Spark, September 2008

Submitted on 09/01/2008
SPARK
15 Rutherford Place
New York, NY 10003
New York Yearly Meeting News
Volume 39
Number 4
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) September 2008
Editor, Paul Busby

Contents


Growing Up Quaker

Holding Our First Day Schools in the Light

Child's drawing

This Spark continues an ongoing conversation on how we can all nurture and support First Day schools in New York Yearly Meeting. A survey of the articles in this issue and a review of Quaker Web sites inform us of how important it is that everyone, not just parents, lend their support to First Day schools under our care. The First Day School Resource list is an introduction to an expanded First Day School Resource page that will be posted on the NYYM Web site. We are asking Friends to send us resources, books, curricula, etc., that you would like to share with other First Day schools in NYYM. Please send to office [at] nyym.org or mail to NYYM, 15 Rutherford Pl., New York NY 10003. Whether your FDS is a box of materials and a Friend on call, waiting for a child to arrive on your meetinghouse’s doorstep, or a full-blown endeavor with multiple age groups, there is something for your meeting in this issue.

Helen Garay Toppins, issue coordinator

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Reflections on First Day School

And My Series of Queries Over Time

I began attending Meeting for Worship when my youngest son was six weeks old. He celebrated his 21st birthday earlier this year. My youngest child is seventeen and I have been leading First Day school classes for longer than she has been alive.

The first time I ever went to Quaker meeting, it was April. By September, I was teaching First Day school. There were two families. The other family had two daughters who were the same ages as my two oldest children. Their mom and I took turns, and so we each had First Day school every other week. I felt frustrated by my lack of involvement with Meeting, but since I was new, I accepted that this was the way it worked.

An Invitation to All
NYYM First Day Schools

Why We prefer to Go Curriculum-less:
One of our best First Day projects...

Over a two-month period one winter, our First Day school made a SPICE quilt. We created quilt that listed the testimonies—Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality. We batiked squares, and we laid out the grid creating the words. As we worked, we discussed our testimonies at length. Conversation and discussion take on a different depth when Friends are working together.

The quilt now hangs in our First Day room. It has proven to be a great reference during discussions as we consider testimonies and how we use them. Plus it is a tangible memory of time spent together.

And our next project—you can help!

One of our teens was reading an article about installation art. She thought we should create something that could be displayed on the meetinghouse grounds until Nature removed it. Brainstorming, laughing, wild ideas led to—let’s make the largest origami peace crane ever. A seasoned Friend suggested the crane should be as large as it became, rather than a competitive endeavor. So we are asking Friends and others to submit peace artwork, peace writing, and especially statements of conscience to our First Day school. We have received one statement so far, which we read together in First Day school. It was powerful.

Please submit work, ask others to submit work, to Perry City First Day School, Box 291, Trumansburg NY 14886.

All submissions will be joined one to the other, then folded into a crane and displayed in front of our meetinghouse, just before the elections, to inspire thoughts of peace. Please send your submission by the end of September.

When I look back, I am not sure why I stayed. When my children were young, I was exhausted most of the time. What Meeting offered me was two hours of silence each month. And I will admit, sometimes the only reason I went to meeting was because it was “my turn.” I went only because I had a commitment to the other mother, and if I did not have the commitment, I just stayed home. So, many times I was offering the other mother time in worship and I was too tired to take advantage of that gift for myself.

We gained a few more kids during successive years, which meant there were more parents to share the burden. And as my children grew up, attending meeting became easier and part of our normal routine.

But the pattern of parents’ being responsible for First Day school bothered me. One day at meeting for business, I finally posed the question, “Who owns the children?” I couldn’t find any other words to express what I meant. I think, now, that I wanted to ask, “Do the children belong to Meeting?” The other side of that question was, “Or do the parents belong to Meeting? And are they responsible for the children who sort of tag along?” The real question may have been, “Is First Day school simply traded childcare?”

What I asked was, “Who owns the children?” And after my query, a few nonparent Friends began leading First Day school.

After 11 years, I moved and changed meetings. My children and I were in transition for about a year, spending some time at our home meeting, and some time at a larger nearby meeting, before settling into another small meeting near where we lived.

Our new meeting had a Religious Education Committee (RE) with no parents. The clerk told me that the Meeting had decided, specifically, that First Day school would not be a parental activity. There was a strong feeling that Meeting should serve families. But as members cycled off RE, Nominating Committee filled those slots with parents. Within a few years, RE was an all-parent committee.

Both of the meetings I have belonged to have been rural and have been small, intimate societies. Practically everyone serves on at least one committee. Burnout threatens much of the time. In both meetings there is a real concern for attracting young families. We love having kids around. As my children were growing up, they knew they delighted older Friends. This was an amazing gift that was delivered in the social time at the rise of worship. But those Friends rarely participated in First Day school.

Currently several Friends in my meeting are undergoing serious illness or family upheavals. As a result, our RE committee has been in crisis. So at business meeting, just recently, I had to challenge this meeting. “Do the children belong to the meeting? Or do they belong solely to the parents?” I was given time during the meeting to express my feelings. And I was left with another set of questions: Is it up to me to make meeting realize when this committee is in crisis? Or should Friends be aware and ready to step in with support when it looks like it is needed? The answers to these queries determines whether the program truly belongs to Meeting.

In discussing my question, I began to notice that nonparent Friends often doubt their ability to be with the children. This same lack of confidence often shows itself in the ongoing discussion of whether or not to use a curriculum. The children say they prefer classes where there is no curriculum. Adults prefer to use a written outline. I am aware that one amazing Friend is a sacred clown, when one gets to know her. Yet she was one of the Friends who expressed her feelings of not being sure what to do in a First Day school session. She needed to be reminded of her gift, then encouraged to share herself with young Friends. Maybe we all need to have our gifts pointed out and cherished occasionally.

Mostly, it seems that First Day school is separate from Meeting. Most Friends are not involved, nor are they aware, even though the are happy to have the children in Meeting. Right now our RE committee is two parents, one teenager, one grandparent, one nonparent, and me, the almost-done mother with no kids in First Day school. All First Day school attendees are routinely invited to all RE committee meetings. Many attend regularly.

We are struggling forward. We are a small meeting. We say we wish we had more children. Yet we have never truly answered the core query: Do the children belong to the Meeting?

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A Strong Commitment to First Day School

The First Day  school (FDS) of Saratoga Friends Meeting faces the same challenges as many small meetings—few children (we have four), a wide age range (5–15), and inconsistent attendance. These challenges make it difficult to choose and to follow any set curriculum because the needs of our children vary so much, and we can never count on building on the previous week’s FDS experience. Despite these challenges, we have built a strong FDS program by using the strength, consistency, and commitment of our adult meeting community as a foundation. By structuring many of our FDS activities to build relationships and facilitate communication between the adults and the youth, the discussions are much broader than our small mixed-age group could manage on their own.

We have found a range of activities to be successful in connecting the FDS to the meeting community. In general, we have encouraged adult members to share their passions with the FDS group and have been lucky to learn about wildlife rehabilitation, Chinese culture, birds, and music, among other things. An activity we have used for directly getting to know each other is to invite adult members to be interviewed during an FDS session. We have left the interviews almost entirely up to the children, asking them to generate questions to ask and to choose a guest. In learning about their guests, the children have also learned about Quakerism, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly in the life stories they hear. Even some of the sillier questions asked—for example, “Do you like ketchup with your eggs?”—have led to great interactions and strengthened friendships.

