A Bath Quaker’s impression of Britain Yearly Meeting

Alison Harries writes

I have been an Attender at Bath Meeting for about four years. This year I decided to go to Britain Yearly Meeting in London, up to “head office” as it were, to see what Quaker things looked like from a wider angle.

It was an interesting and positive experience. Even though I only went for two of the full four days, it was intense and quite tiring. The programme was tightly packed with core sessions of Worship for Business but there were many additional opportunities. In addition to a good session on QF&P, I included tea, chat and knitting in the Pastoral Hub, which was ideally located in the Café and a perfect cure for heading off any feelings of it being “all a bit too much”.

I found myself in awe of those Friends whose roles were to organise, clerk, and write the Epistle for this Meeting. There would be many others too; whose roles I was only dimly aware of. It is an enormous task. I felt I was not very good at upholding them in this work and wondered how they felt apart from probably exhausted.

The core business was on the decision to revise Quaker Faith & Practice. My most memorable experience was sitting with about a thousand other Friends actively making decisions through a silence from whence came spoken ministry and then a Minute. Somehow a thousand people manage to park their egos outside of the collective identity of the Meeting. It is a quite extraordinary way to reach decisions. All politicians should receive an invitation to observe. Ditto most people who have to make decisions about the futures of others albeit it is time consuming and tiring.

From the decision to revise there is lots to hold. “I would like to be transformed, it’s just I don’t want to change” was a piece of spoken ministry that said it all.

We do not want to lose our favourite bit of the current QF&P but it no longer reflects or speaks to our younger Friends and current times. Institutions are revered and protected because they make us feel safe from change but if they do not change they die and take all with them.  Friends seem to understand this and undertake revision with all the heartache and hard work that it involves.

The Swarthmore Lecture was delivered from our future in the person of youthful Chris Alton. It was an inspired choice; it was not what I expected and I was challenged by my own ridiculous pre conceptions and self focused thinking. This young man cannot be a Member of the Society of Friends because he moves around so much there is no Area Meeting to which he can meaningfully belong. There is much to think about here.

As the decision to revise QF&P was moving to being a firm commitment there was some profound spoken ministry about how to hold the tensions in the process. We need to understand that out diversity as a group can be painful and that true listening makes one vulnerable. This understanding might allow us to explore ourselves further before it becomes too difficult and we shut down.

I would go again to BYM, but would be better prepared and strategic about timetabling and time out. It is clearly a very important time for meeting with old Friends, catching up, exchange of information and finding new Friends. This is all very essential.

The unpredicted benefit was the train travel with Friends from Bath Meeting. So much time to talk and get to know one another better. In the end I travelled for free. Huge delays on the return journey produced remarkable Zen patience from my companion and a full refund from GWR!

Alison Harries in the Bath Quakers’ Meeting House

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