Wednesday, 2 December 2015

'Reading Quaker faith & practice' conference at Woodbrooke

All area meetings in Britain have been invited to nominate a Friend to participate in the 'Reading Quaker faith & practice' conference at Woodbrooke, from 22nd to 24th April 2016.

The conference will provide an opportunity to:

Learn from one another’s experience of participating in the Reading Quaker faith & practice programme so far.

Gain ideas and resources for setting up and inspiring groups in meetings.
Share reflections and insights emerging from existing groups.
Understand more about the origins, purposes and development of the current book.

The conference welcomes participants from all area meetings, including those which have not yet decided to participate in the Reading Quaker faith & practice project.

Area meetings are being asked to nominate a Friend or attender who has one or more of these qualities:
  • is involved in an existing Reading Quaker faith & practice group 
  • is willing to promote the programme around the area meeting 
  • has a concern for spiritual learning in the area 
  • will be able to communicate with others about what they have learned
If you would be interested in attending the conference on behalf of your area meeting, please talk to your AM clerk or nominations committee. For more information about the conference contact:

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Killing machines R us. Protest at DSEI arms fair.

photo CAAT

photo CAAT
Heather Hunt , attender at Sheffield Central meeting,  donned a corporate suit and posed as an Israeli arms dealer on the first day of action to stop the London based arms fair on Monday September 7th.  This day was to highlight and protest about the Israel and UK two way arms trade .

Heather is part of Sheffield Creative Action for Peace  (SCRAP) and talks about her motivation and the day of  action.

Israeli-UK two way arms trade. BDS campaign
“I was shocked that the UK government had invited Israel arms dealers to have a pavilion inside the DSEI arms fair to be held at the Excel centre East London. I am proud that the Quakers are active in opposing arms sales to Israel. However, I hadn’t realised how complicit the UK and Israeli governments are in this mutual support of arms dealing as good business.

So I was delighted to be part of Sheffield Creative Action for Peace (SCRAP) and its contribution to the protest to highlight and oppose this two way arms trade. Two of us posed as Israeli arms dealers with our badges, “killing machines are us” with client support sheets detailing how you can get more for your bucks with our combat tested weapons.   (eg Friendly and uncritical allies like the UK and US.) We displayed our products to interested independent media from our portfolio of 2D replicas which included our biggest sellers:
Elbit Hermes 450 drones, made in the Israeli owned Elbit factories in the UK  and used extensively on the Gaza strip.  Our sales pitch, backed by research, included “Can be fitted with two hellfire missiles. Recent sales include Columbia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Merkava tanks
Manufactured by Israeli military Industries and assembled by Israeli Ordnance corps. Fitted
with 2 machine guns which can shoot down helicopters. Field tested on Gaza.  One tank killed 120 Hammas militants in Protective Edge. Sales increased after assault on Gaza.  “Very serviceable. Main battle tank for many countries. Selling well. Now upgraded to include night sensors and target trackers and adapted for guerrilla warfare.”

Honouring Palestinians killed by Israeli drones
To highlight the nature of Israeli weapons other members of SCRAP displayed the Drones quilt we have been making, highlighting and naming Palestinians killed by drone strikes on Gaza.

photo SCRAP
During the day an enormous low loader arrived conveying a military vehicle looking like a missile launcher. Protestors immediately got onto the road and between us we stopped the vehicle going into the Arms fair for two hours.  3 women clambered onto the vehicle and, with a Palestinian flag flying, read out testimonies from families whose children were killed in the 2009 Israeli massacres in Gaza. And then, with the lorry still blockaded and the road therefore closed, we held a dabke dance workshop in front of the lorry, on the road with police dancing round our circle trying to give us an arrest warning.

photo CAAT
War is good for business and economic growth.
Refugees not arms welcome here.

We found out that the drivers of the low loader we stopped were Hungarian and had driven this vehicle from Southern Hungary, through Austria and western Europe. Sometime over the weekend the driver probably drove past the thousands of migrants walking to Vienna, most of them from Syria and Afghanistan, fleeing wars prosecuted and fed by the sort of materiel he was carrying. 

How ironic is this? That killing machines can cross European borders easily whist humans fleeing war torn countries cannot. The stark realisation before us then was seeing how war is so good for business. Weapons used by all and any side in Syria and other conflict torn countries around the world continue to get circulated and traded, making profit for some and for others, their lives are ravaged.

The day was an excellent example of effective collaboration between CAAT, War on Want, and Palestine Solidarity campaign.  It gave me hope we can work together and creatively to advocate for humane and just settlement for refugees, and an end to the arms trade.

I enjoyed researching my role as a corporate Israeli arms dealer and keeping in that role for 5 hours. I gained an insight of a little of what it could be to be in that person’s shiny shoes. I was marketing manager and my colleague was client support. As we approached the protest, we were shouted at “shame on you! Murderers!” Some protestors really were taken in by us. We arrived confident and smart. From this vantage point the protestors looked SO scruffy and not worth listening to.
Later in the day during one interview, with Russia today, I was asked if I felt guilty and responsible for so much killing and death.  I surprised myself (in role) by the question-not understanding the feeling or the question. Of course we were serving our country, particularly keeping our economy afloat.  Guilt? What has that got to do with it.
Heather Hunt 23rd September 2015

You can see films of the action here and here.

