When my children were young, I remember how challenging it could be to share my Quaker values with them—and to help them to appreciate those values—when the world, through contact with their friends, classmates, TV, and advertising, provided so many alluring alternatives. We struggled with requests for Barbies and hand-held video games, among other things, and pondered how to honor the child and still make our personal values clear. Our children accompanied us to meeting, to yearly meeting, and eventually lived with us for three-and-one-half years at Powell House, New York Yearly Meeting’s retreat and conference center, where my husband and I served as co-directors. For a few years, they both attended a Friends school. They grew up attending First-day school in a large urban meeting and a small rural one. They sometimes helped us serve at a local soup kitchen or gather articles for American Friends Service Committee’s Material Aids Program. We helped them learn to respect and appreciate people who were very different from themselves, and to care about social and economic injustices and concerns.
Yet, through all of this, it was never entirely clear to me that they would choose to be Quakers as adults. In our family, all of these things laid the groundwork, but what made Quakerism their own was when they began to attend Quaker youth gatherings—at Powell House, in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting before and after the development of the Burlington Conference Center, at Friends General Conference Gatherings, and more recently as participants in the Philadelphia Young Adult Friends group. It was in those places, in the presence of their Quaker peers and, until fairly recently, with the guidance of caring Quaker adults, that they claimed and began to possess as their own the faith in which they’d been raised.
I remember a conversation with an elder Friend in my meeting who once told me that, born a Quaker, he resigned his membership in adolescence so that he could make up his own mind about his religious beliefs. The meeting was startled. He later rejoined meeting as a convinced Friend, and to him that was key to his understanding of and commitment to his religious values. I think there is a profound truth in that story. Ultimately, we all must search our hearts to decide what our values and beliefs are and how they will direct our lives.
During the years that I was raising my family, I would have been thrilled to have read the articles that appear in this issue. They are packed with excellent, even luminous, suggestions about how to impart our values to our children. Many are offered to us by Young Friends themselves. Whatever the size of your meeting, however many children are present on First Day, here there are many wonderful ideas that can be modified and incorporated into your practices.
Nurturing younger Friends doesn’t stop at the level of family or monthly meeting, however. Quaker organizations and institutions have a unique opportunity, and to my mind an obligation, to bring younger Friends into the life of their organizations. I’m very glad, for instance, that Friends Committee for National Legislation has run an excellent internship program for years, and that Pendle Hill, Friends General Conference, and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting have appointed young adult Friends to coordinate their work with YAFs. Here at Friends Publishing Corporation, we have young Friends (under 30) serving on our Board, staff, and in our excellent internship program, as well as regularly submitting work that is published in our pages. These are important opportunities to engage with and serve Friends—and to develop the skills that will be needed as they become Quaker leaders.