Well, the answer to that’s easy – I enjoy it! I know, the idea of 4 days of Quaker business meetings can sound daunting, but honestly, those 4 days are interesting and even, at times, fascinating. I get to meet so many Quakers, there are hundreds from all over Britain as well as a number from all over the world. I’ve had interesting chats with Quakers from Kenya, Scandinavia, the USA and other places. There’s a buzz around the place, an energy that’s infectious. Even the business meetings are interesting (well, usually) – there’s something special about being in a large Quaker meeting with hundreds of others. The meetings start with a 15 minute Meeting for Worship – and then onto the business sessions. The Quaker business method on a large scale is quite impressive. During the day there’s also time to visit various sections of BYM, finding out about their work and asking questions. In the past I’ve been to meetings about plans for the upcoming Quaker Week later in the year, a session on sanctuary meetings, and one on the work of QUNO. There’s also the Groups’ Fair, where the different interest groups set up their stalls – though I found it a bit crowded last year. And of course there’s the Swarthmore Lecture – there’s nothing like being present, with hundreds of others, to see and hear the speaker – last year striding about the stage, dropping his notes to the floor as he finished each page (it was funny when he realised he’d dropped one page that he still needed).
There’s plenty of opportunity to chat with, and have interesting discussions with, f/Friends and meet new people over coffee and/or lunch or even later back at the hotel. There’s time to visit the Library in Friends House as well as the bookshop.
Last year I decided to become a bit more involved and volunteered for a task that I thought would not be too stressful or strenuous, so I become a doorkeeper into the large meeting room before some of the meetings (very like welcoming at the door on Sundays at Redland) and for some of the meetings I was a microphone steward (directed by the clerk to the appropriate speaker) – tasks for which we were given training beforehand. Not big jobs, but I did feel more involved.
Last year the focus of BYM was the possibility of the revision of QF&P. This year the particular focus will be on our privilege and assumptions of privilege.
The weekend could be overwhelming, but there are sessions on “how does Yearly Meeting work?” for people attending for the first time. The main recommendation is “don’t try and do everything!” Pick what you’re interested in and give yourself time for conversation and tea/coffee.
I stay in the Tavistock Hotel, near Friends House, though there are a number of other hotels as well as the Penn Club, nearby. It may also be possible to stay with London-based Friends over the weekend. The Tavistock tends to be taken over by Quakers that weekend – the tourists are vastly outnumbered and it’s fun to play “spot the Quaker”, or even “spot the tourist” over breakfast.
Finance should not be a problem if you want to go – Yearly Meeting can help, as can Bristol AM. It’s helpful to register beforehand so that Friends House knows about how many people to expect – but if you decide to go at the last minute then that’s alright too.
At the end of the weekend we hear from all the children and young people’s groups about what they’ve been doing. And then there’s the creation of the epistle from BYM to Friends everywhere and I’ve been amazed at the ability of the clerks to distil the thoughts, decisions and activities of the weekend.
It’s an invigorating experience and one that I heartily recommend. Check out the website at www.quaker.org.uk/ym