Summary: Is your Friends’ Meeting/Church welcoming to families, children and youth?

Conversation Circle Summary: August 29 & 31, 2023

The new school year is an opportune time to welcome children and youth as families emerge from the isolation of the past three years seeking to connect with an intergenerational spiritual community. To be truly welcoming, Friends’ meetings and churches need to come to clearness on intention, preparedness, ministry, and physical space for children and families.

Join this conversation to explore preparations needed to grow and sustain your meeting’s ministry with families and children. Speak with Friends who have deep experience in welcoming, including, respecting and learning from children and families.


  • Do Friends in your meeting or church seek to be open in a way that will attract families and children? 
  • How can Quaker meetings and churches create a sense of inclusion, healing and respect for children, youth, and families?
  • How can meetings and churches be supportive and helpful as families navigate the stresses of daily life?
  • What tools does your meeting or church provide to help parents and children participate in worship and in the life of the meeting?
  • If your meeting or church currently has no religious education program, what support can you offer to parents?
  • Are you giving the children a chance to practice Quakerism? 

Conversation Starters:

  • Melinda Wenner Bradley, Director of Program and Religious Life, Philadelphia YM
  • Cameron Hughes, Goose Creek Friends Meeting, Baltimore YM
  • Christel Jorgenson, Friends Meeting of Cambridge
  • Elizabeth Freyman, Albuquerque Friends Meeting


  • Andrew Wright, Youth and Children’s Ministries Coordinator, Durham Friends Meeting, NCYMC
  • Sita Diehl, Madison Friends Meeting, NYM


Cameron Hughes: It’s a lot for parents to get kids out the door and to meeting on Sunday mornings in a positive frame of mind. It helps if the meeting house environment is child-safe and friendly. As an example, my family has one set of relatives who live in a glass house where our children have to be careful the whole time they are there. And we, as parents, must be on alert the whole time. Another set of relatives lives in a house full of toys where nothing is breakable or precious. We spend a lot more time at the second house because we feel welcome and relaxed. The question is whether your meeting house is more like the glass house, or the kid-friendly house. It is important to provide tools to help families and children feel welcome in the meeting house. For example:

  • We now have an ‘Inclusion Box’ in the Meeting Room. The box has books, quiet toys, squishies, simple clean crafts and art projects. It started as a meditation box to help children sit and feel comfortable during Meeting for Worship, but it turns out that there are a lot of adults who also benefit from kinesthetic items to help center in the silence.
  • We also have an ‘Anytime Snack Bin’ because kids are always hungry. This is another thing that was gathered with kids in mind, but adults use it too.  It’s a clear plastic, mouse-proof bin with a latched lid containing healthy snacks and water bottles.
  • These boxes need to stay visible and accessible in the Meeting Room.
  • In the bathrooms there are changing tables with a pad and diapers to give parents a clean and private place to change diapers.
  • Provide opportunities for parents to gather in person and online. We have a parent group where parents can talk with each other.  I get most of my ideas and aha moments from other parents who are going through similar things.

Be flexible about children’s placement in First Day School classes. Children mature at different rates and have different learning styles. For example, my youngest child is not very good at self-play, so we moved him up to the elementary group, where children are invited to keep their hands busy during discussions: They can draw or work with playdough. Now he’s doing a great job.

Elizabeth Freyman:

The query I pose is, “How have Albuquerque Friends Meeting and Intermountain Yearly Meeting said ‘yes’ to families and children?”

  • The best response was to create a paid position to support children’s program and minister to families, but that was not the period at the end of the sentence for my meeting.
  • The meeting house sat empty for a year during the pandemic. When we were preparing to come back, I put together a proposal to refresh the children’s space in the basement because I feel strongly that we communicate how we value children and families through the space we offer.
    • Is the furniture child-sized? Does the room have colorful posters and paintings at the children’s eye level?
    • Do each of the bathrooms have wall mounted changing tables so parents don’t have to change diapers on the bathroom floor?
    • Are there toys and books that are in good shape or new? I purchased some heirloom quality wooden toys that were really special and mindfully chosen.
  • We organized intergenerational activities to rebuild the community post-covid including an Easter egg hunt, meeting-wide camping trips and a New Years Eve labyrinth. We ask other committees to plan intergenerational events in collaboration with the children’s education committee.
  • Fifth Sundays we have intergenerational semi-programmed worship. Children stay in worship for the whole hour. There are activities in the center of the circle such as a giant coloring page on the floor or modeling wax. These are special activities that are only offered during these Meetings for Worship. We announce at the beginning that this is open intergenerational worship, that the modeling wax is also for the adults and the silence is also for the children. After a centering silence of 15-20 minutes, someone tells a story or leads a guided meditation. Then there is more silence. We close with a song. 
  • I would like to raise a quandary. What happens when adults label children’s behavior as ‘un-Quakerly’? For example, my son is into military things: weaponry and large machines. Friends have said that we believe war is not the answer and that he shouldn’t play with guns. At 9.5 years old, he has decided he is not a Quaker. He still comes to Meeting because I have emphasized that “this is our community,” people who would step up and fill in if I needed help.  But labels such as ‘un-Quakerly’ create gaps between children and the spiritual community. It is important for adult Friends to listen to our children, learn about their interests and help them feel valued. Note: see the story from Melinda Wenner Bradley at the end of this summary.


