From Quaker Week to a thoughtful approach
As Quaker Week approaches the call goes out again for the need to attract new members, accompanied by hand-wringing about the present composition of members and attenders. I am haunted by the question of what exactly these potential joiners are being asked to join. I no longer know, so perhaps someone would kindly enlighten me.
I know of its class/ethnic/gender makeup (sixty-two per cent women), its liberal approach to sexuality, the misuse of words and phrases inherited from historic seventeenth Quakerism such as ‘Quaker’, ‘Religious’, ‘the Light’, ‘Worship’, ‘Friends’ (of the truth, Christ?) and the mantra ‘seeing that of God’ (now transposed to seeing good with poor old God airbrushed out) – some of which, for an unknown number, have no meaning.
Testimonies, too, appear optional, in particular equality. People with contrary views, using their hard-earned democratic right to vote, are vilified as being uneducated, racist and unfit to do so.
We are told that those from less comfortable and well educated backgrounds are more likely to feel safe and be drawn in by simple, unequivocal messages… fervent singing. Fervent singing aside, they sound like early Quakers. Equality in the sight and love of God/good?
We are told that Quakers do have doctrine. This is confusing as there is a multiplicity of doctrines which, it would appear, can be selected or invented at will.
So, if being comfortable, equivocal and well-educated is a benchmark for potential members, it is more of the same, then. Is it?
Testify to the truth
The article by Jamie Wrench (1 September) struck a chord with me. Yes, we are faced with an appalling level of greed, selfishness and mindless short-termism, and often it does seem that all is lost. I agree that this makes no difference to our commitment to life building here and now, something we are capable of achieving too in smaller or larger measure.
Nevertheless, we have no choice but to testify to the truth and the only means of changing the world – ‘living the Gospel’ – is by also proclaiming this to others in whatever way we can. Unfortunately, we often deceive ourselves in thinking that we can achieve change through activism alone, forgetting what it is that drives us to action. We need to nourish our Meetings, to ‘keep them’, encourage and support one another better and hear the message of hope and joy that is to be found in deeply listening in truly gathered, silent worship. It is only there that we can restore ourselves, regain the courage to go forth and declare the same message of hope and joy to others. If we have truly encountered the Light and experienced something of God’s power it would be an act of betrayal to remain silent. Throughout our history Friends have never been afraid to stand up and speak. The challenge is to find modern, effective ways of getting our message across.
Peter D Leeming
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