Meetinghouses and Quaker Youth
By Marsha Holliday
As a home-away-from home, a meetinghouse can be a tremendous asset in working with Quaker youth. Your child’s first best move away from the family, however defined, is to your meetinghouse. In the safety and comfort of their own meetinghouse, even young children can cook dinner with their First Day School class, sponsor a Games Night for the entire meeting, or have a sleepover. As teenagers, they can sponsor Junior Monthly Meeting overnights, or Young Friends Conference weekends.
Why is it important to hold youth events in meetinghouses? We want our youth to think of their meetings as extended families and the meetinghouses as extended family homes. We want our children to feel they have a place where they belong.
Overnights in meetinghouses create that feeling of being at home-away-from home. Nothing helps young people feel more at home than sleeping on their meetinghouse floors, cooking in its kitchen, cleaning its bathroom, and taking out its trash! Moreover, the use of our meetinghouses by our youth helps them develop a sense of responsibility toward their community. Dave Lewis, a former Baltimore Yearly Meeting Young Friend, wrote, “In Young Friends, there was a feeling of stewardship for the meetinghouse, because we were offered the gift of responsibility to care for it. As a Quaker community, we responded to that responsibility. I have felt most at home when our youth group pulled themselves out of bed-earlier than usual-to clean the meetinghouse and settle into worship with our elders. It has often overwhelmed me with joy and tears to feel a sense of place and community while sitting in worship at the end of a Young Friends retreat.”
The advice to combine youth programs and meetinghouses is not without hazards. If your meetinghouse has valuable furnishings, consider moving them into a library or office. Also, some adults may not understand the importance of connecting young people physically and emotionally to their meetinghouse. Friendly counsel from the Religious Education Committee could add perspective.
Problems can occur even when the meeting is in full support of the use of the meetinghouse by young people. In 1994, my monthly meeting hosted a young Friends weekend conference. Among other things, one young Friend brought green, purple and red hair dye. On Sunday morning, not only were many Young Friends’ hair brightly colored, so were the basement bathroom fixtures. The facility was in such disarray that the subsequent minutes of the Langley Hill House and Grounds Committee read that the conference “held in the meetinghouse last month trashed the meetinghouse.” Furthermore, the cleaning service threatened to quit.
To their credit, young Friends tried to clean up the mess and, in the process, they used all the paper towels and toilet tissue. When Friends arrived for meeting on Sunday morning, the meetinghouse was paperless! A member of the Langley Hill House and Grounds Committee was appointed to discuss the situation with young Friends. The Committee member comments, “It was a real treat working with the clerk of young Friends. We addressed this as a corporate issue. Young Friends gained a tremendous amount from the experience of dealing with this meaty problem. There was growth and respect. For my part, it was an attempt to balance being liable and responsible adults and caring for young Friends.” In the end, Young Friends wrote a letter of apology and paid the cleaning staff for overtime work.
To help avoid this kind of situation an agreement between the young Friends and the adult supervisors about ground rules could be established before the event.
We want our young people to feel at home in their meetinghouses, and we also want them to feel at home in other Friends’ meetinghouses. Visiting other monthly meetings is an age-appropriate experience for teenagers. Just at the time when their own meeting seems too familiar, visiting neighboring meetings provides teenagers with the excitement and adventure they crave.
A few years ago, my quarterly meeting, Potomac Half-Yearly Meeting, welcomed a loosely organized Traveling First Day School. Traveling teens visited a different monthly meeting each month. A parent drove teenagers from their monthly meeting to the host meeting. The visiting teens attended First Day School with the junior and senior high host classes, and meeting for worship with the children, youth, and adults of the meeting.
If your meeting is too distant to visit other meetings on First Days you might try a bus trip weekend conference once each year. Here’s what Baltimore Yearly Meeting does. A chartered bus picks up teenagers after school on Friday at a monthly meeting located at one end of the yearly meeting. The bus drives to the conference at a meetinghouse at the other end of the yearly meeting-picking up young Friends at various stops along the way and arriving around midnight. On Sunday after meeting, the bus returns them to their home meetings. An adult chaperone gets off at each stop and waits for parents to arrive so the bus can continue without delay.
If you do not have a meetinghouse create a space-in a Friend’s home or in your meetingroom-where young people feel comfortable exerting their youthful energy. They need a place they can decorate, call their own, and “live in.”
What are we actually doing when we do all this for young Friends? We are helping them build community. We are providing them with the opportunity to develop a sense of responsibility for their meeting and its surroundings. We are helping them “feel at home” with Friends. When our children grow up feeling a part of an extended Quaker family, we have taught them a lot about Quaker faith and practice.
The Religious Education Coordinator, Marsha Holliday, is available to talk with Friends about First Day School, youth programs and adult religious education.