Andrew Norman on friends in other places
I was very grateful when several readers of the Friend contacted me after I had written asking for insights from those who, like me, had been Anglicans before becoming Quakers. I used them to contribute to a Festival of Prayer in Cardiff earlier last month. The event began with the Eucharist. My contribution was later in the day so I was able to first enjoy one workshop on Queer spirituality and another on Islamic ways of prayer. Both took the form of small groups, in which we listened carefully and shared intuitions honestly; it felt very Quakerly.
My own workshop took the form of an hour’s Meeting for Worship. First I led a group of fifteen people in some simple ‘centring down’ exercises. Then I read, between periods of silence, quotes from Quaker faith & practice (Qf&p). After this we entered into worship, with ministry offered in the usual way. It emerged that others present were also both Anglicans and Quakers. I sensed that natural homecoming we have found as Friends – yet which often cannot be separated from a connectedness to all that has formed and nurtured us as Anglicans.
It made me reflect on the different ways this journey is navigated. Some of us joyfully surrender our Anglican past and identify with Caroline Stephen, who recalled: ‘On one never-to-be-forgotten Sunday morning, I found myself one of a small company of silent worshippers who were content to sit down together without words’ (Qf&p 2.02). But others attend Meeting most Sundays while returning to an Anglican church for the Eucharist at Easter. A Meeting for Clearness soon after becoming a member assured me that dual Anglican and Quaker membership was right for me. Both now shape my faith and practice. Still centred in the regular sacramental celebration of the Eucharist, I now value the gathered silence in Meeting for Worship as a different form of the same celebration. I say the creed while accepting that it expresses ‘thought on matters that will always be beyond any final embodiment in human language’; that creeds may ‘fetter the search for truth and its more adequate expression’ and ‘set up a fence which tends to keep out… many… who would gladly enter’ (Qf&p 27.23). My prayer now is in recognising the invitation to listen deeply.
In practice, this means I expect always to have a foot in both camps, though the testimony to integrity restores me when I wonder about the wisdom of that. Faith in God continues to speak into my questioning of nontheism – while the whole structure of imagery about God is itself challenged. Celebrating this year a fortieth anniversary of ordination as a priest, the testimony of equality frees me from thinking of that role as being an intermediary, yet also allows particular callings within our spiritual communities.
I do wonder about the future. Where is the Society of Friends going? Will there still be a Local Meeting for me to be part of? What happens when the elderly members of my church are no more? Will younger people become less busy, or more spiritual? Or will there only be big ‘happy-clappy’ churches in town? (Though that’s not a term I like to use – it feels pejorative.) And please never let me be called a Quanglican! It feels enough for the future to be inclusive.
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