Keeping Quaker Practices and Spirit Alive and Vibrant: Think Tank for Quaker and Spiritual Life Educators

Friends Council brings educators from Friends schools together in peer network gatherings so that they can share their experiences and learnings with each other. What one educator in one Friends school has tried might be useful to a colleague in a different Friends school. That was evidenced this week when a peer network gathering of Quaker and Spiritual Life educators met for a “Think Tank” focused on  “Keeping Quaker Practices and Spirit Alive and Vibrant.”  

This Friends Council peer network gathering was organized in anticipation of school reopening as a way for educators to assist  each other with ideas for orientation, Meeting for Worship, and enhancing the Quaker life of our schools. 

The Think Tank gathering took place on Tuesday afternoon; and by the next day, the “trickle over” effect was clear. Tom Hoopes, Head of Religions Department at George School, shared via email about the powerful 4th Day Meeting for Worship that took place at his school. Guided by the query, “What am I nervously excited about right now?”, one student shared: 

 "A lot of really bad things have happened in the world over recent months, including the pandemic and the violence against black people , and it has really caused me to lose faith. But sitting here today with all of these people from so many different backgrounds showing up, to simply sit together in silence respectfully, has really restored my faith. Thank you."  

Tom invited George School Meeting for Worship participants to virtually “hold hands” on Zoom, a method for closing Meeting for Worship that was shared during the Think Tank by David Male of Olney Friends School. “At the end, we used the holding hands on the Zoom screen trick that we learned on Tuesday. It was awesome to do it with 124 people! Then I asked everybody to unmute themselves and say goodbye, and you could hear the joy and the community spirit as they did so.”

Other learnings and “tips and tricks” for enhancing Meeting for Worship that were shared during the Think Tank session included: 
    •    Developing a predictable order of service, a recognizable pattern and format; almost like a “liturgy” for worship

    •    Engaging students in development of the queries 

    •    Creating a sense of place by using an OWL camera to project an image of the Meetinghouse/Worship Space on Zoom for
students to see 

    •    Holding alternative worship such as walking worship, coloring worship with crayons and markers, writing letters - keeping
connected worship, “silly Meeting for Worship”

    •    Developing a spiritual nurturing committee of seniors

    •    Encouraging students and faculty to NOT mute so some ambient noise can be heard; keeping a mic on in the meetinghouse to
capture birds, creaks, sirens - sounds that would be heard in your school’s Meetinghouse or Worship space

    •    Inviting guests to attend, including alumni, community organizers, former faculty

Each member of the planning committee shared insights from this past Spring in which Meeting for Worship was held in a virtual setting. Included among the learnings and wisdom shared were the following:

    •    “Having different constituents together virtually was really affirming.”
    •    “It really isn’t about the space, it’s about the attention we bring to the engagement with each other”

    •    “Instead of ‘how can we make kids sit still?’, how about, ‘how can we make the silence come alive?’”

    •    “We want to encourage students and teachers to develop their own, personal spiritual practices? Meeting for worship is just one of
many practices.”

We are deeply grateful for for the wisdom shared by Betsy Swan, Westtown School; Miram Rock and Norman Bayard, Friends Select School; Jennifer McFadden, Moses Brown School; Melissa McCourt, Moorestown Friends School; Tom Hoopes, George School; and Robyn Richmond, Friends' Central School. A shared Google folder was created where Quaker Life educators are encouraged to drop in documents and share ideas. The group plans quarterly check-in times for the 2020-2021 school year.

Indeed, Meeting for Worship is a powerful Quaker practice for school communities to come together, to reflect and to navigate the challenging times we are in. We hope this gathering for Quaker and Spiritual LIfe educators provided new ideas, inspiration and techniques for enriching Meeting for Worship in your school communities in the year ahead.

View from inside the George School Meetinghouse with queries, as shared during virtual Meeting for Worship at George School. Photo credit: Tom Hoopes


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