The Future of Quakers in Britain:

 Holding Spaces for the Spirit to Act


Linda Murgatroyd




I Why British Quakers Matter

II A changing World
Our Place in Creation
The British context

III Challenges and Opportunities
Diverse Beliefs
The demands of Quakerism
Looking Ahead

IV Addressing the Challenges
Acting from the Spirit
The role of our community
Holding spaces
Expressing our faith
Attention to young people
Working with our neighbours
Continuing review and reflection

V Choosing our future



There has been some anxiety among British Quakers at our falling membership numbers and at stretched resources for maintaining the Society. A more important issue is spiritual vitality; ‘How fares the Truth’ among us? How does our faith inform how we live?


A great strength of British Quakerism is its tried and tested way of bringing the spiritual into everyday life, an approach which can be adapted to different situations. It is deeply rooted in Christian wisdom and values, while remaining  open to other insights and experience. It has the potential to bring the creative, mysterious, Holy Spirit of love to bear directly on ever-new situations in a world which has much need of it.


But the Spirit needs space to act. Too often, it is crowded out of our lives by lack of time, busy egos and the perceived demands of consumer society. It is also crowded out of public life as commercial forces and values insinuate themselves more and more deeply there. Conflict, unsustainable lifestyles, and unhappiness result; fears multiply. The issue of climate change adds particular urgency to the need for such spaces.


A particular contribution British Quakers can make is consciously to develop our practice of ‘holding spaces’ for the Spirit to act in a variety of ways and in different contexts. This can help build collaborative and creative working practices and bring healing to individuals, communities and the wider world.


To fulfil this potential, however, British Quakers must be more radical in living out our spiritual values. Are we prepared to create spaces for the Spirit to act, through our lives and our communities? We know from experience that the way becomes clear when we seek it ‘in the Light’ together, and crucially, that the Spirit gives us strength to carry out its bidding. We should not seek to avoid action or changing our habits, if that is what is needed, and conversely, we should be wholly prepared to let things be if they are good enough.


Our Quaker community can support us in challenging and upholding one another. As we come face to face with major issues we will need spiritual nurture; however the growing consonance in our lives will itself be vitalising.


We have a stark choice before us. Are we going to actively address the key issues that face us in the 21st Century and bring our Quaker Way to bear on them, corporately and individually? Or will we simply be taken over by them and let Quakerism become obsolete?                                        





Prologue:  How I came to write this essay


When I heard about a competition for an essay about the future of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain, my first reaction was a mild curiosity. I would be interested to see what people might say, but no more. Yet somehow the issue took hold of me. I realised that some of the things I have been dwelling on recently seemed surprisingly relevant to the topic and I began to see this competition as a timely opportunity to re-inspire British Quakers. I realised I had been assuming that the Society would continue in something like its present form, perhaps changing slowly over the years, and that this assumption might have been a mistake. Indeed there are some big challenges ahead. I began to discern that I felt called to explore the question more seriously myself, in case I had a contribution to make.

This has been a challenging process: not just the work of researching and writing, but also the implications of bringing some big issues into the Light which had been lying in wait for me in the shadows. So I am grateful to those organising this competition for the challenge, and for what I have learned; my own thinking has developed considerably as a result. Two questions follow. The first was to discern whether to share my writing and with whom. I have little doubt that others are more erudite and visionary than me, but perhaps some of my insights or images may be of value to others, so I offer this in that spirit.


The bigger challenge remains; trying to live up to the light that has been given me. My experience of the Quaker Way is encouraging; it offers a way to address big issues, as well as bringing energy and healing, comfort, friendship and joy. I hope that future generations will be able to find similar succour and from a strong and welcoming Quaker community, living joyfully and adventurously under the guidance of the Spirit.


I am very grateful to Keith Walton, Nancy Irving, Cynthia Jackson and Howard F Gregg for their comments on a draft of this essay and other support, and to many others who have inspired, supported and challenged me over the years. Some of you know who you are; others never will.



The Quaker Way offers a unique and mature approach to religion. It builds on the experience of each person, within a corporate spiritual discipline, and through the practice of silent waiting upon God[1], it offers a way of bringing the Spirit of Love and Truth to bring creative and healing ways forward to the issues of the day.

If the Religious Society of Friends didn’t exist in Britain, would we reinvent it? I certainly hope so!  I need it.  When I finally found Friends, it was after a couple of years’ active search. I was looking for two things: a community that would help me live with integrity, within which I could continue to explore what that meant for me; and a community within which I would continue to take responsibility for my spiritual life, but which would support me in doing so. Having come from a Christian background, I had explored some other churches, but the Nicene Creed was a stumbling block. While parts of it seemed to contain profound truths, I didn’t really understand what other bits meant, and doubted whether I could ever be certain enough to make this kind of statement with integrity. I also found it difficult to make connections between what happened in Church services and what was happening in the rest of the world.  I felt there should be links but found them very hard to make. Finally, I was deeply uneasy about the sexism in the Church, let alone attitudes to sexuality. No, this was not a home for my explorations.

At that time, yoga and music were my main sources of spiritual nurture; yoga provided a sense of being grounded in a lively stillness, and music helped me become more aware of mystery and silence beyond it. Engaging physically in yoga and both making and listening to music seemed like taking part in a greater creative activity of which I was only a very tiny part. I had also greatly valued being part of a women’s group, in which our regular discussions of had led to occasional political activism. When I discovered Quakers, all this came together. Sinking into our shared silence, we joined together in an activity that seemed eternal, and intangible, yet very much in the present moment. I could bring whatever else was going on in my life into that place, and things somehow fell into place. As I started to participate in business Meetings and study groups, it became clear that this community was what I had been looking for.

Aspects of my experience are fairly common among Friends:

·        a sense of personal spiritual quest;

·        a need for spiritual community  in which everyone is welcome regardless of background, gender,  sexuality etc, and all can play an important part;

·        values of love, truth, integrity, and forgiveness, coupled with attempting to  actively apply these spiritual values to real life issues, without this becoming too complicated;

·        no need to be sure quite what one believes - about the nature of God, death and the afterlife, or about particular scriptures (though recognising that the Bible contains much wisdom).

I don’t believe there is any other community in Britain which would meet these requirements, and if we didn’t have the Religious Society of Friends, we might want to reinvent it. But would we invent it in quite its present form? And do we have the right balance of priorities for it to thrive in future?

 The belief that we humans can each have direct communion with God, has been central to Quakerism from the outset. Individuals have particular responsibilities within the community, but this has never implied that they are some kind of necessary intermediary between God and other people. It has meant that we all share responsibility in a collective quest for Truth; it was this quest that led the early Seekers including George Fox away from the established churches, and to the eventual founding of the Religious Society of Friends of Truth. It has often led to Friends becoming pioneers for truth and social justices, and they have often wielded influence disproportionate to their numbers.

Early Friends saw themselves as tasked with building the Kingdom of God. Today, Quakers vary in their theology and language, but still broadly believe that our business is listening for and discerning the leadings of the Spirit and carrying out its bidding –  which is to say doing God’s work. It is the very process of our worship – rooted in silence, and reaching inwards and outwards in an open listening – that lies at the core of British Quakerism. As Janet Scott writes:

“What matters is not the label by which we call ourselves, but the life.” [2]

This practice of listening for God in quiet places is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  What the early Quakers did was to develop this into a discipline of listening which helps us join with God and discern his [sic] will on any matter. The listening activity, beautifully characterised by Rachel Muers as ‘listening with God’s ears’[3], together with actions that spring from it, are central here, rather than the silence in which it takes place. Indeed, the listening continues through the consequent actions, giving them their meaning.

This central practice is of key importance. It can bring the spiritual dimension to bear on any new problem, and positively welcomes new insights. We can often be surprised by the results of such listening:

·        its openness allows different paradigms and kinds of information to be brought together, embracing scientific, theological, and emotional realms, and a diversity of interests and opinions, weighing them each (in hearts as well as minds) and learning from them, without needing to have winners and losers;

·        it provides a simple process through which a greater purpose and power can work through us. As we pay attention to it, acknowledging that we are seeking a ‘right way’ regardless of our individual wills (egos), we become more willing to accept whatever outcome the gathered group is led to;

·        we can all contribute. Some of us may have particular gifts, understanding and work to contribute to a particular problem, but all have a responsibility to join with others and bring their attention to bear in a centred, disciplined way so as to hold a space for the group to listen deeply at a spiritual level and discern how the Spirit is guiding them;

·        Quaker worship is a wonderfully energising and healing activity. The more we practise it, the greater the power of the spirit in our individual lives, bringing a sense of guidance, peace, serenity, healing and joy. I have often been amazed at the lightness of spirit in which I have left a Quaker business meeting, even though the meeting itself was hard work and the subject matter not of great personal interest. Joining in the work of discernment often feels like a great privilege.

·        it is simple. It can be applied in different places, at different levels. It allows for paradoxes and inconsistencies, and over time tends to resolve these creatively and in a loving spirit, with the single standard of truth running throughout.

The most challenging issues facing people in Britain and the world today are issues on which views differ hugely. Finding approaches which are acceptable to all concerned, which value the humanity of each, and which don’t involve taking retribution, is essential. Quakers have successfully helped to address some seemingly intractable conflicts in the past. The devastation of our environment is probably the greatest such challenge facing us for the future; it has such far-reaching implications that many people have tried to avoid thinking about it.  If, however, we are able to bring such issues before God, they can be transformed into opportunities for spiritual renewal and for healing. Engaging in such work can also strengthen us at many levels.

