14 October 2009

A Spiritual Path for Today --About the Children

Last week Hopewell Centre MM hosted the first of four talks on "The Quaker Way:  A Spiritual Path for Today."  It was the culmination of six months of planning and talking amongst ourselves about what we wanted to present to our community about who we are.  It is also the final series of events in our year long celebration of our 275th Anniversary of being a recognized meeting in the Shenandoah Valley.  The event was well attended by both community members and Friends, and there was wonderful dialogue between us all.

My own surprise was over the joy I felt just talking about my faith to "strangers."  We are so careful about not proselytizing that I realized there is seldom a time like this when I am called to share the story of my spiritual journey and what brought me to realize I was a Friend.  Last night's topic was "How I came and why I stayed."  Three of us shared our stories for just a few minutes each, following a brief 15 minute worship. 

I was excited that some people had already sought out reading material, either on the web or in print, before they even heard about our talks.  Most were curious about the peace testimony and what one does to resolve the conflicts one might feel over serving vs. not serving in a war. There were the usual curiosities about our manner of unprogrammed worship, whether we are Christians, and what relevance we give the Bible.

The questions that stood out most were related to the children.  Our crowd was middle aged to older, and among these attenders there was a genuine concern about the spiritual condition of our youth in America.  A few questions were asked about how we "attract" youth to our services.  More were asked about how a youngster or teenager sits for an hour of worship and whether there would be much draw for a child here.  They seemed incredulous at the fact that children would be interested in our manner of worship.

We explained the experiences we'd had with introducing children to worship, and the inner discipline that is gained from a lifetime of learning to be quiet listeners.  We talked about the emphasis on living out one's faith and how that impacts our families.

The responses, from our members and from others in the community who'd encountered our youth, either from our meeting or from Camp Opequon, were wonderful!  A young woman who worked at the local pool commented, "You can always tell these children.  You know there is a way with children today...well, these children are just...so...different.  They are not demanding, they are....polite!"  She went on to say that they always welcome our children back.

Another person remarked about the campers being present in Meeting for Worship and being able to sit for an entire hour, without parents, and without incident!  We talked about how our children participate in causes of their interest, express their individuality artistically and creatively, and are taught to stand up for what they believe.

We gave the example of when there was a conflict in our meeting, and our Children's Business Meeting sent a letter to the adults:  "We don't know why you are making such a big deal out of things.  We are over it, and it was about us.  We need our adults to move on."  We told the story of the Young Friends taking a stand when Lamar Matthews was discriminated against at the Trienniel.  

I don't know why this interchange took me so by surprise.  Of course our youth are the answer to our future.  How can we really talk about a path into the twenty first century without acknowledging the legacy our young people will carry, to live out our testimonies of peace and simplicity in our increasingly complex and selfish world.  

It is not that the message of Friends has changed, it is that the need for it has increased.
Having the opportunity to talk to newcomers about our community standing as a balance for an indivualistic culture and even more, offering alternatives and solutions for living in our world, offered inspiration to us all.   

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