Reading Quaker Faith & Practice – Chapter 3

Our meeting communities vary in size and in the circumstances and experience of their members. Sometimes we may need to vary the ways in which we manage our meetings for church affairs in order to make better use of the talents, time and energy of our members. Co-clerkship, for instance, has been beneficial in a number of meetings; sometimes the monthly pattern of business meetings has been varied to good effect. We should be open to learning from the experiments undertaken by other meetings. Being set in an unsatisfactory routine ‘because we’ve always done it this way’ may be as detrimental to seeking God’s guidance as throwing our traditions to the wind. We are enjoined to live adventurously, but experiment must be grounded in the experience of generations of Friends, which offers us a method, a purpose and principles for the right conduct of our business meetings.

If we sometimes think things are wrong with our meetings for church affairs, it would help us to look at the situation in perspective if we could realise how many troubles arise not from the system, but from our human imperfections and the variety of our temperaments and viewpoints. These meetings are in fact not merely occasions for transacting with proper efficiency the affairs of the church but also opportunities when we can learn to bear and forbear, to practise to one another that love which ‘suffereth long and is kind’. Christianity is not only a faith but a community and in our meetings for church affairs we learn what membership of that community involves.

Quaker Faith & Practice 3.03

This seems to me to be the core of Chapter 3. In embarking on reading this section I have, as so many Friends I suspect, quailed rather at spending so long on procedure, rather than on the spiritual or moral realities for which we meet. But here we read how we are “not only a faith but a community and in our meetings for church affairs we learn what membership of that community involves.”

If we can, it seems to me, approach all our many meetings and committees with full awareness of “our human imperfections and the variety of our temperaments and viewpoints”, then we can grow and serve the community which arises naturally from the practice of our faith together as Friends. Living adventurously together is an immense experiment, as experimental in its own way as our way of worship, and it is only in allowing ourselves, and each other, that full awareness not only of our fallibility and incompleteness, but of the right and inevitable variousness of our spiritual, intellectual and emotional characters (1 Corinthians 12), that we shall be able to be the community we are called to be: a community that celebrates, as it lives out, the inheritance of all the previous generations of Friends who have met together in the Light.

2 thoughts on “Reading Quaker Faith & Practice – Chapter 3

  1. Sarah Rowbotham

    May I quote from Brian Darcy?
    Ask a few questions of institutions.
    a) What does this institution do for me?
    b) What does it do for any human being?
    c) If I cease to be of use to it how would the institution treat me?
    d)If the institution collapsed, what would it do to my life?
    e)What can I do to change the institution to make it more responsive to this modern world?
    The answers may surprise you!
    Quakers are only human and some will go to great lengths to maintain the status quo.
    It’s their comfort blanket, and change can be frightening, especially if you’re old. Unfortunately many who are deciding the future of Quakerism are stuck in this situation.

  2. Mike Farley Post author

    Apologies, Sarah Rowbotham, for not replying sooner to your comment.

    I think that for me, coming as I do from a long and various background of faith, one of the striking things about Quakerism is precisely the way that structures and means of governance take into account human fallibility, and allow Friends to reach often difficult decisions in full awareness of their own shortcomings.

    If anyone would observe the “great lengths [to which people will go] to maintain the status quo” they would only have, for instance, to volunteer for a country PCC in the Church of England, during deliberations on whether to dismantle the pews in favour of moveable chairs, or exchange the decrepit and ruinously expensive to maintain Victorian organ for a modern digital one. The tragedy is that under such circumstances, unless it is by the prayers of those often not directly involved, there is great difficulty in allowing the Spirit into the proceedings. Quakers do, at least in theory, have “a method, a purpose and principles for the right conduct of our business meetings” that allow decisions to be reached not by consensus, nor by majority rule, but by spiritual discernment, and that seems to me a good start.


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