Figure 1) Stand still in that which shows and disovers (detail)

Watercolour, Indian ink and inkjet printing, 2005

The Kên hexagam from the I Ching, provides the image of the Mountain, or keeping still with quiet heart, when the time demands this. It seemed to amplify the title quote from George Fox. This image was made as part of my process of prayerful reflection inspired by these texts, at a time of great personal challenge. In facing what the future will bring, we need to practice standing still so that we can appreciate what is before us more clearly. Each person has a different view of the mountain, as we stand in different places; our diversity is a strength if we share what we can see. The mountain is a challenge for those wishing to get to its top or beyond it. It is also a source of beauty and its grandeur reminds us of how small we are amidst the huge scale of Creation. The mountain is also an example of standing still, rooted and quiet. Standing still, like the mountain, helps us put things in perspective and to be more open to spiritual light.


The future of Quakers in Britain will reflect wider changes in Britain and beyond. This is not the place for divining what the next 50 years will hold in any detail, but it is clear that some major issues will have to be faced by Friends in Britain. Though these will create unwelcome hardship, pain and loss, the need for change can give rise to creative opportunities for re-assessing values priorities and habits.

Our place in creation


The threat to the environment is now well established and is the biggest single issue that confronts us as a people.[4] Environmental degradation, and the economic, financial, health and security issues they bring, along with growth in poverty and mass migration, are challenges to the whole world. They will exacerbate existing social injustices and international tensions and create new ones. The need to radically change patterns of living and resource use across the world is coming to be recognised, though with great reluctance: there are no quick fixes. In addition, advances in science and communications have given humans greater control over life and death in some circumstances, which also raise very difficult issues.

The Book of Genesis offers two models for mankind’s relationship with nature: dominion and stewardship[5].  Those in power in mainstream industry and commerce, and most governments, have tended to work on the dominance model, behaving as if the Earth is there for humans to use as we wish. Decisions have been made without attaching much weight to some of their far-reaching implications; for example, two generations after the problem arose, there is still no long-term solution to the disposal of nuclear waste. Some of the immediate effects of the dominance mode have of course been mitigated by short-term, small-scale stewardship – to save wildlife, or specific cultural and natural ‘heritage’, for example. Similarly, religious and other philosophical voices are regularly included in considerations of bioethics on the margins of life and death – human embryology, cloning, genetic research, or assisted suicide. But dominance over the environment remains the underlying assumption of most industrial and industrialising societies.


These are hugely challenging issues to grapple with, embracing complex scientific, and socio-economic issues as well as ethical and theological ones. Most of us feel ill equipped to address them, so they are largely dealt with in isolation from one another and from most of the people that they will affect. Although many of us might not wish to live beyond a certain age and degree of incapacity, especially given the cost of keeping us alive, this issue is not one that most people are yet prepared to engage with. Instead it is left to ethics committees and health professionals. Similarly, there is little public debate about whether large families and assisted conception should really be encouraged, in the face of over-population.

When favourite places are threatened by proposed human developments, we are up in arms.  Yet most of humanity seems to be suffering from an addictive pathology: we know what we are doing to the soil, the air, the planet – yet still go on doing it! We need to find ways of re-learning our connectedness, not only with our own favourite places but also with the wider world, and to educate ourselves – developing our ecological literacy. We also need to reassess our values and priorities, facing facts clearly without being overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges. This is a responsibility of each of us: nobody else can do it for us. If we fail to address these issues, what does this say about our love for the poor (who will be hardest hit by environmental change) and for future generations?

As we approach the limits of human population growth and exploitation of the planet, the Old Testament injunction to ‘go forth and multiply’ no longer seems appropriate, even though the miracle of each new life is of course still wonderful and precious. Traditional teachings like this need to be looked at again. Spiritual and wisdom traditions from many other cultures have long seen humans as simply a part of Creation, rather than having rights over it; and this approach seems much more fitting as we contemplate the future. A Spirit-led approach is our best hope, drawing on our deepest values and on powers beyond ourselves. If we really want to change our behaviour and are open to such help, will we not receive it?


The British context

The future of Quakerism in Britain is intrinsically linked to wider developments in spiritual and cultural life and to wider socio-economic change. We are likely to need to respond to a range of potential developments here in Britain and across the globe. However some elements are particularly pertinent.

Decline in religious participation

The long-term decline in religious participation in Britain has continued in recent decades, especially among Christians. Although these issues are notoriously difficult to measure meaningfully, the broad picture is pretty clear. 


In 2006, 54 per cent of the British public claimed to belong to a religion, 3 per cent less than ten years earlier.  55 per cent said they never practised, except on special occasions such as funerals or weddings, and only 15 per cent of women and 13 per cent of men said they attended religious meetings or services at least once a week [6]. The proportion of people who said they didn’t belong to a religion had risen sharply, from only 3 per cent in 1964 to 38 per cent in 2006/7. [7] The Tearfund’s review of British Christian religion suggested that actual Church attendance was even lower, and had fallen from 12 per cent in 1979 to 7.5 per cent by 1999.[8]  The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England accounted for the bulk of the decline, and the indeed there was some growth in house churches outside formal denominations, and among evangelical churches.[9]


In this context, the steady fall in Quaker membership is not surprising. Indeed, between 1989 and 2005, it has been considerably less steep than the fall in attendance at all churches taken together: 0.8 per cent per year compared with 2.1 per cent overall, though this does not give grounds for complacency. [10] Meanwhile some other religions have seen numbers grow, partly for demographic reasons.  Islam has grown most, from 1.8 per cent of the population in1996 to 3.3 per cent in 2006, and the Hindu population has risen from 0.6 per cent to 1.4 per cent over the same period[11]. In addition to mainstream religions, a broad range of other spiritual traditions flourish in Britain, with over 170 different ones identified in the 2001 Census. In contrast with the decline in religious participation, there is wide evidence of spiritual seeking outside established religions, with 22 per cent of respondents to a MORI poll in 2003 saying they were spiritual, even though they didn’t belong to an organised religion[12], and significant growth in spiritual publishing, alongside substantial internet-based networks [13].  Quakerism may be an appropriate home for some of these seekers, if they can see its relevance to their needs and concerns.

            Growth in materialism
As market forces increasingly penetrate social life, commercial values are dominating more and more, undermining generosity and weakening community and spiritually based activities. At the same time, nature has been treated as a commodity to be acquired and used, rather than a home to be, cared for and passed on to future generations.  These trends started long ago in private manufacture and extraction; they have now moved into other sectors including the public sector, and many caring activities which used largely to be carried out unpaid.
[14]  Since the Thatcher years of the 1980s, commercial values have dominated government thinking and the public sector,  even in universities, and the doctrine of competition has come to dominate economics syllabuses to the virtual exclusion of former orthodoxies such as cost benefit analysis and Keynesian economics (let alone Marxist economics).[15]  Meanwhile supermarkets and the Internet feed our addictions by blatantly selling ‘bargains’ for their own sake, regardless of the intrinsic usefulness or beauty of the goods, or whether people need or can afford them. The mass media have added to this pressure to buy, with most programmes implicitly or explicitly informed by market values.  Increasingly aggressive competitive forces have combined with a growth in blame culture, centred on individual rights divorced from responsibility. Our senses of place and home have been changed and weakened by growth in geographic mobility, including both long-term migration and short-term travel for work, leisure and education.

The international dimension is also important here. In 2006, one in eight of the workforce was from overseas and a similar proportion of births were to mothers born outside the UK. [16] Britain’s dependence on other countries has grown to a point in which 27 per cent per cent of our food comes from abroad, as does  161 per cent of those raw materials yielded by mining and quarrying[17]. This means that we are enormously dependent on a complex web of activity around the world for the means to live and make things. Our dependence on oil has been well documented[18] and the delicate balance is also subject to political whim of key regimes abroad. For example the Russian government cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in winter 2008/9 and has already indicated that supplies to parts of Europe in 2009/2010 cannot be guaranteed. Russians now control energy-related industries in many countries, through holding companies and in other ways. Russian power has also been increasingly felt across British society since Glasnost, through the property market, Premier League football, divisions in the Orthodox Church[19] and elsewhere. China’s increasing global dominance through large-scale purchasing of land and raw materials, as well as producing vast amounts of cheap manufactured goods, may have similar implications for us in future. China’s attitude to freedom of information, religion and human rights may concern us more directly as its influence spreads. Widespread starvation, mass migration and increased piracy arising from economic desperation across the globe, are already growing. Multinational corporations, not always accountable to national governments or international bodies, are also gaining in influence and their failure to adequately compensate local residents for major accidents, is but the most visible of the casualties.[20] 

While still important in some ways, Parliamentary democracy has become less relevant in a world of international conglomerates and multi-governmental bodies, and public disaffection with electoral politics is reflected in turnouts falling to an all-time low[21]. Participation in other voluntary associations has also been declining; for example, trades union membership has fallen, from over 50 per cent of those in employment in the 1970s to 32.6 per cent 1995 and  28.4 per cent in 2006. [22] Civil liberties have also been challenged on several fronts in recent years, and may well face greater onslaughts as economic and environmental decline bite more sharply.

Growth in inequality has been another consequence of these trends, and has perhaps exacerbated them. Even though our average wealth has hardly ever been higher, inequality has bred unhappiness as people fear the consequences of not conforming to the acquisitive ethos of the market. This has contributed to a weakened sense of belonging and personal worth of individuals for themselves (as opposed to what they can own, earn or do), with consequent increases in social exclusion, street crime, personal violence and drug abuse.[23]

Cultural change

One consequence of the decline in religious participation is that wider knowledge about religion has also fallen. Most young people are not learning about any faith tradition from the inside. Teaching about faiths in school is patchy and those teaching may be ill equipped to transmit it.  For example, only 55 per cent of the population could name one of the four Christian Gospels and only slightly more (60 per cent) could name the sacred book of Moslems – the Q’uran[24]. This implies not only ignorance about particular faiths but also that religion itself has become a minority part of our culture.

