Saturday, October 3, 2009

Where have all the children gone?

I've never pretended to be someone who just loves kids. When I would wistfully dream about falling in love and getting married, having children was something I forcefully pushed out of the picture. I'm an only child and never did much babysitting. I'm used to teaching undergrads. Furthermore, the very idea of this mysterious thing that was going to happen to my body and that I would only learn about several weeks after it started, along with the upheaval that it would bring to my personal and work life (and I loved my job and had no desire to be home full-time), well --to be brutally and shamelessly honest-- all this was something I dreaded, not something I looked forward to. (I guess I should add that I come from a very traditional background, where the idea of being a working mom was treated like an aberration. I did manage to work part-time once my kids were in grade school and then to increase my hours over the years until I was full time again.)

Add to this the problems I had sustaining a pregnancy --5 attempts in order to have 2 kids-- and then the wonderful c-section experiences. (NOT!!!!) It's no exaggeration to say that I felt I was being dragged into motherhood kicking and screaming. If ever there was proof that God works miracles, it's the fact that I have 2 handsome sons who managed to survive their upbringing at the hands of an inept and often impatient mom.

But this blog entry is really about the First Day School at our monthly meeting. We follow the practice of having the children sit with their parents for the first 15 minutes or so of meeting for worship, and then the First Day School teachers stand and the children follow them to the schoolhouse, a building located only about 10 yards or so from the meetinghouse.

If raising kids doesn't come naturally to me, baking does. I find baking --and cooking in general-- to be a very relaxing and restorative activity, provided I'm not rushing home from work and rushing to get dinner on the table. So, for the last couple of years or so, I've been in the habit of throwing some muffins or banana bread or something into the oven on Saturday evenings either just before or just after making dinner. Usually I use a mix and usually I doctor it up a bit, adding whole wheat flour, vanilla yogurt, and whatever else strikes my fancy. There's a full kitchen in our social room, and I place my baked goods on the counter there before entering the space reserved for meeting for worship.

I have to say that I've gotten very accustomed --and very fond-- of hearing our Young Friends outside as they leave First Day School running, skipping, and chattering, and re-enter the meetinghouse. They head straight for the muffins, of course, and I take great pleasure in imagining the kids devouring the muffins in the social room while meeting for worship is winding down.

One of the reasons I doctor up the muffin mixes is to stretch them so that there will be enough for the kids and also for the grown-ups after meeting for worship. We have a small meeting, and about 2 1/2 dozen muffins suffice so that everyone will get one.

But I've noticed that there has been no chatter to listen for the last couple of weeks. And last week there were more than a dozen muffins left over. That's when it hit me that our little monthly meeting is in trouble.

It seems that the usual complement of children never made it back after the summer. Some moms come with babies, and our generous clerk takes them down to First Day School and plays with them in a corner so that the moms can enjoy silent worship. Some weeks a few grade-school-aged kids are there, other times one of the high schoolers shows up. Howerver, it seems that several families have just never returned to our community.

I also happen to be the chair of the Financial Stewardship Committee. Where, I wonder, did Friends ever come up with such a committee name??? We meet every fall along with our faithful treasurer to devise the coming year's budget. We make the proposal at Meeting for Business in September or October and we ask committee chairs to submit their requests for funding. Then we send out what we call a "covenant letter" to members and regular attenders, asking them to pledge their contributions for the coming year, to be paid in a lump sum or quarterly or monthly, as they like.

The intangibles like a lack of children's chatter are beginning to coincide with a smaller number of pledges each year. The amount of money we've collected this year is falling short of our expenses.

Last month we made a presentation on the budget and --thanks to the wonders of Excel-- did a pie chart of where our 2008 expenses went. (We don't have final figures for 2009 yet, of course). Hard to argue with numbers. About 60% of the budget went to upkeep of the 19th-century meeting house and more than 30% to meet our financial obligations to Quartely and Yearly Meeting.

Only 1% of our 2008 budget was spent on activities of a directly spiritually nurturing nature.

As a matter of fact, last year we were able to assign very little funds to Worship & Ministry and First Day School. These two entities have been operating on a shoe string.

Tomorrow we'll hand out covenant letters and pledge forms for the 2010 financial year.

Sure hope I hear some chatter...because, frankly, I'm worried.

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