Our “suggestion box” gives members of the meeting community an opportunity to respond to a question posed by the FDS. If an interesting question comes up during FDS, we post it on the box to extend the discussion. If an adult discussion is planned on a topic the FDS might find interesting (e.g., “How do you prepare for meeting for worship?”), we post the question on our box to encourage the adults to share their thoughts with the children, too.

Our FDS actively participates in caring for the community by making cards and gifts to share with community members. We have made “care quilts” where a quilt is crafted from quilt blocks decorated by the children, a block signed by meeting members with fabric markers, and a central block with a fabric picture of our meetinghouse. We have also decorated candles, made cinnamon-dough ornaments, drawn pictures, and made cards.

Near the holidays, the children invited the entire meeting community to join in their desire to make a donation to Heifer International by hosting a cookie “sale.” The FDS provided a large array of cookies to be enjoyed on the spot and materials for packaging some to take home. A donation box was available for anyone wishing to make a donation, with the amount completely up to the donor. The cookies were enjoyed by all, and one of our young attenders called it “the best potluck we ever had!” Much to everyone’s delight, we collectively made a very generous donation to Heifer International.

Another positive influence on our FDS program has been a monthly teen group recently formed by a member parent. Although the teen group is also small—from three to five teens regularly attend—the teens bring new energy, ideas, and laughter that the younger ones enjoy. The current teen group also provides an attractive model of a mixture of service and fun for our future teens (seeFriends Teen Group at Saratoga.”)

Girls on bench

One other strategy we have used to strengthen our First Day school program is to always structure our time in FDS in the same way so the children know what to expect. Our FDS group attends the first 10–15 minutes of meeting for worship. We start our FDS sessions with a few minutes of silence and then take turns sharing about our week or responding to a question posed by the teacher. We pass a “talking stone” around the circle—whoever holds the stone has the opportunity to share or pass and everyone else listens. At the end of our FDS time, we join hands, share silence, a short prayer, or closing thoughts, and then pass a squeeze around the circle. We are careful to end our FDS activities in time to join our meeting’s closing circle and often share with the Meeting the topic of our FDS discussion.

The success of our FDS program is largely due to the strong commitment our meeting community has made to our children. Three people have taken primary responsibility for teaching our First Day school (one parent and two other meeting members), and two parents have taken charge of the teen group. Another parent volunteers to teach FDS occasionally, and members volunteer to cover FDS when the regular teachers are not available. We have FDS any week there are children—even FDS for one. We regularly receive positive feedback and support for our FDS efforts from a wide spectrum of community members. Also, we recently added an addition to our 200-year-old meetinghouse to create a permanent space for our First Day school. It took the generosity, hard work, and faith of the entire community to make the addition possible, and the dedicated space has given our FDS program a huge boost—an emotional boost by showing the children just how committed the community is to them despite their small numbers, and a physical boost by providing space for a library, art materials, extended projects, and more. Given these commitments from our meeting community, we expect our FDS program to continue to grow. We are ready to welcome more children into our community, but our commitment to our children will remain independent of their numbers.

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Quaker Service in New Orleans

Ithaca Monthly Meeting’s Out of the Nest Program

This spring break Ariel Mohler and I went to New Orleans for a week with Love Knows No Bounds, a group of volunteers from upstate New York that has worked in the city for several years.

New Orleans porch

Ariel and I belong to Ithaca Monthly Meeting. The trip to New Orleans represented the last stage of Ariel’s participation in the Meeting’s Out of the Nest Program. Out of the Nest grew out of the recognition that our Meeting tends to lose teenagers as they get older and drift away from First Day school attendance. It pairs each participating teenager with an adult in the Meeting who acts as the child’s mentor. They work their way through Faith and Practice together, talking about the child’s own history in the Meeting and their understanding of the testimonies. The centerpiece of the program is a week-long service project. Classically, the project is supposed to be far from Ithaca. Out of the Nest kids from our Meeting have gone with their mentors to places where they knew no one. We, on the other hand, ended up going to New Orleans with 60 other people from Ithaca and surrounding communities. A couple from our Meeting were there with their children; so were several members of the Perry City meeting, including two other teens Ariel knew. I rejoiced in the quick and intense relationships Ariel forged with the other children and adults on the trip that week.

Two years after Katrina, New Orleans is still in tatters. Work continues on the levees, and controversy surrounds the efforts of the city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, and the federal government to house and serve those who have returned. Four of the city’s seven hospitals remain closed. Cities of tents stretch under highway bridges. Individuals have worked against tremendous odds to rehabilitate their own properties. (“ROOTS RUN DEEP HERE” said a sign on one.)

Building in New Orleans

Mike Ellis, a counselor who works in the Caroline schools, went to New Orleans for the first time not long after Hurricane Katrina. He led our trip. Meeting him was an inspiration. Sweet and unassuming, he worked on a kind of spirit high, sleeping only a couple of hours a night and eating meals standing up—when he got them at all.

Love Knows No Bounds has forged a relationship with St. John No. 5 Faith Church in the Seventh Ward and with the church’s pastor, Bruce Davenport. A big man with boundless energy, a huge heart, and an endless supply of corny jokes, Pastor Bruce has worked for years in the St. Bernard Housing Project where he grew up, providing kids with job training, families with food and assistance, pregnant teens with shelter, and those at risk for HIV and AIDS with condoms (a project that spelled the end of his relationship with the Baptist church).

Love Knows No Bounds started taking truckloads of used furniture and appliances down to New Orleans not long after Katrina; Pastor Bruce distributes what they bring to anyone in need from the basement of his church. So far, volunteer drivers have brought down a dozen or so eighteen-wheelers full of washing machines, bureaus, mattresses, and other still-functioning household goods that Ithacans have decided they don’t need anymore. Refrigerators, Mike Ellis told me, are especially precious.

Our trip over spring break was the biggest group the organization had ever brought to New Orleans; the youngest volunteer was nine, and the oldest one was seventy. We worked on six houses in different parts of the city. They had all been gutted already; the crews put up drywall, installed doors and windows, and painted. Ariel and I worked with a crew of eight or nine scraping and painting a double shotgun-style house a beautiful shade of pink. Pastor Bruce and Mike stopped by to bring pizza and more paint and brushes.

People in the neighborhood stopped by to see how we were doing and to ask us where we were from; they thanked us for coming to New Orleans. The little kids from next door rode back and forth on the sidewalk on their Big Wheels. If the state of that block was anything to go by, New Orleans is still a long way from restoration; yet people on our crew who had been down the year before said things looked a lot better than they had then.

All 60 of us were housed in a big suburban church in Metairie, a predominantly white suburb of New Orleans. The contrast between Pastor Bruce’s church and the suburban church in Metairie was instructive. The church in Metairie was the biggest I had ever seen. It was as well equipped as an Ithaca school, with dozens of shiny classrooms, a computer lab, a working theater, a food-service kitchen with a ten-burner stove, and five showers for us to use.

St. John’s No. 5 Faith Church has one room upstairs and a basement downstairs; it has two toilets. When a child in the congregation has a good report card, Pastor Bruce has him or her stand up in church to receive the applause of the congregation. All 60 of the Love Knows No Bounds crew crammed into the sanctuary to celebrate Passover together with St. John’s parishioners. Pastor Bruce talked about love, and we felt it there. Every one of us thought about coming back for more.