Many aspects of religious culture have now been co-opted by secular society; for example, r
eligious holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Diwali have been commercialised and their religious meanings are no longer widely understood. Indeed, for many people, religion itself has become one of the ‘unknown’ elements in society, which are often feared. Fuelled by film, video games and other media, often with powerful electronic imagery, the realm of the spiritual, the mysterious and the beyond have acquired negative status. While evil has long been an element in many religious traditions, the difference now is that this cultural participation (often as passive members of an audience rather than as an active participant) is not widely offset by positive religious experience or engagement.


This lack of shared religious culture and language has a direct impact on communication about faith. It makes it harder for people to engage with historical traditions of Quakerism and Christianity more widely. Religious terminology has to be learned first, as it is no longer part of our common language; words, images, symbols or music need introduction and explanation before their deeper meaning can be understood, and this in itself makes organised religion less accessible. Even when people have overcome the first hurdle of beginning to explore a faith, there are further barriers to overcome in deepening and sharing that faith, in putting personal experience into context and in learning from ancient traditions.


The idea of having special times for God has been central to the Judeo-Christian tradition and many others. The decline in religion has also meant the decline of such Sabbath time, and the introduction of Sunday trading (and to a lesser extent the recent extension of pub opening hours) has meant that time is more and more uniformly treated. This has affected many aspects family and community life, as well as economic life, but more specifically it has reinforced  the dominance of commercial values.


For Quakers, the appointment of specific times and places to meet together for worship has been for practical reasons rather than theological ones.  Quakers believe that God is present at all times and in all places, rather than only in particular ‘holy’ ones, so the decline of the Sabbath hasn’t had as direct an impact on Friends as on others. However it has still meant increased competition from other Sunday morning activities and the pressure many people feel to ‘always be doing something’. Together with a general lack of silence in urban society, this means that spending time in silence, outwardly doing nothing, has become even more counter-cultural.[25]


In the absence of organised religion, people are finding other places to explore spiritual and religious issues, and to find spiritual nurture. They are able to do this at their own pace, and perhaps with a greater feeling of safety, in the arts, in nature or educational contexts. Therapies and a variety of healing treatments and physical disciplines have also grown enormously; some of these derive from religious or spiritual disciplines and may actively encompass or complement spiritual work and prayer.  Voluntary community work continues, but again it is largely outside a religious context. Thus many of the traditional activities of religion have been fragmented, and the result is the loss of a coherent approach to life and death within which to decide priorities, and of the sense of participating in a greater purpose and the deep sense of community that that can bring.


Turning points


As I write, people across the world are preparing for the Copenhagen summit on climate change[26], the outcome of which is likely to have a major influence on how quickly our species will adapt its patterns of consumption and production, and hence on the rate of climate change itself.  There is growing consensus that we may already have reached peak levels of oil production (though this will only ever be clear in retrospect) and that sharp falls in oil production (and price rises) will follow, impacting on other sources of energy and a wide range of materials, goods and services.[27]  Sharp rises in the cost of food and energy have already been hitting the headlines, and the medical profession has voiced concern at the likely impact of climate change on health and urged radical action to prepare for its likely effects.[28]  Further food shortages and rising prices, especially in the developing world, are expected, fuelled by continuing population growth, climate change, pressure on water supplies and increasing use of biofuel crops[29]. 


While most  members of society still seem bent on continuing in much of their present course of lifestyle, there are increasing signs of unease and that some people are making different choices, irrespective of government leaders. The economic downturn is excluding more and more people from commercial success, through unemployment or bankruptcy. This is becoming a particularly acute problem for the young, but there is wide concern about loss of community and social cohesion. For some decades there has been a growing sense of a need for spirit-led awakening, and of a need to seek creative and life-enhancing responses to the developing crises[30], and the sense of urgency is now sharpening. Among Quakers too, environmental issues have been moving into the mainstream[31].  An active minority has of course been working in this field for years, including through the Living Witness Project. After some years of putting our own affairs in order[32], we all now need to turn our attention to these wider matters.



Diverse Beliefs


During the 20th Century, the Religious Society of Friends in Britain moved from being a Christian church to a community in which many would not describe themselves as Christians.[33]  It includes people who have come from religions other than Christianity, from agnosticism or atheism, and some who hold dual membership with another religion.

The diversity of beliefs among British Quakers is one of its greatest challenges, and also one of its strengths. Creeds are very useful. They can be used to define and teach a faith, and are helpful touchstones for the worshiping community. They can also be used to maintain authority and discipline within the church, to provide a wider public identity and to defend the church in relation to other belief systems.[34] 

Ben Pink Dandelion[35] gives five kinds of reasons for liberal Quaker groups not to adopt a creed or creedal system:

·        language can never fully describe religious experience and creedal statements are paradoxical in this respect;

·        creedal statements by their very nature close off new religious expression and revelation, encourage complacency in religious life by suggesting absolute certainties, and they take on an authority of their own, belying the authority of God;

·        it would be inappropriate and dishonest for liberal Quakers to adopt a creed and would misrepresent the nature of the Quaker religion because of the diversity of belief;

·        creeds exclude those who cannot subscribe to them; and

·        there is no structural need to have a creed and no mechanism for adopting one.

He comments that, somewhat paradoxically, liberal Friends are united in affirming their opposition to creeds, but are strongly attached to a particular form of  religious practice. Dandelion calls this a “behavioural creed”[36].  Not having a shared theological creed, we need to find other ways to express our beliefs, and to be able to articulate the practice and discipline which are its foundation. This means doing it, knowing why we are doing it in this way, and being able to communicate this to others – by example and using words if necessary.  It means engaging in discernment, action and theology together, and finding ways of expressing our experience, understanding and faith which we are comfortable with.  Failure to do this could cause British Quakerism to become so dilute that it no longer has anything to offer the world beyond a vague warm feeling; a quiet place to come on Sundays with a cosy community to share coffee with afterwards, and a loose network of contacts. The dying out and dispersal of Progressive Quakers in 19th Century America is a warning to us in this respect. [37]


 Perhaps one reason why so many of those attending Meetings stay on the margins, and do not participate beyond the regular Sunday Meetings for Worship, is a reluctance to talk about their beliefs. Why might this be? Many of us (perhaps most) are uncertain what we do believe, and few are confident in speaking about these things. Yet they are important issues, and if we are not prepared to engage with them together this in itself says something about what our Quakerism means to us, and the priority we give it.


Expressing uncertainty and ignorance can itself be powerful. It opens the way 1to new discovery.  Sometimes gaps may be remedied by conversations or reading, but often our heart-knowledge, head-knowledge and hand-knowledge are simply not in synch. Expressing our un-knowing can open the way for growth, and sometimes to revolutionary new discoveries. Discernment may be deepened through personal reflection or contemplation, by prayerful listening alone and with others, and through other activities such as through the arts[38]. Our lack of creed means that such wrestling is positive and creative; we are not reacting against a set of beliefs that we are supposed to adhere to, rather we are searching for what we can say, what we have discerned that we have to do as a consequence.


When we grapple with such issues with others in a respectful and loving manner, this can also lead to both deepening of understanding and strengthening of community. Through such engagement we can explore links between theological beliefs and practical issues in everyday life. We can find ourselves saying surprising things which, when we reflect on them, can change the way we look at the world. Listening deeply to one another and to the Holy Spirit, with open heart and mind and without judgment, we may find ourselves challenged and inspired by what we hear. [39]


Until relatively recently, Quakers shared a Christian background for such listening, which meant they had a shared language of faith and would test their experience against the Bible. The lack of such a shared culture today makes the journey together much harder; we cannot make distinctions and draw parallels if the language and stories aren’t shared. On the other hand, it does mean that the Quaker way is open and accessible to a much wider body of people. There is no complex and mystifying ritual or creed that needs to be understood before one can participate fully in Quaker worship. We can continue to grow at our own pace and build on our existing experience and insights. This means that the Quaker way has particular potential in a diverse society where people are looking for spiritual leadership and models of personal integrity. [40]


We can learn and deepen our understanding in many different ways. For some, getting to know the Bible or other spiritual writings better may open up new doors, and sharing our understanding of and our responses to such writings with others can be particularly fruitful[41]. Others may find they grow and learn through extended meditation, contemplation or practical work – with young people, looking after Quaker assets, or taking action on wider social or peace issues. These are distinct from Meeting for Worship, but feed and complement it.


For me, the arts have been a powerful help in my explorations. A process of prayerful making (using a variety of simple arts and crafts activities), while holding an issue ‘in the Light’, has enabled me to enter into a sort of conversation with God. It has often felt as though, by letting go of my own self and having no preconceptions of what my hands were to make, I have been able to open up to let the Spirit work through me.[42] Some of the images I have made in this way have spoken back to me and invited writing, further art work, or both. At times of concern about a particular issue, this approach has been powerful in helping me find a way forward. Worship-sharing has enhanced the process, and gradually the process is changing me and what I do. I include a few examples of images or objects made in this way to illustrate this essay.[1]  They offer a different way in to reflection on some of the issues discussed in the text.

Figure 2)     Rooted in Christianity: Open to New Light

Oil painting on canvas on board ,2003

Having just read Theology: A Very Brief Introduction, and participated in one of Tim Peat Ashworth and Alex Wildwood’s workshops on Rooted in Christianity , Open to New Light[82] , I was reflecting on my response, and realised that I was looking at a scene which portrayed a surprisingly good image of it. The (seldom-used) village church formed a backdrop, beyond a green orchard, seen through an open window. The apple tree in the garden conjured up that in the Garden of Eden, and also ‘Jesus Christ the Apple Tree’ in the mediaeval carol of that name. The table held the theology book dish of apples (recalling the fruit eaten by Eve and Adam), and new wine (‘of Jesus’ new covenant’). But all these really seemed simply to be but vehicles for the light, and that is what the painting is about. Light coming from many quarters: directly from the sky, changing sharply with the wind and clouds on this summer’s day; shining in the rich colours of the whole scene, and both reflected in and shining through the glass windows, bottle and dish. The light of personal experience is key, though our understanding would be less rich without the history, culture and imagery developed and cultivated by others.