‘Testimonials From Families of Palestinian Victims - #OccupyDSEI Day One’

SCRAP meets on alternate Thursday afternoons. Next action October 3rd, Waddingtom RAF base. Scones not drones.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Our faith in the future

Quakers in Britain have a new 'long term framework' to guide our discernment at all levels of decision-making, including our local and area meetings, as well as our centrally managed work. The document, called 'Our faith in the future', was approved by Meeting for Sufferings (our national representative body) on 5th September. It replaces the 'Framework for Action 2009-14', which was a previous attempt at a 'strategic framework' for Quaker decision-making.

The new document has shifted the focus away from a list of priority areas of work, and towards a vision of the kind of Quaker community we aim to become. No strategic plan or framework can dictate how the Spirit may lead individual Friends, local meetings and the wider Quaker community in the future. Our way of corporate discernment is based on the faith that God's guidance is available to us in community, with the authority to upset all of our cherished plans.

For this reason, the group appointed to write the new long term framework has wisely avoided any attempt to prescribe what kind of work Quaker communities should undertake. Instead, the document directs our attention towards some of the core principles - of spiritual rootedness, inclusion, discipline and social engagement that are at the heart of our Quaker practice.

Hopefully, the text will act as a reminder of what we already know by experience to be important, supporting our practice of Spirit-led discernment rather than imposing pre-determined outcomes on it. The full text is given below:

Our faith in the future

Facing turbulent times, Quakers in Britain seek a future where…

Meeting for worship is the bedrock of living as a Quaker. In worship we become one with the Spirit, with each other and with our true selves. The Spirit is the source of strength and guidance for all we are and do. Our way of worship is open to all, and we are making it available to more people.

Quaker communities are loving, inclusive and all-age. All are heard, valued and supported both in our needs and our leadings. Everyone’s contribution is accepted according to their gifts and resources. All ages and conditions are welcomed and included. There are clear and effective ways of working together on shared concerns. Fellowship and fun strengthen the bonds between us, enhancing a loving community.

All Friends understand and live by Quaker discipline. Our discipline is actually 'letting go and letting God': not thou shalt nor I will but what does Love require of me? It works when we understand it and practise it! Because we understand it, we can share it with others. Our testimony guides us, but we have to work on what it means for each of us personally.

Quaker values are active in the world. Our lives speak peace, equality, respect for the earth and all its inhabitants. We offer friendship to all and solidarity to the marginalised. We speak truth to power with love. We hold those in power in the Light. We find creative and nonviolent ways to get our message across. We are in for the long haul; we’re not afraid to take risks. We are called to live in the place where our deep gladness meets the deep hunger in the world.

Quakers work collaboratively. We are well aware that we can't put the world to rights all by ourselves. We value the important work of others; by engaging with them we are already changing the world. We want to break down barriers; we refuse to prejudge who is or is not an ally.

Quakers are well known and widely understood. We are active in our local communities, reaching out in friendship, making more use of our meeting houses for events and renting/lending out. All members are ready and equipped to explain our way confidently and clearly to anyone who asks, as well as to speak publicly on issues of concern. We share our practices where appropriate and make full use of new media to reach out widely. In an increasingly divided world, we try to offer 'patterns and examples' of a caring community.

… a future where we let our lives speak

Friday, 29 May 2015

'Right to Roam' for Palestine

I have just come back from a 7 day, 90 mile, (144 km) walk across Scotland, joining Caroline Poland for a stretch of her Right to Roam, End to End walk for Palestine, raising funds for projects in Gaza. I’ve pasted her leaflet below. Here is a little inspiration and a  humble invitation for retrospective sponsorship.

Four of us set off from Peebles on May 13th, walked over the Pentland hills to Edinburgh and then mostly via the tow paths alongside the Union and Forth and Clyde canals, to Milgarvie, just North of Glasgow. We walked about 13 miles a day, often against strong head winds. I’ve calculated that is 184,320 foot steps. Memorable sights along the way were the long vistas from the Pentland hills, aqueducts on the canal, awe inspiring Kelpies and the superb engineering of the Falkirk wheel. So thanks you walking companions, our friendly hosts, and feet, legs and boots!

It was a very good time to be in Scotland, after the election, meeting friendly people delighted they were part of a society that had said NO to austerity and the Tories. Carrying a Palestinian flag, with WALK FOR GAZA inscribed, we did not meet any opposition but rather we were  met with interest and admiration for Caroline’s End to End walk and support for the projects in Gaza.

Two highlights for me are firstly a taxi driver in Falkirk (honest—at the end of a long walk day, only way to get to see the Kelpies.) On hearing what our walk was for he said, “don’t pay me the fare (£5), put it towards the projects in Gaza”

My second highlight is learning about the Shministim, Israeli school leavers refusing conscription to join the Israeli army. We learnt about them through a friend in Protest in Harmony who hosted an evening Palestine solidarity event in Edinburgh for and with us. I’ve pasted their collective letter to  Binyamin Netanyahu at the end of this email.

I may be a bit foot sore but it’s been a very heart warming experience. As a fellow traveller suggests, the Right to Roam walk brings out a strong connection to our common humanity.

