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Westport Friends Meetinghouse
When I went to the Westport Friends Meeting in December of 2014, it was one of those slate-gray early winter days. There are six tall windows in the Westport Meetingroom, and the grey sky outside the windows complemented the soft grays in the interior. There were just a few patches of color- mauve colored cushions and a few green bushes outside. It is a beautiful meetingroom, with benches facing inward. It is uncluttered, with beautiful light suffused in the room. It is simplicity itself.
This geographic area is rich in Quaker life and history. Westport was one of the satellite expansions from Apponegansett Meeting (See blog entry for Apponegansett, February, 2014). As early as 1699, meetings were held in this area, then known as Acoaxet. The first meetinghouse was constructed in 1716. The second, and larger building was constructed in 1813 and is the one still in use today. The Meetinghouse has been lovingly and carefully modernized and maintained. The Community House and the Book Shed complete the modern complex that is known today as Westport Friends Meeting.
Westport Friends Meeting is a close and loving meeting community. I was amazed by how many of this Meeting’s members contribute to the loving care, nurturance, and education of Quaker youth. I apologize to the Meeting members who, I am sure, make very important contributions to other Quaker concerns, but today I am going to write about Quaker education and nurturance of young people.
The foundation of all Quaker education is, once again, the belief in the Inner Light in everyone. This belief means that all people, including children, are equal and deserving of respect. It means that each person has the innate ability to live “up to the Light”. At its most basic level, this translates into education that empowers people to live more fully in Truth. In a Quaker education, the quality of character and what kind of people the kids are becoming are as important as their intellectual growth. The educational environment is based on values of community, spirituality, responsibility, and stewardship. In early Quakerism, this philosophy was in direct contrast to the Puritan belief that goodness had to be imposed on an innately evil being and that goodness had to be enforced throughout a lifetime.
Today, Quaker schools and colleges are highly regarded for their rigorous educational standards. In the beginning, most meetings supported a school. In the early 1800’s at least eight Quaker boarding schools were established. There are many more today, too numerous to mention. In the late 1800’s ten Quaker colleges were established. These include Haverford, Guilford, Earlham, and Swarthmore. All are still operating today. Quakers endowed other colleges, such as John Hopkins, Brown, and Cornell though they are no longer Quaker institutions.
Today, however, I want to acknowledge the important education done outside of formal Quaker school education. At First Day Schools (in ‘non-Quakerese’ known as Sunday Schools), youth retreats, and summer camps, Quaker youth workers teach our kids how to invite the Sacred into their lives and what to do with the Sacred when they find it. They encourage young people to connect this Divine Presence within to their practical daily lives. The formal curriculums are of course important, but it is the nurturance of the character of the children that is most important. Ultimately, it helps young people to make contributions to bettering the world from their spiritual centers. It is, I believe, vital to the continuance of the Society of Friends, and vital to the revitalization of our Quaker Meeting communities. So many of Westport Meeting’s members have made significant contributions in youth programs within their community, within their Meeting, and within the wider world of New England Yearly Meeting. And of course there are many workers from other meetings who do this work as well.
Consummate skill is needed to create a Quaker environment at a child’s level of understanding. It requires patience and dedication to continually encourage but not coerce. The environment must be respectful of individuals and of individual journeys. It requires sensitivity to build a caring community of youth. I personally am in awe of and grateful to all the people who run our youth programs and retreats. My kids benefitted from them. As a single parent, I benefited from the respite when my kids were involved in them. And my children were exposed to learning so much that I was not personally able to provide. My now-grown-up children are better people because of the wonderful work that these people have done. Thank you all very much.
The photo was taken in the foyer to the Wesport Meetingroom. I could not resist taking a photo of the soft toys ready and waiting for small hands to pick them for use during Meeting for Worship. Some of these toys are dressed in Quaker garb, which I loved seeing. Many meetings have soft toys available for children. The time passes more easily for small kids when there is something with which they can occupy themselves during Silent Worship.
Other photographs of Westport Meetingroom can be seen on my Facebook page: Framing the Light. Please do not hesitate to “like” the page and "share" the photos as widely as you would like. If you do not have Facebook, the photos can be seen on this website under “Meetinghouse” on the top menu bar. I love to hear comments, so thank you in advance for those!
Thank you, Jeanne, for educating me about quakerism. If I hadn't seen and appreciated your beautiful photos, I would never have read what you had to say. the photo on this page, the soft toys in bright colors, in contrast to the soft colors in the rest of the image, say a lot. You have such an artist's eye!
Thanks for this posting. I have fond memories of staffing youth retreats at the Westport Meetinghouse. I remember going to sleep in my sleeping bag on the floor in the Meeting Room with children around me in their sleeping bags. How peaceful it was to look out those large windows into the night sky.
Quaker schools do help children tremendously. We Quakers here in New Haven have opened a Early Childhood Education Center, Friends Center for Children, that helps educate 76 children 0-5 while having the parents participate in their education in a co-op environment. We also are dedicated in helping our teachers increase their abilities in support of their careers. While doing all this we are committed to broad section of the social-economic diversity of our city. It is quite exciting and ask all quakers to hold us in the light. http://www.friendscenterforchildren.org
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