Monday, 7 May 2018

A day to remember

  Dear Friends
on the 20th April 2013 PH  wrote:
    What a delight to walk into the garden today and see all the work completed yesterday.  Each of you has played some particular part in getting this to happen, and I thank you for it.  Everyone of the few that were at Meeting this morning were excited by the possibilities that are now open to us.  Gradually the Meeting House and it's environment are getting to the point that we want them, the frustrations of not being able to get on with things evaporate as soon as you see what has been achieved in one day, and that on the day when the Peace Pole was erected at the Pales as well. We should note the 20th April, and celebrate it whenever we feel that things don't go as fast or as far as we would hope.
    With love
I think that the signpost at the bottom of the entrance path had just gone up on that day and it seemed as though everything was coming together.  I have had that feeling again latterly.  Our thoughts on brightening up the Meeting House are progressing.  We seem to be getting loads of hirings of the Meeting House, even if few of them make much of a contribution to the funds!  The web page is coming together, the garden is looking good, the Meeting is strong.
Lets celebrate.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Garden worship

Glorious day today, just hope that these few days are not the limit to our 2018 summer.  To make the most of it we set up our Meeting for Worship on the garden patio where some of us could choose shade while others sun.  This weekend is the weekend of Britain Yearly Meeting and Simon Jenkins, in a Guardian Opinion piece with the headline "The Quakers are right.  We don't need God."  His first paragraph,  says "Atheists, according to a Birmingham University academic, comprise a rising 14% of professed Quakers, while a full 43% felt “unable to profess a belief in God”. They come to meetings for fellowship, rather than for higher guidance. The meeting will also consider transgenderism, same-sex marriage, climate change and social media. Religion is a tiring business."

Jenkin's piece goes on to talk about people's changing attitude to churches and belief systems, accepting that "It seems cathedrals meet a quasi-secular searching for solitude and inner peace, stimulated by great architecture and music. Above all, they offer anonymity."  he explores the way in which a majority of people seek solutions that are within their own minds and are not led by a church based curriculum.  He finally concludes "Clear God from the room, and the Quakers are indeed on to something."

After a Meeting for Worship in which the Ministry matched the sparkling day our conversation turned to inclusion and diversity, another aspect of the discernment being developed in London this weekend, and which will feature at our Area Meeting this coming Saturday.  No doubt the future of the Society of Friends is dependent upon increasing inclusion and diversity, but is our membership procedure getting in the way?  Most churches have membership process based on church goers volunteering to be listed until such time that their membership ends by choice or death.  We now have a data protection process that controls the information in our membership book, do we need more than that? 

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Spiritual growth through fulfilling roles

This is the script for a presentation at the Southern Marches Area Meeting May 2018

After four months of being AM Clerk to Nominations we thought it would be interesting to give some thought to the roles that Area Meeting depends on. Why we do Nominations in the way that we do. The benefits that Friends who take on this service gain, and to remind ourselves of the responsibilities that we accept by being members of the Society of Friends. We can look at what goes right, and what goes wrong, and how it could be better.

The ideal that we hope for from our Nominations process is that it becomes, through prayerful discernment, the quiet heart of building the framework of our Quaker community. It is about discerning the spiritual gifts and potential of individual Friends, encouraging them to grow in their spiritual life by offering opportunities for service in ways that will nourish them and enrich the community. It is about inclusion and diversity, it's about trying not to overburden Friends. It should be a practical application of our testimony, it should not be just about trying to find people to fill jobs.

From the beginnings of our movement we abandoned the idea of laity. There is no one to keep the Society functioning other than its members. If not me then who? All members are responsible for the spiritual growth and well being of the whole. We appoint Clerks, Elders, Trustees, etc, but not to fulfil their roles in isolation, we are responsible for each other, the roles are only long stops.

We have now populated our website with the details of all the roles that we need to fill. They were collated, in the first instance, to assist Nominations to understand the attributes and experience needed for each role, but, in the context of the previous paragraph, now that they are available to all Friends we can all feed into our local Nominations committee members our own thought on who might benefit from experiencing them. The descriptions point out the support and training available, the knowledge and experience required or needed to be attained. It is interesting that one item of description that has not been forthcoming in the way that we hoped is the spiritual benefits that can accrue by fulfilling the roles.

Our testimony to the world demands equality. We have no hierarchy, and yet I often hear Attenders and some Members referring to one. We should not be a hierarchy, but rather a community assembling itself from its component parts. In practice we often find circulation of jobs amongst a small and decreasing, ageing group of stalwarts. This is unhealthy, it is unsustainable, for the Society, our Meetings and for us as individuals.

When we are looking to fill roles we look for experience and wisdom, and therefore often overlook Friends with youth, energy and innovation. When we appoint we sometimes leave the new post holders to “sink or swim”, when they need a period of hand holding, mentoring. I talked earlier about Spiritual Growth through roles, growth is a process, we cannot expect that the new Clerk to Nominations is going to come to the job with all the necessary experience and wisdom. Our care for each other has to allow for inexperience.

Some of our constituent local meetings are very healthy and growing as a result. Some are struggling with shrinking membership and a succession of problems. It is understandable that when the second is the case Friends put their local meeting before the Area Meeting. Yet the health and dynamism of our meetings, both local and area, depend on increasing inclusion and diversity. We need youth, fresh thinking, different ways of doing things. Our testimony is open to that, are we?

Who do you recognise?

Photos provided by Christine Lewis.

Report on the workshop Peace Building in our Quaker Community 21/04/2018

On Saturday 21st April 25 Friends from our Area Meeting met in Hereford Meeting House to consider “Peace Building in our Quaker Community” with the facilitation of Rhiannon Grant who is Woodbrooke's tutor for Quaker Roles and Deputy Leader for the Centre for Research in Quaker Studies.

Quakers have a reputation as mediators in conflict throughout the world. Has this reputation led us to overlook developing the skills to resolve disputes within our own society? However the Quaker testimony of regarding “that of god” leading us to act with truth, integrity, equality, sustainability, simplicity and peace provide us with most of the tools to avoid or resolve disputes.

In the opening worship Rhiannon had quoted from Mathew 18 which refers to another causing “offence” and we were anxious to avoid that approach. Offence involves a person who has been offended and an offender, a dispute is between two parties both equal and both with history, personality and training. I came away with one phrase in my head - "safe and confident". A dispute can only be resolved when both parties feel safe and confident in their situation. If this is not the case then, regardless of the logic or truth behind the arguments being put forward, the dispute will not be properly resolved. Discomfort and suspicion will remain.

We looked at the ways that people naturally react to conflict, from the "bull", " I am right and you must see the strength of my position", to the “turtle " “I do not like this situation and I will retract into my shell and pretend it is not happening.". We positioned ourselves on a grid of these various personality traits, thinking first of our childhood; then, how this changed with maturity; and finally,how we thought our Meetings would react to conflict.

We practiced listening to each other and Rhiannon led us through some of the resources available for training and as tools for resolving problems, for example Meetings for Clearness, or something which Rhiannon has been developing a Meeting for Listening. The Mennonite church has a body of training materials grouped under the title "Bridge Building Ministries" these can be accessed via their webpages at

Do we have a tendency to try to communicate by Minute? Our Minutes are an essential part of our record keeping, but communication between individuals has to be by talking, listening, and being prepared to accept that sometimes we might be wrong.