If you would like to sponsor the walk and support education for women in Gaza   you can do so via
‘Sheffield Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund’:

many thanks

Heather Hunt

Raising funds for projects in Gaza

In Britain, as in many other countries, people have had to struggle for the Right to Roam, the right to walk, to wander across the land. We started out on our Right to Roam walk in May 2013, following the 268 miles of the Pennine Way from Edale, over Kinder Scout, the site of the historic Kinder Trespass, to Kirk Yethom just over the Scottish borders.  We continued our walk last year, walking from Land’s End to Bristol, and then later in the year, from Bristol to Edale to complete the ‘England’ stage of our walk. Right to Roam / End2End walk for Palestine last year, walking from Land’s End to Bristol, & then Bristol to Edale, to complete the ‘England’ section of our walk.  The walk so far has covered around 800 miles – a stark contrast to harsh severe restrictions of movement for all Palestinians to, from and within Palestine, and in particular the harsh restrictions, attacks and siege of 1.8 m people within the narrow 26 mile Gaza Strip.
We are now on the first of the two stages of our Scottish section of our ‘End2End’ walk for Palestine, walking 287 miles from Kirk Yetholm to 50 miles north of Fort William, before returning to do the final section to John-o-Groats in 2016.
We are raising funds to support women’s education in Gaza
Please donate to the
‘Sheffield Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund’:

Thank you.
Further information or enquiries:


letter of conscientious objectors 2014

We, citizens of the state of Israel, are designated for army service.
We appeal to the readers of this letter to set aside what has always been taken for granted and to reconsider the implications of military service.
 We, the undersigned, intend to refuse to serve in the army and the main reason for this refusal is our opposition to the military occupation of Palestinian territories. Palestinians in the occupied territories live under Israeli rule though they did not choose to do so, and have no legal recourse to influence this regime or its decision-making processes. This is neither egalitarian nor just. In these territories, human rights are violated, and acts defined under international law as war-crimes are perpetuated on a daily basis. These include assassinations (extrajudicial killings), the construction of settlements on occupied lands, administrative detentions, torture, collective punishment and the unequal allocation of resources such as electricity and water. Any form of military service reinforces this status quo, and, therefore, in accordance with our conscience, we cannot take part in a system that perpetrates the above-mentioned acts.

The problem with the army does not begin or end with the damage it inflicts on Palestinian society. It infiltrates everyday life in Israeli society too: it shapes the educational system, our workforce opportunities, while fostering racism, violence and ethnic, national and gender-based discrimination. 
We refuse to aid the military system in promoting and perpetuating male dominance. In our opinion, the army encourages a violent and militaristic masculine ideal whereby 'might is right'. This ideal is detrimental to everyone, especially those who do not fit it. Furthermore, we oppose the oppressive, discriminatory, and heavily gendered power structures within the army itself.
 We refuse to forsake our principles as a condition to being accepted in our society. We have thought about our refusal deeply and we stand by our decisions. 
We appeal to our peers, to those currently serving in the army and/or reserve duty, and to the Israeli public at large, to reconsider their stance on the occupation, the army, and the role of the military in civil society. We believe in the power and ability of civilians to change reality for the better by creating a more fair and just society. Our refusal expresses this belief.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Living out our faith

At Britain Yearly Meeting held May 1st – 4th, the theme that pre-occupied and challenged friends from Saturday to Monday was “Living out our faith in the world”. Three times we met for worship and discernment on this theme, and each time the Yearly Meeting Clerks wrote a holding minute. Monday morning was the fourth and last opportunity to pull together the many strands that had emerged during these times together. At the close of the session the Clerks drafted Minute 36 which, when agreed, was discerned by the Meeting to be a landmark minute for our times. It was suggested that Minute 36 should be circulated as widely as possible, and so it will be in Sheffield Quaker News, on the blog, and sent to spiritual friendship groups – and elders are placing it in all our envelopes.

The Swarthmore Lecture this year, “Faith, power and peace”, was given by Diana Francis. It was an inspirational foundation to the sessions that fed into Minute 36, and as well as the book form, the lecture itself will be available soon on DVD. We are wondering whether our meeting would like us to arrange a time to see it, followed by discussion about it and the final minute, “Living out our faith in the world – are we ready to meet the challenge?” We would welcome your suggestions about how and when this might take place.

Rosie Roberts, on behalf of Sheffield Central elders.

Minute 36: Living out our faith in the world – are we ready to meet the challenge?

How are we led to live out our faith in a world where we see systemic injustice and increasing inequality?

We have been reminded that God’s work is where our deep gladness meets the deep suffering in the world.

As in Psalm 85:

“Mercy and truth are met together;

Righteousness and peace have kissed each other,

truth shall spring out of the earth;

And righteousness shall look down from heaven.”

We are all activists and we are all worshippers. Our worship and action spring from the same spiritual source. The light not only illumines us but pushes us to seek change.

We recognise the problems in the world and the urgency of acting on them. Our current political and (especially) economic systems only recognise and encourage part of the human condition, the selfish, competitive, greedy part. So much of what is good and beautiful and true in the world is being trashed. The model of power as domination needs to be challenged and replaced with a model of power as service to the community; in doing this, we need to live our testimony and hold firm to its source in faith.

The damage of the present systems, like the benefits, are not shared equally. We need to recognise how many of us benefit through the possessions we hold and the houses we live in, and to consider when we are part of the problem. In living out our faith in the world, we may be called to give up our privileges, but if we do so our voice and our lives will be all the more authentic and powerful. We can be at our most powerful when we are vulnerable.

The damaged and damaging structures of the world are not the only influence on our lives: there is also the power of faith and the leadings of the Spirit, which if followed will lead us, will push us, towards a better world. That, then, may be the first action we need to take: to be more faithful.

