Last summer I sat in circle of Friends at the annual retreat of the Quaker Religious Education Collaborative (QREC) and felt profoundly that I had come home to my people. It is gratifying to be with Friends who, like me, want to dedicate their time and energy to the religious education of our youngest Friends, starting from infancy. This has been my leading for the past decade – to nurture the youngest Friends among us.
Spending that weekend with Friends at QREC felt particularly meaningful to me in light of my endeavor the last few years as the full-time at-home parent to young triplets. I was so ready to connect with QREC! What a gift to spend a whole weekend with people who focus on nurturing their fellow teachers’ prophetic visions, insightful concerns, and deep hopes for Friends’ faith!
Flashback to a decade earlier. When I was a student in the Spiritual Nurturer Program of the School of the Spirit (in 2007), I stood by myself in our meetinghouse one day and I heard the words, “The life of our meetings is the nurture of our youngest Friends.” After I graduated from that program, I sat on my front porch in prayer, asking God about what job I should seek next. I was astonished to hear the Inner Teacher’s message, “Open a daycare in your house.” I began by volunteering at the Friends School of Atlanta (FSA), where I’ve continued to work; this prepared me well for the next part of my life – when my wife and I had triplets and I became their full-time caregiver. I now also teach various subjects part-time at FSA, including Quaker Education, and I coordinate the first-ever preschool program for our Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association.
QREC also helps Friends share a burgeoning online collection of curricula and educational resources (www.quakers4re.org). Little did I know, I had already tapped into those resources, even before attending QREC. Just that summer, I shared a booklet published by QREC with preschoolers in my yearly meeting. This was Quaker Meeting and Me, an engaging little story that helps children find their way into Quaker meeting for worship. In sharing this booklet with children, I have experienced deep connection and worship with them – in my home, in school, and in meeting – as we wonder together over the queries and illustrations.
Another discovery I made by attending QREC last summer: QREC collaborates with the Quaker Parenting Initiative (QPI). The previous year, on my own, I had facilitated a parenting group for my Atlanta Friends Monthly Meeting – for much-needed fellowship and time to listen together about our challenges, intentions, and values as Quaker parents. Since then, I had been wondering whether I had the strength and light to gather and lead a broader group of Quaker parents in virtual parenting conversations. I learned with joy that QPI is already offering virtual parenting workshops and resources, and I’ve joined a team of Friends training to become QPI facilitators. I feel great peace at the thought of this connection and support.
QREC has given me new confidence. Over the years, I have at times felt lonely and timid as I carry this leading, even though I’m fortunate that my workplace and meeting are deeply dedicated to this work, too. The fellowship and ministry of Friends in QREC help me feel increasingly centered in my capacity to live out our shared calling of supporting children on their spiritual paths. I know I can lean on this group of Friends, who are mentors, collaborators, and witnesses to one another. I’ve a found a family of Friends who lift up our youngest Friends as the life of our meetings, and I have broader expectations for what’s coming in the Society of Friends. When QREC announced their next annual retreat, way opened for me to attend again – to garner more inspiration for my monthly meeting, yearly meeting, and Friends School.
It is clear to me that I belong in QREC, which includes Friends from all branches of the international Quaker family. This group welcomes any Friend who is involved in religious education, who wants to help form a community of practice – to share resources, skills, gifts, questions, and insights – to support each other in the ministry of Quaker faith formation. I’m a convinced Friend, and I am convinced that God is doing great work among Friends through the Quaker Religious Education Collaborative. ~~~
Laura MacNorlin is a member of the Quaker Religious Education Collaborative (QREC), a grassroots network of Friends holding a sense of stewardship for life-long Quaker faith formation through religious education. She is a member of Atlanta Friends Meeting.