This morning’s session of Britain Yearly Meeting reminded me of everything that is good about silent, expectant, waiting on God. The clerks entered the room and Friends fell silent. We entered worship. And we gave worth to God. We waited and the silence was the ministry. And as we waited the ministry was the silence.
I was reminded afterwards of the world conference of Friends and how different it was in Kenya. Then, whenever there was unprogrammed meeting for worship it didn’t take long before Friends were on their feet, ready to minister. And they ministered and they ministered. Not for a long time necessarily, but many people ministered. The only time they didn’t was when it was announced that there would be a period of silent worship and no ministry was allowed.
So back to Britain and being in a room of several hundred people. And the microphones remained in their stands and the microphone stewards were not called upon, though they remained vigilant.
Today was a day about worship.
Later the session rolled on and we had a report from Meeting for Sufferings, about what they had been up to and looking forward to the new triennial, which begins in the next few months.
Then we moved onto an update on sustainability issues. This came to the fore last year in what has since become known just as ‘minute 36‘ or ‘the Canterbury commitment’ – that Quakers commit to becoming a low carbon sustainable community. The reporter was a Friend who I know as a good speaker and eloquent and amusing writer and today was no exception. He gave us a serious ministry that was always uplifting without shying away from the problematic issues.
There has been a decent response to the request for meetings to benchmark their carbon usage and a picture is beginning to emerge. This is certainly not a short-term project and yet there is a need to see a significant reduction in carbon usage by 2015 and by 2050 we need to be down to 10% of current levels.
But we are a small part of a much larger society, country and world and we need to engage out there, not just within our Quaker communities.
From sustainability to economic justice. I can’t write about this, even though I was there. For it all just slipped on by me. The Friend that I was sitting next to said afterwards that the introductory talk was excellent and worthy of republication. But I couldn’t tell you what had been said – it seemed to pass right through me and felt quite beyond me. So I let it go and tried to stay in worship.
Consequently, I didn’t go to the afternoon session as I felt a bit out of sorts when it was beginning. Tired, even. I bumped into some Conservative Quakers and we found a room and worshipped together for a half an hour or so. I drifted into sleep then but came out feeling like I was at equilibrium again.
This evening Rachel Brett delivered the Swarthmore Lecture. Rachel has been the human rights and refugees programme representative for the Quakers at the United Nations in Geneva for some nineteen years or so. She first worked at QUNO in the 1970s and found her calling. Much of the rest of her life up to 1993 was in preparation for QUNO, it turned out. Now, nearing retirement, she had been asked to deliver the Swarthmore Lecture.
The lecture is delivered in the spirit of worship. At the end the lecturer sits down, no one applauds and we continue in worship until the lecturer shakes hands with another Friend who is sitting alongside them.
Having interned with Rachel in 2002 at the Human Rights Commission and having participated in the Quaker UN Summer School before that in 2001, I am a convert to the work of QUNO and a supporter in prayer, upholding and by giving money to support their work. Her subject used to be my subject, in a way and I found myself hanging onto every word.
I was pleased that some fellow Quaker UN Summer School alumni were there too and one has agreed to write up a review for Nayler. After the lecture we met up at the Cider Tap pub opposite Friends House and there were Summer School alumni from as far back as 1955, the inaugural year of the Summer School. And to top it off, one of the barmen mentioned that he attended Quaker Meeting for a few years when he was a kid.
It was a great way to finish the day, hanging out with lots of lovely people.
To donate to the Quaker UN Summer School bursary fund, click here.