Master Quaker



You all know I am a Quaker. For me, being a Quaker is about my personal relationships and my behaviour in them – based of course on my Quaker beliefs about our relationship with God and the testimonies of generations of Quakers.

Some of you know that I have recently come to think of myself as a craftsman in furniture restoration. At other times in my life I have exercised other crafts such as computer programming, teaching, parenthood, research and business.

Jesus of Nazareth was a carpenter and George Fox was an itinerant shoemaker. Both of them were artisan craftsmen with a business to run and a living to make.

Like all craftsmen they worked with a material of choice, wood or leather, and used the tools appropriate to their trade. They changed the physical and social world around them. They were committed, intense and spiritual people, focussed on the job in hand and intolerant of mistakes or poor quality work. Often they were very uncomfortable people to be around.

Musing on this I thought it might be fun to ask what would a master of the craft of being a Quaker be like?


Here I am talking about the craftsmanship of being an active Quaker. Not to be confused with either the Quaker who happens to be a craftsman in some other domain or the person who claims membership of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain but who, for whatever reason, takes little active part in its functions.

Mending the world means restoring the functional integrity of the world modifying it to approach our ideal – achieving and realising God’s will creating heaven on earth. Hopefully the characteristics of the furniture restorers will give an insight into the restorer aspect of the Quaker craftsman’s efforts to mend the world.


The domain of the craftsman Quaker is Quakerism itself, from worship to outward concerns, in William Penn’s term godliness. The material at the focus of Quakerism for the purpose of this discussion and the part on which craftsmanship beats most strongly is our experience of personal relationships with God, with other people and with our self. As Penn points out our purpose is to endeavour to mend the world. There is of course more to Quakerism than this but that is not the focus of my interest here.


The craftsman Quaker’s skills have to do with the formation and maintenance and improvement of personal relations through interactions. Skills in gathering for meetings for worship, skills in prayer and ministry. Skills in healing, organisation, management, administration of our local and other corporate bodies, skills in dealing with our own spiritual experience and with that of others.

The tools that we have for this are conversation, verbal and non-verbal communications aided by technology, media and the Web.


As Quakers from a Christian tradition we have an extensive body of knowledge and experience of God, that of God in others, knowledge of oneself and understanding of the world and our place in it. However it seems to me that compared to the knowledge of the hand craftsman or the technologist is poorly organised and less reliable that it could be.

Science is not usually thought of in Quaker terms, although there have been eminent scientists who were Quaker. The Master Quaker’s quest for truth drives a search for objective evidence to confirm or disprove perceptions, interpretations and understandings – one’s own as well as those presented by others. The Mater Quaker avoids making assumptions unless there is no alternative and is always ready to abandon an assumption if there is objective evidence to the contrary. Master Quakers modify their understandings, theories, and methods as reliable and trustworthy information becomes available and does not hang on to a worn out dogma because it is traditional or comes from an unimpeachable authority.

Clearly science-based knowledge is applicable to personal relationships and personal behaviour that are at the core of Quakerism. [I recognise the existence of extreme, deviant and mentally ill relations that occur in the health, justice and other systems. These are important and serious concerns but most Quakers do not encounter them on a regular basis.]

There is scope for revisiting this area and perhaps reconsidering patterns of belief.

We rely on the tacit knowledge that we all possess of personal relationships.

Typically Quakers are self-educated in Quakerism, supported by general education above secondary level. Many of us have supplemented our education by Woodbrooke courses, local seminars and study days organised by local meeting or area meetings. Typically Quakers are self-trained in Quakerism, supported by their general social skill and experience.


While we might differ about details, we all share the values expressed in our testimonies to integrity, equality, peace, simplicity, truth and so on.


People and their relationships are the domain of craftsmen Quakers

Professional Quakers are found in central work at Friends House, in Quaker institutions, in Quaker wardens (now known as Friends in Residence) and in certain organisations where individuals functions specifically as Quakers.

In a different sense many Quaker are or have been in professional occupations.

There is scope for applying professional standards and ethics into the craft of being a Quaker.


Individually and corporately we have hundreds of years of experience in silent worship, and mending the world through exercising our concerns in social issues, and in our chosen occupations. All these bring s into contact with others and with ourselves.

Quakers own property and manage their financial affairs. There is scope for raising the craftsmanship with which these functions are typically executed.

++2.7 DESIGN

There is scope for deliberate design of worship and personal relationships

A Master Quaker works with people’s behaviour and relationships to change the world. The Master Quaker is in love with people and their relationships and is passionate about better behaviour and more satisfying relationships. The relationships that I think are most important are the small, day-to-day encounters and relationships in my home, the supermarket, on the tube and at my work – even in Local Meetings and Meetings for Worship for Business.

In every situation, the Master Quaker sets high standards of ethics and behaviour for himself and for others. He recognises errors and is not afraid to undo a mistake and rework it.

The Master Quaker never forgets nor neglects the basics of relating to people – listening, being polite, caring and speaking out. Each encounter is a new and exciting experience – pleasant or not. The Master Quaker is constantly learning and improving. He is never fully satisfied with a relationship or a behaviour.

The Master Quaker is not interested in setting an example but enthusiastically mentors and guides others, teaches and trains apprentices in the skills and knowledge of the craft.

All this sounds worthy and weighty, but then I came to some scary stuff.

We take it for granted that everyone has good social skills, can talk and listen and cooperate with others, can be entertaining and is comfortable with others. The Master Quaker does not take these skills for granted but continually works at them and improves both his own skills and those of the people around him.

