Collection this Month
Our special collection for November is Quaker Open Christmas.
If you wish to donate but can’t attend at the Meeting House, please send a cheque to Rachel Bach made out to “Ipswich Quakers”. Please send this before the end of the month concerned.
Each month we thought that we would also include a quote from Quaker Faith and Practice or from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
Crime and Punishment:
And how shall you punish those whose remorse is
Already greater than their misdeeds?
Is not remorse the justice which is administered by
That very law which you would fain serve?
Yet you cannot lay remorse upon the innocent
Nor lift it from the heart of the guilty.
Unbidden shall it call in the night,
That men may wake and gaze upon themselves.’
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Comments on “The Future of Our Faith” – an evening with Ben Pink Dandelion
Ben Pink Dandelion is a Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Birmingham University and talked, both as a Quaker, and as and an academic with an interest in the sociology of Quakerism.
Of course, the question of his name came first. Professor Dandelion, Ben, explained how this arose when he and others at an anarchist peace camp in the 1980s renamed themselves in opposition to the conventions of mainstream society. At this time he sported a “floppy Mohican”: floppy to avoid the aggressive associations of the more usual spiky style.
Ben opened with statistics showing the continuing decline (in the UK) in the numbers of those who, when polled, wished to be counted as religious, and still more in the numbers of regular churchgoers. However, much greater numbers still expressed an interest in, loosely put, a spiritual dimension of life. So Ben’s message was not one of doom and gloom, but of opportunity. Indeed Quakerism had a lot to offer in the current climate of scepticism about the claims of organised religion but a continued interest in spirituality.
Four principles and practices were particularly relevant. Firstly, a belief in the possibility of direct and unmediated encounter with the divine, and secondly a form of “worship” in a community which nurtures that experience. Thirdly, a recognition of the need for “discernment” as regards the meaning of such experiences and, for this purpose, to share and test ideas with each other. And lastly, a continued commitment to action and “making the world a better place”.
With regard to the latter, Ben told us how, motivated largely by concerns for a more ethical use of its resources and more effective service to the community, his own group sold their Meeting House overlooking Pendle Hill and moved into Clitheroe. As with any such move, there were many issues to be resolved, and we heard how this was achieved, by consensus rather than majority, in the particular way of Quaker “business meetings”.
On the broader front, Ben put present day Quakerism in the context of its seventeenth century roots in evangelical Christianity. Although, now an inclusive community of spiritual seekers, with no doctrinal commitments (the shift away from doctrine began 110 years ago), it had remained true to its core beliefs in the transforming experience of a direct encounter with the divine and the necessity of consequent action in the world for the cause of peace and social justice. As such, Ben took Quakerism to be well placed to attract the “spiritual seekers” of today.
In the question session, a wide range of issues were raised including: how Quakers should present themselves in the wider community, the diversity of Quaker practice worldwide (for example only 10% of Quakers still meet in silence), the Quaker “peace testimony” in the context of radical Islam, and the ongoing debate between the “theist” and “non-theist” Quakers.
Thanks to Ben for a talk that was at once interesting, informative and entertaining.
Ben came to talk to a mixed audience of Friends and others, who were clearly interested in understanding more about our faith, at Ipswich Meeting House on the evening of 21st September.
Ben’s message was unhesitatingly positive about a future for the Quaker faith community in Britain, which he believes has something particular and timely to offer to individuals seeking to explore spiritual values in a society characterised by increasing secularisation in its decision-making.
Ben views the Quaker faith through the eyes of a sociologist and social historian. He observed that whilst the liberal, more permissive denominations were suffering a greater decline in numbers of participants than other churches, the majority of people recorded in surveys of religious preference, some 70%, are indeed searching for ‘something other’ yet less inclined to join religious groups which do not appear in their experience to be ‘authentic’.
According to Ben, 87.7% of all Quakers in Britain are adult “converts”, joining from other churches or none, in search of an authentic faith life. The diversity of the British Quaker theology which has expanded in the last 50 years, has done so in response to our insistence that personal experience and continuing revelation lie at the heart of our faithfulness. For us there is no “final word”; it is the spiritual journey and not the creed which matters to us; ours is a provisional Truth. Precisely this, our “absolute perhaps-ness”, says Ben, is a faith offering right for the age. Yet there are key characteristics of our faith community which transcend our diversity which we can offer to those still seeking:
• We live in spiritual equality through the direct and personal encounter with that “something other”, which some call God, which transforms and enables us to act in faith
• Our Meeting for Worship is the space in which that encounter, that transformation is nurtured for each and any of us
• We take decision together through discerning the right way forward and by testing each others’ concerns
• We act on our faith, living the spirit as transformed, as a way of life.
Despite our theological diversity, we have the gift and opportunity to build community rather than to fragment. In this, we have something precious to offer, and so must be visible and accessible to others. Whilst we are disinclined to declare that we have THE answer, we have to find a voice to put forward our faith as a spiritual option.
In responding to a strong line of questions, Ben proposed that we should consider moving away from the written word and all our jargon, to engage the wider society in our discussions and concerns. Our narrow demography may allow us to indulge in writing for one another, but we have to find ways of explaining our faith and the life and actions which spring from that faith to others outside of our circles who may want to benefit from the spiritual gifts which we can share. We are a people of faith and have something to say.
Other Friends present at Ben’s talk may have taken away other thoughts from his presentation and the discussion which followed. Maybe they too can write something for the Newsletter……………..
Elaine Green, Bury St Edmunds Meeting
It was good to see so many people present, including some who don’t often attend our Sunday meeting for Worship and others who had travelled some distance and who normally attend other local Quaker meetings. He covered a wide variety of topics in his talk and the subsequent questions but I got the impression it was somewhat watered down from his previous remarks and intended to ‘be all things to all people’. Perhaps I should have asked him directly whether the God he mentioned several times was, from his personal conviction, to be printed with a lower case or capital letter. He has previously directly challenged Friends, quote ‘ who would like to expunge the term ‘God’ from contemporary Quaker life, asking ‘can’t we hear the word God even if it’s not the language we use. Maybe we’re in the wrong place if we can’t.‘ I just wish he had repeated that assertion as he did have the opportunity when Catherine asked him about this matter.
Ipswich Faith and Community Forum is now up and running. You can visit their
It was agreed to hold two open pastoral care meetings a year, the fourth Sunday in July and the fourth Sunday in January. The next one will be 22nd January 2017.
Every meeting needs people to care for its well-being and try to see that people will not be neglected when ill or distressed and that the life of the community will be vibrant. You have all been given an overseer and you should by now know who that is, if you do not ask Lydia, Eric, Frances, Mike M or Andrew. Having said that, we all have responsibility to look after each other.
The responsibilities of Overseers include:
• to encourage attendance at meeting for worship and to make sure newcomers are welcomed
• to encourage attendance at business meetings and take part in them
• to make opportunities for Friends and attenders to get to know each other
• together with elders, to take care of the needs of inquirers and attenders
• together with elders to exercise care over the children and young people of the meeting
• to give advice and information about how to apply for membership
• to encourage caring friendship within the Quaker community
• care and concern for the elderly and sick, if they can no longer attend meeting
• to respond to the needs of the bereaved, to provide comfort and sympathetic listening.