Is There a Problem? - Short Version

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I have for many years felt dissatisfied with the state of the Society of Friends,1 as I have experienced it. In raising this essay competition the organisers imply that they and others are also in doubt about the Society’s future. I read this as some sort of validation of my own feelings.

Skipping lightly through some historical perspectives of the Society, I was struck by a discrepancy between the path of the world and the path of the Society through it. In part this is a mis-match between the science of the world and the spirituality of the Society. It seems to me that most of the Quakers whom I come across do not have a sound appreciation of what science is, what it is about and how it does its business. In part too it is because the Society has lost its way, spiritually and in the conduct of its practical affairs. Tolerance, faith and trust in one another are very important but without a strong core to anchor the individual in the community, they have led to the rootlessness that I see. How we reach important decisions is critical. I explore both the secular ways of reaching decisions and the Quaker method of discernment in a meeting for worship for business. I find shortcomings in the way people are appointed to fill jobs in both our Quaker life and Quaker service.

I conclude that the RSoF is facing a crisis.

There are many possible ways to deal with a crisis. Arbitrarily, I thought it likely that the solution to this crisis, like the crisis itself, might be rooted in the past. It seemed to me that to be acceptable to Friends, an approach must build on the strengths that we have and reflect the testimonies and achievements of our tradition.

Let me show what I mean. Our Advices and Queries characterise our Quaker faith and practice. I grew up with them and they are a fundamental part of my personal life. They suggest general directions and aims. They give general comfort and guidance. What they do not do is provide details or suggestions as to how to move in any specific direction. “Be honest with yourself.” is an aim: a suggested direction. It does not tell me how to recognise honesty in myself when I see it, or how to be honest with myself, what to do to travel towards honesty with myself, what difficulties I might encounter on the way or how to deal with them. These are matters of behaviour, technique and craft.

Going on a journey, a map shows me where some things are: its my choice where I want to go. A timetable tells me when the trains, busses and planes run but I choose which to take and when to take them. Understanding and being able to execute the how of travelling enables me to journey where I want to go. Without this ability my journey remains only a longing – the Emerald City without a Yellow Brick Road.2

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