A master craftsman not only designs ships, houses and shoes but because each foot and each piece of leather is different, designs the processes of making and repairing. So the Master Quaker could be found solving human problems, designing new relationships, figuring out ways to make them happen and doing what is needed.

Traders like carpenters and shoe-makers, know all about uncertainties and managing risks in their trade and in their craft. But tinkering with my behaviour and personal relationships isn’t just risky, it’s downright dangerous. I could find myself in a very uncomfortable situation and might be forced to grow spiritually.

The idea of a Master Quaker being an entrepreneur in personal relationship is seriously scary.


A Master Quaker is someone who aspires to or has mastered the craft of Quakerism; the practical business or working with personal relationships and through them mending the world, in short answering that of God.

Master Quakers are responsible for this ethical environment. One cannot do it alone they need to work together sharing their craft and supporting each other.

The Master Quaker and Quaker Restorer deliberately develop their personal skills and knowledge. They wrestle with their own demons and nurture their own angels. They strengthen their own discernment of God both in their spiritual experience and in their understanding of the world. Seeking and achieving mastery of personal relationships is not confined to Quakers. There are many master manipulators out there who use their abilities for good and for bad. I see them as people to be learned from and in some cases to be guarded against lest our own vulnerabilities come to be exploited unscrupulously.

It is some decades since I was an active Young Friend and I have had little involvement with the young people of the meetings to which I have belonged. However I seen no difference in principle between a young Master Quaker and an older Master Quaker. I do see Master Quakers passing through earlier stages of apprenticeship and journeyman to achieve mastery of their Quaker craft. Maturing in the craft can start at any age.

How can one learn to design and build better relationships? Better because everyone reading this will have learned more or less effective ways to make a relationship with someone else. The idea here is to improve existing relationships, to make more good relationships and so have a richer better quality of life.

Master Quakers deploy their craft in the conduct of worship, business meetings, decision-making and discernment and in sharing and working with individuals. They bring their craft to bear on the content and substance of informal conversations and formal discussions. They focus on the personal relationships, the spiritual experience and the moral aspects of their encounters. They plan and manage their own relationships and help others to do the same. They share their insights with each other they seek opportunities to learn in informal exchanges, training sessions, well-founded texts and so on. They use others as examples, patterns and mentors and themselves serve as examples, patterns and mentors to others.

Through writings and other means they contribute to the development of tangible resources for improving relationships – guides, articles, handbooks, course materials, books, presentations, films, websites, journals and so on.

They organise and take part in the delivery of craft resources to other Master Quakers, attenders and where possible members of the public.

Master Quakers play a crucial role in building, operating and maintaining the ethical community of their own and related meetings. They play the role of the health care system for the personal relationships of their meeting and for the other people they encounter, in family life, in their careers and their lifestyle. There are three parts to this: building new relationships, maintaining and developing existing relationships and repairing worn or broken relationships. The Master Quaker Restorer is the most difficult and the least recognised of these.

Quaker Restoration means detecting when relationships are under strain (ideally before the players are aware of it themselves), diagnosing the underlying cause (using whatever tools and knowledge are available and consulting as necessary), devising a course of treatment and executing it with the help of others. As in medicine we are dealing with real human relationships, in the real world with real hurt and real joy. This can only be undertaken in an environment of integrity (honesty, trust, openness), deep caring and tested moral commitment – an ethical, Spirit-based community.


There are all sorts of commercial, self-help courses, websites and books on interpersonal skills, computer-based cognitive behaviour therapies, life coaching. Some are well founded in research and practical experience others are very dubious. Quakers have an opportunity to sift and use what’s good in an ethical climate.

Worship skills: what do people do in Meeting for Worship, getting in touch with the Spirit, coping with distractions, ministry of silence, vocal ministry, prepared ministry. Positive help, support and training, ways to constantly improve, recognising the light, recognising a leading.

Conversation skills: listening, body language, dance of gestures, rules of interacting, changing the subject, conversations with structure or purpose, recognising that of God in others – however difficult, dealing with prejudice and limitations of others, dealing with own limitations and prejudices

Presentation skills: formal presentation, reporting, information, facilitation, leading a discussion, prepared ministry, writing for publication.

Committee skills: preparation, order and agenda, keeping to the point, sense of the meeting, minutes, stewardship

Organisation skills: organising informal groups, logistics, dealing with contention, dealing with emotional outbursts, providing overseer practical support, providing, eldership support, providing technical support, managing the group process support, coordinating skills and abilities to good effect, procuring resources, finding money, managing money, accountability and transparency

Political skills: navigating through sensitivities, using the system, making use of contacts and networks, achieving what is possible, asking the right questions in the right way at the right time. Coping with stealth and clandestine activities, manipulating and being manipulated, bullying, bribery, lies and half truths

Trust, faith: trusting the unreliable, faith in the faithless, supporting the trusted, supporting those who trust and have faith in others, stewardship, governance, openness.

Dealing with distrust, fear, deception, dishonesty and violence when they are offered to you. Dealing with one’s own fears and lack of trust.

Working with common sense: helping others to deal effectively with common life situations honestly and openly. Simple education, training information and understanding for the less fortunate as well as for ourselves.

Coping with apathy, disenchantment, scepticism, active and passive resistance.

Caring skills: Caring about people as individuals, keeping in touch, listening, being there, empathizing, gossiping, sharing time and activities, being joyful together, working together and do on.

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