Report for Hardshaw and Mann Area Meeting
on Quaker Life Representative Council,
held 4-6 April 2014 at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham
I feel my Local Meeting is spirit-led and in touch with the divine, as Alistair would say. I know much less at the moment about my Area Meeting. But how would you know? Alistair wondered about what makes us well, as meetings. There aren’t any perfect meetings. For the new resource, Sharing Our Meetings’ Stories, staff and volunteers from Quaker Life visited meetings of every shape and size up and down the country and asked the same three questions?
- Tell us the story of your meeting that has brought you to the place you are now.
- What nourishes the life of the meeting?
- How does this meeting connect to the wider world?
And we sing
If you want to see the Private,
I know where he is. I know where he is.
If you want to see the Private,
He’s hanging on the old barbed wire.
I saw him, I saw him,
Hanging on the old barbed wire. (I saw him)
Hanging on the old barbed wire.
(Downloadable from Forest School Camps,
Virtual camp fire songs)
From this emerged twelve common practices for a healthy meeting, be it local or area. Here are three of them:
- Centrality of worship – the connection with the divine
- Food and fellowship – generosity offered
- Flexible and open to try new things and explore new possibilities – fruitful, not busy
“We are our stories.”
And we sing
Then he’s taken out his handkerchief
To wipe the tearing eye.
Wipe up, wipe up them flowing tears,
Likewise those mournful sighs,
And be of good courage, love, till I return again,
You and I, love, will be married again.
(White Cockade, in Forest School Camp songs)
I joined my first workshop of the day in Holland House sitting room. It was on Prayer. What word came up for us when we thought of prayer…openness, connection to God? We were asked to choose one. I settled on ‘willingness’ because it’s about being present and surrendering oneself totally, trusting in God.
And what about practices? I thought of one, the 5 minutes peace I often take nowadays when I close my eyes at my desk at work, just to centre down and reconnect with what’s important. Jean, the office manager, teases me, ‘5 minutes shuteye, you mean!’ But we talked one day waiting for the kettle to boil. ‘I find it really helpful…I feel more aware of my surroundings and the chatter in my head fades and I wait patiently…takes about four minutes, and then, I know. That’s it. That’s what I need to do now.’ ‘If I closed my eyes for 5 minutes’, she said, ‘I’d be fast asleep.’ ‘Practice,’ Jean, ‘all it takes is practice and a little know-how.’
And we sing
Dear friends, Dear friends,
Let me tell you how I feel.
You have given me such treasure,
I love you so.
Maud, our tutor, asked why is prayer and spiritual practice important to build community? What can you do with your meeting in terms of prayer and spiritual practice?
I’ve been to four out of the last five Rep Councils (two a year), so I’ve one to go to complete my first triennium. I’m committed for a further three years and then that’s it. Each conference has been wonderful yet I was beginning to have doubts about carrying on. True, I was also struggling a bit with my own stuff but there really is so much coming out of Quaker Life, so much of it exciting. There’s a lot to take in. I know you can’t take it all in. Just go with what’s important for you, we’ve been told. And I thought about what’s changed in my meeting as a result of coming here?
I’m not really aware of what’s happening in my Area Meeting. I’m even beginning to grow a little distant from my local meeting, not having been to meeting for worship for two weeks and prevented from attending the last few meetings for worship for business. Looking at my diary for the foreseeable future, that’s not going to change much.
Yet, I love my meeting and feel a part of my Area Meeting, even if I haven’t been much lately. I confided in a friend that I feel the discipline of our local meeting for worship for business has become strong. I sense we are under strain but not fragile anymore, as I used to feel. We have resilience but I know most friends in positions of responsibility at the moment are either under or have been under continual strain.
And we sing
Bind us together, Lord, bind us together,
With chords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together, Lord,
Bind us together,
Bind us together with love.
I attended my second workshop – making a family friendly community. ‘Does it matter?’ Simon, the tutor asked the nine of us, sitting in the Cherry Tree room. We started off by looking at some of the entries in the Book of Meetings:
- Children are welcome and will be provided for
- Children and young people welcome with advance notification
- No children’s meeting
I wondered what it says in our entries? These would be on Quaker websites.
How welcoming is your meeting? Do doorkeepers know what to say if a family arrives unexpectedly on a Sunday? Who is part of your meeting? As is often the case, the characters from Winnie the Poo come in helpful here. At the centre, represented by Christopher Robin and Poo, are the regulars, familiar with all the practices and language of the Society. Then, you have those who come less regularly. These might be Eeyore, Piglet and Owl, who know a bit but are easily kerfuffled, apart from owl, of course, who knows everything anyway. Finally, there are our families and friends and workmates. There must be hundreds, thousands of them. How often do we share with them our experience of coming to meeting for worship with heart and mind prepared? I’m told four thousand people pass through the doors of Liverpool meeting in a single year. That means less than one per cent of people coming into my meeting house are Quaker in name or direction?
The average age of people attending meeting for worship in Britain today is 61.
The average age of people attending their first meeting is 43.
30% of meetings do not have children.
Does it matter?
I was thinking of my own practice. Yes, I’ve taken children’s meeting for worship a few times but was it really only a sticking plaster? I was even starting to think that I’d been doing it all wrong by imposing my own stuff on the children’s meeting without listening to them. ‘You have to start somewhere…’ I trailed off, like….
There is help available from Quaker Life in the form of guides and resources. There is an edition of Journey in the Spirit for any topic you can imagine, all downloadable. Quaker Life has produced a leaflet containing lots of useful ideas and suggestions for being ready for children. And courses too. Simon told us about ‘Feed Your Meeting’, two consecutive day courses at Woodbrooke in early July on ‘Growing Your Meeting’ and ‘Organising courses for learning’.
