Meeting for Sufferings: Creating connections

Anne Ullathorne, assistant clerk of Meeting for Sufferings, reflects on creating connections

People are often perplexed when they first hear the phrase ‘Sufferings’ or ‘Meeting for Sufferings’ being used by Quakers. Whatever could this mean?

For eighteen months, from 2014 to 2015, members of the Meeting for Sufferings Arrange-ments Group (MSAG) have been visiting Friends in their Meetings around the country. It is an opportunity for us to explain a little about the history of the beginnings of the representative council for Quakers in Britain. Meeting for Sufferings dates back to the late seventeenth century, when it was decided that this central body was to keep a record of the sufferings of Quakers when they were persecuted following a stand of faith.

Still today, our national (Scotland, Wales and England) representative body keeps a Register, recording court summonses and prison sentences that have been issued following actions that have been taken by Quakers acting ‘under concern’ or, in traditional language, following the promptings of God.

In 2013 MSAG decided to offer regional gatherings for Area Meeting clerks and Meeting for Sufferings representatives to come together with members of MSAG and staff to talk about ways of working and to share good practice. Sufferings agreed to this idea, invitations were sent out and the first event took place in February 2014. Communication has been key in the programme of the visits and eighteen have been made – from Inverness to Machynlleth, from Norwich to Exeter. The clerk or assistant clerk, the deputy recording clerk and sometimes additional visitors, such as other members of staff or trustees, attended each meeting.

We felt privileged to travel to different parts of Britain and to meet with various local Friends, and to learn more of local challenges and hopes. These events encompassed sixty-seven (out of a total of seventy-three) Area Meetings and over 600 people participated.

Within our organisational structure, there is a special relationship between Area Meetings and Meeting for Sufferings and we felt it important to support the representatives of Sufferings and help to build up this relationship. Issues raised at the events included learning more about what Sufferings actually does and how it works, speaking out for Quakers, relationships with other parts of the central structure, Quaker business method and links between Sufferings, Area Meetings and local Friends.

Local Friends had put a lot of effort into organising, inviting and encouraging. The visitors were always welcomed warmly and often thanked for travelling, especially to more distant places! In turn, it was good to visit Local Meetings and share worship with different Friends, and we learned a lot about local concerns and interests. We achieved our aim of enabling people to learn from different Area Meetings and were able to reflect on difficulties of communication between Area Meetings and local Friends.

In some instances it was felt that Area Meeting was acting as a bottleneck, rather than helping create a sense of connection between Local Meetings and the Yearly Meeting or centrally managed work. Most people had come to the Meeting to learn and to feel more connected with each other. The programme meant that we have all had helpful exchanges. Making our structures and our business method more accessible to all Friends continues to be an important piece of work, and creating connections by travelling in the ministry benefits us all.

In these ways, and others, we hope we can continue to build on our ‘Being Quaker Together’ and to strengthen our Quaker life wherever we are throughout Britain.

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