With a Concern for Being Thirteen

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Photo by Mary Klein (2004). Pre-teens building an arch.My son Duncan’s best friends have been his friends his entire life. Really. We met his friends’ parents in a ten-week birthing class, where we watched our bellies grow, and shared our hopes and fears. I went into labor first, then Val, then Deborah. By coincidence, the boys all ended up in the same school. “Soul brothers,” they call themselves.

This year, the boys turned ten – double digits. It’s a big deal. We celebrated by taking them ice-skating. While the boys skated, we moms sat reminiscing about them as babies and admiring them as they are now. Then Deborah asked, “What’s next? The Bar Mitzvah, I guess.” She and Val started sharing ideas about Bar Mitzvahs. Then eventually, Deborah asked, “Do Quakers do anything like that?”

My meeting used to hold a celebration for children turning thirteen, giving them flowers and a Bible. Now, when children in our meeting turn thirteen, the clerk sends them letters to let them know that they can apply for membership.

Not wanting to feel left out of the excitement, I said jokingly to Deborah and Val, “No, we don’t have anything like a Bar Mitzvah, but I can make something up.” I left it at that, and the conversation turned to another subject. 

The thought stuck with me, though. I do know Friends who have made up their own ceremonies for significant life events. So sitting in meeting for worship, I started imagining “Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Becoming an Adult” or “Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Being Thirteen.” Then that whimsical idea broke open into something deeper. A vision of what such an event could look like and sound like. An awareness of what a profound experience it could be for Duncan and the other children of our meeting, and for the meeting as a whole. 

I started bringing up the idea with other Quaker parents. This caused a lot of excitement. All sorts of thoughts, feelings, and questions came up – both for Friends who had grown up as Quakers and for Friends who are new to our faith. I heard Friends describe how they had felt let down as adolescents, when they learned they would have to apply for membership. (“Am I not member enough?
I grew up here!”). I heard Friends express frustration that as parents they felt they could do little more than drag their children to meeting, that they didn’t know how to help their kids develop deeper connections.

We started talking about ways that we might lift our children up by encouraging participation and friendship in the meeting. We talked about setting up Quaker classes, Quaker Day Camps, and Kids’ Quarterly meetings. We talked about kids’ service projects and business meetings, about sponsoring kids to attend retreats even when their parents’ schedules might be obstacles.

What began as my “not wanting to be left out” has grown far beyond my own petty feelings. It is becoming a collective vision of an inclusive community – a community that can guide our children on their way towards adulthood, towards their leadings, and towards their places in the world. In my vision, our “Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Being Thirteen” will come after a clearness committee for each young person. It will come after a service project identified in the clearness committee. And it will culminate in worship and a pot luck. Nothing could be more Quakerly than that!  ~~~

Ann Marie Snell is a mother of two young boys who are ten and four. She is raising them in San Francisco Monthly Meeting (PYM), where Friends are looking for ways to help children come of age in the Religious Society of Friends in a more enriching way.