X marks the spot

X marks the spot on the treasure map where the treasure lays hidden.

As I finished Equipping for Ministry (almost four years ago) it was suggested that I might look to the future and write my own story, which might include a treasure map, shipmates, a tool kit, treasure, dragons, and possibly other features too.

I identified my treasure as the Love of God, which is here and now, and doesn’t actually need seeking for. Someone else in the group said, when we shared our stories, that the treasure was for sharing with everybody. I liked that idea and it fitted the treasure I was identifying.

treasure map

I drew a map too, and the islands that I identified, where I might land and meet friendly people (Becoming Friends, Watford Interfaith Association, Quaker Quest), have been visited.

I was quite fascinated by the dragons I drew, that lurked around the map (as they do on some antiquarian maps). I named them ‘fear’, ‘my agenda’ and ‘the rut’. I hoped to tame ‘my agenda’ and re-direct its energies constructively. I hoped not to get dragged down by ‘the rut’.


Now I come to a place in my journey where the map has run out. I’m not sure whether my path is blocked by a log I might sit and rest on, and perhaps, in due course, climb over to continue my journey. Or by red & white danger warning tape saying stop, here, now, do not continue this way. I’m seeing gentle countryside around me, rather than seas and islands to explore. A time to take stock and review. Perhaps a time ‘to make your home a place of loving friendship and enjoyment, where all who live or visit may find the peace and refreshment of God’s presence.’ (A&Q 26), to wait, to let people come to me, rather than rush around going to this meeting and that meeting.


What does your map look like? Do you see adventures? Dragons? Shipmates? Treasure?

X is for …

Well, this is where is gets difficult! So, X is the way we mark a mistake, and X is the Roman numeral for 10. So here are ten ‘mistakes’ about Quakers, all fairly common:

I      We all died out years ago.

I’m still alive and I wasn’t the only Quaker at the meeting house last time I went there.

II      We are like the Amish, the Mormons, the Shakers.

Not really, we live in the modern world, don’t knock on doors trying to convert people, aren’t really that weird. Though we are a small group that a lot of people haven’t heard of.

III      We’re hidden, secretive and don’t let anybody join us.

We’re trying hard not to keep our existence a secret, and we’d love you to join us.

IV      We all eat porridge.

See O is for Oats.

V We don’t allow smoking, drinking or having fun.

We don’t have any rules against smoking or drinking, though many Quakers give up (or never take up) these things. We find that we can have fun together without needing to consume alcohol. And we like cake 🙂


VI      We’ll all die out by 2034.

This has been predicted by projecting the statistics – but I don’t intend to be dead by then, and nor do a lot of other Friends (especially all those still below 60 or 70!).

VII      We’re all hippies.

Depends a bit what you mean by hippy: peace loving – yes, drug-taking – mostly not, prone to joining demos, marches and ban-the -bomb protests – quite a few of us.

ViviCam 6300

VIII      We all wear grey, or black, and funny hats.

Most of us wear colours, a few wear hats, we mostly try to avoid being drawn into the latest fashions.

IX      We all have grey hair.

We can’t help getting older (and few of us would dye our hair to disguise our age), and a lot of people are already grey-haired when they find us – we need to work on letting younger people know of our existence.

X       As a Quaker, you can believe anything you like.

Anyone is welcome to attend our meetings for worship and they won’t be quizzed about their beliefs or told what they ought to believe. However, we do expect those in membership to agree in essentials with certain beliefs, although these are not a form of words, more a way of life. To me personally, a person who comes regularly to meeting for worship and who participates in our meetings for worship for business, where we seek ‘the will of God’ for this group, at this time, in this situation, is effectively believing what I believe – even if we describe our experiences of this in different words.

W is for Walking Mindfully

Walking mindfully in the garden with my camera


Irises, colour, form, bud pointing upward, yearning

bloom standing in glory, reaching upward, trailing petals

flower dying, folding inward, regenerating


Perfume, the scent of roses, almost before I see them,

later, the water, overflowing from the lake, the

aroma of yesterday’s rain


The sound of the coots, the fluffy cootlings,

reflections in the lake, the new reflection of

the garden lounge barely discernible


The slip of my feet on the slippery stones

near the lake, the feel of the ‘rabbit’s ears’

furry leaves of my childhood.

 be mindful

My father’s eyes, my grandfather’s fingertips,

the past? my past? my self? all inter-are


Woodbrooke HH72 12/6/2012 2.55pm

W is for Worship



Meeting for Worship. The heart of the Quaker way. I’d go every day if that were a practical possibility (which it is when I stay at Woodbrooke). I do usually go twice a week. Sometimes I look at myself on a Wednesday, re-arranging my work hours, walking for half an hour to the meeting house, to sit in silence, possibly alone, for half an hour and then spend at least that long getting home, and I wonder: why I am doing this? I have to conclude that ‘it matters’, because no-one is making me go to this trouble to be at meeting for worship, but it clearly matters a lot to me.

