“It is love that draws us into the world and pulls us towards its brokenness” – YMG 2017 Epistle

Bath Quaker Beverley Goddard introduces the Epistle which was issued at the close of the Yearly Meeting Gathering of Quakers help in Warwick earlier this month.

For me, the Epistle captures the spirit of Yearly Meeting and complements the formal minutes. A small but dedicated team of epistle writers worked on it every day throughout the Gathering. It grew from the ministry in meetings, plus reflections from workshops and more informal discussions. When the draft Epistle was laid before the Meeting, it felt like all the strands and thoughts of the week came together in one place.

Plenary session at this year’s YMG 2017 in Warwick (photo: The Friend). The full text of the Epistle is below:

Minute 38:Living out our faith in the world: working with others to make a difference

What does it mean to live out our faith in the world, and to work with others to make a difference? We have been enlightened, inspired, and challenged to take heed of the promptings of love and truth in our hearts. It is love that draws us into the world and pulls us towards its brokenness. We have found it useful to consider the topic under the headings Heart, Head, Hands and Feet, through plenary sessions throughout the week, and in workshops, activities and conversation. 

  • Heart: the transforming leadings;
  • Head: the need to use our intellect, intuition and reason to harness that passion and energy effectively;
  • Hands: the tools and skills we bring to the work;
  • Feet: the ways in which we can work with others.

What does God require of us?

We heard moving personal testimony of the experience of brokenness, of finding common ground with others in grief, and about receiving upholding and support from our meeting communities and from strangers. If we are able to live and love on the edge, we can start to overcome and move beyond the fears that hold us back, focusing not on outcomes but on intention. Let us not be too afraid. “Oh God, grant me the blessing that I may never hesitate to perform righteous deeds.” (17th century Sikh prayer).

We may be called upon to take direct action, to be an accompanier, to be a placeholder who prepares the ground for others, or to be the one who finds someone else to act; but firstly we have to show upJust being present is vital. It is exactly ourselves that we bring, with our own feelings and emotions. Moving towards the places where the hurt is deepest can be a great release into truth, and love. Listening to the hurt and anger builds trust.

Heart speaks to heart, and stillness enables the Spirit to speak in our hearts. God will provide us with reassurance, and with loving arms around us. 

Jesus gives us an image of the “Strong One” (Mark 3: 27-28), the controlling power that takes us away from God, dehumanises and divides. The Strong One may need to be bound in order to turn the tide and change the power. In speaking Truth to Power, we may also need to offer a safety net or lifeline. But our understanding of Power is nuanced and multifaceted: the world is not divided into “them” and “us”. With responsibility comes power that can be used or abused by each of us: we all need to be bound, and we all need to be liberated and transformed. When we act collectively we can speak out in and with power. Let us call forth the power that is at work in and through all of us: the true Power, the power of God in the world who is building this movement in and for us. 

We have shared examples of activity we are already engaged with, including work on climate change, racism, the Living Wage, challenging militarisation, forced migration, tax justice and other work for equality. We have used these examples to draw out common tools and approaches to Quaker work with others. Sometimes prophetic witness or confrontation is required, sometimes the drip, drip of quiet activity over the longer term has most lasting impact, including working through the political systems. If we apply grit to the things that we love we have the opportunity to change the world. The ministry of presence is of great value: we engage, we witness, we walk alongside. We may use story to get our message across, or a noisy presence to let people know they are not forgotten, as well as silence and stillness. 

The way we work is an important witness in itself: let us acknowledge, celebrate and cherish it. 

Working in partnership with others to build a movement can lead us to question our own practices, for only when we are also working on ourselves can we witness and speak beyond Friends. Can we recognise where we need to learn and to change? Getting to know one another deeply builds relational power and gives us strength, so that we can speak from lived experience, modelling to others how our faith guides our ministry. 

In exploring a common purpose, and overcoming challenges with others, we often find common values such as truth, integrity, simplicity, and equality. We should ensure we also develop and share subtler values and practical understandings. Coming together with others, we can bring insights and learn from others, agree what needs to be done, and move forwards without having to compromise who we are or our motivations. Balance is key: balance does not mean never to wobble but comes from being able to find one’s way back to centre once something has made one sway.

We are inspired, but we are also disquieted. How do our actions sit alongside our faith, how does our ‘being’ move into ‘doing’? What is for individual activity and what will we do corporately? If we are inspired and upheld and supported in our identity and work as Quakers, is that enough? Or are we called to be more radical? 

In 2011, Britain Yearly Meeting made a commitment to become a low carbon sustainable community (Minute 36, BYM 2011). That commitment succeeds or fails on our ability to live faithful lives, not giving way to guilt, fear or anger, but acting from nowhere but love. We have heard a sense of urgency over this concern. We will continue to work for climate justice in our lives and in our meetings, trying to do the more difficult things.

We have heard the call to examine our own diversity, particularly in our committee and organisational structure, locally and nationally. Diversity has several key dimensions and more may emerge in the future. We ask Meeting for Sufferings to look at how we can remove barriers and actively seek wider participation in the full life of our meetings, paying particular attention to race and age diversity and to keep Yearly Meeting informed in their annual report.

Surely we are led firstly to be open to the Spirit, waiting and listening in faithfulness for the way forward as we worship together week after week. The source of our strength comes from our worship and our Quaker community. 

Friday 4 August, 2017

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