Q is for Quaker

Why am I a Quaker?

because it’s where God wants me to be,

because it’s a place I can work out how to follow the teachings of Jesus without the rituals and creeds that troubled me in other churches,

because I feel it’s where I belong,

because it gives me a safe spiritual home from where I can engage with different traditions,

because I feel accepted and challenged,

because together we seek the will of God for us, here and now, and try to follow it,

because Quakers understand that words are inadequate for expressing deep spiritual truths (which is why this is such a hard question to answer!),

because I go to Meeting for Worship and am aware of the Presence.


I discovered I was a Quaker in my late teens/early twenties when searching for an understanding of God, what God wanted of me and what my Guide promise to ‘do my duty to God’ really meant. I’ve realised that it doesn’t matter to me whether God is ‘real’ or a human construct, but that it does matter to me that I believe. Within Quakerism, I have been able to explore my beliefs and deepen my understanding, and experiment with different ways of expressing those beliefs.


How am I a Quaker?

by remembering that there is ‘that of God’ in everyone I meet, be that face to face, by telephone, by email, in online forums, or otherwise,

by acting from love, not from anger,

by finding frequent opportunities (alone or with others) to be quiet and reconnect with the Presence,

by pausing to give thanks for food, friends, health, doubts, difficulties, sunshine, rain, everything life offers me,

by heeding the ‘promptings of love and truth’ in my heart,

by expressing gratitude,

by giving time to listen,

by being aware of the present moment, where I am, and who I’m with,

by loving my neighbour as myself,

by questioning why I’m doing what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, how I could do things differently,

by asking ‘is this the way it would be in the Kingdom of God / Republic of Heaven / Paradise ?’

by continuing to make changes (however small) to the way I live to make my lifestyle simpler, more peaceful, more honest, better aligned with the will of the Divine.


In practical terms, I do a lot of Quaker stuff: attending Meeting for Worship, facilitating study groups, supporting the ‘Becoming Friends’ scheme, convening children’s committee. I do a small amount of Buddhist stuff: walking mindfully, trying to follow the five mindfulness trainings, occasionally going to sangha meetings.

Outside Quaker structures I do a very ordinary, part-time office job for the NHS, run a Guide unit, serve on the committee of the local interfaith association, grow some fruit and vegetables on my allotment, try to keep up with the housework and support family members. I am blessed with a supportive family and local meeting, good colleagues and friends.

I have a vision that the Kingdom of God is right here, right now, in Watford, as elsewhere, and a desire to help other people to perceive that. The way to that end is by many small steps, and mostly not by talking ‘God language’. It is by what I do and how I do it, not by what I say.


This was originally written for and published on Nayler – the Living Spirit, but it seems to fit in this blog too, so I’m republishing it, slightly updated. The other entries in the How? Why? strand on Jez’s online magazine are all well worth reading.

Q is for questions

A few years ago our writing group topic for the month (May 2007) was ‘childhood influences’. This set me thinking:

‘How do you bring up a child to become a Quaker?’

I wondered how my parents (both lapsed Anglicans) had reared two Quakers out of three children, and remembered our own deliberations as to how, as Quaker parents, we should bring up our children. Chatting about this at home my son said ‘be religious but open and encourage questions’. I also remembered a heated discussion (sometime during 2005) in which our daughter, Rhiannon, made a strong case that we had neglected our duty as parents and not taught her enough about what we believed in. When I found the following extract in Quaker Faith and Practice it helped clarify things for both of us:

When I taught my children how to do many things I ensured that they would have skills to give them abilities, enjoyment and health. What I think I chiefly taught them was that I was right and they were wrong. When I hear them teaching their friends how to play games I realise just how much I bossed them around. In seeking to pass on our values to our children I think we largely waste our time. They will pick up our values from us by the way we live and the assumptions that underpin our own lives. John Guest, 1987 QF&P 23.82.

Have thought about all this, and just attended Yearly Meeting in 2007, I wrote the following:


Questions, questions, yet more questions,

Children ask them all the time.

Mummy, where does the sea go?

What is underneath the pavement?


And so, how do we respond?

Try to baffle them with science?

Tell them shut up, be seen not heard?

Just hope they’ll go away. Or


We can ask and listen too.

Where might the sea go to? When?

What could be beneath our feet?

How can we find out together?


Shall we look up in a book?

Try to do an experiment?

Dig a hole and take a look?

Make a list of our best ideas?


Search for answers, find more queries,

Then we grow in understanding.

Learn to nurture, not take control,

Accept each other as we are.


So to this from Yearly Meeting:

Where have all these flowers come from?

How many miles? How much fuel?

Celebrate both blooms and questions.


Sixty words to explain Quakers?

Slavery, how can we end it?

Could we be more inclusive?

Can you send a hug by email?


For the record:

my mother says that the original question (my brother’s) was ‘where does the sea END?’

we didn’t dig a hole in the pavement, but we did look down most of the holes that were dug in our local roads and footways

we looked in a lot of books (and later used google) and did quite a few experiments

we have far fewer flowers at yearly meeting in recent years

people have found ways to indicate hugs in text eg ‘( )’

slavery is not so easy, likewise inclusiveness

both our children are now adults and are currently in membership of the Religious Society of Friends

my 60 words to explain Quakers (written for Watford Celebration 2007) were: ‘We aim to ‘walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.’ We believe it is possible for everyone to have a real and direct experience of God in everyday life. Come and join us at the Meeting House, Church Road on Sunday morning (10.30) for silent worship or visit www.watfordquakers.org.uk




P and Q for peace and quiet

Quite often a newcomer or visitor to a Quaker meeting will comment that they like the ‘peace and quiet’ of our meetings for worship.

