The Friends Quarterly essay competition
As the four
judges of the 2009 Friends Quarterly essay
competition, we share a powerful sense of privilege and of responsibility for
the thoughtful and prayerful work of so many Friends who entered, and those who
supported those entries. We also have a strong feeling of continuity with those
who launched and who wrote for the 1859 competition, which was the inspiration
for our project. We hope that what will arise from, and as a consequence of, the
contemporary essays will have at least as great a beneficial impact on the
Religious Society of Friends in Britain as did the nineteenth century
predecessor, which was instrumental in the re-invention and re-invigoration of
Quakerism in this country. We are deeply grateful to the Joseph Rowntree
Charitable Trust for their financial support and continued encouragement
We were greatly
impressed by the number, range and quality of the entries. 106 essays were
received (most as written essays but some as web sites and using other
electronic media). The entries ranged in length from under one page to over 50
pages. They came mostly from Britain
Yearly Meeting, but there were seven entries from other yearly
meetings. Six entries
stated that they were from those aged 35 or under, whose participation we had
actively encouraged. There was a fine diversity of entrant, topic and concern.
If we were slightly disappointed that more entrants had not taken the option of
using a wider spread of media, that does not detract
from the quality of entries as a whole. Interestingly, two thirds of the
entrants were male, almost the opposite proportion compared with membership of
Britain Yearly Meeting as a whole. While we have no scientific basis on which
to claim that the views expressed are necessarily representative of Quakerism
as a whole, we are clear that this body of work, taken together, represents a
remarkable and substantial compendium of what many Friends think, hope for,
fear and believe.
The daunting task
of judging this volume of entries occupied the judges across the end of 2009
and the start of 2010. Each of us read all the entries, and we shared our own
long and short lists, before we came together to select the winners, seeking
discernment after the manner of Friends. Every entry was assessed anonymously,
and we were therefore unaware of who were the authors of the winning essays
until the judging process was complete. The winners were announced in The Friends Quarterly February 2010
issue, and in our sister publication The
Friend on 12 February 2010.
We awarded the
first prize to Linda Murgatroyd of Kingston & Wandsworth Area Meeting for her essay, The future of Quakers in Britain: holding spaces for the spirit to act.
This remarkable tour d’horizon
of the issues concerning Quakers in Britain today was inspiring as well as
being easy to read, with a depth which rewards re-reading. We especially valued
the exhortation to create all sorts of spaces for ourselves, for others and for
the Spirit to act. Linda’s use of her own original artwork harnessed art and
creativity in just the way she urges us to do in taking Quakerism forward. We
considered that it stands alongside other
examples of significant Quaker reflective writing, and
that its relevance extends beyond those already overly conversant with the
inside of British Quakerism.
large number of worthy entries, we used our discretion to award two further
prizes. Felicity Kaal of Bristol Area Meeting wrote
of The Future of Quakerism in way
which we found especially compelling. Her awareness of the origins and
mainsprings of our beliefs, and how those need to be tested and developed in a
changing world, spoke to our conditions and we believe those of Friends as a
whole. She urges us to retain, retrieve and change what we already have in
order to the Society. For her as for
Linda there are no soft options, with progress requiring work, prayer, thought
and determination to ensure a relevant future for Quakerism.
The most radical challenge comes from
Simon Best of London West Area Meeting in The
future of the Religious Society of Friends: Simple, contemporary, radical?
His vital and direct essay focuses on younger
Friends, seeing them as the present just as much as the future of the Society.
Simon’s vigorous approach aims to take us back to what we should be – a
worshiping group – and away from being merely people who meet on a Sunday
morning for social as much as spiritual nourishment, and he look to the younger
generation to lead that drive.
We have been
upheld by the expressed support of very many Friends through the project so
far. The trustees of The Friend Publications Limited, Joseph Rowntree
Charitable Trust , Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre and
Friends House have been unfailingly helpful, and many individuals have given
assistance and encouragement. Possibly most of all, we have been heartened by
the many comments received from those who entered but were not prize-winners,
saying how valuable they have found the stimulus to encapsulate their own
thoughts in an essay, irrespective of the judges’ selection. We have received a
few criticisms, most notably regarding our wish to retain copyright of entries,
but we have placed no restrictions on entrants using their work in other ways,
asking only that this where possible may be timed to fit in with the wider
presentation of the entire body of work to the Society as a whole.
entries has been a pleasure and a privilege, daunting at times and always demanding . We hope that we ourselves may be judged by how
readily we make the widest range of material available to Quakers in Britain,
and the steps we can take to encourage others then to follow the paths to which
it may lead.