Four main lessons from Quaker Yearly Meeting Gathering at Warwick

Beverley Goddard writes:

I had been at the Yearly Meeting Gathering (YMG) at Warwick University for a few days before I received an email from The Editor asking if I could report back to Bath Local Meeting on my thoughts and experiences at YMG. Not usually lost for words, I was daunted by this simple request: how could I describe everything I was learning and feeling for other people to read?

As the week went on, and especially after I’d returned home and had time to reflect, I realised there were four main things that I had taken away from my exciting, challenging, and exhausting week at YMG:

There’s a big Quaker world out there:  there were 1,400 Quakers at YMG this year, and I felt a real sense of being part of a much bigger Quaker community beyond local and area meeting. This was both through the warm and welcoming Friends that were there in person and the many thousands more that they represented from their local meetings. Someone had put up a ‘map’ of how all the Quaker groups and meetings fit together – it looks like a new galaxy waiting to be explored.

This ‘map’ of how all the Quaker groups and meetings fit together: it looks like a new galaxy waiting to be explored.

Quakers have been in business for hundreds of years: I found the main sessions where we dealt with ‘Quaker business’ utterly compelling. I thought at first I’d miss a few plenary sessions to join in the other activities that were available at the same time, but instead I found the business meetings too interesting to miss. I think it was being part of a tradition and a way of doing business that had its roots so many centuries ago. I did not speak in any of the sessions; yet I felt that my silent presence, gathered with so many others, really did contribute to the proceedings and help draw Yearly Meeting to its conclusion.

There is much in Quakerism that I find personally challenging: I encountered so many new ideas and different views at YMG that were both inspiring and challenging. Every day there was something new to reflect on and to think about how I would respond. For example, in different workshops I was confronted with my own carbon footprint (not good); how far I am willing to overcome fear to become an activist (I’m not doing well on that one either); and the concept of ‘the conflict escalator’ and how quickly arguments can spiral out of control (I’ve got a lot to learn there too). Some of the ideas I will act on more quickly. Others will stay with me and develop over time, and help me ‘live out my faith in the world’ more effectively in the future.

It’s all about people: George Gorman wrote: ‘One of the unexpected things I have learnt in my life as a Quaker is that religion is basically about relationships between people’ (Quaker Faith and Practice, 10:20). My week at YMG made me realise how right he was. I met people from all over the UK and beyond. They were all individual, all different, with so many diverse interests – yet with so much in common from their shared identity as Quakers. From the companionship of my eleven lovely flatmates (none of whom I had ever met before), or the often unseen support of the people who had worked so hard to make YMG happen, to the chance encounters with new Friends throughout each day, it was the people who made YMG such an amazing experience. They inspired me, made me laugh, and sometimes made me cry. But I wouldn’t have missed YMG and their company for the world.

Will I go to YMG again? I hope so.

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