For as long as I can remember, my family has been Quaker, and my dad’s family were Quakers in the past. When I was two years old, my family moved to Bellingham, Washington, from Madison, Wisconsin, so my mom could go to school. My clearest memory is when we kids would go into meeting for worship for the last 15 minutes to sit in silence, then we would show and tell what we had done during meeting.
We also went to a Friends meeting in Columbus, Ohio, when I was four and my dad was in graduate school. When we moved back to Wisconsin, we joined Madison Meeting, and since then have been going whenever we can.
There are definitely some Quaker traditions that have seeped into my household, like eating meals together and holding hands in silence before we eat. We’ve tried other things too. Since we can’t get to meeting every week, for a while we followed a practice of using no screens (for checking emails, research, or watching movies) on Sunday. We also tried having a singing session on those Sundays when we couldn’t get to meeting. After a few months we ended up stopping these practices, but we still aspire to be simple and modest. We view life a lot like the Amish and are constantly asking ourselves, “Will this activity, item, or experience enrich our family and home?” If it doesn’t, we either trade it in for something else or get rid of it.
For example, we went to Japan to do peace work for a month this summer, and I got a smartphone to take pictures and document the trip. A few weeks after we returned, I returned it to my mom and asked her to hide it away. It was allowing for bad habits—I would stay on it late into the night, and I found it was cutting into my reading time. My friends were shocked.
Since we live 45 minutes from Madison, we don’t get to meeting every weekend. I am grateful if we get to go two weeks in a row. During meeting, while the grown‐ups sit in silence and share, the “Cellar Dwellers” (what we call our middle school group) have discussions in the basement about issues like climate change, belief in God, and questions about the SPICES testimonies.
This year some of the other middle school kids and I are going to have a coming‐of‐age process. The idea that we’ve come up with is that we will do a community service project, and under the supervision and guidance of three Quaker mentors, we will also write a belief statement in case we are drafted. I am thoroughly excited! The idea is still rough around the edges, but the Cellar Dwellers are working on making it a clearer picture.
The middle school retreats are one of the things that I work on as nurturing clerk for the Northern Yearly Meeting middle school kids. Our last retreat took place late winter in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Our theme was “Build Bridges Not Walls.” A man came who was a bridge architect. We learned about all the different types of bridges and which ones are the safer ones (the ones that are regularly checked). We held worship sharing, wrote cards to those who were going through hard times, and made bucketfuls of peace cranes. On the last day before heading home, a Boy Scout troop came to the church for a separate event. When they were done with their activity, they chased us around the church, and it ended with us giving them peace cranes before they had to go. Before we left, we sat in meeting with the Eau Claire Friends, and it really hit me how large Madison Meeting is compared to a lot of other meetings.
Since I went to Japan with my family this summer, I wasn’t able to go to Camp Woodbrooke, a Quaker camp in Richland Center, Wisconsin, that I have been going to for five years straight. Every morning at camp, we go down to a clearing in the forest next to the creek and sit in silence for a few minutes on wooden benches. Then one of the counselors asks a question such as, “what are you looking forward to doing at camp this year?” or “what makes you feel grounded and safe?,” and picks out a feather, stick, sprig of mint, or some other object. The object is passed around the circle two times, and when it’s your turn, you can answer the question or you can pass.
We sing a few songs and then walk out single file in silence to start a morning activity that we chose before breakfast. After dinner and evening games, we sing songs as a group from Rise Up Singing. Every age group has a different number of songs that they sing. The youngest sings four songs before they head up to bed, but the oldest group sings eight songs before they head up to the bathrooms, then the cabins for bedtime.
Another tradition at camp is to stand and hold hands with others at your table before saying “aho” and sitting down to eat our food. (There are, of course, other traditions, but I wouldn’t want to spoil camp for any kids who want to go next summer!) Another gathering I go to every year is Northern Yearly Meeting in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. That community has opened up my heart and made me feel closer to the unknown. During those three days, it clicked. I felt close to the earth, the sky, the people around me. It was a very wonderful, and quite rare, feeling to be whole.
During those three days, it clicked. I felt close to the earth, the sky, the people around me. It was a very wonderful, and quite rare, feeling to be whole.
I enjoyed seeing all the creativity in the middle school group. For our community service project, we made buttons and passed them out; we had pre‐printed ones, and we made our own with scratch paper. Some of the ones that we made were these: “Make bread not war”; “jazz hands”; and definitely the top favorite, “I give free hugs.” They were all given away by the time the weekend ended. At the end of the weekend, all of the kids in the middle school group swapped emails and information (except for the kids who were moving on to high school). We now use a group chat to keep in touch and help each other. I’ve received a lot of help and cheer‐ups over these last few months, and I am very grateful for the help I’ve received from all.
One of my favorite parts of being a Quaker is that I can be open to other religions. I’ve had a very wide education that includes being dragged across the country. I’ve been homeschooled since first grade and have gone to Japan twice. I am very lucky that my parents have given me so many opportunities for education and adventure.
I’ve also been to many peace walks and a few protests. The Cellar Dwellers recently participated in the Global Climate Strike started by 16‐year‐old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. It’s a school walkout intended to bring awareness to our climate crisis. Since I’m homeschooled and it wouldn’t be abnormal for me to walk out of my house, I went to support my friends. We made T‐shirts and signs. My shirt said, “The world is changing … why aren’t we?” It had a drawing with a planet going up in flames and surrounded by smog; it’s awesome! My mom’s shirt had some lyrics from a Raffi song: “One light, one sun. One sun shining over everyone.” It’s a little sugary, but whatever.
We saw some pretty rad signs at the protest. Some of my favorites were “The planet is on f—ing fire!” (quote by Bill Nye); “You will die of old age … we will die of global warming”; and “You may say that I am a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” I feel more comfortable going with a group of people I know than if I were to go alone.
We are a small religion, but we are thriving. Our community is what makes us special; my family and friends are proof of that.
I’ve met so many people who are surprised that I’m a Quaker. They ask, “That’s still a thing?” or “What’s that?” I often have to explain that we are a real religion and how we are a branch of Christianity, also that it’s spelled the same way as in “Quaker Oats.” We are a small religion, but we are thriving. Our community is what makes us special; my family and friends are proof of that.