As SEYM Youth and Young Adult Coordinator, I am frequently asked: How can meetings and worship groups attract more families with children? In particular, what does it look like to prepare a welcome for families with children if your meeting is currently all adults, or if you aren’t able to offer a regular children’s program?
If you are meeting in person, or hope to be soon, one step that your meeting can take in 2022 to become more welcoming to families is to incorporate children’s materials into your worship space.
Six months ago, Orlando Meeting did this by incorporating a small carpeted seating area for kids into our worship circle. A cart that we used to use for snacks is now stocked with supplies– books, soft toys, art supplies– to help all ages of children feel more comfortable in worship and, as they’re ready, begin to explore different ways of centering themselves spiritually in that space. The soft carpet, donated by a member, creates a comfortable spot to sit on the floor, or grab some supplies to take back to another seat. Our worship room now sends an immediate, clear message to children and families who walk through our doors: You belong here. This is your space, too.
What might it look like for your meeting or worship group to make your physical space more welcoming to children and their families? What are your particular challenges, and what are your resources?
Here’s a starting point that I think most meetings and worship groups could use, whatever your space and resources look like right now.
Children’s Worship Sitting Area: A Recipe
Box, bin, cart, coffee table, or bookshelf
Assortment of books for all ages, babies through teens
Simple art supplies
Quaker activity pages
Outlet covers or other safety items
First, assemble your materials. What do you have on hand? What might Friends be able to donate? What else do you need? How will you display things, and transport them if necessary? If your meeting or worship group doesn’t have a regular meeting place, or can’t store things there, you’ll want a small, easily moveable collection that can work for a range of ages and interests.
Books can be an awesome way to help kids stay present in worship and also explore spiritual ideas and Quaker content. Your selection of books shows your community’s values, and can let kids and others know that who they are is welcome. This is a place where it’s worth spending a little money, if you can, to make sure you have an awesome, inviting, and diverse selection. I’ve included a short list of recommendations below. In Orlando, since we have a youth library with more books than can be displayed on the cart at any given time, we rotate our selection every couple months.
Next, pick a spot. Pay attention to safety (proximity to outlets, sharp edges, etc), visibility, and inclusion. If needed, I recommend rearranging furniture/shifting chairs so that this area is part of the worship circle, neither on display in the center nor relegated to a corner.
Finally, share responsibility. Who will make sure that materials are set up in an inviting way, and new ones added as needed? Who will hold on to the materials and make sure they get to worship, if they can’t stay set up in one place? Having multiple people share these tasks will help ensure they get done, and that no one person is overburdened.
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In addition to sending a message of welcome to families with children, having art supplies, books, and quiet toys available for kids in worship can support everyone’s spiritual deepening. Books and activity pages can include Quaker, spiritual, and peace and social justice content for kids to explore at their own pace. Art materials can help them practice listening and centering. Parents and caretakers are more likely to be able to relax and have their own worship experience if the space is welcoming and safe, and their kids are engaged. And all of our spiritual lives benefit from the joy of children’s presence and the wholeness of intergenerational community!
What’s on the Shelf
There are lots of great children’s books being published right now! When I’m setting up a space, I try to have a selection of books out that includes lots of racial and cultural diversity, affirmation of LGBTQ+ identities, and spiritual content that is respectful of a range of beliefs. Here are a few children’s and middle grade books that I’ve enjoyed sharing with Friends in Orlando Meeting and SEYM recently:
Check out Quaker Books of FGC for more suggestions!
—Kody Hersh, SEYM Youth & Young Adult Coordinator