If Meeting is a Muscle, Quakerism is a Full Workout

In his recent guest post at Gathering In Light, Chad Stephenson concluded:

Often Quakers lament the way teens or young adults drift apart from their Meeting. In our school [San Francisco Friends], it is in middle school when choice and freedoms to decide that meeting is “boring” is met not with an “oh-well, that’s adolescence” but with a call to better engender education. Practice through using silence as an opening to class, to meetings, and even actually teaching what good worship feels like and what good ministry sounds like articulates what Quakers believe in an accessible, developmentally appropriate way. Curiosity, scaffolding, and engagement will build the muscle of worship.

I am encouraged by the possibility of education as one way to stem this tide among Quaker youth. Young people who have learned well and practiced regularly will know its value, whether they choose to use it now or later in their lives. One teacher colleague spoke in ministry recently of how a student who grew up going to Quaker schools years ago but hadn’t attended a meeting since leaving had asked her to share silence with him when they met just to have the experience again.

Quaker meetings provide the element of faith and practice which schools can only touch upon. The power that we are offered in Meeting should be offered to youth in developmentally significant times, so they feel included and valued. Roles for them in leadership, finance, care for other children, and other capacities bring them into closer practice and ownership of the Meeting. As we hold them closer, they will take a closer look at how Quaker values of “that of God” in everyone is a both unique and powerful way of worship that they can join us in.

This morning, as I was hiking on a local hill,

“Further Along” by -Wink-, courtesy of Flickr.com/Creative Commons.

“Further Along” by -Wink-, courtesy of Flickr.com/Creative Commons.

I thought that if meeting is a muscle and Chad has suggested some exercises for its development, then what would the workout be for the full body of Friends practice and faith? Please excuse my stretched metaphor. I’m a teacher of physical activity and fitness.

Indeed, recent reflections on several blogs about teaching Friends’ faith have touched a resonant chord for me. I’ve been seeking ways to initiate youth into Quakerism since it was opened to me last Spring that, “We have no coming of age ritual in Quakerism. No first confession and communion, ba(r)t mitzvah, or vision quest. Perhaps our older children need an experience that marks that.”

I have been pondering all these words in my heart since then. I reflected on some of my own experiences of coming of age in the Religious Society of Friends. I thought about youth programs and some of the elders who had fostered my growth in the Lord and in the meetings I grew up in. I heard about a local Unitarian program that could be studied or adapted. I’ve even dreamed about what Friends in our meeting could do with the pre-adolescent youth we have.

At yearly meeting, I came full up against this issue. The Committee on the Discipline that I’m part of met with young adult Friends to ask about membership. One or two were unaware that membership had to be requested. Several felt lacking in background about the ways Friends work together and suggested an educational program of several months duration for 17 and 18 year olds.

A front porch meeting after this session included the committee and a Friend from the yearly meeting’s Committee on Ministry and Oversight. She had been thinking of ways to inculcate even younger (age 13 or 14) Friends in the ways of Quakerism through a one year experience including a variety of discussions and events. The two of us have kept up an occasional correspondence in the three months since this.

So faPanorama of Fox, Abbott, Pink Dandelion, de Hartogr, our shared ideas include:

  • Mentoring time with several adult members during the year. This should probably be done in pairs of youth.
  • Reading old, dead Quakers and young and old, live ones. Such as George Fox, Marge Abbot, Ben Pink Dandelion, de Hartog or Slonczewski.
  • Going to other churches. Discussing their theology and practice. Comparing it to ours.
  • Making a presentation to Meeting on some aspect of what they have learned that year.
  • Service work or social action

Each of us has spent lots of attention to the Good Order Of Friends, so it’s not too surprising that instruction and experimentation in prayer and worship got omitted. This exposure is needed for young Friends (as well as for me), so I’m thankful for Chad Stephenson’s faithfulness in holding that need up.

Some of my additions this morning:

  • A wilderness or outdoor experience
  • Attending a workshop or conference on faith or its consequence in our lives
  • Serving on a meeting committee
  • Doing what other adult Friends do to become better Quakers and better people

What are some examples of this last idea? Please comment on how you grow in your faith or how you might help young people grow in theirs. Thanks in advance.