Hello Friends and friends of Friends! I am your host, Pendle Hill.
In 1662, the Parliament of England passed The Quaker Act. This legislation made it a criminal offense for Friends to gather in groups of five or more. For nearly a decade thereafter, Parliament imposed sanction after sanction on the Friends. As you might expect, all of this legislation had a severe impact on the fledgling Quaker movement.
In towns like Reading and Bristol and Cambridge, authorities imprisoned the entire population of adult Friends.
In Reading, the mass imprisonment started when a Quaker leader from the north came to visit. In order to hear the visiting leader, many of the local Friends convened a meeting in someone's home. The authorities raided that assembly and threw everyone into jail.
The following Sunday morning, authorities came to the Friends meeting house. Those few adult Friends who had been absent at the earlier meeting were seized and arrested. Ultimately, every Friend in Reading over the age of 16 was thrown into prison.
Though the adults were in prison, the children decided to keep their meeting.
At first, the young Friends gathered together outside of the meeting house, itself. However, their entry was impeded by armed guards and a padlock on the door! At last, they found a meeting space inside an empty granary nearby. And there, answering the call of God upon their own hearts, they met for worship.
Once again, the stillness of Quaker worship was disturbed by hostile authorities. At first, the soldiers were surprised to find only children. If the authorities felt awkward threatening children, they were soon able to overcome their feelings. The boys were hauled outside and beaten. All the children were sent home.
Although they faced routine harassment by the authorities, the children of Reading Meeting continued to meet for worship. In fact, these young Friends maintained the meeting at Reading until their parents were finally released from prison.
This dramatic story highlights the potential for spiritual leadership among children. Adults and children are able to experience Christ as the Present Teacher.
The early Friends had good reason to be confident in their children. Not only did the children of Reading Meeting behave admirably during this time of persecution, but the children in Bristol and Cambridge behaved in much the same way. In addition, many of those who served as leaders among the early Friends had already committed themselves to public ministry prior to the age of twenty (e.g. George Fox, Edward Burrough and Mary Fisher).
According to the traditional Quaker ideal, children will sit beside their parents during our meetings for worship. Those children will then listen to and be guided by the same Spirit that guides their elders. Children will be full participants in the spiritual life of the meeting.
In actual practice, however, Quaker children have not always felt inspired by prolonged periods of silence!
As evidence, we might consider the journals of Betsy Gurney and her sisters. Writing at the end of the 18th Century, the girls attended Goat's Lane Meeting in Norwich, England.
More than once, the girls confided in their journals that "Goat's was dis." In other words, "the Meeting was disgusting." A Sunday morning entry from the journal of Louisa Gurney is representative: "Stayed home to-day and had a pleasant morning. I am always so happy to escape from the claws of Goat's."
This entry is Richenda's: "I had a truly uncomfortable cloudy sort of meeting. What an impatient disposition is mine! I sometimes feel so extremely impatient for Meeting to break up that I cannot, if you would give me the world, sit still. Oh how I long to get a broom and bang all the old Quakers who do look so triumphant and disagreeable."
As Quakers, we are certain that God can and does use young people to build up the church. However, we should also be sure that children need more from us than our silence. Our programs for children and youth are invaluable.
Here is another matter to consider. In 1990, Northwest Yearly Meeting decided to update its mailing list of young adults. Of the 900 young people who had maintained some sort of relationship with the Yearly Meeting during their high school years, 500 were no longer connected to the Yearly Meeting. Over half of the young adults had severed ties. Bruce Bishop (our Youth Superintendent) calls this, "The abyss of young adulthood."
Clearly, we want to accomplish at least three things with our children. First, we want to recognize what God is already doing in their lives. Second, we want to engage them in a way that energizes and empowers them. And finally, we want to keep them connected to the meeting, both during and after their childhoods.
Here are some questions to consider:
1. How do you see God at work among the children of your meeting?
2. What would be the top three lessons you would like the children of WHF to learn? Which of those lessons can be taught (as opposed to "caught?"). How loosely should we hold our expectations?
3. What do you remember about your spiritual journey as a child? Did you attend Sunday school or youth group?