The Demands of Quakerism


Membership of the Religious Society of Friends has always been demanding. In its earliest years, Friends were systematically prosecuted for their beliefs.  Refusal to pay tithes caused them to be bankrupted and gaoled repeatedly, often leaving children to be cared for by other Friends. Theophilus Green’s experience is a good illustration. He was a London boatman who came to Quakers after seeking among many other churches and sects. He then started preaching the Quaker message in different parts of London and Surrey. He was imprisoned time after time for refusing to pay fines for such preaching, and local people (including non-Quakers) supported him through his persecutions. For example, at one time his boat was taken in lieu of the fine but nobody would buy it at the auction and it mysteriously made its way back to him after his release.  On another occasion, the local constable refused to confiscate Green’s oars and was himself gaoled as a result. [43]


Eventually the law was changed and Quakers were able to worship in peace.

However, as a result of the way they put their beliefs and testimonies into practice, early Quakers continued to be marginalised from mainstream society, both by the ‘hedge’ of inward-looking social practices they adopted to protect themselves from what they saw as ‘contamination’, and by their formal exclusion from the professions, higher education,  politics and other fields . These barriers were only gradually removed during the nineteenth century.[44] 

Though challenging and costly in some respects, such witness can also strengthen cohesion in the Society. Mutual support and public identification builds community, and personal growth can also develop from challenges, as the experience of early Friends has shown. Crucially, the links between our spiritual practice and our action are clearest when our testimony gives rise to visible action, leading to greater understanding of the Quaker Way.  I would suggest that the lack of such visible actions at a collective level, affecting the daily lives of all Friends, has contributed significantly to the decline in Quakerism as a prophetic force in Britain. In some ways it has led to a weakened understanding of our Quaker discipline and diluted our interpretation of it. This is not to say that Friends have not acted in line with their beliefs, or that many are not deeply committed to their witness; indeed Quaker work continues to be a beacon on many peace and social issues. However issues such as the Peace Tax Campaign have not become part of our corporate testimony or engaged many Friends in actually withholding our taxes.


Being a Quaker can also be demanding in other ways. Quakers in Britain have always depended on volunteers to do most of the jobs needed to maintain the Society. We only have a small cadre of paid staff, and local meetings, policy-making bodies, and most of our gatherings for learning and spiritual nourishment are run by volunteers. The difficulty of recruiting volunteers to some posts has led to serious concerns.  It has even led to some long-term attenders being reluctant to join the Society.[45]

Doing work to maintain the Society of Friends has increasingly been competing for our time and attention with other activities. Social changes, such as longer working hours, more travel, the increased dependence by most families on both partners working, and geographic mobility have all had their impact.  For many, Quaker work competes with home life not only in terms of time but also because their partners and other family members are not Quakers, and this impacts on the how far they choose to engage with the Quaker community. Nevertheless, we have been too reluctant to review our expectations and lay down work or Meetings in the face of falling numbers. Indeed, in the last 20 years or so, our central expenditure has not fallen in real terms, despite a 17 per cent fall in membership,  [46] and there is clear evidence that in some parts of the country, at least, we have been living beyond our means for a number of years. [47]


Some important work has taken place in recent years to address such issues. The recent major review of our corporate structures (RECAST) resulted in greater clarity and some simplification, and for the first time the Society has centrally agreed priorities for central work, within which local decisions may be made.[48] It remains to be seen how far such reforms will affect Local and Area Meetings, however. Will they take time as needed to really review their priorities, and be prepared to let go of some activities and properties if appropriate? The work of nominations committees should tie in with these priorities; where they struggle to find people to undertake particular work this may be symptomatic of a deeper imbalance. Important jobs around the country sometimes remain unfilled while less critical work continues. Many Meetings still don’t have job descriptions for many posts. This in itself causes difficulty both for nominations committees and for those approached to serve; it also makes it more difficult for Meetings to support those taking on responsibilities, or to consider how the work might be organised differently. It is crucially important that those undertaking work for the Society at any level understand and experience this work as spirit-led, even though it may be mundane at times. Again, the role of the business Meeting in receiving reports on work done on their behalf, and of nominations committees’ discernment in approaching people, can be important in maintaining this.


Our longstanding faith that the resources needed for spirit-led work will come must now be tempered with greater realism: declining membership is bound to impact on donations and legacies to the Society in future; there is a strong  probability of long term economic retrenchment in Britain and more widely; and we also need urgently to reduce consumption for environmental reasons. We would do well to look clearly at the situation and start reviewing our expectations of future standards of living and levels of activity in good time, so that we make better choices. However painful it may be, if some Meeting Houses need to close or staff numbers need to be reduced, for example, it is right not to delay facing up to this if the alternative is likely to be deeper cuts or even less palatable ones, soon after. With time and imagination, many such crises may also be transformed into new opportunities, though the pain and challenges of such change must not be ignored. The more realistic we can all be about future trends in the economy and ecology, and the more we are able to practise spirit-led living, the better prepared we will be to face the future, as individuals and as a Society.

Decisions about money are stressful. Even corporate decisions, taken in full accordance with our discipline of worship, give rise to tensions between traditional economic evaluations and spiritual values. Clearly financial accountability is essential, but in deciding on the viability and value of our work, there needs to be clarity about costs without assuming that ‘the world’s’ values of profitability are the (sole) basis for decision-making. Many Friends, however, struggle to engage seriously with such questions and therefore to share responsibility for decisions. For example in reviewing whether we can continue to afford our Meeting Houses we need to take account not only of the monetary costs, but also of the amount of time Friends spend in managing and maintaining these buildings. Although our buildings may be important for our own worship and community-building, and offer opportunities for outreach and service, the resources involved could also be put to other good uses.  Friends who manage and look after them out of a sense of duty might, for example, find more fruitful ways to spend their time, were they released from that responsibility.

Spirit-led discernment takes time, and sometimes our slowness may be counter-productive, because action is such a central part of building and maintaining our community and witness. Failure to act when called to do so is indeed a failure of our Discipline. Sometimes it may be right to act, even if the action is not perfect – it only has to be good enough.  Those not in unity with a decision that is emerging need to reflect carefully on the source of their discomfort before raising an objection; might it result from a personal reluctance to move out of their comfort zone, a failure to understand the basis for the decision, or a sense that it is wrong in some other way? Often, we can only see clearly the next step. Though we may have explored the implications widely, we cannot tell where that first step will lead until we have taken it.  Yet when we do take an adventurous leap of faith, experience has shown that that the way opens. When we ask for help, it comes – though not always in the way we expected. 


Today we are proud of the radical history of Quakers. British Friends have been in the forefront of major social reforms, from slavery to education, and from prison to international peacemaking. But in their own day, many Quaker radicals such as John Woolman, Lucretia Mott and Henry Doubleday were disapproved of by the Society, only to be rehabilitated as future generations' saints and role models. Is this still the case today? 


Our experience of addressing sexual relationships is a good example of what can happen when we do bring big issues to the Light together. After some decades of considering the issues[49], the question of same-sex marriage was brought to Britain Yearly Meeting in 2009.  Through the week-long gathering there was much listening, prayer, discussion and discernment at many levels. Some people were prepared to step uncomfortably into the limelight – to publicly come out and testify to their own personal experience.  Hearts and minds were changed, and the Meeting finally agreed a course of action far more radical than had initially been proposed: that we wished to carry out same sex marriages on the same basis as others, and would press for a change in the law to do so.[50] This will be a challenging path to follow in our relations with others, but the Yearly Meeting was very clear in its discernment and a sense of empowerment has ensued. Yes we can take radical steps, stick our heads above the parapet of social convention, and come out as a Society with a clear perspective on an issue which continues to cause consternation to many other churches and religions. Sticking up for our beliefs and putting them into practice through action is itself empowering. So action is part of the solution, rather than a problem to be avoided.

The challenges to our environment are likely to be the biggest test yet of our ability to look clearly at issues, speak truthfully about them, and act consistently with our understanding. They affect all of us, and the stakes are high. Each of us will need to make our own discernment about changes in our own lives, but our witness will be more effective if we also work together at many levels. We really need to open our hearts, both supporting and challenging one another on this journey. So far, only a minority of Friends have taken radical steps in this field, but they have shown others some possible ways forward[51], and momentum is growing.  Unless there is a sea change in the wider Western culture – which, for example makes it socially undesirable to fly, to drive large cars and to waste heat and light, the implications for the ecology are dire. Most of us now accept this in our heads; but for action to follow, to “remake society as a communion of people living sustainably as part of the natural world”[52], we also need to accept the need to change deep in our hearts. Change will then become a joyful witness; if done as part of a spiritual community it will strengthen and energise that community, bringing new life with it. 


Looking Ahead


Reflecting on his study of the history of Quakerism, John Punshon comments:


“Friends are a traditional people but have learned to use their tradition not as a refuge from reality but a way to negotiate it successfully and generously. This, if their past is anything to go by, is what they will continue vigorously to do”[53].


British Friends are good at focusing on the present and drawing on the past, but find it harder to look to the future. This is a drawback, because shared visions can help motivate behaviour and build community. On the other hand, too definite a collective vision is limiting and may exclude people who don’t fully share the vision. So we need to think actively about the future, not in order to develop a blueprint but so that we are aware of opportunities, can create new ones, and can address dangers ahead. Friends have been innovative in the past, and their enterprises have generally been well founded. If we spent more time looking together at how we would wish to see the future, rather than focusing on the immediate present or on the historic past, we would be better placed to make it happen.


We can draw inspiration from many sources, including fiction. For example, I was very inspired by Marge Piercy’s two science-fiction novels, Woman on the Edge of Time, and the more sophisticated Body of Glass[54]. I recognised in them positive values and possibilities, and models of how people and communities might address terrible threats and struggles creatively, while maintaining their own integrity. Some aspects of these fictional futures may have influenced my subsequent quest, which led me to Friends; looking at them now, it seems possible that they were themselves influenced by Quakers.