What are the changes which are needed to the systemic injustice and inequality that we see in society? We need to go deeper to find the roots of our social ills, and how we might uproot the powers that maintain them. We should rethink what needs to grow in this world and what does not. Can we transform the way the world is going and recognise that everyone and everything on the planet matters and can be thought of as a divine commonwealth, or kin-dom? Quakerism is all about putting our faith in a power which transforms us.

Many of us have spoken of the anger we feel about the current injustices of the world, and sometimes our hearts are heavy with all the things we cannot do. Anger can be a spur to action, but we need Light and guidance to use it wisely and sparingly. We already have a way of finding this wisdom in our corporate discipline and our testing in worship of leadings. Through these our righteous anger and passion can be transformed in order to tackle the root causes of injustice and inequality. Our action begins in worship, in seeking and reflecting before we act. Our practices of listening within and being open to what comes to us from without are rarer than we think, and are a precious gift that we should both use and share.

We are called to consider what we each can do and also make and build on connections in our communities and across the globe.

We are also called to be a community of Friends as a Yearly Meeting, pushed towards the important things we can only do together. We have a body of experience we can draw on and maintain. We are in this for the long haul.

As a Yearly Meeting we are restless to take corporate action to change the unequal, unjust world in which we live.

We ask Friends and meetings to engage with the evil of social and economic injustice which creates a world in which the wrong things are valued. To do this requires owning and upholding the work that is already being done by Friends and in our name; helping to fund that work as generously as possible; and becoming involved in however small a way. For ourselves we need to find some action however simple to do now.

We ask Meeting for Sufferings to take the work on social and economic injustice forward, coordinating the work of local and area meetings who might wish to become more deeply involved, and encouraging the deep spiritual and intellectual searching that could underpin a ‘true social order’ for our age.

We ask YM Agenda Committee to align their work with that of Meeting for Sufferings and to keep this issue before the Yearly Meeting for further consideration over the next two years. Between yearly meetings we should all try to share our experience.

We ask our Recording Clerk and staff to make our concern about social and economic inequality known as widely as possible and in particular to challenge the incoming UK government to adopt policies which decrease inequality and value equally the contribution which all can make to developing a more just and sustainable society.

We must remember that what makes the real difference is not adding further to the words in the world but being and living out the new social order, testing our leadings together and trusting to our Quaker processes "opening ourselves to the light to guide us in each small step".

Monday, 27 April 2015

Experiences and words

Rhiannon in Brigid, Fox, and Buddha asks :
Are some words or phrases irreplaceable in our language, in that it is impossible to express the same sense – or convey the same picture of the world – without using that specific expression?
It depends where you start from. If you start in your head wanting an explanation for your experience, you will get hung up with words.
On the other hand, if you start with the experience, and hold fast to that, words are like the bars of a prison that hold us to only one interpretation of  our story. This is what happened to me when I first experienced that which is not me in a personal or relational way – not as an object to be studied  by my pure intellect from the distance of the isolated subject – but rather to be known intimately. But the evangelical Christians who came along close by said that my experience meant something very specific, and told me which words to use to describe it, and thus the prison door slammed in my face. But my ego delighted in the explanation and soon I was pretending that the bars were not keeping me in, but keeping 'them' out. 'Them' – the 'world'; the others not like us; the sinners; the damned. And so my world was divided into them and us, heaven and hell, good and evil.
And then years later another experience, as the other broke down the bars and showed me love, and so the world was intimate again, and then I entered the Quaker Meeting, and there were no bars and no words, only loving relationships. I no longer had to pretend to love the sinner and not the sin, but was able to love whole persons in a whole world.

The transcendent other, revealed in the immanence of personal relationships.

None of this is 'reasonable', for reason demands objectivity, and love refuses to play along. Wittgenstein was right – it is not 'unreasonable' either, but different from reasonable. Reason demands an explanation, but explanations tie us to certain words and phrases, and so we come to believe that some words are 'irreplaceable'.
Instead we must tell our stories, As CS Lewis said
'There is, then, a particular kind of [fiction] which has a value in itself - a value independent of its embodiment in any literary work....The story of Orpheus strikes and strikes very deep, of itself; the fact that Virgil and others have told it in good poetry is irrelevant ' (C.S. Lewis, 'An Experiment In Criticism' 1961, p41)
So we must tell our stories 'well' that is in everyday language, seeking an intimate relationship with the hearer, and changing the words as we go along. For our story is not formed of words but of relationships.
And whatever we do, we must never ever add an explanation, for there lies the prison bars which shut us out of love – those who have ears will hear.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Quaker Discernment

This talk was given by Laura Kerr as part of our series on 'Quaker Basics'.

Where do we come across the term DISCERNMENT? Possibly a first encounter is in one of the most popular items in Advices and Queries – number 7.

Are you open to new light, from whatever source it may come? Do you approach new ideas with discernment?

In that context, it could actually mean more or less the same as it does in the wider world. ie. Discrimination, selectivity, picking out what is good, and laying to one side things that are less good. Actually when Quakers use it, it means a great deal more. It refers to a careful and considered way of coming to a judgement or decision, based on silent worship. 
It is the way of seeking divine guidance, or ‘God’s will’ with a particular focus on one issue or question. This is sometimes that someone may be doing in any MfW anyway. In modern Quaker meetings, it cannot be assumed that all present are comfortable with the phrase “God’s will”. I have even heard a Friends describe themself as an ‘atheist Quaker’. With that in mind, what are they seeking by discernment? Perhaps just the very best and wisest outcome for all, both those directly concerned and those beyond the meeting, in the world outside.

