O is for Outreach

As a student I was involved in religious broadcasting on student radio. How many people ever listened, other than those of us producing the programmes, we’ll never know. Even at the time we were aware that it wasn’t very many, if any. However, we took the view that if even one person stopped for a moment and thought for a moment, then our efforts were worthwhile.

Basically, this is still my view. If I can persuade one person to stop and to listen, to be still for one moment so that they have some chance to hear that inner voice – then that is success. That is my aim in outreach. I believe that once a person can hear that inner voice, they have the chance to heed it. Whether or not they do is their free choice. It is not for me to say where it will lead them.

If it leads them to the Quaker way it may be my role to support them in that. It may be my role to point them elsewhere. It may be my role to have no further contact or feedback or even awareness that they stopped and listened.

So I continue to accept opportunities to help on Quaker stalls, to speak in schools, to write a blog. We don’t have to try and convert anybody, but we do need to let people know that: we are here, we haven’t died out and don’t intend to, our way if applicable to the modern world, we don’t just eat porridge and they are welcome to join us for as short or long a time as is helpful to them.

O is for Oats

Quakers? They eat porridge don’t they?

It’s a common belief. And some of us do quite like porridge. Occasionally. Not all the time. But Quaker oats really have nothing to do with us, the company just borrowed the name because of it’s implications of honesty and wholesomeness. I guess that is flattering.

Here’s my personal answer to the Quakers and porridge oats question. It’s perennially popular with my office colleagues, at study groups, shared lunches and area meeting teas. I might make some for my Buddhist sangha sometime soon. It’s also wheat-free and vegan.



In a large saucepan, melt together:

5oz soft brown sugar

5oz margarine (the old fashioned hard kind works best)

2 tablespoons golden syrup

Then add:

8oz porridge oats

3 oz currants

Mix well, press into a greased swiss roll tin, bake at 180/gas 4 for about 30 minutes or 190/gas 5 of about 25 minutes. When done it will be lightly browned and ‘set’. If it’s still ‘runny’ in the middle, put it back in the oven for 5 – 10 minutes.

Cut into slices while still warm. Leave in the tin until cold.

The sugar can be light or dark brown, or any other sugar you happen to have. The golden syrup can be black treacle, or a mixture. The currants can be omitted altogether, or replaced by chopped dried apricots, or chopped mixed peel, or whatever you fancy! ‘Magic carpet’ cake tin liner makes it a lot easier to get the flapjacks out.

Cook, enjoy, share – perhaps with one of those people who thinks that Quakers live on porridge?

N is for Nothing

A bonus entry for N, considering some aspects of nothing …


A Quaker Shop (for National Quaker Week)


We have nothing in the window

We have nothing in the store

We have no thing to sell


We put books into the window

We put leaflets on the stall

We have something to tell


We ask you in to meet with us

To come and do nothing with us

We have something to share


When we meet in emptiness

Make a space in business

We find some other there


We put no price on what we give

Just offer a way to try and live

We have God’s Love to share

N is for Numbers

Every week I count the number of friends attending meeting for worship. I don’t record it, but I keep a rough mental note. Last year Watford had attendances of about 40 – 50 on a Sunday morning, and 3 – 5 Wednesday lunchtime. This year Sunday attendances are about 30 – 40, recently Wednesdays have seen 5 – 7 people present.

Nationally the tabular statement for 2009 showed an increase of in adults involved with Quaker meetings, as did 2010’s. There was some rejoicing among Friends. 2011 and 2012 saw decreases. There is some anxiety among Friends. These fluctuations are less than 1% per year. Some of the decreases are due to the efforts of area meetings to make the numbers a true picture, which may involve terminating the membership of some people who have had no contact with their local meeting for many years. Obviously, there is an ongoing reduction in numbers due to deaths and there are some resignations (though some members who resign continue to attend meetings for worship, and are, thus, included in the figures for attenders).