Drawing on words given to me long ago, I have a strong sense that “It’ll be OK”, or as Julian of Norwich wrote, “all will be well”. But I also have a sense that this depends partly on our willingness to open our eyes and take responsibility for our future. So how do we go about this?





Acting from the Spirit


‘… Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one. ….’[55]


One of Fox’s key injunctions to the early Quakers was to act: to do the bidding of the Holy Spirit. Talking was not enough. Actions consistent with our words and with the leadings we sense in our hearts, is what really matters. This of course is in line with Jesus’ teachings, which were largely about how people should behave rather than what they should believe.  It involves letting go of self (or ego), and opening ourselves up to the transforming power of God, as attested by Friends of all eras. Over time, this can renew and change us, empowering us to become God’s collaborators in the ongoing process of creation.


For Quakers, reliance on direct experience, personal discernment and shared responsibility for corporate discernment and testimony makes this integrity of action with the rest of our practice critical to the meaning of our faith. We are a faith of applied mysticism: without the mysticism – the direct experience of the holy – the action is meaningless; but without the action our Quaker way is hollow. The two together can set the world alight, and indeed are the bringing about of the ‘Kingdom of God’, or obedience to the Holy Spirit, in that little patch of the world, at that moment in time. How do we strengthen our practice in this respect?


For Quakers our first joint activity is worship. This is at the core of our spiritual community, but alone it is not enough. We need to apply our worship, our mystic Way to our lives, and take responsibility for following through where that leads us.[56]  This may seem daunting at times; we may find ourselves stepping out of regular patterns of behaviour, out of our comfort zone. For early Quakers, dress codes and forms of speech were often the first such step.[57]  Today, we may find ourselves writing a letter, attending a vigil, or offering practical or spiritual support to others.[58]  These may seem small in the wider scheme of things, but acting mindfully in small things is of crucial importance: we have to start from where we are and what we can do. The impact will seldom be known (though our example may sometimes have a surprisingly powerful effect), but changing our actions changes us in other ways. Gradually we may come to recognise that we are potential agents of the Spirit, rather than powerless little beings.[59]

Figure 3a)    Holding Spaces Figure 3b)    Energy Springs

paper collages, 2001


These simple images are an example of the process that can happen when we focus on holding a space for the spirit to work through us. They emerged while I was engaged as a helper at a Quaker event for young people. I had not been involved in its planning and was uncertain what my role was – or even whether I had one.  So I simply sat upholding those present for a while, and then surprised myself by using strips of paper near at hand to make the first, Mondrian-like, image. I then found myself playing idly with the strips of paper, and as I folded them, they came to life, asserting a springy energy. The second image made itself in no time at all. By this time, a number of the young people around me, who had earlier seemed bored and uncertain, were also enthusiastically making their own paper creations.


I realised that in the first image I was expressing the need for boundaries to create a safe space for the work being done. This required great effort, discipline and groundedness. However once those boundaries were in place, the materials could be used much more playfully and could generate lots of energy and creativity.


This often happens when we uphold people prayerfully or engage in Quaker discernment: out of the silence come new energy and unforeseen possibilities. Like the narrow strips of paper, we can ourselves be transformed.


The role of our community

We cannot do it alone. We need not do it alone. And we don’t have to do it all! We can use our Quaker community for learning and to support us in following our faith in our personal lives. It does that best if we participate actively in it, sharing responsibility for it and working together. This also helps build and sustain our community itself, as it creates shared experience as well as achieving external objectives. As we reflect together we may discover new insights, which may in turn shape further growth. [60]

Our community can also be a place to which we can bring matters we are facing up to in our lives. Holding an issue in prayer in a Meeting for Worship and talking informally to a Quaker friend about something we are personally concerned with are probably things that most of us have done many times. But how far do we invite or accept deeper help or accompaniment, or encourage others to seek it?  Formal Meetings for Clearness on matters concerning particular individuals are relatively rare, and even then we can sometimes be reluctant to really address the underlying issues.We are encouraged to “know one another in that which is eternal”[61], so why are we so reluctant to engage with one another in these ways?  Are we afraid of being judged? The only important judge is God, whose truth we know in our hearts.  Really, the comments of others, though they may hurt, may be helpful if they can help us identify the source of our discomfort. In any case, Friends are not about passing judgment or telling one another what to do, as the well-known story about William Penn and his sword illustrates. Penn didn’t immediately relinquish his sword when he became a Quaker, but continued to wear it, as was fashionable. When he asked George Fox for his view on the matter, Fox advised him to “wear it as long as thou canst”. Not long after this, they met again and Penn was no longer wearing a sword; he had taken Fox’s advice and worn it as long as he could.[62]  By actively cultivating opportunities to share our concerns with one another, we open ourselves to new possibilities and are encouraged to move forward in our own good time. We are used to doing this already as we seek to recognise “that of God” in people, and as we wait upon the Light in our Meetings for Worship. We can further cultivate spaces within our community to listen ‘with God’s ears’. Not only will this help us to discern the leadings of the Spirit in our lives better, it will also develop our capacity for spiritual listening itself, so that we are able use our ‘listening way’ beyond the Quaker context.


Holding spaces


Tilden Edwards draws a parallel between spiritual directors and doctors. Neither actually does the healing. Rather, just as a doctor will cleanse a wound and create the right conditions for the body to heal itself, so a spiritual director may – through attentive listening appropriate questions, suggestions and prayerful upholding – create conditions for spiritual healing and development.[63]


Perhaps the greatest gift we have is our practice of holding quiet spaces for listening to the Spirit, finding new inspiration, and learning to act on its guidance. This is a practice that I believe we can and should develop further for ourselves and for the wider world. Through our discernment processes we can become experienced in letting go of particular personal hopes (letting go of ego), and in seeking divine guidance for the whole group. In this way, each person involved is enabled to accept the eventual outcome provided that the community’s discipline had been maintained. [64]

Chris Cook’s words resonate strongly for me:

“In the depths of God’s silence it is possible, safe, necessary, to let go of all images; and out of this letting go come power and healing. This power and healing Friends are required to share with the world.” [65]

I believe Quakers have a ministry of making and holding spaces for the power of love and truth to bear – potentially on the whole of life. In practice it will take different forms in different times and places.


  • Spaces to be
    We need spaces simply to be. Our Meetings for Worship are a starting point.  The space is held by the worshipping community, under our corporate discipline. It is a safe space where we can let go… and let God take charge. We typically come away nurtured, comforted and/or inspired, with dilemmas and concerns mysteriously moved on at some level. We need to continue to uphold and nurture our Meetings for Worship, and seek out new opportunities for worship – at other times and places, including spontaneously, as opportunities arise. Bringing worship into everyday life – such as informally at mealtimes and on an ad hoc basis – helps create a more continuous thread of spiritual life within the wider world. At the same time we should beware of being too attached to continuing Meetings in particular places or times, as circumstances change.

    Sometimes we need to deepen our own inner stillness further and make quiet, safe spaces accessible to others. Providing spaces for longer quiet times together or alone is important work and can be demanding. Friends have developed a variety of such spaces in our Local Meetings and other centres. Perhaps we can consider ways of making such spaces more widely accessible in future, but just by simplifying out lives in line with the longstanding Quaker testimony, and making regular spaces in our lives to simply be, not needing to be outwardly busy or possess or do more things, may be an important part of our calling.

  • Spaces for discernment and learning
    Our Meetings for Business, for Threshing, Clearness and many of our courses and Meetings for Learning, are spaces in which we practice discernment. Information, prior attitudes and beliefs, may be brought together with personal hopes, fears, interests and emotions. The distinctive practice of deep listening, responding to previous contributions not in words, but in silent, open listening towards the truth, is central.[66] In our Meetings for Business  we also focus attention on the matter in hand, and on upholding the clerks as they seek to articulate the ‘sense of the Meeting’. For this process to work well does take preparation and practice; it can be hard not to let the ‘thinking’ part of us get in the way of openness to God’s will. Such corporate discernment works best if there is a sense of spacious discipline in the way the Meeting is held, with plenty of time available, and spoken contributions that are grounded in silent worship.

    Participating in such Meetings can be very powerful experiences. If we can apply our discernment practices widely and frequently, our Quakerism is more likely to thrive, and to fulfil its potential in our lives and the wider world. If they really want to understand and live the
    Quaker Way, everyone who worships with us needs in due course to be drawn into our core discernment processes.

    The role of residential events in fostering this is very important. Here, people can engage with one another at personal levels, still in the context or a supportive spiritual community. They gain experience in living according to a particular ethic; for example the practice of silent grace at mealtimes, of the opportunity to join together in worship at the beginning and end of each day, and of explicitly Quaker approaches to handling a variety of practical matters. Meeting Friends from other parts of the country allows us to share experience, pose new questions, and gain fresh insights into what Quaker living might mean. In some respects, such encounters have taken over part of the role of travelling ministers in earlier centuries. Their removal from the everyday also allows us to stand back and take time out, returning home with new eyes – and we are often re-energised from the experience.

