I was not “christened” in a church, but I was sprinkled
from morning to night with the dew of religion. We never ate a meal together
which did not begin with thanksgiving; we never began a day without “a family
gathering” at which my mother read a chapter from the Bible, after which there
would follow a hush of weighty silence. . . . My first steps in religion
were thus acted. It was a religion that we did together. Almost nothing was
said in the way of instructing me. We all joined together to listen for God,
and then one of us talked to him for the others. In these simple ways my
religious disposition was being unconsciously formed and the roots of my faith
in unseen realities were reaching down far below my crude and childish surface
Rufus M. Jones, 1926
If the vigor of the meeting lives in its young people,
and the wisdom of the meeting lives in its elders, then the strength of the
meeting lies in interaction between the two.
Todd Swanson, June 2005
Children of Friends are born into or join their home
family first of all, but they also become part of the spiritual family of their
meeting. This spiritual family is entrusted with a significant role in their
upbringing. Like parents and loving caretakers, the meeting shares
responsibility for fostering the emerging spiritual life of its
children—recognizing and nurturing their individual gifts, nourishing and
guiding them as they experience the world and begin to assume the increasing
responsibilities that are part of growing older.
A number of monthly meetings gather to celebrate the
birth of a baby or to welcome a child into the fellowship of the spiritual
community. Because the first months of a child’s life are sometimes very difficult—including
for the new parents—it is important for the meeting to remember that the new
family may need and welcome various kinds of help.
As children grow older, as they grow into being
themselves, it matters that both parents and Friends in the meeting community
try to be aware of changes as they take place, to be receptive to the
children’s daily experiences, and to listen attentively to what children
attempt to communicate of happiness, need, sadness. It is important that
children have a sense that they have value, that they are loved by those around
them, and that however young they are, their lives have meaning.
The child’s home family is the environment in which
Quaker values can be most strongly fostered early in life, where he or she can
learn how to listen for the inner voice that offers guidance in choosing and
doing good actions. The home can be the safe place where a child finds out how
to seek understanding of truth and to test it, rather than accepting things
passively. A Quaker home affirms for a child, long before the realization
becomes conscious, that worship and work are parts of the same life and that
although outward circumstances of our society and our culture may change with
the times, the foundation of our lives in the Spirit remains unchanged.
As a child begins to be aware of the spiritual world
beyond the home, both the parents and the meeting need to find ways to talk
about the mystery at the core of Quakerism. Because silence is at the heart of
the way Quakers worship, it is especially hard to communicate with children
about the sometimes difficult and demanding journey of a spirit seeking God. It
may make the mystery easier to grasp if we tell stories from our history about
how Quakers have tried to live in accordance with their beliefs. In addition,
hearing adults’ vocal ministry in meeting for worship may slowly lead children
Most meetings foster Quaker values in their children by
providing First Day school classes during all or part of the adult meeting for
worship. Although in smaller meetings and worship groups such an arrangement is
not always possible, care is taken to give children a sense of comfort,
understanding, and safety during the time they are at meeting..
Friends need to be aware that we are just as susceptible
as any other group—despite our self-image as peaceful people striving for
good—to danger toward our children from those who would take advantage of their
young age. Situations of trust can provide openings for abuse. We are responsible
for ensuring the safety of children in our communities. Meetings are encouraged
to educate themselves regarding the indicators, prevention, and handling of
incidents of abuse.
Children can and do understand, have trusted and
stood strong in their faith. It is heartening to read about the children, ten
to twelve years old, who, in the 1600s “kept up their meetings regularly, and
with remarkable gravity and composure” when their parents were being held in
prison because of what they believed, even suffering beatings and the threat of
prison, despite their tender age.
Britain Yearly Meeting, Faith and Practice, 19.35
As boys and girls become adolescents, they enter another
stage of life. For many of them, this is an especially risky period of transition,
during which they work out a degree of independence from their immediate
family. When they try on unfamiliar trappings of maturity, their behavior and
ideas may challenge those of the adults in their lives. Parents may need to
take a step back, to move away from being the center of their child’s
experience. Yet at the same time it is important that they continue to offer
their trust, the comfort of familiar values, and an unfailing sense of loving
security that the youth can rely on.
