Until recently my nine-year-old daughter has been the only child in our meeting. We first started worshipping there in the months before she was born and I took her, usually sleeping in her car seat, when she was just a few weeks old.
There was no children's meeting at the time; all the teenagers and young people had moved on or away and so there wasn't really a natural space into which she might fit, nothing set up in readiness.
Elders and overseers could have wisely and gently suggested we attend a nearby meeting with a thriving children's group and all the encouragement and opportunity that suggested. But they didn't.
Instead, with what I now recognise as the loveliest balance of tenderness and imagination, they began to create a new space that was shaped by two questions: how do we treasure and honour this child as a part of our community? And how might we help her parents to worship and grow as Quakers?
A space to grow
Gradually, as she grew, the shape of the space they created changed to accommodate her. Friends formed a rota to take care of her and be with her. They found a room in which she could play and rest, share stories and know herself to be safe and loved. It became a space in which she could also learn and explore and grow inwardly as she grew outwardly.
By the time she started school, when she was asked to tell her teacher about herself, "I am a Quaker" was amongst the very first things she said.
When she was seven, elders organised a meeting for worship for welcome, as a way to mark – and to give thanks for – her belonging.
We now have other children at meeting and that space continues to grow and shift. The same two questions continue to be asked: how do we treasure and honour these children as a part of our meeting community? How might we help their parents to worship and grow as Quakers?
Spiritual nourishing and nurturing
We are not a large meeting and this isn't something that has been done lightly or easily, but what has been done has been shaped by gentleness and generosity.
It has been the task of the whole meeting not just of one or two; there has been an awareness that what they are doing now will need to change and evolve. And there has been a care and nourishing of us as parents too, with our own spiritual journeys and need for nurture.
I know, from talking to other Quaker parents – and, very sadly, from parents who would love to explore Quakerism but who have felt discouraged or unwelcomed – that we have been particularly lucky. Lucky not because we found a Quaker community with a ready-made children's meeting, but because we found a meeting willing and ready to welcome, to make space, where there was a sense of gladness that we were there.
Important questions for us all
How do we, as meetings, welcome children and families? How do we make space for them all to worship, grow and flourish? How willing are we to change what we do in order to create these precious possibilities?
Quaker Life has lots of free resources to support meetings welcoming children including a downloadable pamphlet entitled Being ready for children.
You can also download a regular monthly resource called Journeys in the Spirit, which offers fully worked-out, yet adaptable, programmes to use with 5- to 12-year-olds in a Quaker context. This is available via the Being Friends Together website.