    Of course, we also need spaces to learn about our spiritual traditions, and to learn skills for keeping the Society going, and we are likely to need to develop and update practical skills periodically. Sometimes there may be a distinctive Quaker approach but often we have to go beyond it too. Engaging with different approaches can help us sharpen our own thinking and hone particular skills. As we face the challenges the future is likely to bring, it may be even more important to have spaces for us to develop our vision and to empower us to make far-reaching changes


  • Spaces for nurturing our testimonies
    There may be a case for developing opportunities for deeper commitment with strengthened mutual accountability, for those who would like it. It may be difficult to search out the “seeds of war” in how we live our lives, or to attend to “what love requires” of us [67] by ourselves, and we may be able to do it more effectively with loving challenge and support from others over an extended period. I have certainly found this to be the case. For example, meeting with a few Friends from time to time over a couple of years to explore environmental issues has led most of us to make small but significant  changes in how we live, and also to some initiatives that were taken up by our Local Meeting as a whole. A committed group can help both in discerning suitable niches for Friends to engage in practical actions in pursuit of our testimonies, and in balancing such opportunities with our other needs and priorities.
    Some Friends are already members of intentional communities, whether residential or based wherever people happen to live. The rule of the Iona Community, for example, includes mutual accountability for how people spend their time and money, as well as praying for one another, acting in witness in the World, and meeting together periodically for mutual support, worship and discernment.[68]  Many Friends find that their own commitment deepens, and sources of support emerge, when they take on responsibilities within the Society, or through links they make at residential events.  However, for some people there may be a place for a longer-term personal commitment to a small group of Friends, who would expect to help one another deepen their Quaker spirituality further, through mutual accountability, challenge and support.  This might offer particular riches if those involved in each group didn’t necessarily share theological views or areas of special interest so that everyone concerned would gain fresh perspectives. [69]

  • Spaces for personal accompaniment.
    Spiritual accompaniment or direction has been long been an established practice in many faith traditions. Usually, it has been a non-reciprocal accompaniment of one person by another, within a hierarchical relationship, though a wider network of accompaniers is now becoming more common.[70]  A number of Friends have become involved in such work, whether purely among Quakers or on an ecumenical basis. It provides regular opportunities for a person to consciously bring their life into an upheld, spiritual space, and helps them voice dis-comforts, recognise gifts, and seek and act on opportunities for growth. Sometimes it is used to find a way through a particularly dark and spiritually dry time, or through acute challenges. It can also be used over a longer period as a way of deepening spiritual growth or sense of journey or pilgrimage, through life.

    Such relationships may develop informally among Friends, but a formal commitment can take this further.[71]  Having a regular listening space can allow the speaker to really hear what they are saying and to take it deeper, often leaving a session with unexpected new questions to ponder and suggestions to explore.  My experience is that this can be a very powerful way of developing consonance between beliefs and actions, by opening up possibilities and allowing space to discern where the real life is. This is an area of work which Friends may be particularly well suited to, through our open and listening discipline.

  • Spaces for reconciliation and healing.
    Friends have been active in this area for some time, in areas of international conflict and justice. At more local levels, Quakers were involved in starting community mediation, and many are involved in spiritual healing as well as more mainstream health. We should continue to seek opportunities for possibilities for bringing compassionate listening for truth into different parts of the world, and support such initiatives where possible, to provide spaces for social, spiritual and physical healing and reconciliation.

  • Spaces for living and growing old together

    More opportunities to live together, in a variety of arrangements, would be valuable, especially as we grow older. Living alongside others, sharing facilities and some space and activities with them while retaining privacy, is a good way to develop opportunities for mutual support and help rebuild social cohesion. It is also cheaper than living alone, or in self-contained accommodation, and offers opportunities for significant reductions in our carbon footprints.  As we look to a future beyond peak oil, choosing to move towards more shared accommodation would be a good direction to go in, and a visible example to others.
    There is a particular shortage of suitable accommodation for the elderly in our aging society, and whilst existing communities such as that in Hartrigg Oaks, near
    York, have been successful, more might be valuable, especially in urban areas where there is a concentration of Friends, and little local provision. Such developments would release new energy and reduce the possible isolation among those concerned.

    Combining residential accommodation with some rooms that could be used for public worship and other events might even offer a creative solution to some of the challenges of maintaining and managing Meeting Houses. Though substantial investment would be needed there would seem to be scope for drawing in capital by including investment from Friends who might wish to live there, though it would also be desirable to provide some rental accommodation. These ideas are not new: they have already been implemented by other churches in many places, and some have been suggested in the pages of The Friend.  They also take much energy and enterprise to get off the ground. However, when we review our assets more widely, it would be helpful to actively bear in mind such possibilities.


·        Spaces for mourning and letting go

Quaker funerals are wonderful events. We are able to celebrate that of God in the deceased, and to provide space for mourning as well as celebration. These are important in accepting the death, and in being able to continue living with a deepened appreciation of the person who has died. The death of others also reminds us of our own mortality and can cause us to review what we really value in our own lives.

I suspect that there will be an increased need for spaces for facing death and loss in the coming years. Already issues of prolonging life among those ready to die and facing terminal illness are of great concern. In the context of an aging population, global warming and pressure on costs, these questions will be posed more sharply. Can we create spaces for spiritual, life-enhancing values to inform the debate and decision-making?

·        Spaces for connecting with nature

We will not save what we do not love. It is partly because we humans have largely lost our intimacy with nature that we have destroyed it to such an extent. It follows that part of the solution is to regain such intimacy.  We know from experience how important nature is in healing and re-energising ourselves; we seek open countryside, seas or mountains for re-creation and holidays, and enjoy bird-watching, rambling, landscape or nature painting. We enjoy the activity and physical disciplines of sport, cycling and meditation – and part of this is because they help us to become more fully present in and aware of our physical bodies. As we tend flowers, prune hedges, cultivate allotments, and cook fresh food, we also reconnect with nature and come to respect and appreciate it more fully. Even just watching and listening to the natural world we are remaking our connections with it, and with the creative spirit behind it. In other words, Nature can reveal God to us.

Making deeper connections with nature can help build our awareness of our own place within the interconnected web of life, and complements learning about it in other ways. Making times and places to nurture and celebrate these connections and the glories in the world around us may also be part of our calling. Giving regular thanks is healing and creates joy, and can help sustain us and others in the face of difficulties.[72]

It may be helpful to provide spaces for people to work in spiritual ways specifically on issues to do with climate change and its consequences.
Simply providing protected space for withdrawal and extended contemplation can be a valuable contribution. People may also need spaces to help them examine and face up to particular challenges – whether it is the implications of making changes to lifestyles – (letting go of go of our cars, or acknowledging that air travel will no longer be right, affordable or possible), or whether it is the aftermath of a tragedy connected with climate change. Some of these changes will be difficult, and may have implications for maintaining our links with people dear to us. Taking time for an inward sacrament of letting go may help to provide healing and opportunities for new growth.

  • Spaces for developing our visions

    This can be done in many ways and at many levels. The present essay competition and the planned seminar are good examples. Analysis and imagination are important ingredients in developing ideas and visions for the future, and sometimes we need to take the time to work these up in some depth. Spaces for all of us to engage in developing our visions with other people are also valuable, including opportunities to bounce ideas off one another without criticising them at the outset as unfeasible. Some of this could be very playful, using theatre, games and the arts. Drawing in people from different cultural backgrounds and with different expertise would also be valuable at times; the Friends World Committee for Consultation might play a valuable part in linking up Friends in Britain and elsewhere as we develop visions for a more sustainable and spirit-based future, in our interdependent world community.

    We can also draw inspiration from others. For example some modern monastic communities have developed radical responses to the degradation of the environment, often combined with an extension of the Christian theology of redemption and resurrection.[73] Other communities, grounded in a variety of spiritual or philosophical traditions, have developed their own healing approaches to living in tune with nature. Together with more technically-oriented centres and a variety of intentional communities, small groups and individuals, these provide a wide range of models, expertise, experience and inspiration, which can be learned from in future.

  • Physical spaces

    Physical spaces are important too. Our Meeting Houses and other buildings and gardens not only provide space for our worship and other work but also provide spiritual and practical hospitality for others. They can be important facilities and part of our witness, if truly spirit-led. Regular review of our stewardship is needed if we are to ensure we are

making right use of time, money and natural resources.

Physical spaces can also be windows for the Spirit – ‘thin places’ (as Celtic tradition would call them) between the material world and the spiritual one. The recent initiative to make more of our gardens available as quiet spaces in a busy world is helpful in this respect, providing places where people can connect with nature and eternity. Similarly, the growth in expressing aspects of Quakerism through the visual arts is very positive[74].  Images – whether paintings, photographs, in dance or in words – can connect us with the spiritual and help it become more central in our everyday lives.  Personal ‘icons’ or talismans can help us to centre down when alone, and providing these (or simply a candle or flower) can be important in keeping us connected to the sprit in different places through the week.



·        Spaces in everyday life.
As well as holding larger spaces for particular purposes, we should also try more actively to build quiet times and mindfulness into our everyday lives, as suggested by
Advices & Queries. For some, this may mean regular times for meditation and prayer, but we can also learn much from Buddhists and others about the practice of mindfulness. Over time such habits can transform boring chores in to prayerful acts of service, and deepen our awareness of our interconnectedness with others and with nature.  If we find particular practices that are helpful to us and make them our regular practice, this can transform our inner lives.

Figure 4) A Quaker Hymnal   

Artist’s book, handmade paper, 2009

Sometimes I have imagined the Meeting as a book of silence – we are reaching towards the centre of the silence, unreadable pages which are imbued with meaning and power. The pages themselves spring out from that tightly-bound centre. Occasionally, a few words will emerge from the silent pages, and then recede back into it. We each see different pages and different meanings, and all are part of a mystery.

The paper in this artist’s book was made out of sheets of an old hymn book, which had otherwise been damaged beyond repair: it was no longer fit for purpose. I like the fact that others have prayed with it before, and that I have made a new form from these old prayers. If you look closely, you can discern some favourite phrases and tunes emerging from the emptiness, rather like words emerge from the silence in Meeting for Worship. The book also retains mystery; it can’t be opened out flat. The pages are interspersed with tiny prayer beads and held in a delicate tension. This creates space in a new dimension, is open and full of life, yet draws the viewer’s attention towards the quiet space.

When closed, the book is kept in a book box made in traditional Japanese style. It is lightweight, strong and unobtrusive, covered in its black silk cloth and paper, and closed with bone clasps. It is very portable and can opened up to create a focus for contemplation or worship anywhere.

