Summary: Paid Religious Education (RE) Staff in Quaker Meetings

Conversation Circles: February 21 & 23, 2023

Quaker religious education (RE) is entering a new phase as Friends meetings rebuild ministry to children, youth and families or start anew. We’ve heard that during the covid-19 pandemic, yearly and monthly meetings with paid RE staff were more likely to maintain programming for children and youth than meetings relying solely on volunteers. Yet unprogrammed Quaker meetings, with their emphasis on the ministry of every Friend, may hesitate to create roles that place responsibility for vital aspects of the meeting on paid staff.

Committee members, religious educators and youth workers (paid and volunteer), meeting clerks and interested Friends were invited to this online conversation to explore why, whether and how to invest in paid staff to support ministry to children, youth and families.


  • What models of paid support for child and youth programs are used by unprogrammed Friends meetings at the monthly, quarterly, or yearly meeting level?
  • How do meetings benefit (or not) from having paid staff for education and ministry to children, youth, and families?
  • What roles do RE staff play in education and pastoral care of families? What roles do RE committees play?
  • How can we help our Meeting community gather around children’s religious education?
  • How can QREC support Friends who feel called to RE ministry in monthly meetings? 

Facilitator: Andrew Wright, Youth and Children’s Ministries Coordinator for Durham Friends Meeting.

Conversation starters:

Melinda Wenner Bradley, Director of Programs for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and a member of West Chester Meeting. Having long carried a concern for children and families within the Society of Friends, she is a co-founder of QREC and serves on the Steering Circle. She is a Godly Play trainer and communications director for Faith & Play Stories, Inc. A Quaker school teacher by training, she is currently pursuing a masters’ degree at Lancaster Theological Seminary.

Elizabeth Freyman is the curriculum coordinator for Albuquerque Friends Meeting. This is a relatively new paid position (2018) to nurture the Meeting’s ministry with children and youth. She is a special education teacher and attended Earlham College.

Keenan Lorenzato, has served as Youth Programs Coordinator for Pacific Yearly Meeting for the past two years, but his connection to Pacific Yearly Meeting goes back to 2001. He’s a graduate of the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program at Guilford College and was briefly a resident student at Pendle Hill. He likes combining Quaker youth and the outdoors, birding, board games, and fantasy and sci fi.

JB Baker McAllister has been the youth Program Coordinator, Gwynedd Friends Meeting (PhYM) since the early 2010.


Andrew introduced the format: worship, sharing by speaker, brief silence with questions or thoughts in the chat worship, sharing by next speaker, silence and write in chat, sharing by third speaker, silence and write in chat, then open for general conversation.

Melinda: In her role with Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, she has supervised paid part-time youth program staff and consulted with local meetings. She feels that meetings need to recognize that the youngest to oldest Friends all can meaningfully engage in the work and life of a meeting.

Paid RE Friends, through a sense of community have been called to this work. Paid RE people worked hard during the pandemic; they created new methods to teach children online and kept programs alive under challenging circumstances.  The interruption was significant for meetings, many families lost momentum and stopped coming. Families’ specific needs were lost, and many families are at the point of exhaustion.  We should not ask parents to take charge of children’s religious education. They need time to center in the silence and heal.

Meetings are now rebuilding. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is sending staff out to local meetings to give programs and rekindle ministry to children and families. 

Melinda observed that hiring staff might not always be the answer, but when a meeting is considering staffing religious education, she offered these questions:

  • Why do we have a children’s RE program? What are we trying to do? 
  • Is our goal to take care of and entertain children?
  • Share information or teach in some way?
  • Nurture spiritual lives and encourage Quaker identity?
  • How do we go about this work? What tools do we have or need?
  • When shall we be doing this? Maybe not on Sunday alone?
  • Who will help? What is the role of Friends in the Meeting, whether or not there is a decision to hire?

Melinda spoke of the ministry of this work, and the recognition that this is part of pastoral care and nurture. Relationships among the planners and the meeting, and the relationship between the planners and hired staff are crucial.  It works best when there is recognition that the RE staff member is serving a ministry, and this person – whether or not they are a Quaker – needs support and grounding in the life of the meeting. The meeting needs to join in that work. One person may do part of it, and others may do other pieces. Nurture of children in Meetings should not be siloed from the rest of Meeting life. Relationship is VITAL. Hired people have struggled because of lack of support from the meeting. The meeting also needs to care for parents and other caregivers of children.

Melinda offered a template job description to help meetings discern what they need: Annotated Sample RE Coordinator Job Description.  An observation: If the meeting did not have capacity to meet the needs of adults, would we hire a pastor?  

Response from a Friend: Religious Education and youth programming in Quaker Meetings is Programmed. A programmed meeting would pay a pastor to do this. Unprogrammed Meetings don’t have this model, but we still need to provide planned and active lessons every week. So really it is like paying a pastor to care for the programmed part of our meetings.