Value of paid RE position:

  • It seems that participation of children and families ebbs and flows over the course of a meeting’s history. We are in an ebb right now and have been since the pandemic. Our meeting is aging, and we no longer have our own meeting space.  I appreciate the need to have a paid RE coordinator to develop the program and reach out to families.
  • We don’t have enough volunteers to teach First Day School. We have a good space and have had a robust RE program in the past. The previous person stepped down during the pandemic, but the Meeting does not appreciate the need to have a paid staff member to restart the program and will not budget for a paid RE position at this time. 
  • It is so hard to feel that you have identified a need and then felt it was swept under the rug.  My meeting did some work activities as a meeting.  One was to put together several “lessons in a bag” to have available when someone shows up in a smaller meeting.
  • We don’t have any paid staff, but we have a program for kids every Sunday. Lots of adults are involved. When we have been dry – on kids, volunteers and on ideas – we ask the parents and our community: what is something you want for the children?  The answers are always rich and inspiring.  We also regularly ask parents what are you seeking for your kid(s)?
  • Just echoing the thoughts above. Children’s ministry is the responsibility of the WHOLE meeting. Involving them, asking them, “What do we want our children to experience and come to know?” is foundational.
  • In our meeting, one 10 hour per week paid First Day School coordinator arranges teachers and communicates with families. Another works 10 hours per week to develop lesson plans unless teachers want to plan their own. It makes it easier for volunteer teachers to step in with less preparation and helps with gathering volunteers.
  • There is also a larger question about children’s programming for Quarterly or Yearly gatherings.
  • Summary: Conversation Circle on “Paid Religious Education (RE) Staff in Quaker Meetings” —

Meetinghouse as a welcoming space for children and families:

  • Our meeting has a beautiful location, but the children’s rooms are rented to a childcare program during the week, so we don’t have a room with our own materials on the shelves. I like the idea of making all parts of the meeting house, including the entry area, welcoming to children and families.  This is making me think of how we can do this. I’m thinking we might want a greeter specifically to welcome families, help them understand what to expect, share the children’s library and help them find their way to the classrooms. We try not to rely on parents as RE volunteers because we recognize that they may need the opportunity to sit in silent worship.
  • Our meeting budgets for and holds regular intergenerational events. This summer the focus was on intergenerational camping. We also have make your own pizza nights.
  • Realizing that it’s hard for families to get organized on Sunday mornings and get to worship, our meeting has a simple potluck between early worship and later meeting. It’s just bagels, fruit, granola bars, etc. It is made clear that families are not expected to bring anything, that childless adults will bring the food. It helps families arrive and feed their kids before First Day School and Worship.
  • Our meeting has well laid-out, ample children’s space that and we had a strong program back when there were 40-50 children on Sunday mornings. During the pandemic our meeting held online First Day School. Families could tune in from their homes which helped kids feel connected to Meeting. We are now a graying community. Young adults are starting to come back as the pandemic lifted because we are a college town, but they are passing through. There is a well-attended intergenerational worship once a month, but First Day School numbers have dwindled since the pandemic even though we have a paid RE coordinator to support families and plan the program.  We have greeters at the door to help greet families and orient them to Meeting and First Day School.

I’d love to hear from the Friend about how she would have liked Friends to respond to her son’s interests in military stuff. Or if others have ideas about how to respond to this stuff with kids.

