‘Bringing Children and JYFs into the Centre of Quaker Life’ 2012 Workshop

What  works  for  me/what  has  gone  well  in  meetings  for  worship  with  children:  

Worship sharing responses:

  • Deeper sense of quiet when I can sit with my child. Children deepen a meeting. She has chosen that moment and practiced it.
  • Children open the hearts of people. I have seen my granddaughter moved into the meeting with ease. This happens when her friends are there and she wants to spend time with them.
  • Get a space for the younger children with a carer to sit with them in the meeting. I don’t know if it is better for it be at the beginning or the end of meeting.
  • The children gather in a circle. We have a special candle that we put in the middle of the room and then light. All the children sit around the candle in silence. It used to be a little bit rowdy, but the children have started to settle and they are used to it now. When someone is appointed to break the silence and the candle is blown out, we then share things; something that people are interested in, etc. I find that really beautiful because the group seems to form into a pattern. Then we do the activity. The lovely thing is that at the end when we go into the adult’s meeting. The children then share with the adults, after they are welcomed. Some are very shy, and some are proud of the work they’ve done.
  • We meet once a month at someone’s house on the back verandah. The kids start and end with the adult meeting. The children usually determine the amount of time that they spend in the meeting. Last meeting my oldest boy spent the whole time in the meeting. He had books with him, and he laughed sometimes. It was a pleasure to have him in meeting. It’s always been difficult to keep my younger children in the meeting,. They are of the rowdy persuasion. We usually read for them or take them for a walk. We haven’t had a lot of luck finding suitable Quaker content for young kids. We have done cooking sometimes. I also want to say that the kids really like it. They like the contact with the adults but it’s an ongoing challenge. We experimented a couple of times with the kids running the meeting. It only lasted about 10 minutes, but it was nice to give them control of the meeting.
  • As a child I remember how precious the silence was. It was obviously something that was really special. I hope that our children grow up knowing that they participate not only through the silence, but that they may also be led to speak. And that we may be able to talk with them about the experience of speaking. That if the pounding comes then they might feel compelled to speak. As well as the testing – testing whether this is for me or for the meeting. Le courant passé – something special is happening. Children need to own the meeting for it to work really well so that they can sit in the silence and also speak out of the silence. Silence is much more than silence, it is also stillness.
  • Preparing time is important for my children when going to meeting. We have a 30 minute drive, so we have a chance to talk about any number of things. It helps to ground the kids. Because they have been going for some time, there are always welcomes and smiles for them. Often the kids don’t come in to the meeting in time because they are finishing off the activity. So I would like to try having them at the beginning of the meeting sometimes.
  • There are no children at our local meeting. There are 3 children who are JYFs who come to camp. When they did come, we have a separate space which is attached to the garage. It is outside. It’s good because of the noise issue. But it has been a long time since children came to our meeting.
  • Over the years, we have tried having the children at the end of the meeting, as well as at the beginning. It is quite different. For the last few years we have settled on children coming in at the beginning of the meeting. They come in with their parents and settle down a bit. Then we have the children’s meeting downstairs. We have a carer, nowadays it’s a paid carer to prepare things. The meeting member carer will be in the meeting for the first 10-15 minutes. She will bring the children down when she things it’s time. We have a fairly well developed program. We sit the children down in a circle, usually start with a story or an exchange. The children sometimes tell us about their experiences. We try to have a story, and a theme that was chosen for that day. At the end of a meeting, after announcements, the adults come down to the area where the children are – it is also our kitchen area – and the adults see the children’s work there.
  • A couple of years ago, the children’s interest group asked the carers to run a program. They were concerned that the children weren’t sticking to Quaker rules. The carers nutted out a program called boundaries. The intent of the program was that the children would explore the edges of things. What was acceptable and what was not acceptable. So we walked every boundary we could find – edge of the property. It was a very physical response. The conversations were very interesting. Often we wouldn’t get back to worship sharing because we were too busy. We planned it so it could be run at Mt Lawley and Freemantle. It was designed to run over 18 months. Some of the kids went to both Mt Lawley and Freemantle, so we had to do some spirit led and child led work so we wouldn’t repeat things. At one point we brought in a whole lot of natural objects and toys and asked the children to make a sculpture that represented their idea of boundaries. They came up with an amazing sculpture that covered the whole children’s room. We documented everything. So we were able to remind the kids of some of the things they said. It was a very reflective process. We made a lot of collages and some kids added to other people’s boundaries. After about 9 months of program we moved the kids into what did they want out of the program. They decided they wanted a thing that they could present to the meeting. They decided that they wanted a brightly coloured curtain that they could close over the window in winter and also open it up during summer. So they painted and created a curtain over the door. It was a painted silk curtain on the front and a velvet-backed curtain over the back. It was a two-pronged curtain that was sewn together and had images that supported their notions of boundaries including mapped border, beach images, stars that hung from the sky. When we asked the kids to say what Quakers had that others didn’t have, one kid said Quakers had persistence. The image we had for persistence was of someone riding a bike through sand. We needed some afternoon sessions to finish off these curtains. All the decisions were theirs, we just provided the skills. The Freemantle kids made a table cloth instead. So each kid had a fish that they drew, the fish had a speech bubble describing things that Quakers do.