Expressing our faith

We also need to find ways of articulating our beliefs, and the principles underlying our actions. This is crucial to maintain our own confidence and also for explaining our faith and actions to others – to newcomers, children and to those outside the Society.  Again, this is an ongoing process. As well as using words, the arts, the way we work with land, with people and with technology can all be expressions of our faith.


We should not be afraid of reclaiming religious and spiritual language, using it to express what we want to say, nor from using language from other contexts (such as psychology) where appropriate.  Our relationships with one another and with the truth are also expressions of our relationship with the Divine. As we practice our relationship with God, and with one another in our community, this may help us learn new ways of being and acting, consonantly with our values and testimonies which we can extend this to our relationship in the wider world.

Corporate statements are also important. Words agreed at a gathered business meeting can have particular power to inspire and challenge us, especially if there has been a process of wider discernment across the Society, as we know from our Advices & Queries. Policy statements, such as Our values and the Environment recently prepared by the Head of Hospitality and Facilities at Friends House[75], can also offer guidance and provide helpful examples. We might at some stage find it helpful to develop a short, positive statement along the lines of Australia Yearly Meeting’s This we can say.   [76]


Attention to young people.

Children and young people should be regarded as among our greatest assets. Among the qualities of children are innocence, openness, receptivity, trust and humility. They often see things clearly and are more open to new ways, as they are less burdened by old habits and prior commitments. Their questions can be searching and their idealism inspiring and energising, even if it sometimes needs to be tempered with wise questions and the experience of others. Of course the future concerns them most directly. Investing in our young people helps both them and the future of Quakerism.

To be successful we need to be able to talk with children at their own level, and to respect them as individuals. A central part of our Ministry to our children – and theirs to us – is the sharing of our enthusiasms, experience and understanding, in whatever form seems right. Some older Friends may be intimidated by unfamiliar styles of language and behaviour from those in their teens or twenties. This may be mutual, and it can be damaging. Indeed it seems that sometimes their very youth has blinded some older Friends to seeing and welcoming younger ones as individuals; in turn this has occasionally put them off coming to Meeting in a new area. [77]

Through the residential events for young people held at national and regional levels, we are already providing wonderful opportunities for them to develop and exercise skills for corporate discernment and for practising, modelling and celebrating our Quaker Way. Young people are often involved in the planning and leadership of these events while the requisite safe boundaries are maintained by adults. Through these experiences, the young folk have developed skills for dealing with disagreement without conflict, which are later put to good use both within and outside the Society. We should not forget that it was in the clarity and idealism of youth that the Society was first established and which has often led to its extension and renewal.[78]  In particular, the sense of urgency experienced by many young people is well placed; we should not delay getting on with the Great Work of living our Quakerism to the full.


Working with our neighbours

Unlike early Friends, Quakers today no longer believe that we have a monopoly on religious Truth. It would be truer to say that many or most British Friends would accept that by definition God and the spiritual realm are never fully knowable or describable , and that we find great value in exploring spiritual traditions other than our own. We can also use skills and practices developed elsewhere to help us deepen our worship - or contemplation and to develop our worldly engagement. We can also gain new understanding about the distinctiveness of our own faith when we talk about it with non-Quakers.


Our numbers are such that great discernment is needed in considering appropriate niches for our work of witness in the world. We can be at our best in creating opportunities for a mixed group of people to come together: we can model respect for varied contributions and perspectives, facilitate dialogue, and offer silence and time for reflection at appropriate times. Similarly, our experience of discernment in Quaker contexts, and of plain speaking and simplicity, often mean that we are well placed to help find ways forward in new situations. Many Friends have recently played key roles in developing more sustainable local communities, through the Transition Towns movement for example[79], and this could be further developed. If we work closely with our neighbours, it keeps us open to new ideas, offers learning and outreach opportunities for us, and helps develop the community around us.


Continuing review and reflection


New issues will continue to arise for us in our work, our community, our homes or the wider world. For example we may feel uncomfortable about work we are asked to do, or a particular way of treating someone. When John Woolman voiced his unease at being asked by a neighbour to draw up a bill of sale for a slave, that not only set off a powerful train of effects on his own life but also influenced his neighbour.[80] Voicing such discomfort is valuable, even if we don’t have a ‘solution’; it opens up the possible search for a better way, and often finds echoes in those around us, even though we may never know the effects.

In general, a community needs to be constantly in the process of being re-created if it is to thrive [81], and the continuous process of action, reflection, learning, expressing and action (not necessarily always in that order and often at the same time) is an inherent part of the Quaker Way. The regular revision of our Book of Discipline is one example of this, and Quaker Faith and Practice  recommends regular reviews of aspects of our local meeting communities and personal lives. This is not always done in great depth but sometimes it is very helpful indeed to take time out for deeper reflection, to take stock and to nurture our own spiritual life and community.



In Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy’s main protagonist is in communication with two competing futures which are at war with each other. Decisions she makes in her own ‘small’ life influence the balance of power between these far-future worlds (or the probabilities of them happening).


So it is for us; small actions may have significant results, some time ahead. In many respects British Quakers are well placed to face the future. We have a tried and tested method of bringing spiritual light to bear on the any issue. If we are able to hold and develop spaces for the Spirit to work through us, and bring  them to a wider audience, adapting our central insights and practices as appropriate without diluting the core of our the Quaker Way, then Quakerism in Britain will thrive a little longer. It will also be able to make an effective contribution to bringing healing to the world. If not, we will be an irrelevance and future generations may be left with a few old buildings and some books. 

What really matters here is the work of the Spirit: the Religious Society of Friends is in one sense merely a means to an end. It is only a small part of Creation. It needs to be a humble part, recognising our interdependence with the rest of the Web of Life.  But it is also an important and distinctive one, not just for its members, but potentially much more widely. We need to use heads and hands and hearts in the service of the Spirit, and engage squarely with the Great Work of building the Kingdom of God – or spirit-led lives, not forgetting our own use of natural resources and the wider environmental challenges. If we fail to tackle these issues, what will that say about our love for truth, for the poor of today, and for generations to come?

Taking action is often important in itself: we don’t have to know all the answers before making a start. The first step for many may be to start considering these issues prayerfully with a small group of Friends, or in our personal prayer or spiritual times – writing, walking, weeding or simply sitting. However it is important to respond and to take other actions, large or small, as opportunities arise. We may be called to learn to ride a bike, to write a letter, go on a course, change our diet or examine our living arrangements. The next steps will become clear as we seek them, and help will appear when we need it (if we are open to receiving it) – though perhaps in a surprising form! This path may be demanding, requiring energy and effort, and will involve difficult choices in how we spend our time and money. But there is nothing more joyful and life-enhancing than living in consonance with the Truth and with our deepest values, especially if we are part of a community doing this together.

The choice is ours. Are we willing, as Friends, to create and hold the spaces in our lives and our World for the Spirit of Love and Truth? Will we act from its leadings? There is nobody else to do it for us.


Figure 5) Chiming 

Paper collage, 2003,

This word collage was made at the close of a day workshop reflecting on themes of turning points in life’s pilgrimage, using instructions from the Appleseed Workbook. (Cook and Heales,2001, p127.) The poem followed soon after.




A clapper sounds

The silence instantly transformed

By the bell’s calling,

Echoing inwardly and out:

     Something heard.


Each flag unique

Along a pilgrim’s way:

Each step a turning–point with its own timbre;

Touched and trodden.

     Something lived.


My path a map of many colours;

Beacons emerging from a sheet of life,

Each torn-out space a window for new Light

A crazy peal, rejoicing.

     Beckoning on.




[1] I use the words ‘God’ and ‘Spirit’ interchangeably in this essay, and other terms besides, and would not wish to try to define them too closely, as they refer to a power which, ultimately, is beyond definition.

[2]:  Janet Scott, What Canst Thou Say – Towards a Quaker Theology, London: Quaker Home Service, 1980 (p70).   Dandelion 2008 suggests that  this emphasis on form rather than beliefs is unique among religious groups.( P153).

[3] Rachel Muers, Keeping God’s Silence, Blackwell Publishing, 2004, p152

[4] For example the UN’s Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth report in 2007 (available at  and the  2006 Stern Review to the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Economics of Climate Change (available at ).

[5] Genesis  I v 28 and Genesis II v 15

[6]British Social Attitudes Survey, reported in Office for National Statistics, Social Trends 38  , 2008, p 189, table 13.18.

[7]British Election Studies, in British Social Attitudes 2006/7, p9, National Centre for Social Research, quoted in Vexen Crabtree: Religion in the United Kingdom: Diversity, Trend and Decline , 2007,available at

[8] Tearfund research, Churchgoing in the UK, quoted in Crabtree,2007

[9]  ONS Social Trends  (2008) and Crabtree ibid. Orthodox churches have also increased in recent decades,  largely due to migration from Eastern Europe.

[10] Sources: Quaker figures from tabular statements and all churches figures from Christian Research, English Church Censuses, quoted in Crabtree (2007). Though these measures are not exactly comparable, they show the same broad pattern as other indicators.

[11] ONS, Social Trends  38.

[12] Quoted in Crabtree (2007).

[13] See Elizabeth Puttick, ‘The Rise in Mind-Body-Spirit Publishing’ in Journal of Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies,2005, 1, pp 129-149. For further discussion, see for example Gordon Lynch, New Spirituality: an Introduction to Belief Beyond Religion , I B Taurus, 2007

[14] See L Murgatroyd , ‘The Production of People and Domestic Labour Revisited’, in Family and Economy in Modern Society, eds Paul Close and Rosemary Collins, Macmillan Press, 1985

[15] Personal Communication

[16] Office for National Statistics, Annual Abstract of Statistics 2008, p7 and Social Trends 38. The proportions in London were much higher

[17]ONS, Annual Abstract of Statistics  2008.

[18]eg by the  IPCC report 2007

[19] See for example the High Court case of Dean vs. Borne and others, Neutral Citation Number: [2009] EWHC 1250 (Ch) Case No: HC07C03107, Judgment published 5 June 2009.

