A New Framework For Action



To say what is wrong is not enough. Not just what needs to be done but how, when, where and by whom. What barriers must be overcome? What threats and dangers (risk) must be managed? What will it cost and how long will it take? What spiritual resources (skills, knowledge, methods, facilities) will be needed? What judgement, wisdom, discernment will be needed? What inspections, corrections and preventive measures will be needed? What should be celebrated?

Reasonable and expected these questions assume a closed knowledge system, a fixed determined simple world. What we are dealing with is an open spiritual world through which we are journeying and from which the future will emerge as it will.

In this essay I’m looking for a pressure point where a small effort, a small change, a different attitude can make a significant difference and magnify the benefit of Quaker action in several areas. Business jargon calls this gearing or leverage.

“Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I will move the world.” Archimedes, 280-211 BC

Tinkering with human beings and with our real social relationships is rightly hedged around with ethical and moral taboos. We can only move forward to improve our personal behaviours and mend the world in a strong, ethical, moral and deeply caring community. Only then can we know ‘experimentally’. Here we can listen to God objectively and by experience; listen to others and interact with them to improve our craftsmanship in spiritual interactions. This is answering that of God – in myself, in the world, in others – as George Fox enjoined us.

The state, the media, the traditional Christian Church and I suspect other religions, are not equipped or empowered to create, maintain and use an ethical spirit-led community of the sort needed to craft interpersonal and spiritual relationships with morality and integrity. Quakers, already a spirit-led community with a philosophy of open revelation and a reputation for integrity might be able to do it.


2.1 Individuals

I aspire to be a Master Quaker and I hope others will do the same.

We can all work on improving our personal relations and our behaviour within them. We can explore and develop relationships that are new to us, new-to-us sorts of relationship. We can all make more use of the relationships that we already enjoy.

I might do this through reading. One way is to read (with discernment and wisdom) in psychology, sociology, life skills and self-help books. I might work with new groups of committed people, by seek new contacts (networking), take training courses, study days, workshops and so on.

My single most important action is to observe (pay attention to, take note of, think about, interpret) the relationships around me, to observe my actions and their results. Observation alone is not enough. I must engage with others: smile, start a conversation and keep it going, take the initiative, join or create a new group, respond positively and with encouragement to even the most negative behaviour of others, take time to be with people and time to be with myself. I also need to live adventurously and experimentally: to explore new relationships but to try new (to me) ways of thinking and feeling about a relationship, to try (after proper consideration and discernment) new acts and conversations.

To improve my interaction skills I need to learn (and perhaps research) more about how interactions work, how to control them through my own behaviour.

In face to-face encounters there is not much time for careful consideration, thought, planing and so on. I find thought and speech difficult and if I don’t do something I get sidelined in conversations and thus socially ignored. The most practical time for though and planning is before the encounter. The best time for observation understanding and interpretation is after the encounter. Too often I rush off to the next encounter, deal with the next interruption or the next panic. Sometimes these are indeed important and urgent but more often it is useful to take a moment to consider.

Through my better craft I hope to make my life happier and more successful, help the people around me improve their relationships and have better, happier lives. An important part of this is to spend time and use my skills to restore decaying and broken interactions and relations that I find around me.

Master Quakers do all these things deliberately, with courage, dedication and persistence. They craft and restore relationships with themselves, with God and with other people.

2.2 Local meetings

As an existing community, whether thriving or failing, my local Meeting is a theatre for improving existing relationships and building new relationships. It is a face-to-face community that evolves and changes over time with a lifecycle of its own. It is created by the lives (spiritual journeys) of individuals weaving through it. It lives and works as long as there are people to make the whole cloth: otherwise it wears thin, frays and falls apart.

Meeting for Worship is a time for building my relationship with God. It is also a time for corporately deepening our commitment to each other and for building the fundamentals of our relationships in the Spirit, corporately as a community.

The Master Quakers come to meeting for worship for business with mind prepared with understanding of the matter to be considered, with researched consideration of the people who might be affected, both now and in the future; come with heart prepared by recognising their own biases, limitations and feelings; by being clear on the critical moral issues in contrast to the ‘simpler’ factual, scientific or legal matters; by centering themselves to be open to the Light and to work with the sense of the meeting.

Master Quakers see some people in the Meeting with skills and relationships that they value. They try to emulate them. They work with them, talk with them, share their activities, cooperate with them and learn from them in the formal and informal activities of the meeting, chatting before and after meeting over coffee.

Meetings will help and support its individual members with training days and courses, interaction clinics, mentors in interactions and spiritual journeying.

The local Meeting has a critical function, to create and maintain an ethical community first among its own members and then in its local community (religious, commercial, public service, local government, leisure activities and so on). Training mentoring and so on can be extended into this community. Also important are things like whistle-blowing, non-executive directors.

Every meeting has activities outside formal worship and committees: outreach, workdays, study courses and social activities. Master Quakers take a prominent role in these: organising them, managing them, leading them and taking part in them. Master Quakers take special interest in the craft-building parts of these activities – seminars, conferences, workshops, clinics.

2.3 Core meetings

As I understand them Area and other meetings upto and including BYM gather together to conduct (among other things) the administrative and management of several smaller more local meetings and cover a wider geographical area with a larger population.

