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.

Friday, 14 November 2014


In this year's Swarthmore Lecture, Transformation', Ben Pink Dandelion says we are a DIT religion – Do It Together, not Do It Yourself – DIY. The allusion to DIY though makes it abundantly clear that if we are to Do It Ourselves, then we need skills. If you are going to be a DIY handyperson you need to acquire proficiency in a range of skills – not for you paying the tradesperson to do your home improvements while you put your feet up – or rather perhaps tend to neglect your family and community while you scurry about earning the money to pay the tradespeople. We Quakers do not employ priests or ministers, so likewise we need to become proficient in religious and spiritual skills. Not for us sitting passively in the pews whilst being lectured by the man at the front in a frock.

Also, if we are to 'Do It Together' than not for us either spiritual advisers, teachers, gurus and all the paraphernalia of the spiritual self-help bandwagon that perhaps some Quakers are leaping on along with so many others in our society. If we really do believe that the light is equally accessible to all, irrespective of status, then we should be seeking our spiritual help and guidance from one another.

But it is one thing to believe that the light is accessible to all, and quite another to use that light to acquire the skills to be able to help one another. Quakers are not about belief, even belief in the light within, or 'that of God' in everyone, for we are about practising our religion or spirituality. But acquiring skill is not easy, and is certainly not acquired just sitting in silence on a Sunday morning.

Acquiring skill requires application over an extended period of time. It is generally asserted that it takes 10,000 hours to bbecome proficient in any one skill, whether it be playing a musical instrument, carpentry, wind surfing, tennis or whatever. 10,000 hours is five years at 40 hours per week – the length of many traditional craft apprenticeships, though some are even longer, such as in medicine. Acquiring and utilizing a skill takes place over three stages, recognised in the traditional craft guild terms of 'Apprentice', 'Journeyman' and 'Master'. This not just a Western categorisation – in Japanese Martial Arts, it is called 'Shu-Ha-Ri' (守破離). Shuhari roughly translates to "first learn, then detach, and finally transcend."

The Apprentice works under a master in their workshop. There they learn technique, mainly by showing – the master will give verbal instruction where necessary, but knows that the best way to learn is by example. 'Not like that, but like this'. It is essential to make mistakes, to learn through failure. John Ruskin describes the transition from mere external rote learning of rules and procedures to beginning to acquire personal understanding:

“Understand this clearly: you can teach a man to draw a straight line, and to carve it; and to copy and carve any number of given lines or forms, with admirable speed and perfect precision; and you find his work perfect of its kind: but if you ask him to think about any of those forms, to consider if he cannot find any better in his own head, he stops; his execution becomes hesitating; he thinks, and ten to one he thinks wrong; ten to one he makes a mistake in the first touch he gives to his work as a thinking being. But you have made a man of him for all that. He was only a machine before, an animated tool.” (The Stones of Venice, 1851)

This is where all of us were when we first came to a meeting for worship, or first attended the meeting for worship for church affairs. We were given the introductory leaflet and learnt the rules about silence and ministry and waiting and not debating and so on. How far have we moved on? How many of us are afraid to offer ministry for fear of getting it wrong? How many of us do not realise we have got it wrong because no one told us: 'Not like that but like this'? - because they too were afraid. This is the state of affairs in religious practice with a minister or priest. The priest tells us when we get it wrong on those few opportunities we are permitted to practice for ourselves rather than just learn the catechism. But because they have the priest to tell them, perhaps they are more spiritually skilled than many of us Quakers?

The Journeyman has left the master and is recognised as a skilled person in their own right. 'Journeyman' can mean both the right to claim their own wages for a days work (from the French journée – day') or the right to travel away from the master's workshop and set up on their own. But how do you know when the apprenticeship is over? Because the master tells you, and in many crafts you make an 'Apprentice Piece' to show your skill. These are often miniature works so that the journeyman can take them with themselves and show potential clients that they deserve a days pay for their work.

So in our spiritual journey, who tells us we are fit for the road? What do we have to show for it? All too often it seems to me we make the decision for ourselves, taken up in the individualistic spirit of the age. We think we can strike out on our own because of some little thing, and no one tells us otherwise. The apprentice is told by the master 'I have shown you all I know' – or possibly just – 'I have shown you all you can take in' for we are not all equally skilled. The client looks at your work-piece and declares 'Yes I will pay you'. The recognition comes from without and is given to us by grace.

And so the journeyman sets up shop and makes a living in the community. But the journeyman is not a master, and all self-respecting craftspeople know this. When and how do they become a master? Again the recognition comes from without, from the community the journeyman has settled in. When the parents or guardians of a young person approaches them and asks the journeyman to take them on as an apprentice. And the cycle of life turns and starts around again.