So what I am actually doing when I go to meeting for worship, what do we mean by ‘worship’ and why do I do it?


On one level the answer is that I’m setting aside time for God, time to align myself more closely with that loving creative force that I am aware of from time to time, but more strongly if I set aside time specifically to be aware. I’m also setting aside time for the community, even if I am the only person physically present. I am keeping the meeting. I sense a continuity with those who are prevented from being present at that time (by health, weather, other commitments) and with those who have been there before or are worshipping elsewhere. In our meeting house we have put up photographs of most of the people who regularly attend out meetings for worship. Sitting quietly in the room with the photographs it is easy to feel that they are, in a sense, present with me. It is important to me that worship is a communal activity. The actual numbers do not matter. Apparently alone; with 2 or 3 others; with 30 or 40 (as my meeting usually is on Sunday morning); with 90 others at a conference; with 1000+ in a big top at yearly Meeting Gathering, it is still essentially the same experience.


When I arrive at the appointed time and place, I’d like to be early, though I rarely am. I try to calm my busy brain and begin to settle into silence before I enter the room. That helps me to enter the worship and minimises disturbance to others who are already present. The contribution of those who arrive and settle into meeting before the appointed time is a very valuable ministry to the whole meeting. I like to sit somewhere that I can see others arriving, so that I can notice who is there, and offer a greeting smile if they look my way. I like to notice how many we are, who is absent, who may need some prayerful or practical support. Sometimes I will quietly step into the role of an absentee and act, perhaps, as doorkeeper, or fetch the collection bowl in the treasurer’s absence. Settling into meeting I adjust my posture so that my body is not bothering me. Like many others I find straight back, hands loosely in the lap, or open and receptive, feet both in contact with the floor, helpful – but worship is perfectly possible in other postures.


Then I need to quiet my busy mind, so I may concentrate on my breath, or silently recite a mantra (‘be still and know that I am God’ Psalm 46:10 is a personal favourite). My aim is to be inwardly silent and open, to be ready for whatever I may hear or be called to do.


Another phrase I now, somewhat to my surprise, find I use frequently as I settle deeper into worship is ‘here I am Lord’ Isaiah . I am waiting and ready for the unexpected, possibly the transformational. Often I will gain some small insight, very rarely is anything dramatically transformational – but other the years the small insights have added up and I have been changed a lot. That possibility of change, of transformation, of the unexpected, even, though it seems strange to say it about sitting in silence together, the exciting, is why I keep going to meeting.

W is for Woodbrooke


I first went to Woodbrooke in 1981 for a job interview. The post was assistant cook to Elizabeth Holmgard. At the time I was with Community Service Volunteers on a year’s placement in Edinburgh in a community for people with learning disabilities, unsure what I might do next, but cooking for 20 people twice a week and enjoying living in a community setting.


I didn’t get the job, but that didn’t matter at all. The visit to Woodbrooke was a formative experience. I was invited to stay overnight because of the travelling distance and encouraged to join in what was going on while I was there. That included a talk and slide show about somebody’s trip abroad (I forget where) on the evening I’d arrived. It made me feel very much part of the ‘extended family’ of Friends, being so similar to what my own family would do, but for a bigger group.


More significantly, the next morning I was able to join a group of students on the, then, term-time programme. The topic for the ‘seminar’ was industrial relations. It was something that had been on my degree syllabus only a year or two before. But this was so different to the way we studied at university. There, the lecturer told us what to think. Here the tutor sat in a circle with the students and listened to their views and experiences, even mine. Everyone was genuinely treated as an equal. I was really amazed at the difference, and this insight into the Quaker way has stayed with me. It is, to me, the essence of the Woodbrooke experience.


I went to Woodbrooke several more times in the early 1980s and then had a long gap while bringing up a family, returning with a MM weekend in 2003. Since then I have been on many courses and completed Equipping for Ministry. Occasionally I have the privilege of being ‘tutor’, though I am still learning whatever my role.


