G is for God

I believe in God.

I also agree with the non-theists. As far as I can make out I don’t believe in the God that they don’t believe in.

That is, I don’t believe in (among other things): an old man sitting on a cloud; a Being who throws thunderbolts, causes earthquakes and hurricanes; created the world in seven days; does what humans demand in their prayers. I acknowledge that ‘God’ may be a construct of the human imagination, to me that does not make God less ‘real’ or less important.

I do believe in something: some force that is benevolent, purposeful, healing, loving, within and beyond us, with which we can choose to align ourselves, which we can allow to act through us.

Sitting in expectant waiting with others is one way that I can be more aware of this Presence, but mindful breathing or walking, alone or with others, and chanting with others, work just as well for me. Other people will find different methods that suit them. To me what seems vital is that we pause to listen, and that we respond in action.

I could write more – but I won’t. Silence and action will say more than words.


F is for Food

Thinking about sustainability and becoming a low carbon community leads us to think about food. Watford Meeting has been challenged by some of our younger members to ask what we can do to encourage our community (both Quakers and the wider community) to move towards eating in a more sustainable way. Vast amounts of food are wasted daily by supermarkets and other outlets because it is past it ‘sell by’ date although still perfectly good to eat. Vast amounts of fuel are used transporting food from place to place which could be saved if we ate food produced nearer to home. Vast amounts of food that is perfectly good for human consumption is wasted by feeding it to animals to turn into meat for us. Vast amounts of artificial fertilisers and pesticides are used unnecessarily that would not be required in a well balanced mixed organic farming system.


Local research has shown that much of the short-dated food in Watford is being collected and distributed to those who might otherwise be hungry, so current efforts are looking at ways we might improve access to locally grown and produced food, reducing food miles and chemical usage. Our ‘food group’ is working on plans for local distribution of food boxes from a farmer in Hertfordshire.

Last year our meeting house garden was home to some chickens who provided entertainment and eggs, until they became a meal for one of the local foxes. I understand our warden plans to try again this spring.


Many Quakers have already felt moved to become vegetarian or vegan to reduce their impact on the environment, reduce animal suffering and help make food supplies go round. While it is sometimes argued that this is a middle class lifestyle choice, it is not actually a more expensive option, though it does require some thinking through and learning to achieve a balanced diet.



Another aspect of food is its role in building community. Shared meals are a wonderful opportunity to enjoy one another’s company and get to know one another better. Currently, in Watford Quaker Meeting, we have opportunities to meet for breakfast on those Sundays that we have all age worship (about to increase from four times a year to eight or nine) and for lunch on the third Sunday of most months. Breakfast is usually cereal & croissants to keep things simple to prepare. Lunch is generally on a bring and share basis (bringing being encouraged but not insisted upon). Sometimes all age worship activities include the preparation of food to be eaten for lunch – soup, bread and fruit crumble become a feast. And then there is always Area meeting tea – a highlight of the Quaker month.


Another aspect of food is realising that there are those in our community who at times can not afford food. Watford, like many other places, now has a food bank, which is fortunately finding larger premises to enable it to meet growing demand. It still need financial and volunteer support in order to continue to operate.

So next time you eat, stop for a moment to give thanks for having something to eat, for all the work that has gone in to providing it for you, for those you are sharing it with, and what you can do to help ensure that the food we have available is more fairly shared so that everyone has enough.

F is for Fox and Farnsworth

In the Footsteps of George Fox and Richard Farnsworth


A famous incident in early Quaker history is the day George Fox climbed Pendle Hill:


‘In 1652, George Fox journeyed towards the north-west: As we went I spied a great high hill called Pendle Hill, and I went on the top of it with much ado, it was so steep; but I was moved of the Lord to go atop of it; and when I came atop of it I saw Lancashire sea; and there atop of the hill I was moved to sound the day of the Lord; and the Lord let me see atop of the hill in what places he had a great people to be gathered.’ Quaker Faith & Practice 19.06

Some years ago I climbed Pendle Hill with a group of Friends, following in the footsteps of Fox. This is the account I wrote shortly afterwards.


The weather forecast was grim, but we resolved to wrap up well, take spare clothes and stick with plan A – climb Pendle Hill.The forecasters were right, it poured and poured.

We began with an introduction from Jenny Pool and the warden at Sawley Meeting House, then drove as near the summit as possible in the minibus. Clad in stout boots and waterproofs, equipped with walking poles, we set off up the hill, though we could see little apart from each other! Fortunately, people have set rock steps in one side of the hill, so a path is clear and firm.

I walked and walked, soon taking each step as the only thing that mattered, planting each foot mindfully on the next rock. Eventually I could go no further, and Anna and I sat on a rock, while the others went on to the summit. It was good to sit quietly together, in the pouring rain, to eat a sandwich, talk a little, watch the landscape appear and disappear again before us. I learnt a lot about when to go on, when to stop, when to let go, about the importance of the journey and of companions, about the unimportance of the goal.

We all empathised with the other person in Fox’s account – Richard Farnsworth – who had a bad leg and walked round the Hill, meeting Fox again on the other side.

Then, down the hill – ‘let’s be honest’ said Anna ‘we are walking down here in a waterfall’ – to dry (or drier) clothes and the most welcome tea and biscuits at Settle Meeting House.


