Meeting for Sufferings: ‘Simple church’ affirmed as new priority

The strategic priorities for Britain Yearly Meeting were discussed at Meeting for Sufferings

Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) trustees have reaffirmed they want ‘a simple church supported by a simple charity to reinvigorate Quakerism’ as the basis for its new set of priorities.

The statement made at Meeting for Sufferings, held at Woodbrooke on 23-25 November, underpinned a range of far-reaching suggestions, which included possible ‘regionalisation’ – decentralising some BYM roles – and creating a ‘two-way conversation’ between central management and ‘on the ground’ Quakers.

‘We need to rise to the challenges of being a small and shrinking Society in a struggling secular world,’ Ingrid Greenhow, clerk of BYM trustees, said, who spoke to the report on BYM Strategic Priorities.

The three new priorities set out in the report are: ‘Thriving Quaker communities’, ‘A sustainable and peaceful world’ and ‘Simple structures and practice’. The criterion for all work are: ‘Distinctively Quaker’, ‘Integrated’ and ‘Well-governed.’

On the priority of ‘simple structures and practice’, Ingrid Greenhow asked if Quakers needed ‘all these committees, all these roles,’ asking: ‘Are we sapping Friends’ energies?’ She said that trustees knew lots of Meetings are ‘struggling to attract young people’. To murmurs of agreement, she added: ‘I’m pretty sure no one was attracted to Quakerism for its long list of jobs.’

The idea of ‘regionalisation’ was also aired, with trustees asking whether some of the roles in Friends House could be spread elsewhere.

Paul Parker, recording clerk of BYM, said that they had been ‘aware for years’ there was a ‘disconnect’ between Friends at the national level and Friends on the ground, and that Friends House seemed ‘remote’ to some Meetings.

He continued: ‘We want to find ways to integrate the work’, citing good examples of integration between national and regional meetings such as Sanctuary Meetings and the upholding of the ‘Stansted Fifteen’ protestors by Chelmsford Meeting.

On the priority of ‘A sustainable and peaceful world’, Paul Parker said that by putting sustainability in the ‘foreground’, Friends will be better able to address the challenges ahead. He said: ‘The news has underlined the urgency of climate change’, but added that there were lots of opportunities to collaborate with other faith and non-faith groups. ‘It’s a priority because without sustainability, there can’t be peace,’ he said.

‘Listening’ was also underlined, and there was cautionary talk of being ‘over-governed’ or ‘fiddling while Rome burns’. ‘Who became a Quaker to spend time on governance?’ it was asked.

There was also a note of optimism, as green shoots were noted, such as the openness to new ways of worshipping. On the theme of ‘Distinctly Quaker’, Paul Parker highlighted the importance of discernment, as this ‘can open up new ways of working’.

Friends welcomed the priorities. One said: ‘I say hooray when I hear “simplification”. For a Society with a testimony of simplicity, we haven’t half made things complicated! We will offer more to the world if we’re the Religious Society of Friends, not the Religious Society of Committees.’

Another Friend agreed with the approach, but added: ‘I would like to find a way to make it more explicit that a sustainable and peaceful world is based on equality and justice. If all women in the world were educated and without oppression, we would see quite a move towards sustainability.’

In the view of one Friend, one of the ‘difficulties’ in working with a ‘kaleidescope of conflicting needs’ was ‘sustaining a set of objectives’ and maintaining a ‘clear line of sight’ between organisational objectives and staff. He concluded: ‘It is incumbent on all in this room to communicate it and to keep on communicating it.’

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