  • Yes, there are ways we set up negative responses even beyond the ‘un-Quakerly’ naming that cuts off relationships with some, both kids and adults. The irony is that many active peace activists as older adults are former military. This is worth thinking about.
  • It can be helpful to identify Friends in the meeting who can connect with a child who is feeling distanced from the meeting. Simply asking them about their interests without judgement helps heal the rift.  It isn’t necessary to agree, just to be interested on an ongoing basis and to hear the young Friend out.
  • I’ve been learning about children and play, children’s rights to play and how to set up welcoming environments that invite child-led activity. We’re used to adults leading the activity and expect children to follow along, but kids have their own ways. We can approach our space as ‘divine’ where children can go into deep play. I stopped taking my kids to Meeting because they have learning needs that are not met in a group class. There needs to be allowance for children with learning differences to do other activities around the edge of the group.  My children are online gamers and have experienced negative response from adult Friends.
  • It’s good to have regular family friendly activities on the calendar like meeting picnics, bonfires with smores, potlucks, movie nights. It’s great to have something that draws families in where we can be comfortable in the meeting house with the kids. The kids can eat, play, and feel connected to each other and to the meeting community.
  • I have been teaching First Day School outside, no matter the weather. I don’t teach every week, but families know that when I am teaching the children should prepare to be outside the whole time.  It has been rewarding for me and for the kids. The setting engages children with varying needs. Families know that their children need to come dressed for the weather. Every so often a new family comes that is unprepared for the outdoors, but most of the time it works out well.
  • A Friend referred to Muddy Church in the UK:

Service based learning for teens:

Our teens are very self-directed in their curriculum (or deviation from it) and have their own business meeting, “Business and bagels.”

For comparison, please share on average how many people attend worship on a Sunday in your Meeting to help us consider what options might be available given how many adults or youth to draw from for teaching or volunteering.

  • Madison Friends: 40-60 adults in meeting for worship. About 4 – 12 children, infants to 18 years.
  • Prior to 2017, when Sandy Spring had 80 kids registered and 40-60 on any given Sunday, we built a new building to accommodate those numbers. After being displaced from our campus during construction we saw the number plummet to about 15-20. During the pandemic we met outside, and our numbers fell to 4-8 on any given Sunday and a core group overall of about 12. We now have a middle/high school group of about 8, but we only have 2-4 elementary age kids and no real program for them since I am leading the young Friends group.
  • Seattle’s University Friends Meeting: 40-70 adults over 2 meetings for worship with one of those being hybrid. We have 0-3 children per week.
  • Goose Creek Friends: 40-50 attendance and 10 children.
  • Dover Friends: 32 for attendance last week, 5 in Children’s meeting. We are growing but lots of growing challenges/pains. A toddler is with early elementary, so we always need a helper for our toddler Friend.
  • Columbia, SC Friends: 20+ weekly at hybrid meeting with a maximum of 8 kids ages 4-13.

Does anyone have a handout or brochure for your children’s program?


Chris Jorgenson:

Friends Meeting at Cambridge has been doing intergenerational (or family) worship for a long time, and it currently has a lot of life. Our meeting is large enough to have two meetings for worship at the same time on Sunday mornings. We hold intergenerational worship once per month as a hybrid meeting. The original intent was to give First Day School teachers a week off, but it has grown to a true intergenerational gathering with the purpose of helping children understand and engage in worship.  Parents participate with their children, and it also appeals to adults who don’t want to sit for a whole hour of silence.

The religious education committee meets for about 2 hours per month to plan. Intergenerational worship lasts more than an hour.  We begin with singing, then everyone says their name. We have a story and an activity with movement that gives everyone the opportunity to say or do something.  We then light a candle and transition into 10 minutes of waiting worship. Children and adults can sit on the floor. For more on Intergenerational Worship, see the QREC Resource Library:

Family worship currently draws up to 20 children (though usually about 10), more children than First Day School. I think it’s because it is carefully planned, it gives parents and children time together in worship and it gives other adults time to interact with the kids.  I think it is wise to acknowledge that we won’t get kids every Sunday the way we have in the past.  The Meeting has a paid First Day School coordinator, but the program usually has only 1-5 kids on a Sunday morning. 

We’re discussing ideas for family and children’s activities at other times. One idea is to use Flipgrid to make videos together.  We’re considering hosting breakfasts before Meeting to make it easier for families to arrive.  Sometimes we have a book and toy fair where children can bring well-loved books and toys to talk about and share with others.  We also open the First Day School library and share books with the group.

I feel a weight for parents, who have a hard time right now.  We need to support them in their role.

There is a saying in gardening, “Feed the soil, and the soil will feed the plant.” That is a key to our family ministry in Meetings.  When we create a loving community, we enable parents to be religious educators and spiritual formation guides for their children.  We can’t do it for them, but we can provide tools and support.