The discipline of practical apprenticeship and mastery of skills has much to teach us spiritually, especially us Quakers, for we 'Do It Together'.

Furthermore the discipline of application of  practical skill teaches us about our spiritual lives directly. The mastery of practical skills in the world directly translates into enabling our relationships with one-another. The need to work out how to turn a material object into something useful and beautiful – including getting the best sound out of your musical instrument – teaches us to stay with the problem and discover the solution from within the material, which in turn teaches us to engage in dialogue with others, and not to force ourselves on others. The need to find the best and easiest way to get the result we are looking for without laborious working and reworking teaches us to be tentative with the material and so to be tentative in our dealings with other people, to listen and consider ourselves perhaps mistaken. And above all, the need to deal objectively with the world, to confront the material objectivity of the other teaches us empathy with both the materials we work with and with other people. Hear Richard Sennet on this.

The master truly knows the meaning of 'For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.' (Matthew 16.25). The master transcends the self and becomes one with the work, and then in the work discovers themselves.

Monday, 3 November 2014


There are events and activities in our lives when the divine intrudes more strongly and fully into our experience; when our sense of relatedness to the whole of live, or God as some call it, is more acute.  It is the purpose of religious ritual and spiritual practice to make us more aware of the divine presences at these times. These are called sacraments – 'an outward sign of an inward grace', and in the fullest Christian tradition, seven are recognised. These events and activities are (with the common sacrament name in brackets): birth (baptism), coming of age (confirmation), marriage (matrimony), death (last rites or anointing of the sick), giving and receiving forgiveness (penance or confession), sharing food (communion) and ministry (holy orders).

Quakers are right to say that the whole of live is sacramental, and to recognise that separate religious rituals can detach us from the reality of our experience. This is especially problematical when society and culture change rapidly and the naturally conservative forces of religion make the rituals less and less relevant to the way we live now. Furthermore the patriarchal hierarchical church often usurps these rituals to force conformity on us.

Baptism is used to tie us to the church, with the sanction of hell for those who are not baptised in time, coupled with the subordination of the women who gives birth through rituals like 'churching'.

Confirmation replaces the full expression of adulthood and the exploration of identity with conformity to the catechism.

Marriage is denied those who seek long term committed relationships but are not heterosexual, and then linked to having children imposed almost as a necessity, whilst denying sexual expression to those outside marriage.

Death is used to make us conform through the fear of eternal damnation. As Thomas Paine put it: 'Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind (sic), tyranny in religion is the worst; every other tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave and seeks to pursue us into eternity'(Age of Reason).

The personal interaction of giving and receiving forgiveness is replaced by confession before the priest with yet more fear of sin and damnation.

The everyday sharing of food is completely detached from reality with administration of barely edible wafer and the tiniest sip.

And finally ministry is only to be given by those sanctioned by the hierarchy to be priests over us.

In the protestant tradition, only communion and baptism are recognised, with the result that what should be celebrations of our lives together in community become privatised and individualised. We come to the front before the minister to receive communion instead of sitting round the table sharing a meal. In the  baptist tradition, baptism is decoupled entirely from birth and even coming of age to be turned into an almost cultish initiation rite into the externally imposed church. Forgiveness is reduced to the working out of contractual obligations between determined individualists.

However, we still need these sacraments. The divine always intrudes, but we do no necessarily pay attention. We easily succumb to the spirit of the age where these events and activities are seen through the lenses of Darwinian evolution and biological determinism. All seven occur everywhere, to varying degrees, throughout the animal world, and we too are animals. But we are also self aware – we are persons – we have been given the gift of being able to perceive the divine, of knowing that we are related to all of life and can participate knowingly in life to an infinitely greater degree than any other animal.

The Quaker philosopher John Macmurray wrote: 'when an animal is hungry it goes in search of food; but when a man (sic) is hungry he looks at his watch to see how long it will be before his next meal' (Persons in Relation, 1961, p44). When he will join with his family and friends to share food together, round the table, passing the bread and wine to each other, in communion.

As Quakers, we are required to see the whole world as sacramental, but this is not an idea in our heads. It is incumbent upon us to devise religious rituals and spiritual practices that heighten that sense of divine awareness - that recognition of inward grace - as we go through the major events of life, and often seemingly mundane day to day activities; rituals and practices that make sense in today's culture, that work in a post-modern industrialised and urbanised environment, that will be a witness not just to ourselves but to all around us as they see how much we love one another.

The judgement that awaits us is not that we have sinned, for our sins are forgiven, but that God spoke to us and we were not listening.