Elizabeth has been working for Albuquerque monthly meeting since 2018. She started as a contract worker, creating lessons for volunteers to teach. She was concerned that children need consistency.  The still small voice said, “Elizabeth, you are supposed to be there every Sunday.” She realized, “This is who I am, what I want to do. It has opened my ministry with Albuquerque Meeting to support from the wider community.” She became an employee of the Meeting (vs. contract).

Elizabeth observed that having a paid RE person benefits the community. She can pull in resources from the wider Quaker RE community, including Faith & Play and QREC. She started using Faith & Play in 2019 and was trained and mentored by Melinda. More recently, she’s done more of the teaching, always with Meeting members helping. 

When the pandemic started, Meeting functions folded for 4 months. In the fall of 2020, she began teaching First Day School virtually, delivering supplies to family homes once a month. In August 2021, the meeting resumed in-person gathering. At one point she felt called to this position as her full-time work, although the position only pays part time. She has worked full time for the meeting since 2021.

What she does stretches beyond Sunday mornings; for example, movie nights with “I wonder” questions at the end.  She facilitates a childcare training program with youth who rotate providing childcare for preschool kids on Sunday morning.  She organizes a group for parents. They read book like peaceful parents happy kids and discuss it together. She organizes intergenerational activities which were outdoors during the pandemic and have largely been inside since.

The meeting recognizes her ministry and the importance of parents and children for the meeting community. She asked for and received a committee to anchor her work. It makes a big difference to have consistent Friends who to help her discern where Spirit leads. She feels it has been a remarkable gift and has deepened her spiritual practice. 

There are tensions:  

  • Paid staff is overseen by volunteers who may not always have the experience to understand some things about lessons, and often have less capacity for the work of this ministry.  This has resulted in processing the separations of roles, responsibilities, and a new contract.
  • The wider meeting community feeling that it has outsourced children’s religious education, and not fully acknowledging that the nurture of children is a whole meeting issue.

Andrew spoke about the work with youth at Durham Friends Meeting, and acknowledged the need for consistency, especially in his large meeting. He serves in many capacities – religious education coordinator, youth minister, building maintenance manager – and has a process to engage volunteers. His schedule includes pastoral care of youth within the context of their life in the Meeting.

Keenan came into this work during the pandemic. Pacific Yearly Meeting (PYM) is spread widely and thinly populated with fewer people and resources than eastern Friends Meetings. The Youth Coordinator position was the first paid position for the yearly meeting and there is now a half time administrative person. “The pandemic stretched us too far.”

The young adult community disappeared, although it is now growing back and there is a hunger for connection. Nurturing that community is part of his work now. Teen program: before the pandemic the PYM program de-emphasized digital things. During pandemic the teen community fell apart because they did not have a digital connection. It was a wake-up call to think about how the teen community connects and how they were limiting themselves by not connecting virtually.  Children’s program: PYM does a lot of field trips. Consistent field trips bring kids and families in.  Having the youth programs coordinator at the yearly meeting level helped resurrect youth and child programs coming out of the pandemic. Monthly meetings with paid staff were more able to keep RE program going during the pandemic. 

Personal journey as a Friend: Growing up in the Davis CA Friends Meeting, Keenan felt people at meeting were his adopted grandparents and he was a child of the Meeting. He continued to build relationships with adult Friends as he grew older. “Those people in Meeting were interested in me and I wanted to learn more about them.”  He found that adults at quarterly or yearly meeting level were passionate about youth programming and that’s where he got his passion for this work.  Keenan said, “I love paying young people to do Quaker work. They are trying to make ends meet and their time and presence are valuable. Youth are intimidated by the prospect of getting involved in yearly or monthly meeting service. Pay can help.”

JB: Gwynedd meeting created a 20 hour per week paid position in early 2000s thanks to a grant from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. The Meeting continued to fund the position after the grant ended. JB has been the youth coordinator since 2010.  She does not write and teach curriculum. The Gwynedd Meeting works in a team of volunteers. The work evolves to be in keeping with the times we live in. The Meeting has a lot of children and families with an average attendance of 20 each Sunday. During the pandemic they continued children’s connection through Zoom. The Meeting has been back to full time face to face religious education every Sunday since Sept. 2022. Youth Quaker Education (upper) class meets at 9:30 on Sunday mornings and with strong attendance because of the teaching staff. JB designs lessons, communicates with families, creates intergenerational programs, and finds ways to have children and young families in community with older members of meeting.  She says, “It’s a great joy to do this work and to be in community with these kids and their parents.”



Asking the question “Why” is important. Our meeting’s program has withered since the pandemic. We are rebuilding. We need to get clear whether the goal is to support parents and allow them to engage in Meeting for Worship or is it to foster children’s religious education and Quaker identity.  What do the different models look like?

