In the newsletter each month we will alternate with a quote from Quaker Faith and Practice and from “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran
Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude.’
From ‘ The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran
Quaker Quest : November 2015 at Ipswich Friends Meeting House
A Personal Reflection on God for Ipswich Quaker Quest
I was born a Quaker but resigned from the Society of Friends when I was in my late 20’s: Although Quakerism always seemed a very good way of approaching whatever it was that people meant by God, it seemed dishonest to be a member of something that I didn’t really believe in and had only arrived in by accident of birth.
For the next 30 years whenever I went into any church or even something like a Christmas carol service I got irritated by what I saw as all the claptrap – how could anyone take a creed or liturgy or the idea of a personal god who intervenes for us, seriously? But during this time I also went to Quaker meeting a couple of times, and once to a local Methodist service. In the early 90’s when my children were 4-6y we went to the local Sufi mosque a couple of times. And I did meditation. So I guess I was searching for something – maybe I was an ‘agnostic atheist’ during this time
Over these years I also had an inner wonder at two things:
- The complex ways in which both life itself and people’s lives seem to unfold. Partly this was to do with a growing understanding of the science of complexity and the emergence of ever more complex systems in biology, human life and understanding.
- The privilege of being a GP – people would come to see me and some part of them would be all crunched up, misshapen, unacknowledged. And then sometimes, with luck and courage and certainly nothing very much to do with me, I would see them unfurl themselves into the new person that had been waiting in the wings all along.
I have found both these things deeply inspiring and of course, like everyone else, I was being unfurled by life – changed and challenged into new and unexpected ways of being.
Two years ago we came to live in Suffolk and out of the blue I found I had a strong urge to go to meeting and so tried all three local meetings in Sudbury, Ipswich Colchester. I found myself unexpectedly moved by meeting. I would get home and start telling Kate (my wife) about meeting and find myself moved to tears by talking about whatever had happened in meeting. Or just by talking about the sense of home-coming that I experienced in the gathered silenced of the meeting. Clearly something was happening, something in me was being unfolded.
Now I don’t think that thing was God – because I still don’t believe in God in the sense of a being that influences the world. I think I was and am moved by meeting for worship and by Quakerism because it is a methodology, a way, to approach those aspects of life which are ineffable, unsayable, too deep to grasp.
There is no creed, no need to believe in God, or not to believe in God. At last there is no claptrap, no minutia of righteousness – there is just us, silent in a room. Waiting to see what happens in the gathered silence of Quaker meeting. It’s a methodology for approaching all the things that lie beyond direct apprehension. And it’s a methodology that’s been going for 400 years, self-correcting and self-effacing. That’s important too – that sense of this simplicity have proven its worth. Quakerism isn’t like meditating which for me has always been an essentially an individualistic process. Quakerism is about stillness in community. It is about being unfurled together by whatever processes and experiences exist beyond words.
For Quakers what you believe doesn’t matter much at all. How you live matters a great deal.
Feedback/Reactions to Quaker Quest Evenings
Thoughts from John Mann
During October we held our first Quaker Quest meetings – each Wednesday from 7:00-9:00 we had a meeting in which we invited others to come and find out more about Quakers.
The topics for each week were Worship, God, Equality and Peace.
We usually had around 25 people on each evening, with the numbers split evenly between Quakers and visitors.
The format of each meeting was as follows: doors open at 6:30 where people can arrive and get some food and a drink – we had excellent catering organised by Tess which provided tasty hand-held snacks that were always popular.
Other roles for each meeting were: a welcomer to make sure each person arriving was personally greeted and the format briefly explained to them, caterers to do teas and coffees, a host, three speakers for the evening, and facilitators for the small groups.
At 7:00 we all gathered together in a large circle and the meeting started, we had a different host each meeting, introducing the topic and keeping an eye on the time. After introductions we heard from three speakers on the chosen topic of the week. Usually each speaker also said a little about their own personal journey, before covering the topic itself – and each talk lasted about 10-15 minutes.
We next split up into groups of around 4-5 people each, trying to get a good mix of Quakers and visitors, and discussed what we had heard. This usually lasted 20-30 minutes and took us until about 8:15, times varied. Each group then shared what they had discussed with the whole group and sometimes we had some more discussion as a result of this.
Finally we had a short – about 20 minutes – meeting for Worship in which usually one or two people ministered.
That took us to 9:00, we were pretty good at finishing on time, and after people could stay to chat, eat any of the snacks that were left, and have another drink. Quite often we continued our discussions for another half hour or more in this manner.