Do these numbers matter? Yes, to an extent. I think it is as well for us to be aware of the national numbers. I do not think we should feel the need to rush to act when the numbers show a fall, or a rush to celebrate when they rise. I think we should be cautious about seeing trends in short term changes.

A few years ago there was a prediction that Quakers would die out by (I think it was) 2034, based on extrapolations of the annual membership figures. Quite a few of us said that we still intended to be Quakers in 2034, so we’d make sure we didn’t die out. Of course, we ideally need to get a few others to join us, because there will be some natural losses over the years. Quaker Quest is doing an excellent job, but it may not be enough. We also need to give consideration to retention – our meetings have to live up to the image we create. In Watford we have been fortunate in seeing a steady stream of newcomers, a proportion of whom become regular attenders and even members, and also returners (people who had ceased attending for a considerable period of time, who then come back and become regular attenders again). I firmly believe that outreach needs to be focussed on the spiritual needs of people rather than any desire to put more bums on meeting house benches.

What about numbers attending meetings for worship, do they matter? I do not think the numbers matter, so long as those present are genuinely willing to be aware of the Presence, to respond to the movings of the Spirit, by whatever name we do or do not call ‘that of God’. I have felt that Love, heard that Light, in gatherings of 2 or 3, in meetings of 10 or 50, in Yearly meetings of over 1000, even when holding midweek meeting alone (but in the awareness of other Friends worshipping in other places and at other times, or prevented from being physically present with me).

At one time I was going to become a management accountant. I remain intrigued by numbers, and by the patterns they can create, but I am very aware that numbers only tell us a small part of the story and that people, relationships between people, and our relationship with the Divine are the truly important things – and those can not be captured by counting.

N is for Nontheism

Nontheist Friends include in their number atheists (those who claim that there is no God at all), agnostics (those who claim that they do not know whether or not there is a God, even than it is not possible to know, and may also ask ‘does it matter?’); humanists (who may claim that there is no God beyond what human beings have created or imagined, and may believe (humanists I’ve met seem happier with the word ‘believe’ than many Quakers are) that the only ‘Spirit’ that exists is the human spirit); those who believe that God only exists as the Inner Light within each human being and not in any external form; and others who reject ‘traditional’ images of God.

So am I a nontheist? If you’ve read the other posts I’ve made in this Quaker alphabet, you may well say ‘no’. Personally, I’m not sure.

A few years ago, a Buddhist friend, in an evening discussion group, succeeded in convincing me that God does not exist. His arguments were clear, and logically irrefutable. I had to admit that I agreed with him. Early next morning after a few sleepless hours, I decided that if God did not exist, I would have to invent God, because I can’t manage without. Either the God of my understanding exists, or the God of my understanding is a human invention (possibly mine, possibly shared). It seems to me that if I am wrong about the existence of God it doesn’t much matter, but if there is a God it does matter.

Of course, a lot hinges on what I mean by the word ‘God’. I do not mean an old man sitting on a cloud dishing out earthquakes, thunderbolts, rain, sundry judgements and so on. I do not mean a larger-than-life father figure. I do not mean a person or being at all. I mean a force, a creative energy, that permeates the material world, the Presence of which we can be aware of, if we pay attention. I perceive that energy to be within, beyond and around each of us. As clerk at a Quaker Meeting for Worship for Business I am happy with the traditional explanation that the meeting is seeking the will of God, but I understand this to mean that we are seeking to align ourselves with the purposes of Love in the universe. When we are aligned in this way we feel a rightness, as we may feel when we dance in time to music, rather than being slightly off the beat.

So, I admit that ‘God’ may be a purely human construct; I am sure that we can not be certain about the existence or otherwise of ‘God’; I have rejected the ‘traditional’ images of God; I agree with the logical arguments against the existence of God. Hence, it can be deduced that I am a nontheist.

But, I still claim to believe in God, and I use that word because I don’t have a better one. Why do I believe? A – because I need to, and B – because it is the only explanation that satisfies me for the experiences I have had of the Presence, of guidance, of being drawn by the Spirit to follow and to trust.