[20] For a wider consideration, see John Reader, Reconstructing Practical Theology: the Impact of Globalisation, Ashgate publishing, Aldershot, 2008.

[21] General election turnouts in the 21st Century have been around 60 per cents, compared with between 70 per cent and 85 per cent in the rest of the post-World War II period. See House of Commons House of Commons Research Papers 01/54 & 05/33

[22] ONS, Social Trends  38 2006, page 59

[23] ONS,  Annual Abstract of Statistics 2008, p 169. For a fuller discussion, see Richard Wilkinson  with K. Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Allen Lane, 2009.

[24] Source: 2003 MORI poll, quoted by Crabtree, 2007. Crabtree  quotes many other sources which indicate widespread ignorance about Christianity in the UK, including among university-educated, teachers and journalists.

[25] Maitland comments on this, and suggests, very plausibly, that increases in antisocial behaviour and mental illness may be related to a lack of silence and knowledge of how to use it. Sarah Maitland   A Book of Silence, Granta Books,  2008, pp 131-134 and p 230 .

[26] In December 2009

[27] For example, Richard Heinberg, ‘The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies’, 2005, Clairview books , the Stern review 2006,  and Shaun Chamberlin, Transition Timeline, Green Books, 2009

[28] Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. ‘Managing the health effects of climate change’, The Lancet, vol373, May 16, 2009

[29] Developing countries face threat of soaring prices and food shortages’, Nick Mathiason, The Observer, 1 November 2009, which draws on work by  Goldman Sachs, the World Bank, and the United Nations’ FAO.

[30] Thomas Berry, Fritz Schumacher, Joanna Macy, and Thich Nhat Hanh, are but a few of the leaders.

[31]  For example, the Meeting for Sufferings statement  A Quaker Response to the Crisis of Climate Change, endorsed by Yearly Meeting in August 2009, the inclusion of sustainability as a major theme in the corporate  Framework For Action 2009-2014, work on Quaker buildings, conferences and a major new stream of work at Woodbrooke.

[32] The major RECAST review of structures and functions of British Quakerism culminated in reorganisations agreed at Britain Yearly Meeting in 2005 and 2006.

[33] Recent estimates of proportions of British Friends identifying as Christian  range from 45 per cent to over 70 per cent,  see Pink Dandelion, An Introduction to Quakerism, 2007, Cambridge University Press, p 136.  Non-Christian Quakers include Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikhs, agonistics and atheists.

[34] See Rex Ambler , Creeds and the Search for Unity. London: Quaker Home Service,1989.

[35] Dandelion 2007, p 136

[36] Dandelion , P., A Sociological Analysis of the Theology of Quakers: The Silent Revolution,

Lampeter: Edwin Mollen Press, 1996, chapter 3

[37] See Dandelion, 2007 pp 126. A number of commentators have warned of this danger of dilution of liberal Quakerism,  in Europe, North America or elsewhere.

[38] Patricia Loring, Listening Spirituality vols I and II  Openings Press 1997, Brenda Heales and Chris Cook, Images and Silence, Quaker Home Service, 1992 .

[39] See Timothy Ashworth and Alex Wildwood, Rooted in Christianity, Open to New Light: Quaker Spiritual Diversity . Ashgate and Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, 2009

[40] For further discussion see Ralph Heatherington  Quakerism, Universalism and Spirituality ,   Quaker Universalist Pamphlet 24, 1995.

[41] Joanne and Larry Spears, Friendly Bible Study, Quaker Press of FGC, 1990

[42] Others have described similar experiences; some of Cecil Collins’s spiritual paintings simply emerged of their own accord, whereas others were paintings of images that appeared in his mind, and he saw his work as simply transmitting them to the canvas. See Cecil Collins, Vision of the Fool, Grey Walls Press, 1947. Brenda Heales and Chris Cook (1992) discuss such processes in more depth and offer ways of engaging with them in their Appleseed Workbook, Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, 2001.

[43] Theophilus Green, A Narrative of some Passages in the Life of Theophilus Green, T. Sowle 1702 .  This was not atypical ; John Punshon , Portrait in Grey: A Short History of the Quakers, London, Quaker Home Service, 2006, especially Chapter 5, paints the broader picture.

[44] See Punshon, 2006, and Dandelion, 2007 .

[45] Heron, 2001 p 12, and Roy Stephenson, Freeing the Spirit, 2009 Sessions of York

[46] Gross expenditure of central Yearly Meeting funds, adjusted to the RPI. This is a very broad-brush figure, and hides the fact that some of our expenditure has been grant-funded by others. It also represents only a minority of overall Quaker expenditure, the majority of which is in Area Meetings and other organisations around the country..

[47] This is clearly the case In London, for example. See Keith Walton.  ‘London Meetings funding gap’, in The Friend, 9 October 2009.

[48] A Framework For Action 2009-2014

[49] Towards a Quaker View of Sex was published by Friends Home Service Committee in 1963, and  formal consultations across the Society on same sex relationships took place in the 1980s

[50]  See minute 23 of Britain Yearly Meeting, 2009.

[51] For example, Lizz Roe in her talk given to the Friends World Committee for Consultation Triennal Meeting in 2007 ; see . Sharing experience through the Living Witness Project network has already been helpful for many Friends.

[52] A Quaker response to climate change, Meeting for Sufferings, Britain Yearly Meeting, June 2009.

[53] John Punshon, 2006,  p296

[54] Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time, Knopf, 1976 , Body of Glass , Penguin,1991

[55] George Fox, Letter to ministers from Launceston gaol, 1656, quoted in Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain, Quaker Faith and Practice , (QfP) 1995, para 19.32.

[56] There are plenty of examples of deep worship, meditation or contemplation leading to radical change, from the Old Testament prophets to people like Francis of Assisi, and Gandhi. A more recent example is that of John Seed. After seven years of practising intensive Buddhist meditation, one day Seed unexpectedly ‘felt the forest inside of him… calling to him’. This was a transformative experience leading him devote his life to protecting the rainforest, eventually establishing organisations in Australia and  the USA. See  Sallie B. King, Socially Engaged Buddhism, University of Hawaii Press, 2009, pp125-126.

[57] Ellwood’s account of how his Quakerism was first tested in this way– see Thomas Ellwood History of the Life, 1714, pp21-25 ed C.G.Crump, 1900, quoted in QfP para 19.16. 

[58] For those coming to Friends other than through birth and upbringing, their first time attending Quaker Meeting or acknowledging themselves as a Quaker in other circles may be such a moment.

[59]  Joycelin Dawes,  Choosing Life: Embracing Spirituality in the 21st Century, Quaker Universalist Group Pamphlet no 32, 2008,  outlines some processes and effects of inward-led spiritual change in an accessible and informed way.

[60] Alistair McIntosh gives a number of good illustrations of this in Rekindling Community: connecting People, Environment and Spirituality , Schumacher Briefing 15,Green Book, 2008. See also Thomas Berry The Great Work: Our Way into the Future, New York,Bell Tower,1999.

[61] Advices & Queries 18, in QfP,1995.

[62] Samuel M Janney, Life of William Penn, p166, quoted in QfP 19.47.

[63]  Tilden Edwards, Spiritual Friend – Reclaiming the Gift of Spiritual Direction. Paulist Press , Mahwah New Jersey,1980

[64] See Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain, Quaker Faith and Practice. 1995. 

[65] Heales and Cook, 1992.

[66]The Experiment with Light takes this to greater depth than usually practiced today, see Rex Ambler,  Light to Live by: Exploration of Quaker Spirituality, Quaker Books  2002, and . Others have developed traditional Quaker practice drawing on other traditions in different ways – see for example, Joycelin Dawes, Janice Dolley and Ike Isaksen,  The Quest: Exploring a Sense of Soul, O Books, 2005..

[67] Advices & Queries 31 and 28 ,in  QfP 1995

 [68] The Iona Community is an ecumenical  Christian community centred on the island of Iona but extending across the UK, See  Friends have also been connected with other orders, including Zen Buddhist and Benedictine and Jesuit Christian ones.

[69] Ian Wright suggests a particular form of this in ‘Woolgathering’, The Friend, 25th September 2009.

[70] See for example SPIDIR, the ecumenical spiritual direction network run under the auspices of the Diocese of  Southwark, see

[71]The Quaker Retreat Group has offered such opportunities in the past, and Woodbrooke’s Spiritual Friendship courses and their work with Quaker Life on accompaniment for new Friends is also promising. There may be scope for developing a mentoring approach for those new to particular positions of responsibility within the Society and for more seasoned Friends more generally.

[72] Joanna Macy, World as Lover, World as Self , Parallax Press, 1991. Macy also describes some other processes for deepening our connections with nature, such as practices of  ‘Deep Ecology’.

[73] See Thomas Berry ,1999. John E. Carroll, has looked at  examples of how such principles have been put into practice, in  Sustainability and Spirituality. Albany, State University of New York Press, 2004. 

[74] Rowena Loverance, ‘Visualising British Quakerism’, in Friends Quarterly issue 4, 2008.

[75] Paul Grey, Our Values and the Environment, October 2009

[76]  See the anthology This we can say: Australian Quaker Life, Faith and Thought, Australia Yearly Meeting, 2003  also at

[77] Personal communications.

[78]Fox was only 19 when he left his home village on his spiritual quest and many early Quaker missionaries were little older. J S Rowntree was 25 when he wrote his influential 1859 essay.

[79] See Rob Hokins, The Transition Handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience. Green Books. 2008.

[80] John Woolman , The Journal and Major Essays, ed Phillips P Moulton, 1971, p 51 (entry for 1756), quoted in QfP 20.46

[81] Scott Peck. The Different Drum: Community-Making and Peace. Arrow Books, 1990 (Chapter 4)

[82] See  David F.Ford: Theology: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 1999, and Ashworth and Wildwood, 2009.