I remember some ministry of a year or two back. The Friend said something along these lines: ‘I have been pondering on what the difference is, and if there is a difference, between discernment and wisdom…’ I found it helpful ministry because it prompted me to consider the difference. Maybe discernment is just another word for wisdom? Certainly we hope that a Quaker decision, made with discernment, is effectively the same as a wise decision. Someone who has wisdom, is likely also to have discernment. But the two concepts can be picked apart quite easily because wisdom (being wise) is essentially a static quality, perhaps developed over a long life. It’s a noun. It does not have a verb. It’s quite the opposite with discernment. That’s a noun, but essentially it is about a process, and the verb ‘to discern’ is the part which is used most commonly. Discernment is actually the process, over time, which is worked through to reach a decision.

It is what we are all doing in a meeting for worship for business. Traditionally we ask someone who has never attended a Quaker business meeting to ‘have a word with the clerk or elder first’. This is simply to make sure that the new person knows that the business meeting is not like most business meetings – it has its own special etiquette – and is essentially a meeting for worship and should be attended in the same spirit. (Some years ago, it would probably have been expressed as ‘ask the permission of the clerk’.)

Discernment consists of several separate activities…

  • Being silent. Sitting in the same worshipful silence as one would in a regular meeting for worship
  • Listening carefully and respectfully – to the clerks and to any spoken contribution.
  • Possibly speaking… as ministry… what is ‘on your heart’. Each contribution should stand alone, with silence after it. Properly it should not be a response or reaction or answer to a previous speaker. It is not a discussion.
  • Observing proper ‘discipline’. In other words knowing and observing the ‘proper’ ways of doing things. Proper in the sense that these are traditional, established, expected and accepted ways for the meeting to operate.
  • Upholding the clerks in their work of guiding the meeting, listening, and expressing the sense of the meeting.

The clerks are discerning, before, during and after a business meeting. I would suggest that the preparation of an agenda (what is on it, in which order and how to present it) is also something that is discerned by the clerks. Then during the meeting itself, the clerk or clerks are continually using discernment as to how the meeting is to proceed, which Friend to call upon and when it may be necessary to limit spoken contribution. 
It is rare in local or area meetings that there are more Friends wishing to speak on a topic than can realistically be heard. Remember that Yearly Meeting operates in the same style as any business meeting. The clerks call on Friends to speak from a meeting of 1000. There are always some Friends who stand, wishing to speak, but who are not called. The clerks have to discern when that part of the meeting should be drawn to a close and when the next stage, producing a minute, takes over. They are looking for unity… or sufficient unity that a minute can be tried.

The clerk or clerks use their discernment to draw together what they have heard, into a draft minute which is presented to the meeting. Depending on the nature of the business, a ‘draft minute’ may have been composed before the meeting even started. We saw that here last week at Area Meeting. The clerk again uses discernment in taking up, or not, the comments and suggestions put forward by members of the meeting. Strictly speaking, the minute is the product of the whole meeting. To be accepted it has to owned by the meeting. On the whole I feel that when I have been clerking, I have preferred to accept further suggestions if at all possible, rather than defend the wording as it had been offered initially.

I believe that if a Friend suggests an alteration, or change of wording or additional phrase or sentence, then it is normally right to accept them.

How do you learn ‘discernment’? Like everything else, by practice. By attending business meetings. By observing and sharing the experience. By being very patient. They can seem slow – even, in relation to the outside world, ‘boring’! But that is an essential part of the process. I admit that many a time I have sat in a business meeting, as the minutes tick by, and thought to myself: “Is this really what I want to do with my precious time?” But I have concluded that yes, it is, and I do attend local meeting and area meeting whenever I can, and I recommend all Friends and attenders to do so.

It must be said that discernment can take a very long time. Sometimes with difficult topics a business meeting is preceded by a threshing meeting… at which no decision is made but thoughts and feelings are freely expressed. The clerking of that meeting still entails careful discernment, even if a decision is not sought. Threshing meetings usually happen when there is a difficult or even controversial topic. Feelings may be high. We all must share responsibility for the right ordering of our business meetings but ultimately those at the table have to ‘manage’ the meeting, sensitive to those whose feelings may be especially engaged, and to bring it to an appropriate and timely close.

I remember clerking a threshing meeting a couple of years ago. It was not the prelude to another decision making meeting. It stood alone, as a chance for Friends to express views. In some ways it was like a large scale meeting for clearness. I believe that the Friend who asked for the meeting did feel that a painful and problematic issue had been properly shared, and aired. That Friend had been heard.

Discernment can be time consuming. It may be that the clerks discern that there is insufficient ‘unity’ within the meeting for the looked-for decision to be made. Their discernment then is that the matter will be brought back to another subsequent meeting. This is not uncommon. It means that Friends have a chance to think over the matter at greater length. And frequently it would be the case that there is a slightly different combination of Friends at the later meeting, which may itself mean that the sense of the meeting is different.

I found an example of a meeting which took 2 years to discern the right way forward. The issue was whether or not to install air conditioning in their meeting house, clearly a vexed and divisive issue. Eventually, a way was found for the Friends involved to unite behind a decision…which was not exactly that preferred by some of them. This is an important point to stress. The fact that a decision is made and a minute written, does not mean that each and every person there was in full agreement, only that those who did not agree, did feel able to unite with the other decision. (Number 15 in As and Qs explains this well.)

