Two years ago, I found myself eating at a table at Woodbrooke with friends, telling them I’d enrolled on EfM. ‘Good’, they said. It turned out the three of them had completed it. ‘I want to find my voice…I know it sounds daft…at my age but…I would really like to know who I am.’ They didn’t reply, just nodded and looked at each other. To my amazement, I think I’ve done this and, in so doing, I find I have also become close with God.
I can talk about changes I have noticed in myself over the past two years. I have come to know that of God in everything. If it’s possible to be a theist and a non-theist, then I am both…and neither. I don’t find labels are helpful or necessary for me or God.
On a personal level, I have noticed many changes, simply by living more adventurously. My writing project reconnected me with my early life experience as a boy who wrote stories and a teenager with grave doubts. I have felt a huge sense of relief, of something passing in finishing the course, sharing my stories with friends along the way, face-to-face and via Moodle and my blog (It still feels like talking about someone else to speak of writing a blog). I feel like I’ve been in for a service and come out tuned up.
Exploring relationships and communities has been a big part of my experience. One is my EfM group. We have bonded in a remarkable way. My sense of belonging to my local and area meetings has also grown. I have kept them informed of my journey by talking and sharing stuff via our google mail group and by some storyspace sessions, which form part of my Local Meeting Wednesday evening programme.
During the past three years, while I have served as an elder and on Area Meeting nominations committee, I have felt a deepening and enriching of my Quaker identity. I have even at times felt I’ve been a surprising source of strength and support for other friends of my meeting. I feel I have been led to lay down both of these roles next year and to wait and see what seeds are growing in the darkness and which will come up and sprout. I am looking forward to just being a Quaker. That will be nice. People can still ask me why.
I also feel that my experience of EfM has contributed to my role on Quaker Life Representative Council and as an apprentice facilitator with Alternatives to Violence Project Britain (avpb). Both sets of experiences have given me so much and have reconnected back to EfM. I am not giving either of these up, not till I have to, anyway!
When I started off with my blog, I kept my ‘Quaker’ stuff separate from my ‘other’ stuff, separating my audiences. But, at some point in the first year, I felt this was superfluous. It was all one. This indicated to me something coming together inside me. Something had broken through. I feel I have discovered what my ministry is – that of storytelling, fooling, maybe, involving music and writing – I hope so. I will see. Waiting. While it is the ending of the course, it is also the beginning of something else. I’m excited. Still, life is ordinary and it is hard at times.
So, take three courses. Do them twice a year at Woodbrooke or Swarthmoor Hall. Is that it, then? Is that EfM? Not for me, it isn’t. For starters, the three strands force you to choose courses well outside your comfort zone, like Awaken the Fool. Add a growing sense of belonging to a spiritual, travelling group of people, the connections you make, the support and wisdom of a personal tutor and wonderful resources, including Moodle and the Woodbrooke library and those you find within yourself and you have something amazing. I have been caught up in the brambles, have piled my fingers down into the soil to look again at the roots and felt new growth emerging, often painfully. I have become like a gardener, which, if you knew me, would make you smile. And I like being in the garden, it feels good.
When I was a young man, taking my ‘A’-levels, it felt to me as if all learning had to be in a box with a neat label, telling you what it was. How dry it all felt! I remember wondering if there was a course somewhere, which enabled you to study science, religion, philosophy, psychology, history, sociology, nature, literature, creative writing, storytelling and art and music and…and would I ever find it, if there was? Well, I have found it after all these years, you may say, by chance, I thought, but now I’m not so sure. It is Equipping for Ministry and…and the ‘and’ matters. It’s up to you what you find out about yourself. I found my voice. Thank you. Time for quiet now…
Wishing you many small peaces and lots of light…