All who attended seemed to find them very worthwhile, I certainly did. The format allowed everyone to take part. We made it clear Quakers don’t have a set of beliefs you have to sign up to, we tried to listen as much as speak, and I think shared the message that we are a tolerant, open, value-based rather than belief-based religious group, who try to support each other and provide a community for all who are finding their own spiritual path.
For anyone who came expecting an Alpha-style series of meetings where we have all the answers it would have been a disappointment, but in fact those who attended valued and respected our lack of dogma and openness to difference, while still keeping to our core values of truth, simplicity, equality and peace.
We are now running our monthly post Quaker Quest meetings, we held our first one in November, in which we hope to cover any areas that didn’t get covered in the Quaker Quest meetings – topics like simplicity or silence for example. At our first meeting we had thirteen – again we were about half Quakers and half visitors – and all shared their spiritual paths, as a way of getting to know each other better, which was a very special meeting. Future meetings will be the second Wednesday of each month, and any who are interested can come along.
Thoughts from Helena Woddis
After a Training day from the Quaker Quest team, Ipswich Meeting plunged with great determination into planning and advertising a programme of four evenings, to be offered by members and attenders to all comers.
We had excellent attendance from our own people, from Ipswich, Leiston and Bury meetings, and a varying smattering of enquirers who had differing reasons for coming. A hard core of these stayed the course of four evenings in October, and by the end had become very much a part of us, and actually asked whether the process could be continued. We now are meeting monthly with a similar format.
Each meeting began with a short introduction from the evening’s facilitator, followed by three of our members (or attenders), who took 10 minutes to explain their own personal understanding of the evening’s theme. The themes were: Meeting for Worship, God, Equality , and Peace. Each time, this process proved a truly touching and fascinating experience as we heard known friends telling us something of their own experience of the theme, and the way they interpret it in their lives. For me, it was like watching a known person gently unfurl and reveal something new about themselves, and, I felt, enriched our already healthy sense of being a community, and increased our mutual acceptance and affection for each other.
The visitors commented on the variety and honesty of opinion on the feed-back sheets, and appreciated our openness and authenticity. Some noted the relaxed rhythm of the evenings, which continued with small group discussions, and then large group reporting back. All the groups seemed to work slightly differently which meant a good variety of response, with excellent questions from the visitors. After some questions and answers we moved each week into a 20 minute Meeting for Worship, in which all participated, and which seemed to be a largely positive experience for everyone. This was experiential learning; the true meaning of a Meeting for Worship being understood best by experiencing it.
It was good to be once a week again among Friends, and I think most of us experienced a deeper sense of connection with each other. It felt like an effective outreach to the outside community too. Personally, I am delighted that we are going to continue. It was efficiently planned, and executed with discipline and a mild control which made everything flow pleasantly together and create a meaningful experience. Thank you, Media, Outreach and Programmes (MOP) team.
Thoughts from Anne-Marie Stewart
Having been to a number of Quaker events over the years, as an ex-teacher I was very impressed by the content, time-keeping and organizational skills presented in the two Quaker Quest training days. To some Friends ‘organised’ equals regimented but I found that they were far from that.
When it came to our own actual four sessions it was a hard act to follow. However, the evenings were extremely well planned with a ‘greeter’ at the door, delicious refreshments, a warm room and a host for the evening. At each event the three speakers were thought-provoking and were helped to keep to time. Discussion groups were lively and with non- Quakers present unusual ideas were expressed.
Barbara and the M.O. P. team are to be congratulated. For our Meeting to successfully put on these sessions (and the Green Ideas days) would have been totally unimaginable some years ago.
Thoughts from Richard Stewart
On the ‘ Peace’ night I was in a group with one person who was definitely not a Quaker and was possibly acting slightly as devil’s advocate. He said humans were essentially tribal, were good at killing, that killing others not in our tribe was an important element in our survival and nothing had changed much in the last three or four hundred years.
These comments kept returning for the next few days because regrettably he is right, at least in some parts of the world. I noticed more recently, in the context of a ‘lost’ poem by Shelley about human rights, that one commentator said little had changed since he wrote it. Obviously we as Friends strive to achieve a peaceful world but I am now more fully aware of why another in our group referred to the Peace Testimony as the most difficult of all to keep, both globally and personally.
Shoeboxes for Eastern Europe
A number of these were donated by Ipswich Quakers, and prepared by Josh, Jamie, Grace, Edward, Matthew, Molly, Jasper, Heather, Rachel and Emily.