Over the years there have been many changes at Woodbrooke. Meals are now self-service, whereas we used to all sit down at the same time, but we still pause for a few moments of grateful silence together. Bedrooms are nearly all en-suite, though there are still some additional, spacious, bathrooms. We are no longer asked to change the beds ready for the next guests, though I still like to leave a prayer for their comfortable rest as I depart my room. The garden lounge is a very obvious change, and a delight – to be able to enjoy the garden whatever the weather; to sit and chat over coffee or knitting; to see small groups having informal meetings, or cheerful, trivial (or very earnest) discussions; to read the paper or wait for a friend.


Other more important things have not changed. The day is still framed by meeting for worship in the morning and epilogue at night. The welcome, from staff, Friends in Residence, and other course members and guests, remains as warm. And the attitude towards learning, that we are all learning together and all have a contribution to make, that so struck me on that first visit, continues as strongly as ever. I was at Woodbrooke very recently with Ben Pink Dandelion, Doug Gwyn and Tim Peat Ashworth providing most of the input and leading our course. It was delightful that they were all also full participants in the course, sharing their uncertainties as well as their knowledge.

As a friend said to me, back in 1980, ‘if you have the opportunity to go to Woodbrooke, do go.’


V is for … Vegetarian

Among Quakers the proportion of vegetarians is much higher than in the general population, but Friends are far from being universally vegetarian. So are they vegetarian because they are Quakers, because it’s a trendy middle class thing to be, because they are idealistic, or squeamish, or some other reason? Probably for all of these reasons and others, varying from one person to another.

My own journey to becoming a vegetarian, and currently towards being vegan, has been very slow, and informed by a variety of reasons. I normally date the beginning of my interest to a friend offering to cook me a meal and asking if I minded if it was vegetarian. I certainly didn’t mind, and the meal, I remember, was delicious. I was rapidly converted to being a fan of Rose Elliott‘s cook books (and Dave’s cooking), but I didn’t become a vegetarian. I did cook vegetarian by choice when I cooked, but I didn’t tell my hall of residence that I wanted vegetarian meals, I still ate fish and meat.

Late in 1980 I encountered ‘The Scottish Eco Cookbook’, a booklet put together by Friends of the Earth Scotland. It told me very plainly how much food went to an animal to produce a given quantity of meat for me to eat, and advocated reducing our meat intake to help the world’s resources go round. I promptly resolved to give up beef entirely (which I’ve stuck to about 99.99%) and to reduce my intake of other meat. When cooking for the community I then lived with I increasingly offered vegetarian meals (Rose Elliott and the Scottish Eco Cookbook being a great help in that). Getting married and bringing up a family, I persisted in a low meat diet (several meat free days a week). My daughter became completely vegetarian in 1999, and I announced my intention to do likewise at New Year 2001. At that point I felt I really didn’t want to eat other mammals, and my motivation included concerns for animal welfare as well as the effects on the environment.

Later in 2001 I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Reading the dietary advice for MS patients, which recommended a high intake of oily fish, I felt I should return to eating fish regularly, though not every day as was suggested. A few years later, consulting my GP about a problem with excessive, very smelly wind, she suggested that I give up eating fish because such high protein foods could cause that problem in some people. We discussed how I would get the essential nutrients, especially the essential fatty acids, and agreed that a fairly high intake of seeds should be sufficient. I modified my diet accordingly (and added some supplements to be certain) and now only eat fish once or twice a year (fish and chips at the seaside, an occasional prawn or a few prawn crackers).

In 2010 I formally received the Buddhist ‘five mindfulness trainings‘ which are very clear about not killing (Quakers are very clear about not killing people, the Buddhist teaching is clear about not killing anything – though I struggle with what to eat if I’m not even going to kill a carrot …). This made me consider my diet again and I began exploring how I could reduce my consumption of milk, cheese and eggs. I now eat more peanut butter, whole nuts and hummous, and a lot less cheese and eggs. Since Quakers made the ‘Canterbury commitment’ in 2011, I have moved even closer to a vegan diet and use soya milk and yoghurt at home in place of cow’s milk products. However, I don’t yet make a fuss about a drop of cow’s milk in a cup of tea when I’m out and often don’t even ask if a dish is vegan or not.

So my reasons for my dietary choices are complex, they include concern for the environment and a desire to lessen the effects of global warming; a distaste for eating other sentient beings; a concern for animal welfare; an aspiration to avoid killing other living beings and issues about my own health and well being. Some of this is directly linked to my being a Quaker, especially more recent decisions influenced by the Canterbury commitment, some of it is more loosely the result of taking ‘heed of the promptings of love and truth‘, and some is just really enjoying eating vegetarian and vegan food so much that I mostly don’t miss meat and fish at all.