I live mostly outside of the liberal Quaker orbit and find it difficult to relate to the issues and struggles which appear to animate that culture's belief system and social dynamics!  Just today I came across a dialogue started by Jon Watts (a well-kn0wn Quaker videographer on QQ, I believe) as he attempts to rethink his life and witness among liberal friends.  http://www.jonwatts.com/2012/what-is-a-quaker-ministry-what-isnt/   I believe that it contains lots of food for thought!

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I am within the Liberal Britain Yearly Meeting tradition which I guess is very similar to Philadelphia Year Meeting, which I think Jon belongs to. In Britain, the ascendancy of liberal thought was apparent at the 1895 Manchester Conference, by way of the emerging leadership, who had the secular university education and exposure to ideas which their Evangelical parents were not.

By 1920 Britain (or London as it was then) Yearly Meeting was firmly Liberal, and in the 1960’s, the tolerant and open BYM was accommodating of, and increasingly influenced by:

  • Depth psychology
  • Feminism
  • Social / socialist Gospel
  • Universalism
  • Diverse philosophies

Some of these sat easier than others as the majority of Friends still identified as Liberal [Christian] Quakers. As way of holding things together, belief, or rather talk about belief has been marginalised in Meetings. Belief can be expressed, but tentatively, sensitively, provisionally, and as the BYM QF&P Advice goes:

Think it possible that you may be mistaken….  

Jon Watts uses the word “ministry” in the broad way have I have heard it used in more overtly Christian contexts. In the British Quaker context, “ministry” is what we do when we stand and speak in Meeting for Worship.

Acts of service within Meetings are not thought of as “ministry” but “roles” to which f/Friends have been nominated to by Nominations Committees, and appointed by Local and Area Meeting for Worship for Business (NB: “Meeting for Worship for Church Affairs” is rarely used). Ministering to our local communities is our “social witness” and increasingly described as “activism”.

A few years ago I asked a Friend,

How’s your new ministry as an Elder going?

He replied,

I don’t really think of it as ministry.

His Quaker-Catholic wife interjected

Of course its ministry! You’re serving the Meeting

More traditional religious language causes tension among British f/Friends and “ministry” in the minds of some may equal “minister” in the clerical sense. There is also a real preoccupation with what is perceived a hierarchy, which unfortunately includes the roles of Elders and Overseers, which is an ongoing discussion and in some Meetings have been replaced with Worship and Pastoral Care Committees, which I do not think work very well.  

It often feels like we're trying to work something out in Liberal Quakerism, to resolve some great philosophical puzzle...

Hello again, Matthew!  I would be happy to comment on your post, particularly the part about"some great philosophical puzzle," but I refrain for now because we need to hear other voices, particularly those of Friends who are "puzzled"!!!

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