Report from Quaker Renewal Study Group

Held at Redland Local Quaker Meeting, March – June 2018

This study group, convened and co-facilitated by Ian Beeson and Julia Bush at Redland Local Quaker Meeting, had for its topic of discussion the booklet Quaker Renewal, by Craig Barnett (The Friend publications, 56pp).

Eight people attended the group regularly: Ian Beeson, Julia Bush, Helen Chambers, David Parkes, Mark Spring, Christine Tollerton, Sue Tuckwell, and Michael Tuckwell.  Three others attended occasionally, while another four expressed an interest, but did not attend any sessions.  All the participants came from Redland LQM, except for David Parkes (from Bedminster).  The study group met on seven evenings (23 March, 10  and 20 April, 11 and 18 May, and 1 and 15 June), usually in the Library at Redland Quaker Meeting House.

We organised the group round the six themes listed by Barnett on pp. 37-38 in the booklet (in the section entitled A New Quakerism?), and for each theme suggested preparatory reading from other sections.  Barnett suggests the six themes as signs or necessary components of a renewal of Quakerism in Britain.  We studied one theme per session, and covered the whole text through the associated readings.  In an additional session at the end we considered the booklet as a whole and what we might take from it to stimulate Quaker renewal in our own Meetings.  These were our seven topics:-

  1. Deeper, more disciplined worship and spiritual practice.  (See Gathered Worship; Return Within; Light, Seed and Guide.)
  2.  Leadership that empowers others. (See Centre and Boundary; The Meaning of Membership; the Gift of Leadership.)
  3. Shared understanding of the Quaker Way. (See The Quaker Way; A Shared Language; What is Quakerism For?)
  4. Outreach to wider society.  (See Spiritual Generosity; A New Quakerism?; Signs of Hope.)
  5. Re-engagement with Quaker tradition.  (See Friends and Family; Christian ‘roots’.)
  6. Overhauling Quaker structures and bureaucracy.  (See The Simplified Meeting; The Testimony of a Transformed Life.)
  7. Conclusion: What are the implications of our study for the life of our Meeting, ourselves, and beyond?

Participants were encouraged to keep a notebook through the course, and invited to suggest further reading.  The facilitators suggested for each session a number of questions for consideration, arising out of the theme and readings.  The sessions then developed as a mix of individual reflection, pair or small group exchanges, and worship sharing or discussion in the whole group.  Before the final session, participants were invited to draft their own vision of what renewal in their Meetings might look like. Five Friends took up this challenge, with very interesting results.

The radical proposals discussed at our final session were evidence of changes in the air. Our study group sessions coincided with Yearly Meeting 2018, where the revision of Quaker Faith and Practice was recognised as part of a wider process of renewal. Craig Barnett’s book provided a useful focus for our own reflections on past experience and future expectations. It served this purpose well, offering us an opportunity to know each other better as well as to feel part of the forward momentum of Quakerism. The rare luxury of an extended conversation over many weeks also helped to create a safe space in which doubts and differences received an honest airing. We explored such contentious themes as the need for a clearer religious message and the possibility (or impossibility?) of Quaker leadership from the grassroots, before coming to strong agreement on several key issues. Our general feeling was that deeper worship is vital to successful renewal, whatever form it takes. Despite Friends’ religious diversity, we felt that work can be done within our Meetings to strengthen our experience of worship. Building a strong community is integral to developing trust and faith, and this must happen in our Meetings before extending further afield. We found the six themes from Craig Barnett’s book to be closely interrelated, which suggests the probability of a domino effect. Successful renewal in one area is likely to waken interest in renewing others. For example, if we put creative effort into deepening worship and spiritual practice, this could feed into proposals for new outreach activities. A consciously renewed focus on the spiritual priorities of our community is also likely to result in an impetus towards ‘simpler meetings’.

We would like to invite other groups across our Area Meeting to embark on a similar exploration into the possibility of Quaker renewal.  We would be happy to share our experience and materials with any interested groups, and to help lay on suitable events to enlarge the conversation. We have found it particularly valuable to talk about this subject with Friends present from more than one Meeting. Is there any interest among Bristol Quakers in the possibility of a rotating study group – taking one of Craig Barnett’s themes to each of the local Meeting Houses, and inviting Friends to travel as much or as little as they wish? This would be an excellent opportunity to strengthen the wider community of our Area Meeting.

Please contact Julia Bush if you are interested, and willing to help organise such a venture during the autumn months.

Julia Bush and Ian Beeson on behalf of the study group