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Children’s Peace Week

Kids sitting on grass

For each of the last eight years, I have had the privilege and honor of directing Children’s Peace Week. This week-long camp for children from ages 7 to 13 is an experiment in creating a culture of peace that begins in our hearts. It began when Sue Clark, a Quaker and longtime peace activist, wanted to open the doors of the beautiful old Albany meetinghouse to teach children about peace. It has evolved into a lively, creative exploration of how to create peace. I was asked to write the initial curriculum—and was lucky to stumble upon a model that has become our drumbeat. Camp begins with Peace with Your Self. The four days that follow spin the stillness of the heart out into the world through Peace in the Family, Peace with Friends and Neighbors, Peace in the Environment, and finally Peace in the World. All of our activities center on the theme of the day. Learning contemplative practices and accessing creativity and self-expression begin the week. Making banners and organizing a peace march ended last year’s camp. And in between we learn about listening and communication and what it takes to bring peace to our relationships with others.

Our teachers at peace week are called peace interns. They are all high school students, and most of them are former campers. One of my favorite images is looking around the circle at the younger kids draped over their interns soaking in a sense of the future. At Children’s Peace Week, we have a historical bent. Each year, the peace interns are assigned a peacemaker to research and present to the camp. Peacemakers have included Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama, but they have also included Samantha Smith, Ryan Hreljac (founder of Ryan’s Well Foundation), and Roberto Clemente. The week ends with a scavenger hunt to match facts with peacemakers and then a test for the parents. Don’t send your kids to camp unless you are prepared to struggle with “Which peacemaker was a six-year-old Canadian child who raised money to build a well in Africa?”

Every year we struggle with which of our traditions to preserve and which to let go of in the service of creative new adventures. We are not allowed to give up cooperative sundae making or cooking soup for the soup kitchen. These are way too fun. For several years, we have borrowed from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a tradition called watering the flowers. It is at the end of “Peace in the Family” day. All the children, interns, and adults sit in a circle with a vase of flowers in the middle. An intern starts by picking up the vase and carrying it over to a child or intern and sharing something that she/he appreciates about him or her. The recipient can either take the flowers to another child or bring them back to the center and then anyone can claim them and begin to water the flowers of another camper. No one wants to stop. There are so many things that we don’t take the time to say to each other. “Thanks for helping me clean the paint off my shirt this morning.” “I really felt safe when you sat next to me on the first day of camp.” “I know I yell at you a lot, but I’m really glad you are my sister.”

Children’s Peace Week is filled with activity, but it is also filled with stillness. Taking the time to care about each other moment by moment is our deepest task. When the Dalai Lama was asked about his religion several years ago, he didn’t talk about the thousands of years of lineage that he represents or the practices or beliefs of Tibetan Buddhism. He said, “My religion is kindness.” Kindness is how we know peace. Kindness is how we create peace. One sundae, one bowl of soup, one small experiment in Albany, New York, creates a peaceful world.

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First Day School: A Spiritual Activity

Our First Day school is a fun, interesting, and Spirit-led place for youth and adults alike. We have found First Day school to be such a rich and rewarding spiritual experience, not only for the children, but for ourselves and for the entire Meeting, that we would like to share something of what we have been doing.

We approach our First Day school activities as an integral part of our spiritual journeys. We greet each child as a gift, recognizing that of God within them. Our First Day school time parallels our spiritual journey, in that we often find ourselves letting go of part of the lesson we have planned in order to follow how God/Spirit is moving in the group of youth. As the youth process an issue or are enthusiastic about a particular theme, we learn to trust God’s presence among us. We are nurtured as we nurture the youth. Recognizing that we are in a sacred space, adults and youth continue on our spiritual journey during First Day school activities.

Intergenerational Focus
One way we maintain a strong connection between the youth and the Meeting is that the youth write an epistle to the Meeting, at the end of each lesson. The epistle is written in their own words. The epistle is read by the youth at the rise of meeting as part of announcements and is printed in our newsletter.

Additionally, we seek to have activities that involve the whole Meeting. An example of this was in a unit on Elizabeth Fry, known as “a Friend to many.” In one lesson, we made a construction-paper chain. The youth in First Day school wrote on the links words or phrases that they associated with friends as evidenced in Elizabeth Fry’s life. A meaningful part of this lesson was that some of the youths asked if fighting and making up should be included. This created an opportunity to discuss the depths of friendship. At the rise of meeting, the youth read the words on the chain. Everyone present at meeting for worship was asked to add their thoughts about friends/friendship to the chain. The entire chain was read back to the youth so they could see and hear the contributions of others.

Another intergenerational activity was the Peace Bookmark project. We found a bunch of peace quotes (Internet), which the youth transcribed or glued (based upon ability) onto cardstock. They decorated and laminated the bookmark. The bookmarks were sent to members and attenders who do not frequently attend meeting for worship, including our F(f)riends at Eastern Prison Preparative Meeting.

The whole Meeting looks forward to the epistle and to the activities.

Structure of a Lesson
Each lesson follows the same format.

  1. We start with a centering activity. We say our name and answer a query in Claremont Dialogue manner. The query relates to the theme of the subject. We then break into age groups.
  2. We read a short story or poem. In preparation for a lesson we search out interesting stories that support the theme of the lesson. Sources include: Lighting Candles in the Dark (both editions), 101 Wisdom Stories from Around the World by Margaret Silf, and The Gift by Hafiz.
  3. The lesson. We have two types of lessons: theme oriented (for example, worship, the testimonies, Quaker spirituality) and history centered (focusing on a person, their importance, and the testimonies they lived out).
  4. The activity. This is a hands-on time to do something that reinforces the theme of a lesson. Often this is integrated into the lesson.
  5. Writing the epistle.
  6. Joining meeting for worship and reading the epistle at announcement time.

Activities
Although the themes and activities of the lessons usually arise in our individual worship time, the First Day school Spaghetti Dinner fundraiser was a significant exception as the youth came up with the idea. The youth planned the event, prepared the food, and cleaned up afterward. One remarked “I have been here a long time but I don’t feel like I have worked.” Adults assisted the youth along the way. The youth filled the meetinghouse with good smells, food, and people. It was an important event for the Meeting community.

The youth decided to donate the proceeds to AFSC and Heifer International. Afterward, they had to decide how much of the money would go to each organization. This proved a challenge as they had to decide between programs and good advertising. We presented information about each organization so they could make an informed decision. Their decision was made following Quaker process. They reached an impasse, went into silence and afterwards were led to a decision all could support.

Another group of lessons focused around planning a dinner meal that they would like to eat utilizing prices from sales circulars. First they planned the meal of their choice and determined how much it would cost. The average cost was about $18. Then they had to plan a meal for $10. We then looked at what they would have to give up if they were living on less than $5/day. These lessons provided an opportunity to look at issues relating to nutrition, food choices, and lifestyle choices that impact food production.

As we studied about community, one activity involved the youth solving cooperative puzzles. Another activity involved brainstorming words associated with Quakerism/Friends that we wrote down on slips of paper. The words were brought to meeting for worship and each person present chose a word as a gift from the First Day school participants.

