I know that I am not alone in wondering how we can engage more young people in our Friends Meetings and activities. In Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) we are very grateful for the ongoing participation of several young Friends. But we don’t have the participation of most of the children of our members, or other young people.
As clerk of our yearly meeting’s Peace and Social Concerns committee I realized we haven’t invited the participation of young Friends in our peace and social justice work. In 2017 I asked the youth leader to find out what young Friends were concerned about. “We are exploring concerns of our younger Friends. Junior Yearly meeting at this Yearly Meeting are concerned about greenhouse gas emissions and rebuilding infrastructure in countries ravaged by war.” 2017 Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative).
This past summer I took advantage of an invitation to spend a little time with Junior Yearly Meeting. We used a children’s book to help talk about conflict and war. I was a little surprised to find they could name most of the wars the United States has been involved in. When I asked what nonviolence meant, one child said “zero percent chance of war.”
I am delighted to have discovered The Young Quaker Podcast. The podcast is made by and for young Friends, but you don’t have to be a young Friend to listen.
I just listened to my first podcast, “S2E1 – Shaping society and The Society: young Quakers and the future.” It was excellent.
To give an idea of the content, the podcast began with a young Friend talking about experiences that led him to engage with Quakers. One of the things he mentioned was enjoying physical activities with other young Friends, which he called “active activism.”
He also spoke about barriers to youth participation. One is the messaging related to explaining Quaker worship is unclear and much too complex. We don’t do a good job of explaining what happens during silent worship.
He also said Quakers are not good at disagreeing with each other. We are “too nice”, which is a way of avoiding confronting conflict.
Finally he said there are too many roles in a Quaker meeting, and too much structure. All that takes too much time, and results in those who have the time, i.e. retired people, often filling those roles. The structure and time also means Friends aren’t able to engage in situations that spring up quickly.
On the website for the Young Quaker Podcast is a link to an online publication named The Young Quaker: For Young Friends Everywhere.
I hope you will look into these resources yourself, and perhaps more importantly, encourage young Friends to listen to the podcasts and/or read The Young Quaker. I hope we can learn from these resources, and find ways to reduce the barriers to the participation of young Friends in our Quaker meetings and organizations. Even better we can take the time, and make the space to listen to our young Friends, and respond to what they say to us.
The photo below was taken at Scattergood Friends School and Farm during a recent session of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Junior Yearly Meeting came up with the idea of selling plants and flowers found on the grounds. The money was collected to support the work of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. The flowers disappeared quickly, but Friends continued to donate.