Understanding discernment

There are some aspects of the YMG theme where Friends have widely different understandings that they care about with a depth of passion. With this in mind, Martin Ward explores the Quaker understanding of discernment

Preparing for discernment at Yearly Meeting Gathering in York, 2009. | Photo: Fran Lane

We can go into a room with a dozen assorted Friends, or several hundred, and come out with the will of God written on a piece of paper. Put that bluntly, our claim may seem preposterous. But in more cautious language, with caveats, it is a claim that lies at the heart of one of the distinctive features of Quaker practice. As one of many Friends who has had the job, as a clerk, of doing the writing on the piece of paper, I have found the claim borne out time and time again in my experience of our ‘general meetings’ (using ‘general meeting’ not just for the regional layer in our hierarchy, but with the original sense of meetings open to all members: our Local and Area Meetings, and our Yearly Meeting.)

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