I’ve thought quite a lot since about the role of a companion on a journey, both physical journeys and our spiritual journeys. In my story there are the companions in the group who set off together and the precious companionship of Anna who was willing to stop with me when I could not go on. In Fox’s story there is Richard Farnsworth walking round the hill with his bad leg. Due to my multiple sclerosis, I have a weak leg which inhibits my walking. I imagine them meeting again, perhaps staying overnight in an inn on the other side, and Richard listening to George’s experience. I hope they had a good meal at this point, Fox had apparently not eaten for several days prior to climbing the hill. Richard had been convinced in Balby when George spoke there, he appears several times in Fox’s Journal, and is one of the elders who signed the epistle from the elders at Balby a few years later. My companions on this occasion were my fellow students on ‘Equipping for Ministry’ so we were also sharing another journey. The value of being there to listen to and support one another is enormous, it is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another.


E is for Equipping for Ministry

Engaging with the World, the Evolving Tradition and Experience of the Spirit, three good E’s form the core strands of the Equipping for Ministry course at Woodbrooke. This two-year, part-time course is the Quaker equivalent of formal training for the priesthood. In fact, since we have abandoned the laity and espoused the priesthood of all believers, it is necessary to make this sort of training available to all our members. Providing this training was the principle aim of the founders of Woodbrooke. Equipping for Ministry is its current format, one intended to fit into modern life styles.

At Yearly Meeting in 2007, I was drawn to the special interest group about Equipping for Ministry. I came out of that short meeting knowing that this was for me, it was only a matter of when. Later in 2007 all seemed to fall into place, I was in good health, both my children were grown and away at university, my spouse was in a new job which looked settled and secure. My family and my meeting all supported me, so I put in an application and was accepted.

The course began on a dark, wet, snowy evening in January. I nearly got lost going to Woodbrooke (despite having been many times) because I couldn’t see out of the bus windows. The bus driver and my fellow passengers were very helpful and ensured I got off at the right stop (which is right outside the gate). Was I glad to arrive!

Welcome Friend

That first weekend was about getting to know our group – that was supportive and fun; meeting our personal tutors – I was very anxious about that, but it turned out fine; and considering what ‘ministry’ might mean – a huge and scary topic! Ministry can be anything that we are called to do, from lovingly preparing a bed for a guest to non-violent direct action at a military base, from listening to someone who needs to talk to speaking out publicly about what is wrong in the world. I ended the weekend feeling for Jonah and understanding his desire to run away. Over the next few weeks I realised that I was not being called to Ninevah, but was being called to stay in Watford (where I’ve lived most of my life, despite a teenage determination to leave).

The week-long residentials that all participants do together are structured to cover the three themes, and are also an important part of bringing each group of participants together. They also build relationships between Woodbrooke staff and EfM students.

For my short courses, I had initially wanted to do lots about other faiths, particularly thinking to be better equipped for more interfaith work. During the first residential week I realised that to communicate better with people of other faiths I needed to be better grounded in my own, so I choose some courses that looked at Christian and Quaker history and at the Bible. This change of plan is a very common experience among EfM students.


What about the project? Hearing that students are expected to do a project, something that they work on between visits to Woodbrooke, daunts many prospective Equipping for Ministry students. ‘It can be anything’ we’re told – which doesn’t necessarily make it less daunting. I decided early on to do a ‘pre-project’. I aimed to ‘walk mindfully around Watford listening for that of God’ for a couple of months and to see what arose. I ended up taking a lot of photographs, ‘listening’ with my eyes. At the end of this I spend several hours in Woodbrooke’s art room mounting some of the pictures and making a collage that responded to the themes that emerged – a balance between ‘fear’ and ‘hope’.


My project later emerged, I called it ‘sharing what I’m learning’. People thought I meant teaching, but that isn’t quite it. What I was learning was about how we learn, and how we can discover what we already know, and how people can be helped to do that. I call it facilitating. In practice for my project I convened the core group in my meeting that ran ‘Quaker Quest’ in the autumn of 2008, participated in the trial stages of ‘Becoming Friends’ in 2009 and ran a few ‘study group’ sessions for local Friends. All very practical activities. These activities have led on to others since I finished the course. My involvement in ‘Becoming Friends’ led to becoming an online companion for the course and to leading courses for prospective companions. The study group we offered as a follow-up to Quaker Quest has run and run, evolving into a light group and a spiritual journeys group.

So what did I gain from Equipping for Ministry? A desire to go on learning; the confidence to share with others; the privilege of being a companion to newcomers through ‘Becoming Friends’; a group of very supportive Friends in the shape of my fellow students: a much greater appreciation of Woodbrooke’s gardens through seeing them so many different times of year.


If you feel Equipping for Ministry may be for you do visit the website to find out more, or ask me questions via the comments box.

E is for Experience

I was asked: What is the ground of your faith as a Friend? Experience, I replied. However many words we use or don’t use, I believe that the essential thing about the Quaker Way is the experience. When I sit in silent expectant waiting with Friends something happens. Sometimes I am not even aware of it at the time, other times I am dramatically or uncomfortably aware of the spirit moving. Over the years I have learnt a lot, and have been changed, by allowing the spirit to move in me. And I keep coming back for more. I also read, discuss, debate and listen. Those are all good ways to learn, to share and to increase our understanding. But the ground of my faith is the experience of meeting for worship.

Barmoor sitroom

I can then go and read extracts from George Fox’s journal and find evidence of the same: ‘Thus, when God doth work who shall let (ie hinder) it? And this I knew experimentally.’ QF&P 19.02, but this is similar to that which Fox also says: ‘This I saw in the pure openings of the Light without the help of any man, neither did I then know where to find it in the Scriptures; though afterwards, searching the Scriptures, I found it.’ QF&P 19.04. That is, I can find others reporting the same experience, but it is the experience that comes first.

Having said this, I commend to you that you might try sitting in silent expectant waiting with other Quakers. Opportunities to do so (in Britain at least) can be located by visiting the Quakers in Britain website and using the ‘Find a Quaker meeting’ search box.