daneen Akers

Our Whole Lives: Lifespan Sexuality Education, Unitarian Universalist Association.

Silver Bullets: A Guide to Initiative Problems, Adventure Games and Trust Activities, by Karl Rohnke

SPARK, NYYM Newsletter November issue on “Communicating Across Generations” and has an article on Ed Doty and YSOP

Spirit Rising: Young Quaker Voices, by Conti, Curtis, Daniels, Lomuria, Condori, Hart et al.

Whispers of Faith: Young Friends share their experiences of Quakerism, edited by Black, Klos, Reddy, Smith and Stacy

Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP), Pelham NY. Ed Doty, Executive Director

Young Friends web page, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting

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