An important intergenerational program was the First Day school Secret Friends program (based upon Purchase Meeting’s First Day school Secret Friends program). An adult was given a secret friend, for several months. The program culminated in a pancake breakfast where all learned who their secret friend was. This activity deepened the bonds between the generations of our meeting.

While the content of each lesson is important, the process of the lesson is also part of the message. The message is listening to our Inner Guide (that of God in each of us) and living the testimonies of our faith.

Service Projects
In addition to the Spaghetti Dinner, service projects have included: the CROP Hunger Walk, making an intergenerational quilt for a member of the Meeting who was moving, and making Peace Bookmarks. Another notable project was making holiday cards from a mural that the youth made. The cards were sent to F(f)riends at Eastern Prison Preparative Meeting as well as others who do not regularly attend meeting for worship. As preparation for the projects we always focus on the need for the service as well as the spiritual basis for doing the project.

In closing, First Day school is a place of Spirit-led activity that nurtures each of us. Each person is supported as they take steps on their spiritual journey. We enjoy a real sense of community, where each person is valued for who they are, regardless of their age. We recognize that God working in the youth is as important as God working in our lives.

You may contact us via email: ebaconpilatesnp [at] yahoo.com or pomsel [at] vh.net.

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Friends Teen Group at Saratoga

Our small meeting supports a creative and wonderful program for youth, and this past year the program has grown to include a teen group. The teen group was started by my son and two good friends of his, with my husband and me acting as adult support/facilitators. The teen group has initiated: exploration of Quaker principles, fundraising to benefit nonprofits, quarterly parties, and monthly teen meetings. They are heading out later this month to spend four days at a Heifer International camp. Our experience demonstrates that a vibrant Quaker teen group does not require a large group of teen members at the ready; our meeting had exactly one teen, whose attendance was unpredictable.

Our teen group benefited from unbridled enthusiasm and support of the Saratoga Monthly Meeting. The Meeting has reached out to the teens in a variety of ways. Shortly after the group formed and communicated a strong desire to support land conservation in Costa Rica, Ministry and Counsel asked if the teens would facilitate a discussion concerning the Eco-Spirituality minute. The meeting trusted the youth with this task and included the youth in a meaningful way in the life of the meeting. Adults regularly responded to the teens and any news of the group’s activities with warmth and genuine excitement. The Building and Grounds Committee approached the teens with a proposal to support the teens’ fundraising; consequently the teen group has now paid for some maintenance of the grounds. One family invited us to their home for bird banding; another family offered to take the teens sailing. The community presented each of the youth attenders with the book The Quaker Way. In all these acts and many others the meeting greets the teens with joy and light, and we are blessed.

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Let’s Put On a Show!

Theatrical Adventures in Community Building

Mask

Most kids enjoy being part of a show. Grown-ups (especially parents) like seeing kids in a play and hearing their voices. And if one and all—old and young, newcomer and long-timer—have a part in it, then everyone will have a good time. At Montclair Meeting we’ve had fun with several shows in which there are roles for everyone, even a child who comes for the first time on the day of the show. The goal is community-building.

But how to pull it off? When you don’t have the same kids for consecutive Sundays, when their schedules are too complicated to fit in rehearsals, when you have a wide age-range, then it’s a challenge, but it can be done—using improvisation, behind-the-scenes preparation, and a few tips that have worked for us. The main thing is that there’s just a loose script, there’s no one way to do it, and how it turns out depends on the people who come and the energy of the moment.

Cue cards, often color-coded and numbered, are key, because these carry along the story or the theme of the program. Far from being little notes that you try to keep out of sight, our cue cards are bold and colorful, and kids from tots to teens can help make them. With cue cards, there’s no memorizing of lines, and so it takes the pressure off. If one of your actors suddenly can’t make it, it’s easy to fill in. (And while you’re making up the cards, don’t forget to make a poster and/or invitations to publicize your performance.)

To give an idea of how this all works, here are some examples from shows that we’ve done. In a unit about Elizabeth Fry, we talked in First Day school class about the important dates in her life and times and put these dates on blue cards. We noted her many accomplishments and put these on red cards, and then we put quotes from some of her journals on yet another color. (Note: If you type out the phrases or sentences on two or three lines as though you were making up addresses, then you can print them out on label sheets and just put the labels on the cards. Otherwise, print on regular paper, cut up, and tape on. Depending on the ages of the children and their attention span, it may work best to prepare certain cue cards at home.)

On the day of the show, little ones passed the basket around so that everyone had a card. When the show director called for the blue date cards, anyone (child or adult) with that color came forward, and the kids helped arrange the people with dates into chronological order for a living timeline. As the accomplishments and the quotes from the other cards were called for, the story unfolded.

For a Christmas program, we put each action in the Bible story on a numbered cue card. Although the cards were passed out randomly, the story came out in order when a small child helped flip over numbers, bakery-style, indicating which cue card was to be read next. Children and adults alike enjoyed the anticipation of wondering who would have the next part of the story.

We adapted Mark Twain’s play about Adam and Eve for an end-of-school-year show of pure fun and silliness. Anyone, male or female, with a blue cue card was Adam. All who had red cue cards were Eves. The Eve and Adam cards were numbered and called for with bakery-style number flipping. Having multiple people play one role added to the zaniness. Everyone was invited to be a Greek chorus, and to chant words in unison (“Don’t eat the apple!”) from giant cue cards with lettering large enough to be read from any spot in the room.

Kids enjoy costumes, props, and sound effects, and older kids can assist the younger ones with dress-up and grand entrances. For the Mark Twain show, we asked several Meeting members to bring in large scarves. At our dress rehearsal (the class on the day of the show), we attached them end to end to make an extremely long and colorful snake that some energetic boys wove in and out around the room at the start of the performance. Obviously, we expect the audience to provide a large dose of imagination!

For our Christmas program, called “The Living Wreath,” we included the story of Saint Lucia. We evoked the Swedish holiday where young girls wear a crown of lighted candles. This was a riveting, if scary, idea to several of our girls. We made crowns and tucked in little battery-operated lights. It made for a lovely opening when our Saint Lucia led the other the children into the room all carrying together evergreen boughs (artificial) that they arranged on the floor in the center of the circle of chairs.

Don’t hesitate to add music in whatever way you can. At the time of our Elizabeth Fry show, we had a very small boy who liked to drum. We had him do drum-rolls at every possible occasion in the story, to the delight of everyone. We passed out new words about Elizabeth and sang them as a group to the tune of the Lucretia Mott song. At our Christmas program everyone enjoyed singing carols that matched the narrative.

Older kids and adults can be invited to take photographs of the production. What family wouldn’t like a picture of their kid’s shining hour? Later on, a First Day school class can use the photos for various projects such as making an album to memorialize the event.

And let’s not forget to wrap things up with some food and celebration. It has worked best for us to have the show right after meeting for worship and before the food. After the Adam and Eve and Elizabeth Fry performances, we had cast parties—with refreshments and balloons, of course—that put the limelight on the children. The Living Wreath Christmas program had a quieter tone followed by fellowship time and crowd-pleaser refreshments of finger sandwiches and cookies. No doubt about it, putting on shows taps creativity and spirit and builds community.