I have had discussions with Friends about decisions made at a previous meeting. ‘But I didn’t think that the decision was right’. Sadly this will happen sometimes. We are only human. We work hard at this process. As far as I am aware, there is no legitimate avenue to overturn a Quaker decision, and I don’t think there should be. 
Another Quaker context when discernment is absolutely at the heart of how we do things is nominations. Being on Nominations Committee is a very important and significant role. The meetings of that committee are essentially all about discernment. Carefully, lovingly, worshipfully weighing up the match, or not, of particular Friends (or attenders) and the particular Quaker role under consideration. And of course, it doesn’t always work perfectly. Even after the careful discernment process, a name may be brought to meeting and that Friend appointed, who subsequently does not find that the work suits them at all. Again, we are only human. But it is the way we do things.

Advices and Queries are very helpful on the subject of business meetings; I conclude with these wise words, which cover virtually everything I have said:

Are your meetings for church affairs help in a spirit of worship and in dependence on the guidance of God? Remember that we do not seek a majority decision or even consensus. As we wait patiently for divine guidance our experience is that the right way will open and we shall be led into unity.

Do you take part as often as you can in meetings for church affairs? Are you familiar enough with our church government to contribute to its disciplined process? Do you consider difficult questions with an informed mind as well as a generous and loving spirit? Are you prepared to let your insights and personal wishes take their place alongside those of others or be set aside, as the meeting seeks the right way forward? If you cannot attend, uphold the meeting prayerfully.

Friday, 27 February 2015


“But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?
And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?
Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.
So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17, 7-10 KJV)
In January Friend's House made a press release on the resolution of the problem of Zero Hours contracts in the Friends House Hospitality company which states
“BYM is a Living Wage Employer, and is recognised for the strict 1:4 ratio between lowest and highest paid staff.  Our lowest wage band starts at 19% above the London Living Wage.  All staff receive generous benefits, including 8% employer pension contribution, subsidised meals, permanent health insurance, childcare vouchers, a cycle-to-work scheme and access to a free confidential employee assistance programme.”
These must be amongst the best terms for employees anywhere, and the zero hours contracts have gone, yet there was still a serious problem and Friend's House is still being picketed.
There is a world of difference between being nice to people and treating them equally, and at the end of the day Friends House Hospitality are merely 'unprofitable servants' doing their duty by by law and good practice.
In a slave economy you can give your slaves good food and accommodation, decent and safe working conditions, health care and so on, but they are still slaves: they are still not equal to you. We are told that all the directors of Friends House Hospitality are Quakers, yet if the company is ran as a conventional managerial hierarchy, some people are more equal than others, and calling them Quakers, who are no doubt nice people, changes nothing.
In 'The Friend' of 19 Feb 2015 Ian Beeson in 'Arguing for equality'  reflects on the problems at Friends House and says:
"If we don’t make such an effort [to establish additional regular practices], we face the danger of stagnation, or of accepting forms of practice and conduct, and of models of organisation, economy and society, from our surrounding culture, adding only a Quaker flavour or topping instead of proposing a radical alternative."
The thing is radical alternatives do exist, and are being practised around the world, and were first developed by Quakers “Kees” Boeke and his wife, Beatrice “Betty” Cadbury, as 'Sociocracy' or 'Dynamic Governance', so why aren't we using them?
Perhaps the problems in Friends House Hospitlaity are in part due to a radical observation made by Ricardo Semler, a Brazilian business owner who adopted Sociocracy in his large company way back on the 1980s:
No one can expect the spirit of involvement and partnership to flourish without an abundance of information available even to the most humble employee. I know all the arguments against a policy of full disclosure. … But the advantages of openness and truthfulness far outweigh the disadvantages. And a company that doesn’t share information when times are good loses the right to request solidarity and concessions when they aren’t.
It seems that 'solidarity' is certainly lacking at Friends House if disaffected former employees are picketing the entrance.
The Quaker philosopher John Macmurray had a radical vision of equality and freedom in community, and Quaker Home Service way back in 1979 at Friends House published a pamphlet containing a short piece by him written in 1929, 'Ye Are My Friends' in which he writes that Christianity is not about duty and service, but about friendship. Perhaps it is time to get this phamphlet out of the library, knock the dust off it and read it carefully.
 The title is taken from the words of Jesus as recorded by John 15:15, where he talks about servants and lords, but it equally applies to employees and directors:
“Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”
We know how to have ministry without a priest, to all be equal before God, and we could know how to have management without managers, everyone working together in equal partnership to do good work in the world.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Wot? No managers?

There is an overriding assumption in modern organisations that a management hierarchy is essential. This assumption is taken up in many Quaker organisations, both those ran by Quakers and Quaker organisations themselves, such as at Friends House and many large meeting houses that employ staff to run a lettings business.
Yet no one seems to be asking the question, how is that we do without hierarchy in our meetings for worship for business, yet seem to require it in our other business activities?

We Quakers should be disquieted by a commonly accepted theory of the origins of modern management. Before the industrial revolution, most work was carried out in homes or small forges and mills, with size limited by restricted and localised access to power and transport. At the same time the state was administered by courtiers working directly for the monarch.
The development of steam power and railways led to the rise of large factories employing hundreds and then thousands of workers. At the same time the state grew ever more sophisticated. Factory owners looking for efficiency and thus profits, and government officials burdened by ever more administration, looked around for methods of organising such enterprises, and only one presented itself: the army. Generals commanded armies of thousands with the organisation successfully evolving over centuries, and literally tested to destruction on the battlefield.

