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Report of Meeting on January 23rd 2018

‘Quaker Faith in Action’

The first meeting of 2018 was a joint meeting of SAIF and the local Quaker study group. James Pavitt, Clerk of the local Friends’ Meeting, gave us an illuminating talk about the philosophy and practice of the Quakers (otherwise known as Friends’), illustrated by some telling thoughts from a variety of Friends in a short video.

James quoted the Aim and Vision of the Stratford Interfaith Forum to show that the Quaker vision was close to that of SAIF, a movement open to all and accepting of all viewpoints, aimed at the long-term welfare of the whole community. It was, he said, based on a mode of life rather than a form of words.

There are certain watchwords used by Quakers that they call Testimonies. These have developed and changed over time guided by the basic conviction that there is that of God in every person.

These Testimonies are currently:

  • Truth and integrity
  • Justice and equality
  • Simplicity
  • Sustainability
  • Peace

Quakers believe strongly in personal truth even when some truths are uncomfortable and may take time for them to be accepted. James cited the early slave-owning Quakers in America whose practice gave way later to establishing the ‘Underground Railway’, by which runaway slaves could escape to Canada.

The Quaker handbook Advices and Queries, no. 7 states: ‘Be aware of the Spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life’. This was used as an example of one way in which Quakers use ‘discernment’ to establish personal truths by looking for the divine in the everyday.

Quakers do not have leaders as they believe in Equality. They have an ‘in-joke’: ‘We didn’t abolish the ministers; we abolished the laity’.

James’ presentation led to discussion at the meeting about how decisions were arrived at in Quaker business meetings. The process was described as a movement of the Spirit, not a consensus. Were there informal kinds of leadership? Was there a place for the lone prophetic voice? One consequence of Quaker practice is that there are very few salaries to be paid, which is a great financial advantage.

Several other topics were raised: whether the silence and individual voices of Quaker meetings could be defined as ‘worship’ when no hymns were sung or corporate prayers made (though we were told that Kenyan Quakers sing hymns). What was the response of Quakers to people like child molesters?

This writer was left with a deep respect for the hands-on, politically-engaged, essentially practical character of the Quaker vision, where God is in the ordinary; but also with questions about how power can be handled spiritually and responsibly (what should the Emperor Constantine have done after his conversion to Christianity?), and whether the revelation of the divine claimed in different faiths for the Torah, for Christ, the Qur’an and Krishna, can be so easily blended into one common light?

Christopher Lamb

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