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Parent Testimony

We’d always owned a children’s Bible, and though my boys (eight, six, and four) found the stories and illustrations interesting, they came back to these stories with renewed interest and newfound insight after talking about them during First Day school at Albany Friends Meeting. The story of Moses, which Will and Parker studied in First Day school for most of last fall, generated lots of questions about parenthood, slavery, and the relationship between God and humans. Their teacher Bob supplemented the Bible stories with related, contemporary literature and art projects that facilitated each boy’s reflections on the stories. And then I (and my husband) got to talk with the boys about it all. Parker asked, “If God is in charge of everything, wasn’t he the one who made the Egyptians treat the Hebrews like slaves?”

“How did God actually part the Red Sea?” Will wanted to know. In First Day school, the boys colored a banner that said “FREEDOM,” learned freedom songs, and meditated on the concept at length, comparing the biblical account of the Hebrews’ forced labor with our own country’s history of slavery. In a defiant moment, Parker accused me of treating him like a slave.

Though I didn’t relish Parker’s accusation, I very much appreciated the fact that he knew something about the concept of slavery (and it was true that I was “forcing” him to clean up the playroom). I am profoundly grateful to Bob and his weekly First Day school lessons for providing a space for my boys to think deeply about things. Bible stories, I believe, are excellent fodder for reflection on all of the major themes that inform the human condition, and the multiple interpretations of these stories illuminate for my children the complexity that is implicit in a relationship, a decision, even a quest for freedom.

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First Day School Is Fellowship

Quakerism is a strange and complicated subject. It’s easy to mess up. It’s easy to get lost in your own relationship with the theology and thus impose your ideas on the kids—or talk too much. I’ve done both. It’s a problem.

In order to keep me quiet, my teaching partner and I employed creativity and questions to drive the bus of our first day school. We tend to steer our curricula toward original books, plays, songs, art projects, and recordings. The decision on which medium we’ll tackle next tends to lie with the kids.

“What’s next?”

“Let’s write another book.”

“Okay. On what testimony do you want the story to focus?”

“Simplicity. Let’s write about a girl who is obsessed with shoes.”

The ideas pour out of the kids. Our job is to keep the theme clear. We ask how the characters should resolve their problems using ideas based on the testimony at hand. It’s hilarious and deep.

This all sounds wonderful, but you should know that First Day school attendance at our meeting is a bit erratic. One week we’re flush with kids, the next my two are the only kids there. Are we missing something or is it simply a matter of soccer schedules?

I hope it’s the schedules. In any case, when my kids are the only ones there, we stay in meeting. I believe the adult Friends love to worship with my kids for the full hour. My kids are good at worship, you see. They sit quietly. They tug at my shirt and whisper if there will be First Day school today. I tell them no. They tug at my shirt and whisper questions about G-d. Then my nine-year-old quietly drums out a pattern he’s studying on his knee. My five-year old puts her head down and listens. For what?

“What do you hear, darlin’?”

“Nuffing.”

“Good.”

“You’re weird, Dad.”

Quiet.

In the books we write, our characters usually wrestle with meeting for worship. They don’t know what’s going on in there or they don’t want to go in because meeting for worship often forces an issue that they don’t want to deal with.

Our plays often have similar tableaux. Characters sit in meeting for worship. Sometimes, all they have are questions. Kids draw pictures of meeting for worship in which characters wonder where G-d is or why truth matters or why no one bats an eye at a young girl with a freshly shaved head (that’s from another book).

For me, First Day school is fellowship. We all start in meeting. We get up after 15 or 20 minutes and file out together. We make a bit of a ruckus and we head for the classroom.

“What did you think of that?”

“I don’t know. Why do you always ask us that?”

“Because, I don’t get it. It’s different for me every time. That room is a mystery to me.”

“Then why do you keep coming back?”

“Because it’s a mystery to me—just like G-d.”

“You’re weird, Jamie.”

“See, Dad, I told you you were weird.”

I think my teaching partner and I are serving the kids in our meeting well. We tend to keep the kids reveling in the mystery. We answer questions with more questions but not in a way that’s obnoxious or arrogant. I think we answer them with questions because they tend to answer in ways we wouldn’t usually consider. That makes for an interesting lesson for everyone.

Out of the blue two First Days ago, one student in class said, “We should walk through the graveyard, because I think it’s important.”

The next week we walked through the graveyard.

I couldn’t care less about graveyards, but I asked, “What is this place?”

“It’s a graveyard.”

“What is a graveyard?”

“It’s where the dead people are. They’re all here under our feet.”

“What’s it like to walk on all these bones?”

“It’s good. They want us here.”

We talked about the simple headstones. We talked about the dates, the ages, the old stones, the new ones. The sky was full of nimbus clouds and lovely questions. The kids were playful and thoughtful.

The members of our meeting entrust their children to my teaching partner and me. The fruits of our work are evident in the products we produce—bound books, plays, paintings—but the deep stuff is in the fellowship. The deep stuff is in the questions. I often wonder what the parents would think of the questions their kids ask. I wonder if the kids ask their parents questions like these at home. Is there time for fellowship after soccer, or drum lessons, or dinner?

“What’s next?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t.”

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Children Need the Entire Community

The Gifts That We All Have to Offer

It seemed natural that I would become involved with the First Day school—I have a young child and I’m also an educator. When our family first attended meetings, my daughter wanted us around; she didn’t yet know anyone and felt more comfortable with my wife or me present. My wife and I, being new to the community, found that the First Day school was a means of meeting other parents. That was many years ago. I’m still teaching First Day school, though I’m no longer working with the age group that my daughter is in.

Child's drawing

One of the things that I’ve noticed throughout the years that I’ve been involved with the younger Friends is that they are separated from the main meeting. There is the physical separation, there is the mental separation, and because of this, a spiritual separation.

The physical separation happens because the groups meet in different rooms; this makes sense, since the older members of the community sit in silence during meeting and the younger groups, also separated by age, do various activities that teach them about different aspects of Quakerism. The mental separation happens because the younger groups and the older group don’t communicate. We all know that the others are there, but we rarely interact, except around the sharing table at the break of meeting.

We all lose something because of this separation. A spiritual disconnect occurs in our meetings when parts of the community don’t know each other—and when there’s separation between groups, the community is divided. We begin to act as separate groups not knowing who the others are and not knowing if we are welcome in other groups. I’ve had children ask me if it was all right for them to speak in meeting; they didn’t know not only that it is all right, but that if the spirit moves them to speak, it is encouraged. I’ve heard an adult speak about his desire to share with the children, yet, not knowing them, shied away from sharing his gifts. Most meetings I’ve attended bring the children in for the last 15 minutes of worship. The energy changes in the room when they walk in-—the meeting now becomes a bit more animated and a bit more fidgety. Some of us love this energy; others, I fear, look at it as a distraction that must be tolerated. Life changes when we introduce a number of children into it. It gets a bit lighter.

Each group has a lot to teach the other, and each group needs the other to learn. Children do bring lightness to a meeting; they haven’t yet been weighed down by the strains of “adulthood.” Children have much to teach us. Through them we can learn simplicity, directness, the willingness to display emotions, frankness, and unbounded joy in living. Children move through the world with a sense wonder; every moment can be one of excitement and adventure. For adults, relearning to see the world through childlike eyes can bring us back to the spirit of our being. We can be reconnected with what we first fell in love with in the world.

