Inch by Inch, Row by Row
by Dan Truman
“Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow,” begin the lyrics to “Garden Song” by David Mallett, and day by day is how the Quaker Daily Devotional is growing its garden of young Friends. Emily Provance, a traveller in the ministry who is currently living at Powell House, remembered, “In the first few days of the pandemic situation, when all was chaos for pretty much everybody, families with kids home from school seemed to be one thing that wasn’t getting addressed in the initial wave.” Although there are now many more resources for families online, Emily hopes that the daily devotionals “provide some sense of routine, connection, and grounding for both kids and parents. I know that they do that for me!”
The Quaker Devotionals encourage virtual intervisitation. Not so much as a breaking-of-bread but a crunching-of-cereal, it gives a welcome opportunity for both children and their families to reflect on their experience and gain strength and hope from their faith.
Quaker Devotionals are facilitated by a small group of Friends from several yearly meetings. In addition to Emily, devotionals are regularly presented by Regina Baird-Haag (Co-Executive Director of Powell House), Melinda Wenner Bradley (Youth Religious Life Coordinator of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting), and Kody Hersh and Beverly Ward of Southeastern Yearly Meeting.
The audience in mind is children six months to nine years and their families. Three generations of one family has been attending regularly. Attenders log in via Zoom video conferencing from as far away as Georgia, Belize, and the United Kingdom. Though separated by great distances, as many as 9 families and 20 participants are faithfully brought together in a given session.
Emily and Regina’s meetings start with each participant, young and old, announcing where they are calling in from and how they are feeling. Several songs from a growing Quaker Devotional Songbook are spiritedly sung with accompanying gestures. Afterward, a reflective children’s book is read. The books are wide-ranging in topic and often introduce children to places and cultures different from their own, while covering universal themes. The teacher then offers a query which all participating reflect on in expectant worship for a minute or two before a worship-sharing like experience of answering the query.
Regina shares, “I think the most surprising thing for me was the huge lift to my spirit and emotions each time I’ve done a devotional. I am also amazed at the community that can be created through the online platform…. In an isolating and alienating environment, this platform has really strengthened a sense of unity and connection in participants and facilitators. My hopes include being able to continue this activity, beyond our pandemic, and getting to meet some of our participants at a time when we can actually be in the same place.”
Melinda’s devotionals are in the evening. “I took the evening time intentionally, both because it’s after my work day, and I was drawn to the opportunity to create a space to wind down and reflect at the end of the day....Energy levels vary, but it’s always joyful! I think what has surprised me the most has been that I went into the opportunity with the children centered in my planning, but seeing the parents— some are friends I have not seen in awhile—has been so wonderful. My heart feels very full when I end these Zoom calls and go rejoin my own family.”
As to her devotional format, Melinda wilI “usually start with my Tibetan singing bowl, and gathering us around to listen to the sound it makes getting quieter and quieter. We read a story, and it’s been such fun to go through the many children’s books I have... I’ve tried to pick books with themes of listening, taking care of the earth, and mindfulness, but I’m adding in some silliness, too—we need that to feed our spirits as well! After the story, we’ll wonder together about a couple of questions related to it, and then we sing a song.”
On a personal note, in these uncertain times, my wife Ninon Rogers and I look forward to starting each day with the Quaker Devotional. While we sometimes struggle to plan and deliver curriculum in person, Emily, Regina, and Melinda make it look easy even in a new virtual format.
It is a joy for us to have our six and nine year old children among those children recognizing each other in fellowship and greeting each other warmly from across the country. Their spiritual growth is nurtured and their capacity for community-building and reflective and expectant worship expands. We look forward to attending more of the devotionals soon, and we wholeheartedly recommend all of them.
More information and a sign-up form can be found on Emiliy Provance’s traveling ministry website Turning, Turning (quakeremily.wordpress.com/connection-in-a-time-of-covid-19)