The Master Quakers’ role in theses gatherings is similar to their role in local meetings. Their church is larger and their responsibilities and resources are correspondingly greater. Master Quakers collect and share craft knowledge and skills over a wider group, particularly where one Friend has special knowledge or skill needed elsewhere. In applications for membership Master Quakers look for seeds of Quaker craft to nurture. In testimonies to the Grace of God in life of departed Friends, Master Quakers highlight the Friend’s craft that informs and inspires others in the use and development of their own craft. In considering our methods, procedures and principles for the administration and governance of our society, Master Quakers pay particular attention to the use and development of Quaker craftsmanship. New Quaker Testimonies capture and reflect our Quaker craft as earlier Testimonies have done on specific social issues.

The area Meeting also supports its local meetings in the same way that the local meeting support its own members.

2.4 Supporting Organisations

In addition to our core worshiping community from individual Friends to yearly meeting, we have organisations and institutions (that may also be worshiping communities) which provide a range of supporting and specialist services to Quakerism. I include the central organisations of Meeting for Sufferings, the Recording Clerks’ Office, QPSW, QL, Quaker centres such as Woodbrooke, and international organisations such as QUNO and FWCC. One might also include smaller or more specific organisations like QSA, Six-weeks Meeting, QHT, and so on.

Master Quakers will deploy and develop their craft in the administration and management of our physical and spiritual resources as they do in smaller communities. Master Quakers have special opportunities for academic and practical research to develop the theory and knowledgebase of the Quaker craft and to package it for use by Master Quakers and others elsewhere. Some of this involves interpreting, applying and coordinating results for other disciplines such as anthropology, psychology, sociology and philosophy. Some of it involves collecting and analysing the experience of Quakers and others in practical fields such as social work, counselling, commerce, social action, politics and peace work. Some of this work gives rise to principles and practices that are amenable to field studies, and trials as is done in many practical branches of science and engineering.

We are already familiar with packaging our experience and insights in journals from The Friend to Quaker Studies and in newspaper reports and editorials. We understand packing ideas in training courses, seminars, resources for children’s groups and so on. Quaker craft might also be packaged as websites, films, computer games, apprenticeships, mentoring, commercial publications, exhibitions and so on.

Master Quakers in some organisations are custodians of craft resources, making books, films, and electronic media assessable to and available to Master Quakers and others who need them.

2.5 Action in the field

Quakers in commercial organisations, Quakers in politics, Quakers in local government are as much in the front-line as Quakers in Ethiopia, Afghanistan or Bolivia.

All the usual areas of social action: poverty, homelessness, politics, money and finance, justice, prisons, health, law and order, education, business and commerce. More recent concerns: parenting, heritage, media, terrorism, global ecology, and governance.

Master Quakers in work programmes to mend the great social issues of the day (peace, justice, exploitation, commerce, politics and so on) not only deploy their craft in managing their organisation but use their craft at the ‘coal face’ of their operations and, through their front-line work, help those they work with to mend their own relationships. Of course first-aid and emergency care are needed but so is treatment of acute and chronic dis-ease, restoration of mal-function and prevention of ill-ness. Front-line and back office workers use the packaged resources that are appropriate to their work situation and to the start of their personal journey. Deploying Quaker craftsmanship in supporting front-line workers through the difficult times and the bad times is perhaps the most demanding of all the Quaker craft situations.

The internet and the media, now such a large part of our lives are relatively new to the social scene and need some special care. Most (but not all) Friends are on the internet and use the web in one way or another. Most (but again not all) Friends have a use a television for four or more hours a day. Most (but not all) friends have an use a mobile phone. Electronic communication is a different from written communication as the written word is from the spoken word. Texting is not just a new language, it’s a new social phenomenon. Gaming is as old as human society but allied with the power and addition of computers it has become a new phenomenon. Sport has always been a simulation of and a training for more serious life activities – war, work, spiritual development. Through the media it is now a massive business that sets example for young and old. Soap-operas and reality TV have come a long way since The Archers and Mrs Dale’s Diary (if you are old enough to remember them). For many (too many?) people they have perverted the gossip among friends and neighbours that informally maintained the fabric of a community. The challenge is not to bemoan the past or to walk away in horror but to find ways to make the internet and the media work for us – turn their swords into real ploughshares.


We all have interpersonal skills and relationships with other people. We have membership of a Quaker community and its organisation. So we can all start here and start now.


QPSW, QL and Quaker charities are already working with people and their interactions. We have organisations and structures in place. Many Friends are trained, psychologists, counsellors, life coaches, managers and technologists of many types. Many are craftsmen in their own fields and careers. Many have academic and research skills as well as practical crafts. As many Friends have found, ‘retirement’ is a time to walk away from the demands of the instant consumerist individual society and use those lifetime crafts in the service of a better society – even a Quaker one. IN short the seeds of Quaker craftsmanship are already with us and struggling to grow.

In short each of us should work at our Quaker craft. Local meetings, Area meetings, ‘Quarterly’ meetings and Yearly meeting should be actively and positively supporting individual Friends at the coal face of their spiritual journeys answering that of God. QPSW, QL, Woodbrooke and the retreat centres have special roles in research, education, training, resource development, and publishing to develop and deploy Quaker craftsmanship.


The fundamental cost is not money, which is just as well since none of us any to spare. The real cost is in personal effort. The challenge is to the spirit, not the pocket, in courage, dedication, persistence, discipline, initiative, leadership, stress. The challenge is to wrestle with the angel of God, to be changed by it and to realise the vision.


There is no ‘silver bullet’. It took 30 years to take on board John Stephenson Rowntree’s reforms. I expect it to take about the same time to turn round our present Society. To use an un-Quakerly analogy, it takes a mile or so to turn round a battleship, but a person can turn round in a single step.

One thing is for sure if we don’t start now it will never happen.

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