One of the wonderful unintended consequences of Quaker Quest for British Quakers has been the growing realisation that we need to offer all these newcomers some way of engaging with Quaker spirituality (beyond just gesturing in the direction of the library and saying 'there's lots of books about it in there...')
A new project called Becoming Friends has now been developed by Woodbrooke, which offers a range of ways for people to learn about, explore, and discuss the Quaker Way. The course includes written materials, links to video and audio recordings, online forums and also the opportunity for learners to share and discuss themes and experiences with a trained 'companion' from their local Meeting.
The course is available in paper format (for £10) or online (£5), and is a great resource for all Quakers and attenders (not just the newcomers it has been designed for). More information, including a free demo option here.
Before the New Year our Hearts and Minds group met. The final activity of that particular session was where we were each asked to write on pieces of paper terms or phrases that for us encapsulated – in some way – what we felt and/or had learned about being a Quaker. Several of the group are members of the Society of Friends; others are more or less long term attenders. We have all agreed to share this list of understandings as perhaps a window into further reflections about being a Quaker.
About compassion and listening
Being open and honest (or trying to be)
Committing to the practice of being silent together
Being someone who isn’t afraid of silence
Developing my voice
Being part of a group where everyone’s voice can be heard
Respecting and honouring others
Finding something beyond ‘thought’
Not stealing post-it notes from work – thinking about what I do in the world
Living according to my values and questioning and affirming my values
Having a place to be
God – living life
God – forgiveness acceptance
Questions and learning
Having somewhere to go and something to do on Sunday morning without having to think about it each time!
Something greater than me
Supportive environment for trying to live a positive purposeful life where beliefs, ideals and actions are linked
Doing and being with integrity
Making time/space to let a voice inside be heard – to listen to ‘that of God within me’ and to have this approach to others
Connections with my family
Shaking/stirring the pot and letting it settle
Engagement and ethics
Connectedness with history
Important values, together, peace, equality, simplicity? consensus
Acceptance – non-judging
I love the uncertainty of not knowing where a Meeting for Worship is going to go
The children – and offering them this…
Shared and equal responsibility for the voice within us and the community as a whole
Be able to be still and quiet
Being free to believe in god, and to not believe too
Being part of a community
Am I a Quaker?
Engaging with Quaker tradition/testimonies
Being open to the still small voice within
Being part of a community
Greater acceptance of the diversity of individuals
Making and developing friendships
Having responsibilities for others in the Meeting – not just ‘taking’
Living actively, rather than reactively
Valuing my own experience of spirituality
Listening, hearing others
Being someone who takes their coat off to worship!
There has been much threshing in our large meeting about our meeting for worship arrangements now that our main Sunday morning meeting is nearly filling the space available. A lot of this threshing has focused on meeting the many and diverse needs of those attending the meeting. Many feel that the big main meeting is too 'busy' with lots of ministry and want a 'quieter' meeting, mainly in silence.
I for one am becoming settled on having two meetings for worship on a Sunday morning. But this is simply to accommodate the numbers. Each meeting would be a full and proper meeting for worship, and whether or not it is 'busy' will depend on the leading of the spirit on that day. After much concern about the 'busyness' of our main meeting, exercising discipline in giving and receiving ministry seems to be paying off, and we have had some much more centred meetings recently. In other words, it is not the size of the meeting that determines its quality, but the extent to which those present are attentive to the leadings of the spirit.
However, I became much moved in our recent business meeting to what might go wrong if our two meetings did evolve into meeting two different sets of needs. I saw myself wondering what it would be like to be the clerk at a business meeting where the two worshipping groups faced each other to the left and right of the table, and the clerk needed to judge the sense of the meeting in coming to a difficult decision. I would not want to be that clerk.
Of course, there is no reason why we cannot have two meetings for worship and still be one community. People can attend either the earlier or later meeting depending on their circumstances on each Sunday. We could still all meet each other, especially in the time between the two meetings, and we would still all share the concerns and work of the community.
But what if the earlier meeting became the 'quiet' meeting? Then what if I was well known and respected for giving regular ministry, and decided to attend the early meeting one Sunday? I can imagine it might be like what I have experienced before, when going into the snug of an avowedly local pub, and noticing that the conversation stops as I go towards the bar to order my drink. I feel distinctly not welcome, a stranger in their midst, and beat a hasty retreat to the tap room next door.
The problem with these scenarios is in seeing the purpose of the meeting for worship as meeting our needs. The actual purpose of a Meeting for Worship is to celebrate the life of the community – to give 'worth' to that community, in its sorrows as well as its joys, in its pain and hardships as well as its rejoicing and successes.
If we bring our needs into the meeting, we will find them amplified and frustrated, but if we leave our needs at the door, we will find them miraculously met. We must put aside the pride that has been bred into us by western individualism and learn the humility of forbearing one another in community. We must come with hearts and minds prepared.
We need to submit to one another in love. Submission does not come easily to us proud westerners who think ourselves masters of the universe because our science and technology has given us so much. We could do worse than learn from our Muslim neighbours: Salam, Islam, Inshallah – Peace, Submission, If God Wishes.