Melinda: part of the gift of yearly meeting staff is to talk about exactly this question.  It is very important to take care of parents and caregivers. What kind of support are you giving to families? Are you ready to minister to caregivers? Where is the intersection between families and what we do for children?  What if the meeting did something for parents during the week?

These don’t need to be competing goals, but it is important to have clarity about how they intersect. It is important to reach clarity about ministering to children and families vs. attracting more children. Example: “The youth committee is stretched beyond capacity, so we really need to create a paid position.” But it isn’t a problem you can fix with a paid position. The youth program needs to be carried by the community as a whole.

For dysfunctional organizations, they bring in a paid interim that has no personal agenda or relationships. The role is to heal wounds and set the community on a common path, common mission, and vision. Then they leave and paid staff or volunteers continue.  What takes a lot longer is the social, emotional relationship and development that must be face to face. To build the community you need to provide program for the families. I love my work and feel fortunate to have my job. 

I think that having a paid RE coordinator position to ‘do it all’ is a mistake.  My role works well because I support the teachers, families, parents, and adults to create community across the entire meeting. It is tricky to be both a member and employee of the meeting. I often get pulled into things that are not related to my position, but I feel that’s my ministry. I feel blessed to be able to have this ministry as a part time job.

The ministry of parenting is often not recognized as such.

Multnomah Meeting had parents’ night out. It serves parents by giving them a night out and builds community among the kids. Building community is one of the most important things we do.

A challenge for Friends who work with First Day School is finding good curriculum resources (aside from the excellent Faith and Play materials!) There may be more trust in a paid RE teacher if that person is using Quaker curricula that provide a Quaker perspective on fundamental RE topics. Do you have any suggestions? 

Curious about Albuquerque Meeting: How many children?  What ages? Do you still provide FDS every 2 weeks or is it now every week?   How many classes run concurrently?

Elizabeth: We provide a weekly children’s program since returning to in-person worship, August 2021. Average of 9 kids a week, one lesson on Sundays and a playroom run by Junior Young Friends (JYF) for preschool/nursery aged children. JYF have Saturday programs a couple times a month.

How to address kids with special needs?

For children with special needs, it’s always important to create the environment that works: adapt the classroom, pay attention to needs and challenges.

Faith & Play has a format that can be helpful with the role of ‘doorkeeper’ that can focus on those needing a noticer, some attention, helping behavior

Meeting at times other than Sundays for activities with children:

Time is a problem. Children are irregular attendees, partly because of divided custody arrangements. Many have busy schedules with extracurricular activities. Stand-alone lessons are needed due to lack of continuity.

Gather all ages on a regular basis, to give children and youth time to become friends and build community with each other.

A common lesson with different options,

Mixed ages with older children or youth helping in the class. 

Intergenerational gathering builds community:

Field trips? Keenan: The Yearly Meeting Children’s Committee plans them once per month: to the snow, to a park, picnics, tide pooling, birding, overnights at Ben Lomond Quaker Center, Walker Creek Ranch, and another Quaker center.

So glad you mentioned intergenerational activities — I would include worship!

How to attract RE coordinator candidates: where to look, what qualities and skills to look for:

Remember the importance of relationship and accompaniment;

Often candidates are retired or young adults

Make sure the ministry aspect is modeled by the committee and clear in the program outline.

Another way of looking at how we support volunteers working with children’s RE is to think about intentional accompaniment for them by the Worship and Ministries Committee, Care and Counsel, etc. In a way they are “traveling” in the ministry: Youth RE Minute of Travel    

I am a newly hired part-time Children’s Program Coordinator at Multnomah Meeting in Portland, Oregon. I was connected to the meeting through the Quaker Voluntary Service, another option for recruiting.

JB: I have been the paid Youth Program Coordinator for 12 years. I’d be happy to share about what I do with you.

There is a theme of people who were doing this work in one way or another and it helped to be released to this ministry. When Durham hired someone who was not connected to meeting, they didn’t stay long, and it didn’t feel organic.

RE Committee burnout is real; what does that tell us? 

The work is broad and deep.

How to recognize unpaid work and planning?

We need to also be careful about unpaid labor and siloing and RE committee — What care for children and families do other committees like Care and Counsel, and Ministry and Care have? What are the possibilities?

How to get started with no kids and mostly older members?

Consider what the meeting is offering, offer it widely; being ready with some ideas about how to meet the needs of a family walking in.  

See this excellent pamphlet, Nurturing Quaker Children in a Small Meeting:

See First Day School in a Box from the QREC library:

Our Meeting took the “if we build it and they will come” approach. We hired a nursery care provider before we had many young children. Clearly there is no one right answer, but we know that some people are coming to our meeting because they read on our website that we have nursery care.

We have had several young families come to our Meeting recently because they have seen on our website that we offer childcare during Meeting.

This has been such a rich conversation!  I would like to connect with others to continue.



Supporting staff and volunteers:

RE coordinator and teacher connection:

Curriculum and classroom resources:

Starting a Quaker RE program:


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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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