Kindergarten teacher Denise Coffin travels to England—and back in time—to bring Quakerism alive in the classroom.
This past summer, Sidwell Friends kindergarten teacher Denise Coffin took her third Quaker pilgrimage with the Friends Council on Education (FCE). For seven days, 19 Friends and Quaker educators joined together in northwestern England (often called “1652 Country”) to explore Quakerism’s past—and how it relates to the present. The group climbed Pendle Hill, visited Margaret Fell’s Swarthmoor Hall, and toured Lancaster Jail and Castle. For FCE, the idea of the trip is to give participants a broader sense of Quaker faith and to meet British Quakers in Lancashire and the Lake District who help make travelers’ exploration of Quaker history “vivid and exciting.”
The trip also provides a sense of timelessness as pilgrims attend a meeting for worship where Quakerism founder George Fox once worshipped—in a meeting house that hasn’t been touched since 1695. In fact, 17th-century meeting houses are a feature of the pilgrimage, including one with a special area for pet dogs to wait while parishioners worshipped. For Coffin, the experience lent propinquity to the seminal Quaker characters of history. “I feel called to learn about those people and the events that led up to and played a large role in this story,” Coffin writes of early Quakerism in a recent article for FCE. “I make this trip so that I can take the story back and share it as a spark for my young learners and the part they’ll play in their own journeys.”
Coffin also caught a spark of the troublemaking that early Quakers were known for and her desire to make “good trouble again for the sake of today and the future.” She cites Quakerism’s intersection of joy, social justice, action, and community as vital concepts for today. “I traveled to England in order to bring that back for my own community, for my students, and for myself,” she says. “So that I can reflect upon what that might look like for a group of elementary students at a Quaker school.”
Read Coffin’s full reflection on her FCE experience here.
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