From "Young Families and Quakerism: Will the Center Hold?" (Friends Journal, May 2008):
[The project] found that those who joined Quakerism started attending at the average age of 34. The project summarized that our outreach efforts should focus on those in their 30s and 40s. Many of those who are drawn to unprogrammed Quakerism are looking for a "tribe" that gives them a sense of connection and belonging that resonates with their sense of who they are, and who they are becoming. (Many who take the quiz at <www.beliefnet.com> are pleased to discover that there is already a well-established religious tradition that shares their convictions! Now, all they need to do is find a Friends meeting in their area. Thank goodness for <www.quakerfinder.org>!)
This yearning for authentic community shifts to an even deeper existential level when young adults find themselves becoming parents. As has been well documented, people often seek a religious community during the early years of parenthood, because of their bone-deep hopes and fears for their children. Having children tends to evoke in us a spiritual awakening, and a connection with the Source of life. We experience the Divine through our love for our children. Contemporary culture, with its wide array of anti-spiritual messages and experiences, has only exacerbated these deep yearnings. For Quakerism to be a spiritual home of choice for today's young adult seekers, then we must meet them where they are. That is, we must offer them a community that does not simply accept them and their children, but which pro-actively embraces them and nourishes them, personally and spiritually.
(Read more: http://www.friendsjournal.org/young-families-and-quakerism-will-center-hold)
But this article isn't just about helping Meetings be more accessible to young families: it's also about nurturing our Meetings and helping them be vital, growing communities.
I'm excited, reading this, because the connections with and parallels to other kinds of accessibility are really clear to me. And the tools are related, too.
The author and his family and I used to all be part of the same Meeting, before they moved and we moved. In that Meeting, we used to have regular, intergenerational, semi-programmed Meeting for Worship.
While I was there, that worship never took place in the main Meeting room, and it never took the place of regular Meeting for Worship: therefore, it was optional.
There were a couple of issues with this. It made it clear that our children were not full members of our community. However, it also meant that no one who felt they couldn't in good conscience participate in programmed or semi-programmed worship was forced to do so.
Sadly, when it came to our children, we didn't walk our talk as well as we might: several families I know left for other Meetings where they felt their children to be more fully part of the life of the Meeting. This is not an option in many geographic areas, including some of the other places where I've lived.
I confess that I am one of those people who's allergic to programming in Quaker worship. For me, as soon as we introduce programming, we introduce dogma and theaology, and we are no longer in spiritual communion. We have violated Meeting for Worship. It's no longer safe worship space. When that happens, I can visit, but I'm no longer home. But I also felt really strongly, in that Meeting, about intergenerational Meeting for Worship, and I knew a full hour of unprogrammed worship just wasn't accessible to our children. So I went to intergenerational semi-programmed Meeting for Worship. (I itched, but I didn't break out in hives.)
Even though the connections with other kinds of accessibility are clear to me, they're not so clear to other people.
Here are some examples:
If it's okay for kids to wiggle quietly, read, write, or play quietly during worship...
...then it's okay for adults with neurological conditions to wiggle quietly, or engage in other quiet activities, during worship.
If it's okay for kids to read Bible stories silently, or for adults to read from Christian or Hebrew scriptures silently...
,,,then it's okay for kids or adults to read from non-Christian books silently.
If it's okay for kids to write quietly...
...then it's okay for adults to write quietly.
Those are just a few parallels that spring immediately to mind. I'm sure there are others.
I'm reminded of two times in my life when handwork was the only thing that made Meeting for Worship accessible to me.
The first was when I was recovering from an injury and was in constant pain. For months, I had a terrible time centering into worship. Reading or writing was too cerebral -- it pulled me out of worship, into an intellectual head-space. But finding a place in the back of the Meeting room where I could sit on the floor, stretch out the leg with the cast on it, and work on my crochet ministry -- the blanket I was making for a Friend whose husband had just died suddenly -- I could center into worship. The second was during a flare-up of a neurological condition, when I was on a medication that made me sleepy unless I had direct sensory stimulation. If I was driving, I was fine; as a passenger, I would fall asleep. I found myself very sleepy in Meeting for Worship, no matter what time of day, no matter where -- the Meeting where I was sojourning, back at my home Meeting, at FGC Gathering, when traveling, it didn't matter. I did not want to sleep through Meeting for Worship. Again, reading or writing pulled me out of worship and put me into too intellectual a space, but crocheting allowed me to stay centered in worship when I started getting too sleepy.
Coming back to Tom's article and the thoughts it's prompting for me, I also want to think more about how this kind of openness might work to help us embrace the theaological diversity among us -- and so help us deepen our Meetings in the Spirit and in their faithfulness to Quakerism.
Here is something really important Tom points out in his article:
Learning to be accessible doesn't have to be comfortable at first in order to grow comfortable, or in order to provide huge rewards for a Meeting community.
So, dear Friends -- shall we see how the Spirit is leading us to be uncomfortable together, and how how we are led to be transformed?