Youths, meanwhile, are engaged in the difficult job of
adjusting to the world beyond their own home, where values, standards, and
expectations are often quite unlike those they’ve grown up with. Yet it is
precisely at the same time as young people are confronting life-affecting
decisions about education and occupation that our society lays upon them the
burden of making important choices about fundamental social issues. Chief among
these is the question of registration for or enlistment in the military.
It is important that the meeting counter the recruitment efforts and claims of
the military, assist individual young Friends in documenting their
conscientious objection to war, and make known to our young people the full
range of options open to them. Clearness committees may help them find clarity
about and security in their own deeply held values during this critical time of
special vulnerability to society’s expectations.
It is no easy task for adolescents to live up to their
ideals while trying to find a place in the world among people of their own age
group who do not share those ideals. Family meetings that engage everyone
in the household and during which issues important to youth are openly and
honestly discussed can be a source of mutual inquiry, support, and learning. It
is important that young and old listen to each other. What matters most at
these times is keeping the lines of communication open so that the young person
does not feel lost and isolated as he or she goes through the
changes—intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual. It is also important
to remember that growing up does not happen at the same age and in the same way
for all adolescents. Some young people at the age of sixteen may be more mature
than others who are twenty.
Friends from the meeting, as well as parents, may be able
to offer support, guidance, and sympathy to adolescents. The meeting can
express its trust in the gifts of its young people by asking them to join in
the work of meeting committees and thereby to take on some of the responsibilities
of being a Friend. This is not difficult if the meeting has made a practice
over the preceding years of clarifying for their younger members the various
ways of contributing to the meeting. It is an especially easy transition if
young people and elders have shared intergenerational activities in the past.
When younger and older Friends are comfortable with one another, the elders can
serve as role models or mentors that the young people may feel they need, to
counterpoise the pressure from their peers at school. The meeting’s elders have
“been there, done that.” If they are true friends of the young, they can be a
great help. Likewise, it stands to reason that if the young are true friends of
those who are older, they too can be a great help. It’s a two-way street.
It is important that meetings recognize that the needs of
all age groups deserve consideration. Intergenerational activities, including
worship sharing, may help ease the tentativeness that accompanies differences
of age when such activities are the product of mutual consultation and are
entered into willingly. Young people become aware of themselves as Friends not
only through attending meeting for worship and receiving religious instruction,
but also through friendships within their own age group and participation in
the meeting. They need to be included in the structure of the meeting, and the
meeting needs what they can offer. Such considerations add up to what is most
important of all—a sense of belonging, which makes young people feel they are
an integral spiritual part of meeting.
The Voice of Young Friends
This is a time of life when we can actually follow our
dreams, be idealistic, explore our future, and shape our destiny as individuals
and members of our generation.
It’s hard to find a balance in our lives with so much
For the first time, decisions we make in our lives may
have large consequences.
Bearing in mind the usefulness of intergenerational
communication, two youthful elders attempted to gain a sense of the concerns
of Senior Young Friends at the 2005 gathering of Intermountain Yearly
Meeting. They did not have much time for their work, but the Senior Young
Friends did offer genuine responses to the questions posed. Among other things,
they expressed a need for “healthy meetings,” a concern about questions
relating to gender, and gratitude for the comfort and support that their
parents had given them.
The Senior Young Friends selected a number of individual
statements as reflective of their common concerns. These selected comments,
quoted directly and slightly edited, appear below and in the lines above.
To be a Quaker means to be
We want to change things but
feel we are not old enough to have much of an effect.
It’s hard to love someone when
you genuinely dislike him or her.
When you are uncentered, it’s
easy to become angry.
We are not taught how to deal
Sometimes it’s hard to remain
What about Hitler? What about
It is important to listen to us,
to get our opinions, and to include us in decisions.
We need room to grow, while
knowing adults are there for us.
It’s hard to know when to bring
things to meetings of the adults when they’re all over the map themselves.
We need more volunteers for our
programs. It’s hard when adults criticize youth and youth programs but
are unwilling to invest their time.
Adults feel they should let you
go, but they don’t trust you.
There are occasions when we have
a consensus that the adult meeting lacks or that they are not yet ready to
It’s hard to find adult mentors
when things go wrong.
Adults in meetings need to be
“healthy,” to be centered, to know what they are looking for in order to help
us in our search.
Sometimes we feel isolated when
we can’t find other Quakers our age.
Adults often treat you as equals
in the spiritual journey, though they may need reminding every few years.
We’re not told what to think;
we’re allowed self-discovery.