What gifts do you have that could be shared with the young people in your meeting? What insights have you discovered about being a Quaker? What have you leaned about the Spirit, the community, sitting in silence, the Quaker testimonies, and your life’s journey that you can share? You have the wisdom of years. You may be new to Quakerism, and who cares? The children are new also. Young people have questions that only you can answer. Share yourself and your experiences.

In many meetings, one group does not know what other groups are doing. A few meetings have begun to have the children share what they learnt in First Day school at the rise of meeting. Some meetings ask that the adults rotate in teaching the First Day school. What can your community do?

Our meetings need to bring all of our ages together; we all pass through this life one breath at a time. If we truly believe that there is that of God in each of us, then maybe we can look into our hearts to share our life’s experiences with the younger members of our meeting. Spend a little time getting to know the children in the First Day schools. Volunteer to teach a lesson. Welcome them in as equals when they join the meeting. The insights and perceptions that young people bring can be vital and refreshing. And before long, we’ll be asking them to do the same with a new generation.

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Stages of Spiritual Development

At the Responsible Adult Presence training, held before Farmington-Scipio Spring Gathering, at meetings of the Task Group on Youth, and among the parents of young children at Summer Sessions, conversations are bubbling up—as if from an underground spring. Conversations about developmental stages, recent advances in brain research, and the stages of spiritual maturation that parallel physical and emotional development. For instance, brain research shows that ages 0 to 8 set the stage for so much that comes after and that full brain development isn’t complete until age 25. This can help us understand the lack of judgment we perceive in teenagers (for which we so often judge them). There is also this question: While eschewing ceremony do we do our young people a disservice in not recognizing their developmental stages and taking them into account in our volunteer, staff, and fiscal planning for their spiritual formation within the monthly and Yearly Meeting?

Smiling girls on grass

While we need to attend to all of the stages carefully and individual children need to be seen as not necessarily falling into “typical” developmental stages, the entrance into the teens at 13, which many faith communities mark with ceremonies, and the transition to adulthood and often leaving home at 18 are clearly pivotal.

Does that necessarily mean that those ages should be the focus of our volunteer, staff, and monetary resources? Possibly. However, don’t we need to have relationships and programs in place in the years before these transitional ages, programs that will predict and address the needs of the next stage of spiritual, alongside physical and emotional development?

Helping children stay connected and feel a part of the community when they are teenagers means starting at age 9, when the “self” typically comes forward, peer relationships take their place alongside those of parents, and the stage that culminates at 13 begins.

In conversations with older Friends,  those involved with the Young Friends in Residence initiative and many others, it is clear that there is interest in finding creative approaches. These might include  workshops designed for that age group on a regional or area level, and mentoring within monthly meetings. Adult Religious Education programming could address the obstacles to full inclusion of young people in the Meetings. A parent of young children pointed out that relevancy is what attracts both adults and youth.  He suggested that relevancy needs to be looked at as an independent issue.

The young adult Friends who spoke about the needs of people ages 13–18 in the meetings, they said that they see a need for apprenticeships on committees. They want full participation. How many monthly meetings have more than a token number of young people on committees or working on projects? Other questions arise: what could be their role in helping older Friends with their daily needs? Can the monthly meetings find ways to have students’ community service requirements fulfilled in meeting the needs of the meeting and its older Friends? Are there other ways to facilitate that kind of cross-generational contact? Perhaps young people can be invited to work with committees on specific projects, so that the time commitment is more manageable.

Those young adults indicated that the direction of inclusion was more appropriate. It remains to be seen whether a periodic “high school meeting” with a young person as clerk and projects being developed that are of interest to those youth would fit in with inclusion. They may not be mutually exclusive.

When children reach 18, if they leave home for college, the tendency perhaps is to think that the college years are always a time of throwing off the groups that are associated with home and family in order to build something for oneself, often coming back to one’s roots later. Possibly. The young Friends told us that they want to be fully participating in a Quaker life but are hampered by not having been introduced to the monthly meeting where they are and/or by feeling detached from their home meeting? What kind of campus outreach could be effective? What could be in place to help with that transition and help the young person know he or she is still a valued member of the community?

All these ideas and more are emerging as the entire Yearly Meeting is coming to realize that if we say we wish to be one community across the spectrum of age, that means committing to seeing and addressing the points along that spectrum appropriately and putting our resources and attention where our intention is.

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First Day School Resources

• The American Library Association’s (ALA) book lists for children are a tremendous resource for First Day school teachers. Many of the lists are divided into younger, middle, and older readers. The link to their “Recommended Reading for Children and Their Families” takes you to all of their lists; www.ala.org/ala/alsc/alscresources/summerreading/recsummerreading/recommendedreading.cfm

• Mildred L. Batchelder Award—for children’s books originally published in a language other than English

• Pura Belpré—Latino cultural and experience in literature for children and youth

• Caldecott—best picture books for children

• Editors Choice—titles com-piled by editors of ALA’s Booklist with suggested grade levels

• Coretta Scott King Award—books by African American authors in keeping with the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King

• Britain Yearly Meeting Web site (www.quaker.org.uk) includes tips for working with children and young people and an array of resources.

• Earthcare for Children, a First Day School Curriculum, Second Edition, by Sandra Farley, Diana Egly, Thomas Farley, 2007. Activities for kindergarten through eighth grade, with scripture readings and suggested songs. Helpful suggestions for teachers. Explores from a Friends’ spiritual perspective such topics as soil, seeds, seasons, water, air & climate, the web of life, carrying capacity, caring & responsibility, and working with others to care for the earth. (www.quakerearthcare.org/Publications/index.htm)

• Friends General Conference Web site—Religious Resources; www.fgcquaker.org/religious-ed/teaching-resources

• Friend United Meeting (www.fum.org) Education & Youth Resources includes On Becoming a Friend: A New Member Curriculum, for youth and adults.

• Pendle Hill (www.pendlehill.org) Youth Workers Training Retreat—October 10–12, 2008. Playing in the Light—May 15–17, 2009.

• Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (www.pym.org) Web site with links to Quaker education for children and youth; young adult Friends and adult Friends. It includes Making Space, a newsletter for those serving children in the Religious Society of Friends, and a variety of pamphlets including Spiritual Focus in Your Teaching; Top 10 for New Teachers; Teaching the Practice of Worship; Nurturing Children in Small Meetings (www.pym.org/education/children/teachers.htm)

• Young Adult Library Service Association—recommended books for young adults; www.ala.org/yalsa/booklists

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Developing a First Day School

Several years ago, I took a group of third graders and talked about the Bible. We made scrolls with a few significant verses in Hebrew, transliterated and translated, made a map in salt dough of Abraham’s journeys, and talked about his discovery that there is only one god, and that God does not want child sacrifice. (“What?! People used to do that?!”)

Three years ago, the children were still coming and still growing, and why was the meeting seemingly more interested in merely having them quiet, rather than helping them grow? One problem is always that First Day school usually conflicts in time with meeting for worship. I decided I would try to teach something about the Bible, and I would be there for any Young Friends that showed up, and that would be my ministry. I am hardly a biblical scholar, but we could make a historical time line and talk about the land, climate, modes of transportation, food people ate, practices, problems people faced; we could look at pictures of the land, and connect it a bit with the different times we live in. We don’t have many children in our meeting. Sometimes half a dozen would come, sometimes only one. Like the woman who started the Quaker tapestry because there was a single child in her First Day school, I could commit to being there for these children. It sparked something, and several parents and others got together to discuss what was needed.

