Friday, 1 June 2012

On being a Quaker

Britain Yearly Meeting have got a new badge. A Quaker Q with writing round the edge:  I’m a Quaker ask me why.
It’s an outreach effort to get Friends to ‘come out’ as Quakers and open up conversations with people who might want to know more. I work for the outreach team and our aim was to get everyone to leave Yearly Meeting wearing one. So although I’m not a badge wearer I put one on.
The Yearly Meeting session on Sunday afternoon was on the topic of ‘What it means to be a Quaker today’ and was the start of an ongoing process that Quakers in Britain will be exploring for the next few years. The questions behind this are important for us to explore – What does it mean for my life to be a Quaker? What have we got to offer? How do we reach out to those who would like to be with us but don’t know it yet? – and the introduction by Geoffrey Durham was engaging.
He urged us to think deeply and explore adventurously. To value highly the benefits of Quaker discipline and experience and to take what we have found out into the world positively. We have riches Friends, we have much to offer. But the rest of the session didn’t speak to my condition. It felt to me that people got distracted with ideas rather than speaking from their own experience.
I left at the end of the day tired, a bit confused and without really thinking that I was still wearing my badge. And then at the bus stop a young woman asked me about it, asked me what it said and then challenged me with my own question.
‘Go on then,’ she said, ‘why are you a Quaker?’
Internally I flailed slightly but managed to keep my balance.
‘Well, I guess it’s because I love being a Quaker.’
She didn’t know about Quakers, she hadn’t heard of us at all but she wanted to talk and within her limits she was willing to listen.  It turned out she’d just had a difficult encounter with someone who said he was a Baptist and who had told her that she was going to hell because she wasn’t saved. This was a vulnerable young woman, who as our conversation unfolded disclosed past abuse by her father, whose eyes filled tears when she thought about her foster mother having survived cancer three times and who is currently out of work, behind on her rent, playing poker for money and thinking of returning to lap dancing because the money is good.
We got on the same bus and she came to sit next to me to continue talking. She was well turned out but had the translucent skin and sculpted cheekbones of someone who doesn’t eat enough. She judged herself for her ‘badness’ whilst holding out hope of a God she does believe in ‘more like a spirit though, something inside me’. 
She talked, I listened. Where I could I gently encouraged the possibility of a loving message, of ‘that of God in everyone’ and of a continuing process of turning towards the light. I didn’t at any point try suggesting she should come to Quaker meeting or go into any details of what it’s like or what I have discovered there. Not because I don’t want her to come to one, but because I had the sense that it was more important just to be with her, offer my listening for free with no pressure. To hold her in the light as a precious child of God for the short time we had together.
As I got off the bus I said that it had been good to meet her. ‘Vanessa isn’t it?’ I checked, and she nodded. I put my hand on her shoulder. ‘I’ll remember you Vanessa,’ I found myself saying.
She’d probably be surprised how important our meeting was for me. She brought me right to the centre of why it is that I am a Quaker. My conversation with Vanessa didn’t just let me talk about why I’m a Quaker, it allowed me to be more fully Quaker. Because through being a Quaker I have experienced the transforming power of God’s love and our conversation arose from and was imbued with that love.  
If wearing a badge can help open me to opportunities to be a more faithful Quaker then for me, that’s a badge worth wearing. 


Craig Barnett said...

A beautiful story Rosie, thanks for sharing it with us.
There are some young Friends in the US who have produced a T-shirt reading 'Quakers are cooler than you think'...

Scots Ali said...

Hi Rosie,
I loved this post - great!
Wonderful to make your acquaintance
at Kabarak

Ali Reid