From soul friends to words and associations
Noël Staples (2 March) says that British Friends lack their own version of a spiritual direction tradition. However, I belonged for a time to the Quaker Retreats and One to One Ministry special interest group, which answered to that need but was eventually laid down.
I was also the first Quaker to take the Chelmsford and Brentwood Anglican and Roman Catholic dioceses’ spiritual direction course in 2002. The Anglican canon who interviewed me asked: ‘Are Quakers Christian?’ I said: ‘Who decides?’ She then said: ‘Do you believe the Bible is the word of God?’ I replied: ‘Yes, but not the only word and not the last word.’
Astonishingly, I was offered a place. I joined Anglicans, Catholics, a Baptist and a member of the United Reformed Church on the two-year course. My own ‘soul friend’ (she didn’t like being called a director) was an Anglican priest.
Such ministry does not have to be formal, as the introduction to Chapter 12, ‘Caring for one another’, in Quaker faith & practice, makes clear: ‘Careful listening is fundamental to helping each other; it goes beyond finding out about needs and becomes part of meeting them.
‘Some would say that it is the single most useful thing that we can do… Speaking the unspeakable, admitting the shameful, to someone who can be trusted and who will accept you in love as you are is enormously helpful.’
Numbers and preferences
Friends Jamie Wrench (9 February) and Gordon Smith (16 February) express different views of how, in practice, our Quaker life ‘works’ – one more concerned to value individual contributions, perhaps; the other possibly seeking longer perspectives.
Our Meetings for Worship are, of course, open to everyone without us needing to discover why any of us chooses to attend.
The future shape of our whole movement is the business of those committed in our Meetings for Church Affairs. So, it was instructive to read how members of Meeting for Sufferings are responding to future hopes and recommendations.
In the long run, all of us will be tested by current trends in numerical decline, not only among Friends but, as indicated by published surveys in religion, generally. In time we’ll discover whether either individual preference or significant numbers of convincements will stand up, as was once the case.
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