Perhaps the most important thing that happened that following year was the creation during the summer of a calendar for the whole school year that showed school holidays and likely Powell House outings when we would not have regular class as many might travel at those times, but someone would be available if some young people showed up. This allowed other things to fall into place. We divided the available children into three age groups above nursery: those aged four to six, elementary students, and junior and senior high youth together. (We didn’t have any upper high school students coming.) Everyone would come into meeting for worship for the first 15 minutes. At the end of the meeting for worship the two classes would make a brief report of activities; this rendered the children and their work visible to the adults.

Someone stepped forward to teach the Dr. Seuss curriculum to the children in grades two to four. An adult read the story to them. There was very interesting and mature discussion from the children. They talked about leadings and testimonies. This past year they read and discussed and played out stories about people who displayed lives lived according to the testimonies, from Lighting Candles in the Dark. They made puppets and created a play about Mary Fisher that they presented to the meeting at Christmas.

A young man, gifted with young children, engaged the four- to six-year-old children with a story and talk and, when their sit-ability faded, engaged them with play until meeting ended. Since he moved away, other Friends have taken turns to bring a story to these youngsters, while the children have the reassurance of the constancy of the hired childcare worker in the room. This arrangement also enables a larger number of adults to become acquainted with these children.

What happened with the older children was even more interesting. A Friend stepped forward to say that he was willing to teach them Quaker history, but only if they were willing to come at 9:45 (the time the adult RE class took place); he insisted on being in meeting for worship for the full hour at 11 to noon. They could choose to join him in worship at 11, or they could have another adult presence with them for further discussion and socializing. To the surprise of some parents, the children went for it.

They have had a wonderful, engaging time, learning about our history, testimonies, and practices and later about some other religious groups, following up the learning with a visit to various places of worship. This past year they sometimes started their day with the adult Friends’ religious education program, and continued discussion on their own; other days, they kept to themselves for the morning. They have become a cohesive group who know and like each other. At the end of the year, with the help of the clerk of our Peace and Social Action Committee, they planned a Peace Institute with a group of teens from another church and met on several Thursday evenings to watch movies and then have a discussion. They are quick to say they do not like lectures. At times in their own space they fall into silent worship and worship sharing; they can find a roomful of adults intimidating.

They have expressed their desire to do more of the planning themselves this coming year, and in early August, several of them met together. They want to study poverty, both locally and in the world, and engage in activities around the issues. Our meeting supports an interfaith hospitality network for homeless families. The social worker of the network plans to talk with them at the beginning of September. Perhaps the teenagers will take stints at the host church during our turn at some time during the year. We have lifted from the youth the heavy burden they felt of having to create a play for Christmas in too little time. They have done wonderful things in the past, but last year they read meaningful poems instead.

What do I make of all this? I think young people are ready and eager to learn about our faith. They want to understand what we adult Quakers are all about. Why do we come to Meeting? They want the adults who are with them to understand their need to do their own thinking and learning about the world they live in and to find their own ways to make things fairer. They want to be recognized as capable and serious. They see real problems they want to engage with.

It remains to be seen whether these young people will continue as Quakers, but in these past three years, the adults of the Meeting have come to understand that it is our responsibility—it is indeed a ministry, an important ministry—to provide good content to the young among us. In these last three years, we have given all our children a good grounding in our faith from which to grow.

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Conversations on Drugs and Alcohol at Silver Bay

We are striving to create the Blessed Community. How are we affected when some among us may be using drugs and alcohol during our sessions together?

Some of our community holding this concern met twice during Summer Sessions at Silver Bay for discussions led by an ad hoc group organized by the Committee on Conflict Transformation. Here is some of what was shared and a few thoughts from participants about some steps we might take as a Yearly Meeting to address these concerns and about ways to carry this concern forward.

First, we must acknowledge that there is some use of both drugs and alcohol at Silver Bay. Nor is this just a “teen” or “young adult” issue. Some older adults are involved both on and off campus, but often they can be better at hiding this. Additionally, even though drinking off campus is legal for adults, if one regularly runs off campus to satisfy these cravings, this interferes with Silver Bay and Yearly Meeting life and puts the person and others at risk when the person drives back. At the same time, this does not necessarily mean an absence of commitment to the community. We need to increase the means of communication and support for those involved. These channels exist but need to be more widely known.

It is important to recognize that some recovering alcoholics and addicts come to Silver Bay expecting to find a safe place. Some may have a genetic predisposition to the diseases of alcohol and drug addiction. Encountering substance abuse at Silver Bay can be upsetting and interfere with their recovery. We need to take steps to keep the space safe.

For many teens, there is a tendency to fantasize about the benefits of any risky behavior, and not necessarily from ignorance of the negative consequences. Research shows that they often believe the perceived “exciting side” of substance use is better than “real life.” One parent, also a teen counselor, said she had come to realize that many parents don’t want to know. They ignore incoming information, hints, and signs that would allow them to be better informed about their children’s activities. Even when told outright, they often respond, “My child would never do anything like that!” Also, one young person is sometimes targeted by older folks as “the troublemaker” or “the druggie” while others who are actually using look squeaky clean and are not even suspected.

Several spoke to the damage that use of drugs and alcohol can bring to relationships. If the use of substance is severe, you may find you are dealing with the substance and not with the person; that is, the substance becomes foremost in the relationship, even to the point where you may have only rare opportunities to deal with the person without the filter of substance.

This is still early in our exploration of these questions and of appropriate responses and actions for our community. This article is simply intended to inform Friends of what the participants said; no conclusions were reached.

It seems to me that we need to strengthen channels of communication to help create norms and rules that are strong enough to be enforced by the group. We need to ensure that there are real consequences for actions that threaten the safe space we wish to create, without displaying such an “iron fist” that we alienate those we most wish to reach. We look forward to continuing this conversation and to finding ways that will strengthen rather than damage the bonds of our community.

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Summer Sessions across the Spectrum of Age

In keeping with the theme “Spiritual Community across the Spectrum of Age” always-popular intergenerational games sponsored by Circle of Young Friends and the swing dance opportunity were joined at this year’s Summer Sessions by other multigenerational activities. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but will give a sense of what was tried and experienced.

Chris DeRoller and Mike Clark facilitated a “Practicum in Listening” that got us out of our seats and talking—out of our comfort zones.

Young Friends from JYM joined the end of meeting for worship with attention to business, and 11th and 12th graders joined worship sharing.

Mark LaRiviere, who arranged the Community Weaving Tent along with Margaret Lew, says, “The weaving tent drew in many people throughout the week. At various times, I saw one or two people working away; at others, there were crowds. One comment I got from the clerk of a monthly meeting was that she spent about 20 minutes working with a young child from her meeting, both getting to know each other and enjoying the process.”

Multigenerational activity clusters included making music with found objects, facilitated by Vonn New, who says, “For Making Music with Leftover Stuff, we used objects that are normally discarded—cans, bottles, a teakettle with a hole in the bottom—to create a rhythm band. People from toddlers to grownups played together, and after we got used to the sounds we could make and listening to each other, we made a marching band and promenaded around the circle drive. Later, one of the participants, Martin Glazer (age 12) and Vonn New (age 47) formed a duo and performed at Café Night.”

