Meeting for Sufferings: Friends gather in Manchester

Ian Kirk-Smith reports on Meeting for Sufferings, held at Manchester Meeting House on 7 October

A very full agenda, which covered subjects as diverse as ‘speaking out’ in Britain to peace work in East Africa, was dealt with at Meeting for Sufferings held at Friends Meeting House in Mount Street, Manchester on Saturday 7 October.

The event, which included food and fellowship on Friday evening, proved to be very successful, with a good attendance of representatives from Meetings all over Britain. It was extremely well clerked by Anne Ullathorne, clerk of Sufferings, and assistant clerk Margaret Bryan.

Friends from a number of Quaker committees and groups, and each of the four local Area Meetings – Manchester and Warrington, Hardshaw and Mann, East Cheshire and Pendle Hill – were also in attendance. The organisation and hospitality of local Friends was highly praised by Friends present.

After opening worship, a welcome and introductions, and the adoption of a busy agenda for the day, those present were informed of Friends who had been arrested for witnessing at three locations: the Faslane naval base in Scotland during a protest against the UK’s Trident weapons system; the BAE Systems Warton site in Lancashire for entering with the intention of disarming warplanes bound for Saudi Arabia; and for engaging in a nonviolent protest at the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair on 5 September (see reports in the Friend 28 July, 3 February, 6 October).

A minute received from West Kent Area Meeting raised a concern that the ‘website section under “Our faith”’ on the Quakers in Britain website was ‘inadequate in representing honestly the diversity of Quaker experience as a non-credal organisation’ with regard to what Quakers believe.

At the moment a ‘new version is being prepared’ and will be online this month ‘with a link to a new page including different expressions of Quaker faith’. Friends were encouraged to offer feedback.

Among the minutes received from central committees were two thorough and thoughtful contributions – one on Europe, a response to the Conference of European Churches (CEC) open letter on the future of Europe, and one on the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. The latter was a ‘Quaker Response’ by Ben Wood. It stated: ‘If we are to be a truly reformed community (both faithful and self-critical) we will need to overcome our fear of Church-language and listen lovingly to the experiences of other Christians, even when we disagree’.

Information was given on the situation regarding Quaker Recognised Bodies. It was explained that each body was placed in an appropriate category – external, linked, free-standing and emerging – and had a contact member of staff at Friends House. London Quakers were a ‘regional gathering’.

Jeff Beatty, of the Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) Central Committee, spoke to their annual report. He informed those present that there were ‘twenty paid staff overseeing the programmes’ and that fifteen Friends were on the QPSW Central Committee.

He described some of the project work done by QPSW, such as that in East Africa and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), the peace work in Britain that includes challenging militarism in schools and the Turning the Tide programme, work in areas like criminal justice and housing, and the recent innovative work on a ‘new economy’. He also expressed his appreciation for the contribution made in opposing nuclear weapons by Tim Wallis, who recently returned to America.

Jeff Beatty stressed that ‘we are all activists and we are all worshippers’ and reaffirmed the importance of asking the question: ‘What does God require of us?’

Helen Drewery, head of witness and worship at Britain Yearly Meeting, explained that there was limited funding for core work and that QPSW had to manage within a budget. The decision to use legacy funding for short term projects had been, she said, very successful but there was always a challenge. A Friend cited the situation in America where, he said, ‘more volunteers’ were involved. Perhaps, he suggested, ‘too much goes on jobs and salaries’ and more could be done by volunteers.

Friends were very positive in their response to the report and praised the ‘balance’ in the portfolio of work being done by QPSW.

The need for more ‘working together’ with non-Quakers who shared common values and concerns, particularly those in other faith groups, was highlighted. Helen Drewery stressed that this was being done and cited work with Methodists, Baptists and the Church of Scotland. Friends were encouraged to get involved locally.

Further reports on Meeting for Sufferings will be published in the Friend in the 20 October edition.

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