On September 22nd Redland meeting house welcomed around 40 Quakers from across Bristol area to consider the diversity of our local and area meetings under the heading “Who do you think we are?”. We were joined by Edwina Peart the Inclusion and Diversity officer from Friends House in London.
The day was organised by a small group of elders from across our area meeting. It was designed to be unhurried, grounded in worship and to start with a recognition, understanding and celebration of the diversity that already exists among us so we can understand how we might welcome more diversity where appropriate.
We started with an ‘icebreaker’ where we learnt something about the differences between us as individuals making up a group. We then split into 6 smaller groups for most of the day to consider some questions and to see if it was possible to minute the small groups responses or, in the case of 2 groups, to develop an Advice/Query.
Here are some of the responses from the discussion groups which were shared in a plenary worship sharing session along with other powerful ministry.
- How do we respond to friends who challenge our testimonies and practices? Do they feel that we have heard them? Have we provided the appropriate space to allow them to share their issues?
- We spent time looking at some of the things that are already happening in our AM. Already we have memory cafes, dementia awareness and a place for overnight accommodation for the homeless now and in the deep cold of winter. That is a heart-led way of letting people see who we are and what we are about. In smaller ways we can choose to wear badges, display posters, join marches with our banners. Allow ourselves to be seen.
- We have a unity which is based on the spirit of each testimony and this unity gives us the freedom to find our own way. The lack of definition of the testimonies is a wonderful opportunity to develop and express our own journeys within unity. We are ready to embrace others and each other and this seems to be something that draws people in.
- Friends have a concern to found a Free School run in Quaker lines offering primary/secondary education, life skills and classes for adults.
- Are you aware that the groups in society to which you do not belong contain people with the same spiritual understanding as yourself? What are you doing to connect with them and work together?
- Are you willing to adapt the life of your meeting to accommodate the needs and contributions of those on the edges of your community? In seeking greater inclusiveness we hope both to learn from others and share what we have learned with them.
- We have shared a variety of personal experiences of coming into Quakers for the first time.
We treasure our differences.
We recognise a spectrum of personality and need with regard to the style of welcome that would best suit an individual coming to meeting for the first time.
Newcomers need space to explore what Quakers might offer to them and listening to them is often more important than giving information (unless it is requested).
“How was the meeting for you?” can be a useful, open, opening question.
The various styles of Afterword used within Bristol AM can be very helpful to newcomers.