‘We did conclude among ourselves to settle a meeting, to see one another’s faces, and open our hearts one to another in the Truth of God once a year, as formerly it used to be.‘ Yearly Meeting in London, 1668 QF&P 6.02
I love to go to Yearly Meeting. Arriving at Friends House, or on whatever campus we are visiting, and spotting familiar faces, greeting Ffriends, talking to Friends I haven’t met before. And then assembling for our meetings for worship for business. Unusually for a Quaker meeting, we tend to chat as we assemble for sessions, but it is helpful to have introduced ourselves to those we are sitting near before we settle into worship. As the clerks or elders enter and take their places, silence descends promptly like a blanket covering us all. The discipline in Britain Yearly Meeting is good, it has got better over the years I have been attending, and is often superb. Our local meetings could learn much. It is necessary with such large numbers to be very disciplined, but it is also possible. It is also possible, though sometimes it has been doubted, to have a flexible agenda and be open to the movings of the Spirit, in a very large group as in a small group.
It is hard to explain to my work colleagues what I do at Yearly Meeting. We (all 800 or 1000 of us) sit in a big room, in silence, for 2 to 3 hours in the morning and listen, and consider some important business. Then in the afternoon we do the same again. Somehow they don’t feel it’s the most exciting way to spent a bank holiday weekend, preferring to have long lie-ins; or go to the DIY store and put up shelves; or have all the family round for a big meal. But to me, the depth of worship in the sessions; the calm way we consider the business; the deep sense of being led and the occasional excitement at times when the Spirit moves us to a dramatic, unexpected decision draw me back year after year.
Added to this are the chances to go to special interest groups and learn more about some aspect of Friends’ work; or to share something that I am particularly interested in; or to sit and chat informally over sandwiches or a meal, in the Friends House restaurant; in the lawn in the garden on Euston Road; or in the refectory of a university hall, catching up with old friends or making new friendships. Yearly Meeting can be an overly busy experience and we all have to learn to pace ourselves. This is especially so when we meet residentially as we will next summer. Yearly Meeting Gathering will take place August 2-9 at the University of Bath. The gathering elements provide plenty of choice of activities for non-Quaker family members to participate in related activities without attending business sessions at all. They also provide additional choices, even temptations, for those, like myself, who choose to prioritise attending business sessions.
Will you be joining us at Bath in 2014?