Monday, 16 December 2013

Values and principles

Margaret Fell famously reports George Fox as saying:
“You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say?” (1694)
Increasingly today amongst Quakers we don't know what Christ said, and hardly know who the apostles were. Instead, today, we might be told:
“You tell us about the Peace Testimony, and also about testimonies to truth and integrity, equality and simplicity, and even to sustainability, but what can you tell?”
The Britain Yearly Meeting website (, and the associated printed pamphlet, tell us that putting “faith into practice ... arises from an understanding of certain values and principles which are central to the Quaker faith.” , and this under the sub heading 'Our Beliefs'.

So why do we meet in silence, if all we have to do is understand and believe in the testimonies? Are we just having a time of pleasant contemplation on a Sunday morning? Why don't we just join some campaigning group or other that works out these testimonies in practice? Or when all is told are we in fact really just one of these political campaigning groups that happens to add some weird stuff on Sundays?

Our ancestors believed in gods and monsters, and priests and kings. And George Fox told us not to trust in them, but to search for the truth within, the light, the seed. Today we believe in values and principles, rights and ideals. We think that we are enlightened and have found the truth, and have forgotten that the truth can only be found within.

Our testimonies are not values and principles, and certainly not beliefs, but merely 'what we can say' about our lives. Yes there is one truth, which is why what we testify behind our concerns remains essentially the same down the ages, but that truth has to be discovered and worked out for each one of us,  for each and every particular time and place, and for each and every concern. And it is this discovery that we witness to in our lives, not idealistic principles. This is why we wait in silence, expectantly believing that the truth is there to be found. This is all that we need to believe as Quakers – that the light is within, that the seed will grow.

The rest is commentary - go and wait in the silence.

Friday, 13 December 2013

National Canterbury Commitment gathering 2014

'Transforming ourselves: transforming the system'

Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire

7-9 March 2014

Organised by the Meeting for Sufferings Canterbury Commitment Group

In 2011 Britain Yearly Meeting in Canterbury committed to become a low-carbon, sustainable community. Friends and Meetings are doing an impressive amount to cut their carbon emissions, but some have been discouraged by lack of change in the wider social and economic system.
We need a radical transformation that requires more than individual action.This national gathering aims to help energise our Quaker community in the urgent response to climate change and energy injustice.
This is an opportunity to connect up change in our own lives and Meetings, with action in the wider community, to create the transition to a low-carbon sustainable society.
We hope that the gathering will be the first step in establishing an on-going network, and will help Meetings to prepare for the Yearly Meeting Gathering later in 2014. The gathering will be grounded in worship and deep reflection together and there will be opportunities to hear about the experiences of other Meetings, celebrate successes and explore the challenges and ask how we can best support each other. There will also be resources and ideas for action. And there will be time to ask where we are led now in our corporate commitment.
The event is particularly aimed at
  • Friends who have championed sustainability in their meetings or who would like to do so
  • Seasoned Friends experienced in eldership and oversight
  • Friends with experience of work under Concern in this or other areas
  • Friends who have experience of activism in this or other areas
Arrivals: 4-6pm Friday 7th March; Departures from 2pm Sunday 9th March.
The cost of attending this gathering is £180 (Area Meeting bursaries are available for attending Quaker events - contact your overseer for details).

Online booking form here

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Becoming a Low Carbon Sustainable Community

I realised some time ago that growing food to eat was an important part of moving towards a more sustainable, low carbon lifestyle. An allotment means I can spend joyful time outside, with my hands in the soil, looking over to Wincobank, with a wren, robin and frogs as my daily companions. I have read up about organic gardening, both in books and on websites, and plan a 4 plot rotation growing lots of different vegetable: onions, leeks, potatoes, peas, beans, spinach, chard, kale, cauliflower, parsnips, squash, courgettes and pumpkins. I also have fruit on my plot and we have bottled and frozen lots of it to eat over winter. :-)

Friday, 6 December 2013

Transition Towards Sustainability...

Over the last two years, I have been attending quaker meetings. During that time, many changes have occurred in my life, some inward and some more apparent. Attending quaker meetings has given me a new freedom – a central point in time and space (Sunday morning, James St. 10:30am) where I know that whatever is going on in my life, I am welcome to come, sit down and reflect. No-one is there with a big stick telling me how bad I am or what I ought be doing. There are many people struggling just like me to do the right thing, be the right person, or even ask themselves if there is such a thing. Each of us sitting in that meeting are seeking the “inward light” which early quakers called Christ, in hopes that we may see life more clearly in that light. One of the big changes which has happened gradually over the last two years is that I have become vegan. For almost a year or so, I was “mostly vegan” and wrestled with the idea of having to refuse an offer of food from someone who had cooked for me without knowing my preference. I felt as though by refusing their offer, I would in some way be rejecting their kindness or as if I was saying “these are not good enough for me.” I shared these concerns with a number of Friends along the way and was listened to and understood, without being judged or coerced one way or another. It seems that the important thing for quakers is that we are each seeking to bring forth that which is inside us. Since making the decision to be vegan, I have felt better physically and am confident that it is one of the biggest things I can do personally to reduce my ecological footprint but moreover, I've gained confidence in the process of answering a leading with a testimony of action. It's not a smugness, but there is a lightness – an increase of energy and enthusiasm. Like Thomas Ellwood in 1659 (see Quaker Faith & Practice 19:16), I can rejoice that I am no longer weighed down by the wrestle I was having.

I love the way that Friends encourage one another to seek the light within and grow closer towards it and each other.

Paul Newman.