This bothers me.

I don’t mind that people find peace and quiet in our meetings. I don’t mind that they like peace and quiet. But I worry that people may think that peace and quiet is what we are about, that it is what we are there for.

I hope that it isn’t.

I don’t think we are aiming for peace and quiet.

We try to quiet our bodies and our busy minds in order to listen to that which we find hard to name, to pay heed to something within or beyond ourselves, to attune ourselves to something more important than our individual selves. It can be easier to do this in a space that is ‘quiet’ in the sense of being without distractions, auditory or otherwise. But it is our long term aim to be able to do it anywhere – including amid the noise and haste of everyday life.

We are aiming for peace, not in the sense of a few calm moments, but in the sense of an deep inner serenity and a right relationship with other people, on individual, social and global scales. We need the inner peace in order to achieve a better relationship with others, and a better relationship with other people in order to build a deeper inner serenity.

In the silence of meeting for worship we may become aware of the challenges we face in achieving this aim and this can be very troubling. In a truly gathered meeting we may be very disturbed, very far from ‘peace and quiet’. But if we persist we can also find the strength to face those challenges and to grow in our faith and to make a difference in the world, however small.

Sometimes I am glad to sit in meeting and find a bit of ‘peace and quiet’ – but the reason I keep going is that I am challenged and supported by what happens in the gathered meeting.



P is for Presence

I find myself using the word ‘Presence’ more and more to describe ‘that which cannot be named’, so I thought maybe I should have a go at describing a bit more what I mean and why I use that term.

I don’t actually envisage ‘Presence’ in the very visual way portrayed in the famous Quaker painting ‘The Presence in the Midst’ – but I do have a sense of what the artist was (I think) trying to portray.

I am, sometimes, very aware of something beyond myself, beyond ourselves, being present in our meetings for worship. I may call this God, but Presence also seems a good word for it. I sense that others are aware of it too. Sometimes it just is, sometimes it seems to require a response from me. I may, inwardly, respond ‘Here I am, Lord, with all my failings and weaknesses, but if you can use me as I am, I am willing’. I may just say, inwardly, these are all the things that are bothering me right now, let me hand them over for a while, maybe then I’ll see them in a different light, or maybe I’ll feel strong enough to take them up again, or maybe I’ll see that I can lay them down for good.

Recently, and in my childhood, I am sometimes aware of the Presence as a young man, whom I would name Jesus, who stands just behind my left shoulder, or, if I acknowledge him, beside me, who is calm, supportive, and does not make demands, but appreciates being acknowledged. I find it hard to acknowledge him – I fear I am ‘asking Jesus into my life’ and will sound like an Evangelical Christian – but he is very patient with me, at least so far. It feels good to have an awareness of a Presence that walks besides me.


On the memorable occasion of my wedding the depth of worship was so strong that we (Jim , Sheila (our registering officer) and I) could feel it outside the meeting room in a quite tangible way. That I would also describe as an awareness of Presence.

On another occasion, when I was quite distressed by my life circumstances, I sat in meeting for worship and became aware of being held (by the meeting? by something beyond the meeting?) as a mother might hold a baby wrapped in a blanket. Somehow there was a sense of Presence in that experience too.


To me, the experience is often very tactile, rather than visual or auditory. All in all, it’s a very hard thing to describe, but the word ‘Presence’ seems, at the moment, to serve as well as any.



P is for Prayer

I once overhead a Friend say ‘Quakers don’t do prayer.’

My immediate response was ‘well, this one does’.

I think what the Friend meant was that Quakers don’t talk about prayer, that no-one stands up in meeting for worship and says ‘let us pray’, that we don’t use formal prayers reciting a pre-determined formula. And her observations are right. But that is not the same thing as not praying.

So what do I mean by prayer?

I mean thinking caringly, lovingly of someone I know to be ill or in some other distress. I mean holding a situation in the Light and waiting with it to see if the Light indicates an action I should take. I mean just being quiet and still so that I can be aware of the ‘promptings of love and truth’. I mean listening to God.

I also, at times, mean somewhat more structured prayer with other groups of people including traditional formulae or extempore prayer with Christians, Muslim prayer with a set physical as well as verbal pattern (though I don’t know the Arabic), chanting with Buddhists, Hindus and Sufis, metta meditation, druid ritual. It is a great privilege to pray with others in their tradition and I borrow some of what I learn to use in my daily life. While I haven’t learnt the Hebrew, the Jewish tradition of having a prayer to give thanks for everything, yes,everything, giving thanks for waking up, for getting dressed, for different foods (not just for eating in general), for seeing a flower, etc is a great inspiration towards a life of constant prayer and gratitude.

In my experience Quakers do also pray communally. Last Sunday in our meeting for worship, we had been almost silent, except for a Friend who was crying quietly in a corner (a ministry that opened my heart), until late in the hour a Friend rose and, telling us a little of the situation of some Friends who were absent, suggested that we spend our last five minutes together upholding those Friends. It seemed to bring together the praying that many of us were already doing in the silence.