Factory and government hierarchies mimicked those of the armed forces, even down to sharing the same language. And the rise of competition led to military metaphors being used to describe processes and tactics. Yet Quakers, despite our testimony against war, happily followed along in their business activities.

At first hierarchical management was about execution – getting things done as efficiently as possible, but with the rise of ever more sophisticated technology, management turned to be about implementing expertise, which required specialist knowledge that could only be obtained from outside the community or organisation. And still Quakers followed along, despite our testimony to the truth within.

Today, many forward thinking entrepreneurs realise that hierarchies are inherently rigid and incapable of responding effectively to change, especially in the fast moving field of information technology. This problem is well known in the field of war, through the commonly known saying “Generals are always preparing to fight the last war that they won”, and in this period of marking the anniversary of the First World War, we should be painfully aware of the terrible consequences of this failure. Yet still Quakers persist in using hierarchical command and control methods to run their business activities despite such bad press, whilst, ironically, some forwarding thinking entrepreneurs have discovered from Quakers ways of organising without hierarchy.

In the middle of the last century Quakers Kees Boeke and Betty Cadbury developed 'sociocracy' in the Netherlands as a means of making effective decisions in an organisation based on “deep democracy”:
“...sociocracy is a collaborative governance method emphasizing self-organizing groups, distributed authority, and inclusive consent decision-making. Its values are equality, transparency, and effective action.”
Towards the end of the century the method was developed for use in business, in particular in the Netherlands and Brazil. In this century the method has been further developed as 'Holocracy' in the United States by IT entrepreneur Brian Robertson, in particular to enable business to be much more responsive to change:
“Management Without Managers: Holacracy places the seat of organizational power in an explicit process, one which organizes around an explicit purpose. This allows emergent behaviour of the whole system, without being controlled by either a single heroic leader or even the collective group.” 
In the 1640s, when many people experienced ”the world turn'd upside down”, George Fox saw that among “those esteemed the most experienced people...... there was none ... that could speak to my condition" he realised that not only did we not need priests telling us what to do, but that they were the source of the problem. There were no 'mangers' or 'experts' back then – the priests and preachers filled those roles:
“... the Lord opened unto me that being bred at Oxford or Cambridge was not enough to fit and qualify men to be ministers of Christ; and I wondered at it, because it was the common belief of people.”
And so it was that people looked at Quaker meetings and exclaimed:
“Wot! No Priests?”

Thursday, 5 February 2015


“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18.20).
'In my name' means 'in the manner which I have shown you', i.e. we need to come together and submit to one another in love, as free and equal persons. It is there that the creativity that is the dynamic of persons in relations is found, and our full potential is realised – i.e. 'that of god in us' is answered and released –  'there am I in the midst of them'. The implication of this is that 'god' is in the relationships, and not a distant patriarchal man in the clouds barking commands, nor the distant mystical 'ground of our being' or 'ultimate reality'.  The ground of our being is actually fully realised personal relationships, and ultimate reality is living a common life.

But if we come together protecting our own individuality, fearful of being truly free, or come together under some external corporate command rather than as equals, then we are lost.

For me 'individual' and 'corporate' are badly loaded words to express this dynamic.
'Individual' implies some attempt to retain our own ego, to seek our own truth, to believe that we can somehow become whole without relationships with other persons, and worse, possibly trying to conjure up some mystical other being to relate to, which being a figment of our imagination, will allow us to retain our ego. The test of our individual leadings is in action in the world, especially in relationships with other persons. The leading points to truth and light to the extent that our relationships improve, and points to darkness to the extent that our relationships deteriorate. This is the locus of individual discernment, not weighing ideas in our heads, but experimentally through action in a world that contains other persons.
'Corporate' implies some form of external control that we submit to. To 'submit to one another in love' is to enter freely into a relationship which treats the other as fully equal, in faith and trust that this will be reciprocated and no constraint will be imposed on us. So we do not submit to dogmas and creeds and teachings of others, not even what is in Quaker Faith and Practice. But neither do we ignore those who have gone before. We are both rooted in the past and growing towards the future, and to ignore the past and the way it has shaped our language and traditions is to cut ourselves adrift and become anything to anyone. Isaac Penington was profoundly right then to insist that each of us is 'not to take things for truths because others see them to be truths, but to wait till the spirit makes them manifest.' (The works of the long-mournful and sorely-distressed Isaac Penington, 1761) for this is the nature of free and equal relationships with those from the past.

In 'What Can We Say?', on Transition Quaker, Craig Barnett, whom I thank for the Penington quote, asks:
“Is corporate Quaker testimony important in your life? How do you see the balance between individual leadings and collective discernment in your meeting, and in the wider Quaker community?”
In 'What Can We Say Today?', in The Friends Quarterly, v41-3, August 2014, Simon Best and Stuart Masters ask:
'Are we a support group for individuals each engaged on their own personal and private spiritual journey or are we a faith community with a corporate life?'
The answer to the question of individual versus corporate is 'both and neither'. The paradox arises, as is usually the case, because the question is incorrectly framed: it is not about 'individual' and 'corporate' but about relationships. To be gathered together as free and equal persons is to be both fully 'individual' and fully 'corporate', but also to let go of self-identity and to let go of the corporate identity, and find our identity in community with one another. It is other people that call us 'Quakers', we call each other 'friends'. A community of free and equal friends sharing a common life discover that authority resides in their relationships with one another, i.e. know 'experimentally' that 'there am I in the midst of them'.