He left us with two questions. Think about one way your meeting is family friendly. And two ways in which it might be better?
And we sing
Fare thee well,
the Princes Landing Stage,
River Mersey, fare thee well.
For I’m bound for California,
It’s a place that I know right well.
So, fare thee well, my own true love,
When I return, united we will be.
It’s not the leaving of Liverpool,
That grieves me,
But my darling when I think of thee.
Something shifted in me overnight. ‘Did you hear that rain last night?, a friend asked. ‘What rain, no?’ I awoke feeling, well, actually, maybe my first three years were about getting some sort of handle on Quaker Life stuff; how it was organised, what it did and how it could be of service to our meetings. After two years, I was only just getting it. What if the next three years were spent in passing this on within our Local and Area meetings? Planting seeds, waiting for them to come up..? Connecting people and communicating better..? Even with neighbouring area meetings? Above all, enabling friends to be and to do. We come to meeting for worship to connect with the divine, Alistair had said. Get that right, being spirit- led in all we do, and see where it leads us.
In our Home group, more than one friend spoke of ‘I’ and ‘them’ in reporting back. Good intentions could be ‘squashed’. ‘Quaker Squashing… very interesting but that’s not our way!’
And we sing
Alive, alive, oh. Alive, alive, oh,
Singing cockles and mussels,
Alive, alive, oh.
This isn’t something I sense from my own Area Meeting. But I do feel people are stretched, with limited time, if not energy to pick up new things. We have dear friends who have already given dedicated years who are pressed back into service, because there is a gap, to keep on providing pastoral care, spiritual and temporal. But I don’t think it’s ‘I’ and it’s not ‘you’. It is ‘we’, ‘us’. How can we involve more people into our meeting, sharing in new ways, while retaining the old? Where can two or three friends come together to play or sit with a question? It might be fun. It doesn’t have to be a heavy thing. Don’t make it so.
Can we be tender with one another and love one another. We’re not perfect. Thank God. Let’s see what love can do.
And we sing
People should smile more.
There’s a light in their eyes that will guide you (or find you).
People should smile more,
Close your eyes, let it go, let it drift away.
(From People Should Smile More by Newton Falkner)
Quaker Life and Woodbrooke Staff mentioned and their roles
Alistair Fuller, Head of Outreach Development, Quaker Life, Friends’ House
Maud Grainger, Faith in Action tutor, Woodbrooke
Simon Best, Nurturing Friends and Young Meetings tutor, Woodbrooke
Forest School Camp Song book / Virtual Camp Fire Songs
Sharing Our Meetings’ Stories, Quaker Life, April 2014
Being ready for children in your Quaker meeting – a guide, available from Quaker Life Children and Young People’s Staff Team
Feed your meeting!
Go to http://bit.ly/grocomm (Growing our Community)
Go to http://bit.ly/quakgl (Quaker Groups for Learning)
Prayer by Ginny Wall, article in Friends Quarterly, February 2012, Vol. 40, No. 1
David Johnson, A Quaker Prayer Life, Inner Light Books, 2013
Quaker Life is set up by Britain yearly Meeting to support the life of our meetings.If a meeting has a concern, it can go in the form of a minute from Area Meeting to Meeting for Sufferings, the body which meets every other month at Friends House. Meeting for Sufferings oversees the decision-making process in between Britain Yearly Meetings. Jennie B from Southport meeting is the Area Meeting representative on Meeting for Sufferings. This passes on the detailed working on a concern to one of two committees, Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) or Quaker Life (QL). Both sets of staff are largely based at Friends’ House in London.
Quaker Life supports and nurtures the pastoral care of meetings. It provides guidance and support on lots of things from managing staff and premises, Quaker roles, the right holding of meeting for worship, the library at Friends’ House, chaplaincy work, working with young people and much more. You can read more about it in Quaker Faith and Practice, the red book, and on the website, Quakers in Britain, https://www.quaker.org.uk/quaker-life . QL central committee is made up of friends, nominated for the role. It oversees and holds accountable the work of Quaker Life staff and volunteers.
There is also the Quaker Life Network. More than 1200 friends and attenders receive a regular email bulletin of the activities taking place in Britain and abroad. Friends are invited to offer service by filling in a ‘yellow form’ which gives details of their interests. There are a number of cluster groups, made up of volunteers and supported by staff, which explore a particular topic or theme eg conflict in meetings, mental health, 1652 Pilgrimage Country and the newest one, Chaplaincy work in prisons and universities.
Quaker Life Representative Council (QLRC) meets twice a year in April and October. Over a hundred representatives from their Area Meetings attend a weekend conference to find out what is going on in our meetings and to learn from Quaker Life and Woodbrooke staff and volunteers in talks and workshops as well as from one another. The theme of 2014’s two conferences is ‘Developing Community’. Reps are encouraged to share what they have learned with their meetings in whatever form arises – workshops, talks, newsletter article, art and craftwork, poetry…
There is also a QLRC planning committee which meets solely to plan the weekend conferences. A clerk and assistant clerk are nominated to serve for the weekends. Isobel D, from Southport Local Meeting, has recently joined Quaker Life Central Committee and is the link person between the central committee and the Rep Council Planning committee.
Bernie K is the QLRep council representative, with Bayo O as deputy., both from Liverpool Meeting. Please feel free to contact any one of us if you have any questions. If we don’t know the answer, we will probably be able to put you in touch with someone or something you will find helpful.
Hardshaw and Mann Area Meeting
8 April 2014