Quaker service in Local and Area Meeting

Kit Fotheringham writes:

At the Local Meeting for Business in March, I was asked to introduce an item on Quaker service. This article is a summary of that discussion.

By way of background, in February, Bristol Area Meeting asked all Local Meetings to discuss the role of Trustees and to consider how to support them by finding more Friends to serve as Trustees.

In January 2018, at the tender age of 26, I was appointed to be a Trustee, the youngest Bristol Area Meeting has had for many years. But this needn’t be exceptional.

Juliet Prager, the deputy Recording Clerk to Britain Yearly Meeting, has said that Quakers in Britain are a “do-it-together” church. This means that if we want the Religious Society of Friends to be active in some activity or other, then we need to be the catalysts for that change.

We can link the need for Friends to come forward as Trustees, Elders, Overseers etc. to broader issues around Quaker service. Service in its broadest sense is one of the best ways of encouraging spiritual development. We need to let our Light shine, and to encourage each other to shine. To quote the words of early Friends:

“True Godliness don’t turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavours to mend it: not to hide their candle under a bushel, but set it upon a table in a candlestick.”

William Penn, Quaker faith & practice 23.02

Jesus of Nazareth related in his parable the power of using and developing talents, investing a small portion of our time to bring abundance to those around us (Matt 25:14–30). But all too many of us are discouraged from using our spiritual gifts.

Consider this: over ¾ of members and attenders at Redland are female, yet a disproportionate number of Area Meeting appointments are filled by males. It’s striking that there’s a cultural sentiment behind what are seen as “girls jobs” and “boys jobs”. There’s no more or less special interest or knowledge required in any task description that I know of. All that’s needed is an openness to the Spirit and a commitment to speaking the truth that distils upon you in worshipful contemplation.

We don’t have to wait to be approached by Nominations Group before expressing our willingness to give service. Arguably, this is too late to have ‘hearts and minds prepared’, as the favourite phrase says. Start small. Heed the promptings in your heart that are calling you to act. Talk to others who have experience of the concern you’re pursuing. Ask for training; many courses at Woodbrooke can be attended at subsidised rates.

It’s understandable that Friends won’t want hefty responsibilities laid upon them. Indeed, concentrating too much power in a few individual officeholders would be against ‘right ordering’ and the advice and experience of Friends throughout the centuries. It’s tempting to wish away our duties, and relinquish control to some distant bureaucracy at Friends House in London. After all, it would be a far more efficient use of resources and that’s why we’re asked to donate to Quaker work anyway?

I have a solemn testimony in the rightness of Friends organising themselves. It goes to the very heart of our corporate testimonies to equality, truth, integrity and simplicity. Quakers are distinct because of the affirmation that the Light is accessible to all, and a portion of that Light resides within all. Modern society conditions us to believe that some matters are too complex and beyond our reach. When we trust in the Light, acting in quiet stillness, the way is opened up to us and we are able to reach way above our ‘normal’ capacities.

In my closing remarks to Local Meeting for Business, I shared the words of Marianne Williamson, which appears as an excerpt in Living Our Beliefs which was chosen by young Quakers. It merits regular repetition:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone, and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on Principles of A Course in Miracles.