(NB For Christians, and those brought up in western culture who can still retrieve what is good in the message of Jesus past the patriarchal hierarchical homophobic church, the 'I' is 'Christ', but the 'I' can be any understanding of a personal, relational other that we discover in community.)

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Quaker Basics coming soon

A series of monthly workshops, which is ideal for people who are new to Quakers, or for anyone who has ever wanted to know what the Quaker Way is all about...

All sessions on Sundays 12-1pm at the Quaker Meeting House:
15th Feb - Quaker Worship, introduced by Helen Griffin
15th March - Quaker Discernment, introduced by Laura Kerr
19th April - Quaker Origins, introduced by Zillah Scott
17th May - Quaker Testimony, introduced by Kiri Smith
21st June - Quaker Community, introduced by Robert Almond

For more information, please contact Craig Barnett, Helen Griffin or Jenni Crisp.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Making our voices powerful

Time to Act on Climate Change:
Living Witness Group. Sunday February 22nd, 2015. 12 to 1pm
2015 is a crucial year to put action on the climate firmly on the political agenda. Our General Election is in May. The International Climate talks are in Paris in December.

The Living Witness Group invites you to a workshop on Sunday February 22nd 12pm to share ideas and resources on ways we can speak truth to power and share our commitment to be a low carbon community with the wider world and those in power. There will be opportunities to take away pro forma letters to send to our parliamentary candidates and hear about the Time to Act for the Climate National March, rally and creative action in London on March 7th.

I have recently joined the Living Witness Group. I have been aware and active around the climate crisis for a long time and engaged with Sheffield Climate Alliance
I felt enormous relief when I read the Quakers Canterbury commitment, minute 36, made at Yearly meeting 2011. Selected paragraphs below.

Looking deeply, my sense of relief is from “joining the dots,” the spiritual and political linking up, meeting that need for deep connection. I do feel gratitude to be part of a spiritual community that is asking us all to respond to the challenge of climate change, to take on the enormity of the scale of change required, to realise the links with our current economic inequitable system and to draw on our Quaker tradition and testimonies, including speaking truth to power and engagement through love and joy!

I feel extremely proud that UK Quakers were the first faith group to disinvest from fossil fuels.

Two years ago at our Sheffield Meeting I felt particularly heartened, inspired and grateful to the Living Witness Group for holding evening sessions to share our responses to Pam Lunn’s Swarthmore lecture, “Costing not less than Everything”, which led up to the Canterbury commitment. Here are just two of her chapter headings and quotes framing ways we can respond:

1.”There are no passengers in spaceship earth. We are all crew” Marshall McLuhan

As crew, she suggests ways we can all take responsibility for action:
  • Notice that climate change is a problem
  • Interpret this as a situation in which something needs doing
  • Assume personal responsibility for doing something
  • Choose what to do

2. The Time is Now: ”You do not have to change: survival is not mandatory” W.Edwards Denning

So, my choice, in what I can offer the Living Witness Group at this pivotal time, is to be a connector and try and join the dots between Sheffield Climate Action and our Quaker community. I am delighted that Janet Paske, also a member of SCA and our Meeting is joining me in this.

On the 22nd February we will be sharing some of the ways the National Campaign against Climate Change and Sheffield Climate Alliance are calling on our political leaders to show leadership: to move from delay to action with practical policies which can lead to a more sustainable and equal society.

Such policies include:
10% emissions cuts year on year, creating at least one million climate jobs.
From fracking and fossil fuels to renewable energy for all our needs.
From cold homes and energy waste to insulation for all.
From exploitation to climate justice: UK support for a just international climate deal.

We are currently drafting pro forma letters Friends can make their own to send to their MPs and parliamentary candidates. We will also encourage friends to think about joining The Time to Act for the Climate March in London on March 7th. We will of course welcome all other creative responses to rise to the challenge of our time.
Canterbury commitment. Sections from Minute 36
Sustainability is an urgent matter for our Quaker witness. It is rooted in Quaker testimony and must be integral to all we do corporately and individually.”
(A framework for action 2009-2014)
A concern for the Earth and the well-being of all who dwell in it is not new, and we have not now received new information which calls us to act. Rather we are renewing our commitment to a sense of the unity of creation which has always been part of Friends’ testimonies. Our actions have as yet been insufficient.
The environmental crisis is enmeshed with global economic injustice and we must face our responsibility as one of the nations which has unfairly benefited at others’ expense, to redress inequalities which, in William Penn’s words, are ‘wretched and blasphemous.’ (Quaker faith & practice 25.13)
We encourage local and area meetings to practise speaking truth to power at local level by establishing relationships with all sections of local communities, including politicians, businesses and schools, to encourage positive attitudes to sustainability.

This process needs to be joyful and spirit-led, with room for corporate discernment at local, area and national level. We believe this corporate action will enable us to speak truth to power more confidently. Growing in the spirit is a consequence of taking action, and action flows from our spiritual growth; here is the connectedness we seek. Only a demanding common task builds community.”

This is a longer version of an article by Heather Hunt that will be printed in Sheffield Quaker News in January.