I’m currently interested in how this works in Quaker Meetings around the U.S. and specifically as part of Pacific Yearly Meeting, of which my Meeting is a part, and among unprogrammed Friends ages 13-17 (as opposed to 18+ year-olds who seem to have it figured out ). Why? Several reasons, really, that I’ve noticed about youth and membership, at least in my Meeting, which seem to need addressing:
- the decline in membership among youth ages 13-17 among my Meeting (none, of which I’m aware at this point)
- the need to reach out to this age group in a more structured way than simple conversation
- a need to connect First Day program to an outcome, a process, which brings this age group closer to Meeting’s spiritual life
- a way to focus on the age range of 13-17 year olds is needed for Quakers, the way other faith traditions do, in order to support them in the growth of their spiritual lives and include them in a more meaningful way in Meeting
- delivering a developmentally-appropriate expectation of membership that is different than but connected to adult membership and which meets the unique needs and expectations of this age group
- moving beyond issue-driven, social action, religious, and moral/ethical education for this group and into exploration, inclusion, participation, and engagement with the life of the Meeting
Currently, I’m seeing this arise as a new group of young people are moving into this age range. A few years ago, I worked with this age group in our Meeting and now realize there was a missed opportunity there to bring them in closer, to support their spiritual growth and meet their maturity level more than simply as a social-scene (or not) for them at our Meeting. A way to ask them “but what are we doing here? and do you feel a part of it belongs in your life?” Somewhat jealously, I imagine other faith traditions doing a much better job!
So, I am embarking on creating a sample letter of introduction to membership. I’m expecting it will cover some basics such as an invitation to explore membership, a need to write a letter to M&O requesting a clearness committee for membership, a clearness committee process, and, if membership is recommended, a way for a young person (ages 13-17) to encounter responsibilities within the Meeting.
But, as stated in our own Faith and Practice, I want to remind myself in this process that “membership is not the accomplishment of a journey with God, but a covenant with the Meeting in the search for spiritual depth and personal knowledge of the Divine leading our lives.” The goal is not more youth members, but a way to help youth become more aware of their Quaker lives, to give it a grounding in membership and responsibility, and to help Meeting build a stronger basis for a relationship to its youth. A way for them to say more than “yes, I’m a Quaker” but to say “I’m a member of …” with knowledge, care, love and understanding of their home Meeting.
Is there a way your Meeting encourages membership among youth ages 13-17? What does membership entail? How does your meeting encourage responsible membership as this group moves to life beyond the Meeting (e.g. moving away to college or abroad once high school is completed)?