The sew-less blanket making was facilitated by Carol Rice. The joy of those who were making it—mother and daughter, young and older—tying in with the soft and beautiful fabric. The decision about where to contribute the blanket was part of the work together. It will be contributed to a young woman who had been in juvenile detention and is going off to college.

Tom Goodridge, who led the Sneaker Creeking as the Silent Green Man, says, “About a dozen sneaker creekers ranging in age from about age 7 to 70 wound their way down the stream that runs by the Nature Center led by the enthusiastic but silent Green Man. It was the children who discovered the frog, the waterskaters, the spiders in their webs and showed them to Green Man. Jackie from Powell House identified jewel weed, hyssop, and poison ivy. The first girl to reach our destination excitedly called out, ‘I discovered Lake George!’ Meanwhile, parents discussed the need to let their children muck about wild places and the benefits of letting them unplug from technology and explore the natural world.”

Cathy Ramey, who facilitated the watercolor activity, reports, “We had 18 participants including toddler, child, teenager, young adult, middle-aged, and elder. We began by centering and sharing a feeling we were having at that moment. Then we talked about color and line representing feeling and about creating radial designs—the shape or line begins at the center and radiates out. Our group was meeting in the weaving tent and many participants made an image to include in the community weaving.

Sybil Perry, Joan Cope Savage, and Tom Lord led the Climate Change Walk. Sybil says, “There was much discussion and questions from everyone. The woods in that area is very diverse and there were so many things to talk about as well—certain mushrooms that we passed, etc. It was great fun.”

While wishing to support multigenerational contact, the Task Group on Youth continued its focus on target ages in order to understand the needs of youth. Middle schoolers and their parents had an ice cream brainstorming, to talk about how Meetings can support them. Parents of young children had a meeting and an interest group that brought them together.

One Friend realized she was the oldest person in the very large group of Friends playing multigenerational games on the lawn. She was somewhat shocked, and when she told the person next to her that she was the oldest one in the group, the person replied, “Well, you rock!” In what other unknown ways did we affirm each other across the generations?

While some loved the conversation starters on the tables at the “mix up dinner” and had lively discussions, others moved chairs so that they didn’t have to participate. One older Friend said she saw that the activities were happening, but didn’t take part, she wasn’t sure why.

One of the consequences of these efforts was to show us our barriers and ask the question that someone wove into the colorful strands in the weaving tent; “What are we afraid of?”

The Task Group on Youth asks that Friends send remarks about which activities they would like to see continued in future Sessions to Carol Rice at the phone number in the Yearbook or crdk [at] highlands.com.

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Spirituality and the Arts

Spark articles sought

The January 2009 issue of Spark will center around the theme Spirituality and the Arts among Friends. It will offer the testimony of Friends in the arts—people who give witness to their faith through writing, music, painting, video, and other creative arts.

I have been asked to coordinate and gather articles from among Friends. If you are led to write an article about the ways Friends create and respond to art, music, and other forms of creative expression, please let me know at enovek [at] monmouth.edu. I would like to receive articles in October.

Service Opportunity

I facilitate the NYYM Prayer List, which is a list of folks requesting prayer support sent out weekly via e-mail to those led to practice intercessory prayer. To accommodate Friends who would like to receive the list but who do not have access to e-mail, I am looking for a volunteer to receive the Prayer List e-mail each week, print it, and mail it to those requesting a hard copy. If you are interested or would like more details, please contact me at nyym.prayerlist [at] gmail.com.

If you aren’t able to volunteer, but you are interested in receiving prayer support or are led to practice intercessory prayer, please contact me at nyym.prayerlist [at] gmail.com for more information.

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Budget Saturday, October 4

NYYM Budget Saturday is October 4 at 9:30 A.M. at Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting. All are invited. The proposed budget is on the NYYM Web site along with supporting documents that give more detailed information as well as contact information for members of the NYYM Financial Services Committee.

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NYYM Approves Minute against Torture

Torture Is a Moral Issue
Banner at Fifteenth Street Meetinghouse
photo by Paul Busby

At Summer Sessions, NYYM approved a minute against torture, referring to the U.S. government’s practice of torture as “immoral, unethical and illegal.” The minute denounces interrogation techniques currently sanctioned by the U.S. government, including physical abuse; subjecting persons to simulated drowning (“waterboarding”); extremes of temperature, light, and noise; sleep deprivation; prolonged “stress positions”; nudity, hunger, and thirst; physical, psychological, and sexual humiliation; and solitary confinement.

“We have diminished our standing among nations and demeaned our moral values as a society and as individuals,” the minute read in part. “Facile denials by our government representatives display arrogance and hypocrisy, and compound our shame.”

According to Christopher Sammond, NYYM general secretary, “The fact that the U.S. government practices extraordinary rendition and torture is a blot on the soul of every American. We are all complicit. We cannot remain silent. We must speak out.”

NYYM ended its statement by calling on people of conscience everywhere to work actively to convince Congress and the president to stop the use of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees by any U.S. representatives, agents, or allies. The complete NYYM minute on torture is available here and in PDF here.

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Notices

This column is prepared from information about membership received from the local meeting recorders.

NEW MEMBERS
Celeste Liss Andrews—Chatham-Summit
Liz Carroll—Rockland
Eileen Cass—Westbury
David Coffee—Buffalo
Nancy Cooper—Rochester
Jill Ann Hurst—Syracuse
Christopher Kight—Syracuse
Heather McRae-Woolf—Brooklyn
Edward Richter—Poplar Ridge
Luther Robinson—Syracuse
Gale Swiontkowski—Amawalk
Christopher Ian White—Chatham-Summit
Arianna Wolf—Rochester
Ostara Wolf—Rochester
Shannon Young—Brooklyn

MARRIAGES/COVENANT RELATIONSHIPS
Terri Blair, member of Shrewsbury, and Alan Drake, on March 22, 2008, under the care of Shrewsbury Meeting.
Heather Mackenzie Cook, member of Chatham-Summit, and John Hay Cooley, member of Central Finger Lakes, on July 26, 2008, under the care of Chatham-Summit and Central Finger Lakes Meetings.
Sarah Louise Richardson, member of Poplar Ridge, and Aaron Klemperer Green, on August 16, 2008, under the care of Poplar Ridge Meeting.

TRANSFERS
Jonathan Collett, to Butternuts from Brooklyn.
Mary Edgerton, to Saratoga from Ithaca.
Jill Nanfeldt, to Chatham-Summit from Fifteenth Street.
James Schuck, to Rochester from Brooklyn.

BIRTHS/ADOPTIONS
Carolina Kilduff Silver, on February 26, 2008, to Eliezer and Shannon Silver, members of Shrewsbury Meeting.

DEATHS
Dulcie Dimmette Barlow, member of Brooklyn, on June 18, 2008.
Mary Coe, member of New Brunswick, on July 2, 2008.
Helen Culver, member of Poplar Ridge, on August 13, 2008.
Chet D’Emilio, member of Amawalk, on August 25, 2008.
Charlotte Frantz, member of Buffalo, on August 2, 2008.
Richard Haan, member of Butternuts, on May 12, 2008.
Dennick M. W. Skeels, member of Chappaqua, on May 2, 2008.
Neil B. Varian, member of Rahway-Plainfield, on April 15, 2008.
Jean Wightman, member of Fifteenth Street, on May 20, 2008.
Lorraine Wilson, member of Saranac Lake, on April 13, 2008.

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