What we have that is good is very, very good. I think it should be built on – not thrown out with the bathwater.

While we need to continue to address our traditional social concerns (such as peace, justice, equality, and so on) and the new worries about the environment, global warming and genetic engineering, focussing on a single or even a small selection of issues would only give a blip in our general decline.

Quakers have always been a people apart, a spirit-led community turning inwards to God for inspiration and comfort. But we have also gone out into the world to mend it – very successfully. Because of this it has been very difficult for Quakers to come to terms with the world at large and to be “open to new light from wherever it comes”. The world has taken what we had to offer, used it and moved on. Now we are left orphaned and forgotten. We need to rejoin the world; to stoop and mend it again with worn-out tools.1

Our numbers are falling and we clearly need to build up our numbers to survive to the end of this century. But we turned our back on evangelism in the nineteenth century and most of the Quakers in the world are evangelistic, programmed Meetings. The success of Quaker Quest shows the depth of our hunger and the need of the world. In my meeting as in others up and down the country, we talk about outreach and even do a few things. It feels good and worthy but nothing seems to turn round the decline.

In the early days of The Quakers and Business Group people were asking, “What do Quakers have to say? What is special about Quakers?” Again in the early days of Quaker Quest similar questions were asked. Many times since then I hear the same questions. I’m not sure that we need to be special and unique.

Quakerism has always been profoundly and inherently mystical. Mystery is a fundamental part of our worship, beliefs, testimonies and writings. I came away from a session of the Kindlers with a profound worry that at least the people then present were looking to mysticism for the future – more of the same. Over reliance on mysticism and neglect of practical, non-mystical and science-based matters is what got us into this mess. We need to redress the balance and recover our integrity. I feel that when mystery has become an end in itself, its awe and fascination become worshipful in themselves, then it has become perverse and we need to move on lest we become paralysed by adoration.

In our practical affairs Stewardship Committee’s report Vulnerable victim, shows we are open to abuse by the world and although we have taken some steps to improve the situation there is much still to do. Our neglect of practical matters is nowhere more apparent than in the difficulty we have in filling positions of service (especially treasurers) and in the blind faith that we place on the discernment of meetings for worship for business. We need to relearn the lessons that we taught the world: integrity, responsibility, leadership, courage and so on.

It seems clear that our resources in numbers, skills, and capital are declining


Is there a crisis? It is probably true to say that every generation sees itself in a crisis and at a turning point in history. In this we are no different from them, but is there more to our present than this?

The core of Quaker belief, doctrine and practice remains sound and I feel a cause for celebration: Direct personal access to God, belief in that of God in everyone, silent waiting on God in worship, busy ministry to mend to world.

Looking back over my own life I have at times lost my way. I know well the feelings of confusion, lassitude and depression that become all but overwhelming at such times. In the last generation I see the same symptoms, sometimes in individual Quakers, but too often in corporate bodies of the Society. What I see in my survey is not a lack of value, principle or ability but a lack of focus, clarity and the passion that drove Friends for three hundred years.

One Friend who knows me has accused me of being negative and I acknowledge some justification for the charge. I have deliberately brought into The Light the difficulties and shortcoming of the Society as I see them. I would remind similarly minded Friends that in order to mend the world it is first necessary to recognise what is broken and what can be improved. To make omelettes you have to break eggs.


We have become bland, with nothing new, significant or interesting to say to the wider world.2 At one time we were in danger of becoming a single-issue peace church. We have nothing significant to say publicly as a body on any issue. We are obsessive and paranoid about avoiding the possibility of confronting or offending anyone on any issue. We have become a collection of free artists, bureaucrats and public servants.

Individual Friends and occasional pockets of ‘reactionaries’ who follow the old traditional concerns and commitments do sterling work in traditional service at home and overseas belie my cutting characterisation.

There are as always groups of committed and enthusiastic Friends doing ground-breaking work.

Increasingly we are unable to manage our affairs. Our decision-making needs urgent overhaul and enhancement. Our assets are decreasing. Our numbers are decreasing and ageing. Paradoxically, we continue to meet in worship and we continue to address contemporary issues to mend the world.

In short we have lost our way. So yes, I think there is a crisis.

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