One way to welcome newcomers, seekers, and newly-relocated Friends into your meeting is to extend an invitation to them and their families - including children.
Bringing children to Quaker meeting for worship is a great idea for many reasons. For one, their exuberance lights up a room. The presence of young people can inject new energy into meetings that have fallen into a spiritual rut and need help becoming recentered. Children live spiritual lives now, very much in the present. Let this perspective inspire your meeting to become more present and focused in the here and now.
Experiencing the Quaker way from a young age on a regular basis can help children experience the Divine grounding them in something greater than themselves, it can deepen their sense of belonging in community, and it can give them tools and guidance that can help them be in better relationship with their friends and family. These experiences and learnings will serve them well now and deep into their adulthood.
Parents of small children may be nervous about the prospect of bringing their child to Quaker meeting for the first time, as they want to stay focused on silent worship and make sure their child's needs are being met. Author Kathleen Karhnak-Glasby offers some gentle words of encouragement to parents in this article published in Friends Journal:
"Parents and caregivers often feel torn between what seems like conflicting priorities of supporting our children while also respecting community expectations. I find that staying fully present with a child who is having a hard time is the best way I can respect the community and be faithful to what God is calling me to do in that moment."
In other words, not only are parents helping their child learn Quaker faith and practice by example (through "staying fully present"), they are fulfilling the work the Spirit has moved them to do.
Still not convinced? Consider the following reasons why one family brings their child to meeting:
1. We come to meeting knowing we may have an experience with the Divine. I don’t even like my child to miss out seeing a blimp fly over the house, so why in the world would I want her to miss this?!
2. Where would we leave her? If Meeting is on Sunday morning, everyone who could watch her and is not already engaged in Sunday worship tends to have strong opinions about organized religions. So, if she asks one of these people where her parents are and what are they doing, what will they tell her? Will they explain the Quaker way to her as we want her to experience it? Or will they explain it as they see it?
3. Our daughter has been to meeting and LOVES going. She even stays for Joys and Sorrows. Actually she insists on staying for that part -- even if we stand up to leave, she stays and listens.
4. If the option for childcare exists, the newcomers and Friends you hope to welcome will come. Meeting houses are a place where we seek to become the whole human family, regardless of age. Offering childcare will not only put that idea into action, it will also encourage other meetings in your region to mimic your example. The family will grow!
Welcoming newcomers, seekers, and Friends from all walks of life is the only way to ensure a diverse, vibrant Quaker family. FGC offers online resources for meetings and families that want to bring children to meeting for worship, including Family Meeting for Worship in the Monthly Meeting and Helping Prepare Children and Teenagers for Quaker Worship.
Wondering where to start with children's programs for your meeting? FGC offers Faith & PlayTM, a joint project of FGC and the Faith & Play Working Group of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM). Faith & PlayTM is a resource that teaches children words and concepts to help them express their faith and the holy mysteries they encounter.
The Quaker way is a gift that deserves to be shared with Friends, seekers, and newcomers of all ages. By inviting children to participate in meeting for worship, we fulfill the promise of a thriving, diverse Quaker family and set an example for future leaders that will have a lasting impact for generations to come.
This article was written for Vital Friends, FGC's monthly eNewsletter. Click here to receive future issues in your email inbox: Subscribe