Saturday, 10 November 2012

Ploughing up the Fallow Ground

'Bring all into the worship of God. Plough up the fallow ground. Thresh and get out the corn; that the seed, the wheat, may be gathered into the barn... None are ploughed up but he who comes to the principle of God in him, that he hath transgressed. Then he doth service to God; then is the planting, watering, and increase from God.'
(George Fox, Journal 1694)

Fallow ground is land that has been left uncultivated for a year or more. Letting land lie fallow is a traditional farming practice - allowing the soil to regain fertility between years of cropping and harvesting that would otherwise leave it depleted of nutrients. The point of Fox's metaphor, though, is that the fallow ground has been left uncultivated so long that it has become unproductive. As every gardener knows, neglected land quickly becomes colonized by weeds. 
It is my impression that Britain Yearly Meeting has been left fallow for far too long, drifting in the organizational equivalent of ecological succession, by which a vital and living movement becomes increasingly inward-looking, focussing on its own institutional structures and routines, and the needs of its own members. But it seems to me that British Quakers as a whole may be going through a process of 'ploughing up the fallow ground' right now.

Quaker Quest, Experiment with Light, The Kindlers, and the recent 'Whoosh' conference are some of the renewal initiatives that are starting to break up the settled Quaker culture of 'hidden-ness'. Friends all over the country are starting to speak openly and confidently about their faith and to seek out deeper and more disciplined expressions of spiritual practice. Participants at the 'Whoosh' conference this year called for a new emphasis on spiritual leadership, preparation for membership, and a confident teaching ministry. The Kindlers project is working with Meetings around the country 'to rekindle the power of Quaker worship by renewing and deepening our spiritual practices'.
In farming, ploughing incorporates the stored fertility in the leaves and roots of vegetation into the soil, to make it available for the following productive crops. British Quakers too have a huge amount of fertility stored up in our experiences and traditions. The quietly committed lives of Friends throughout many generations have created a rich store of wisdom, discernment and example to nourish the new growth of our movement. We now need a vigorous, nutrient-demanding crop of new Quaker prophets, teachers, accompaniers and ministers capable of drawing on this fertility before it drains away below the topsoil. If we genuinely want and intend to know the 'planting, watering, and increase from God' we need this generation of British Friends, of all ages, to put their hands to the plough.

This is an edited version of an original post on my blog, Transition Quaker.

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