The Friends Quarterly: essay competition

Epistle from Friends gathered at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre 30 July to 1 August 2010

Dear Friends   ‘… there is nothing more joyful and life-enhancing than living in consonance with the Truth and with our deepest values, especially if we are part of a community doing this together…’ (Linda Murgatroyd, from the prizewinning Friends Quarterly essay Holding Spaces for the Spirit to Act.)

Thirty of us came to Woodbrooke to spend a weekend considering the three winning essays and their implications for our Society. We looked closely at the context for this competition. Why now? Why are we so concerned with the future of Friends in Britain? What do we want to strengthen, maintain, change? How are we to accomplish this? The winning essayists were with us to explore their ideas more fully, as were other contributors.

With 1859 as our starting point, the date of the original essay competition, our time scale was extensive as we considered the changes within the Society of Friends since then and identified the issues which remain urgent and relevant. We found a strong sense of continuity with the 1859 competition, as the current judges had already indicated:
‘We hope that what will arise from, and as a consequence of, the contemporary essays will have at least as great a beneficial impact on the Religious Society of Friends in Britain as did its [nineteenth century] predecessor which was instrumental in the re-invention and re-invigoration of Quakerism in this country.’

We have again reached a point in the life of the Society of Friends in Britain in which it is important to talk fully and with clarity about who we are, what we do together and what we can carry forward. We can witness in the world and revitalise our hearts through a confidence in our tradition and our capacity to adapt and evolve with this tradition as our guide.

Strengthening our spiritual centre revealed itself as the root of all other courses of action. Creativity, a greater engagement with the experiences of younger Friends, and the significance of a collective and considered spiritual practice are amongst the means by which this can occur.

Our group work produced detail, reflection and congruence. We begin from a confident, trusting place where we have responsibility for our spiritual life and welcome the part that grace plays in it; we want our lives to speak eloquently; we recognise the spiritual hunger of the age in our own community and in the communities and individuals around us. Change in our Society will continue to be driven by outside factors: environmental issues, climate change, demographic changes, the secularisation of society; global connectedness and technological developments. We can demonstrate how we are ‘community’ in a fragmented world by our ability to stand and witness, go and act.

Being a Quaker and becoming a member present us with opportunities to examine the seriousness and integrity of our commitment, and to review the ways in which we speak about our Quakerism to newcomers and established Friends.

Education, support, imagination and trust are all vital components. They are factors in our better appreciation of issues around language, the explanation of a distinctive Quaker Christianity and our articulation of doctrine – our faith and practice – as we understand it.

All 106 of the essays submitted are seeds of change, hope, transformation and grace. This weekend has served to remind us that we inherit a unique combination of religious wisdom, style of worship, testimonies, organisational structures and business method. All of them can serve us well in the future; together they are our treasure, to be shared with the world.

It is not ours alone to determine the future, but we can and should concern ourselves with the present. We can make what happens now our business; we can aim to be simple, radical and contemporary; we can open ourselves every day to an awareness of God, and of God in one another.

‘The Truth is one and the same always, and though ages and generations pass away, and one generation goes and another comes, yet the word and power and spirit of the living God endures for ever, and is the same and never changes.’ (Margaret Fell, Quaker faith & practice 19.61)

signed on behalf of Friends at Woodbrooke and as editor of The Friends Quarterly
Tony Stoller
1 August 2010

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