Melinda Wenner Bradley:

Three words can help meetings be welcoming to children and families: Clarity, Care and Community.

Clarity – what are you able to offer? 

  • Inward clarity — If you offer religious education, the WHY can shape how and what you are prepared to share. 
  • Schedules. Rethinking this may be vital. What can your meeting realistically offer?  If you can only offer religious education two times per month, that’s okay, but communicate with families about what is offered and when.  I surveyed our children and families about the best time for religious education.  It came down to Sunday morning, but we did offer asynchronous lessons during the pandemic in which we delivered care packages to families. Parents could go through the lesson materials with their children.
  • There is a connection between outreach and religious education, especially for parents who may be newcomers, who may be seeking faith community for themselves and their families.
  • It is important to have outward clarity, to communicate with families with children about how things work at your meeting. 
  • Here is the Family Feedback Form we are using this fall.
  • These efforts make space for INTENTION that ends up feeling like the Meeting cares about families and children.
  • Then there is the clarity in the unspoken messages of our spaces — signage, evidence of children in spaces all over your meeting: not just in the space you use for children’s program. This communicates that children are welcome in the meetinghouse.


  • We cannot underestimate the care needed to support families, which is ongoing after the disruption and trauma of the pandemic.
  • Pastoral care for children begins with their parents and other caregivers. I think we often overlook what parents need in our hope to provide something for the adults in those families.
  • Parents want to find the light and learn about Quaker faith and practice. They want you to have something for their children and they are also coming for themselves. They seek community as a family.  In Faith & Play training, we talk about “Supporting the Circle of Children” which I’ve permanently renamed “Supporting the Circle of the Children and their Families.”
  • I recommend a new book by Pamela Haines: Tending Sacred ground: Essays on parenting (see Resources section)


  • How are you making space for children to be in worship? 
  • This might include creating a space in your meeting room with a quilt on the floor with books and quiet toys and activities. Is there a rocking chair, pillows, child-sized furniture, and a small table with quiet activities that says, “Children belong here, too.” I’ve been working with meetings in PhYM to create these spaces in their meetinghouses.
  • Space might include intergenerational worship in which children stay in worship the whole time. It can be semi-programmed, but it is essential to help our children understand how to worship.  Children have the capacity to be in waiting worship. Some of the things that help the children may also help adults in your meeting.
  • Silence is not the point of worship; it is the container. Sit on the floor and be with the children.
  • Community also means support from the Meeting for people who are holding this ministry to families and children. I recommend a written minute, like a traveling minute, in which Friends who carry a concern for RE are released to the work.
  • Finally, how are committees talking to one another about ministry with children and families? That includes religious education, care and council, worship and ministry — DON’T BE SILOED!

Three resources:


Chris, when you mention how many ideas you have gone through for intergenerational worship, do you have resources to share with the rest of us?

I am thinking about schedules for intergenerational worship.  We tried intergenerational worship on Saturday afternoons once per month and it worked for a couple months, but then families stopped coming. We have done some stories in the first 15 minutes of worship, and it has been popular. I’m not sure we could extend it into a full hour of semi-programmed worship unless we were able to do a parallel silent meeting as Cambridge Meeting does.

At our large meeting, we have 5 to 8 elementary age kids each week in a physically isolated part of the meetinghouse.  For safety, we’ve invited non-parents to take turns joining the children’s space in pairs.  The resulting shared joy has allowed kids to know adults, to know they’re cared about, and has given parents tremendous support.

The First Day School program in our meeting ebbs and flows. We no longer have a paid person, but we do have an education committee. I am looking for guidance on how to run a program when there is no paid staff to run a formal program. We are just starting to get new children along with an influx of newcomers.  We currently have childcare but not a formal RE program.

I used to be the Clerk of the children’s religious education committee. My meeting used to have a vibrant program, but it has fallen apart. They are trying to put a program together, but children aren’t coming.  How do we get families to come back when maybe they are staying home out of exhaustion on Sunday mornings?  

Book Recommendation: Opening Doors to Quaker Religious Education by Mary Snyder, has a chapter on how to provide First Day School when it isn’t really happening on First Days.  Margo just had a painful conversation with her meeting about finding a way forward to hire an RE program coordinator.  The decision from the meeting is that there will be no paid position for six months to a year from now. This is disappointing after having offered a robust Godly Play/Faith & Play program for a long time. We have a young person who provides childcare. Margo teaches middle schoolers, but no one is stepping forward to teach younger children.