  • Persistence is something that it is important for us to remember. A classic story for me is the stance that Woolman took against slavery and how long it took. One man said that he wouldn’t have sugar in his tea when he was 15 and it took until he was 80 before he had sugar in his tea again. When the children come into our meeting we have a change in energy. In many ways he haven’t figured out how best to deal with that. I do feel that there is a substantial positive energy coming in at that point. At YM the family friendly meetings seem to have worked well – they are an experiment, just like each of our meetings for worship. I have observed with Friends school and with young friends at residential gatherings, meeting in the evenings, outdoors, and doing something a little bit different can add to the wonder of a meeting for young people. When we were co-principals we had the experience of going to daily meeting for worship over 12 years. One of the things that continually struck me about that was that I never felt that it was a burden to go to meeting with different people. Quakers don’t always set ourselves up like that. It was very interesting to be part of a community where that happened. We met with children from the kindergarten group to the older children’s group. Parents and grandparents come too, except for the older children. One of the things that strikes me is that when you do have a multi age meeting for worship. There needs to be careful thought about the ministry. It mustn’t be maternalistic or paternalistic, in the negative meaning of those words. It needs ot be challenging to lift the young people. I’m not sure if we can do that in the last 10 minutes of a meeting. I’ve noticed in the school and the Sunday meeting that if an adult or a child ministers in a way that lifts people’s spirits to higher things that they pay attention. It is a particularly good antidote to restlessness. Because the young ones catch from the older ones that this is worthwhile. It is difficult to ensure that these things happen.
  • The state college Friends school in central Pennsylvania. A lot of their classes started off each day with a short meeting for worship. A lot of them also had a weekly meeting for worship for business for the class. • There are experiences of working with children where persistence is importance and where you need to get wisdom from others, and follow your own inner teacher as well.
  • We have a small number of children, who are fairly young. Most of the meeting is older people, possibly stodgy. We try to get a connection between the adults meeting and the children’s meeting. We get the children to pin up their work on the cork board, and the adults look at it. We could probably focus on that a bit more when the adults join the children. Also the children join the adult meeting and show them what they have been doing. Adults and children really enjoy that – I think we should do that more.
  • I grew up in a meeting as a child where we would join for the final 10 minutes. I felt that the meeting was a bit unsettled at the beginning, so the end seemed a better meeting for children to come in to. When I ran a children’s meeting then we could have a discussion about what we would do in the 10 minutes of the meeting before they would do it. Young friends meetings for worship would often be in places in the bush; like kangaroo valley. The meetings for worship are always outside unless it is raining. We sit on rocks, on broken branches, or in the caves. We had one meeting that refused to end in the caves. A lot of the young friends talk about that meeting for worship being the most special – perhaps because it is outside and perhaps it is because it is with peers. A lot of them say they don’t like going to the local meeting because it is inside, with chairs, and they don’t know the people so well. Meeting outside is quite different. The silence is deeper, and there is a different noticing as well.
  • I noticed that there wasn’t much interaction between older members in our meeting with JYFs. A lot of people seemed to need an invitation. I started a series that was intermittent called ‘what are Friends for?’ I invited a woman who had profound disabilities. She brought metal shoe devices that she had to wear when she was a child that looked like torture devices. She talked about going to Friends school. She talked about her own empowerment as someone who could take charge of her like. The JYFs went into meeting that day with a great deal of awe where they had first felt pity. Another visitor was someone who worked with deaf children in Tajikistan. They brought slides so that the JYFs could relate to the faces of the children. Another visitor was a doctor and she talked about how her work and her life as a Quaker has interconnected. The JYFs are ministering to these visitors because they get to tell their story where it may not have been heard before, even by Friends. The JYFs get a sense of having connected at a gritty level with someone else’s reality and of service as something that Quakers do.
  • I think it is good in a very small meeting, for the children to come in at the beginning of meeting, and for the children to decide how long they spend in meeting. When we have sessions with children in other situations, to start out and to end with silence is a really special thing and it is sometimes overlooked.
  • Hearing from a teacher who took the children on an excursion, the children asked for time for silence because they were in a really beautiful space.
  • The use of a candle can be really special. We use them at my children’s school and we use them at school. It helps to create that space. They are really easy to make too. Meetings for worship where we have a campfire is also quite special. Provided you are able to handle the people who like to play with fire. The quality of the silence is really special.