Our meeting has 7 -12 kids of varying ages each week. 2 or 3 groupings. Infants/toddlers and teens both have paid staff. The teens develop their own curriculum. I volunteer each week with children who are elementary age. Other meeting adults who are not parents volunteer with me. 

Melinda encouraged Friends to think about why we are offering programming for children.  If it’s to help parents come to worship, then childcare is what we need. If it is grounding in faith & practice, we need a more developed religious education program.  If it’s being together in community, then intergenerational worship and activities are important, realizing that parents need time for themselves in the silence. 

What should we have ready? Materials, but also making space in worship. 

After the pandemic our meeting did things outdoors just to gather again.  It was mostly childcare with a story circle. The goal was to give parents time for themselves.  Volunteers, many of whom were older, were hesitant to be around other people, so we shifted to paying older youth to help with the children. Now they are half of the Sunday morning staff.  Youth know the children well. They feel engaged and needed.  They are leading the teaching, and learning as they teach.  My teenage daughter got to know all of the families. Other youth were similarly engaged and connected.

I am thinking about schedules and about intergenerational worship.  We tried intergenerational worship on Saturday afternoons once per month and it worked for a couple months, but then families stopped coming much.  We have done some stories in the first 15 minutes of worship, and it has been popular.  Not sure we could extend it into a full hour of semi-programmed worship unless we were able to do a parallel silent meeting.

At our large meeting, we have 5 to 8 elementary age kids each week, in a physically isolated part of the meetinghouse.  For safety, we’ve invited non-parents to pair up, volunteering in the children’s space.  The resulting shared joy has given the kids opportunities to know adults, and to know that they are cared about, and given parents tremendous support.

Our meeting has a new building that is child friendly, but we lack people who are willing to make this their ministry.

It is important to be clear about why we offer programming for children & families. As clerk of a granting group that does membership development, I find it helpful to create conversation starters for meetings to have difficult conversations for themselves.  Questions like, “What is at the heart of our meeting?”  “Who is being served?” “If we are only serving the people who come regularly and who are familiar with Quaker faith and practice, why should newcomers stay?”

Serving parents and caregivers: Children don’t drive themselves to Meeting. How are we serving those who bring them, their parents and caregivers? Our meeting is planning a series of monthly talks at the meeting house that would be of interest to parents in the wider community. We’ll serve a simple meal to families and offer childcare while the parents attend the lecture.  We won’t emphasize Quakerism, but if families come and are curious, they are welcome come back and explore Meeting.

Our meeting has started having open houses. Families and children have visited and now they have around 12 kids from several families. Parents have been joining committees. Do things that the kids enjoy and make it possible for everyone to have fun together. We want to start doing more Quakerly things in First Day School, but we don’t have any strong RE leaders right now.

The most vital thing when my children were young was that they grew up feeling part of the community, not just as kids on the side. People just desperately need a community to be with – both parents and children. They may not need some super program, but just a space that welcomes them.

We need a support group as Quaker religious educators, for those of us in the “patch” of the patchwork. I wonder about having Experiment of Light group focused on ministry to children and families.  Other Friends liked the idea.

Chris: I’ve spoken with kids about Meeting for Worship. One teen said, “… it doesn’t take kids as long to get in touch with God because we aren’t as crusty as adults are. 15 minutes max.” … The corporate dimension is missing here, though.  How do we help children understand the corporate dimension of our worship?

Melinda: A Friend told me this wonderful story, that at one point she asked the children in her meeting what they thought Meeting for Worship should be like. Some imagined animals and trees, even lighting in the worship room. Another suggested stuffed animals on the facing bench in case anyone needed one for comfort. One little boy said he should be able to drive his toy truck under the pews during Meeting for Worship. The adult asked what he thought an adult would say if they saw him under the bench, and he loudly whispered the reply he anticipated: “Nice truck Ryan!” Children need loving community, to be seen and known by us. 


  • Next Conversation Circles: Sep. 19 at 1pm ET and Sep. 21 at 8pm ET.                                          Outreach to Families: Tools for Parenting in Community.                                              Registration:  Tuesday, 9/19 at 1pm ET click HERE.   Thursday, 9/21 at 8pm ET click HERE

  • September 21: Join PhYM Friends for more RE conversation — all are welcome! —
  • Sat. October 14 workshops in English: Curriculum Writing for Elementary Age, and How to Engage Teens.
  • Sat. October 28: Workshop repeated in Spanish.
  • November 3-5: QREC Annual Conference. Winchester Friends Church, Winchester, IN and online


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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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