Along with the Recording Clerk, Paul Parker, I love visiting local Quaker meetings. Britain Yearly Meeting employs staff to help meetings grow and to work for the changes Quakers want to see in the world. Together, we can do much more.
But we know that for many Quakers, Friends House is far away and may seem distant – so we're passionate about building better links between local meetings and the people who work on their behalf.
This year Paul and I have visited at least 28 meetings, and we've learned a lot. Here are five things I'm taking forward into 2018.
1. Simplify, simplify
All around Britain we heard Quakers talking about wanting to cut back on complications. Some meetings are focusing on what really matters – emphasising, as one meeting described it, "spiritual inspiration and a gathered meeting; links with the wider Quaker world; and a meeting place where we could welcome visitors".
Some have reduced paperwork or the number of Quaker roles. One meeting realised it had eight bank accounts - which it's now combining into one.
All this is freeing up time and energy to focus on the things that really matter: gathering in worship; building loving and inclusive communities; and bringing Quaker values to the world.
2. People love Quaker gatherings
At every Quaker meeting or gathering I've been to, I've experienced real joy, strong community and deep worship. I'm not ignoring the tough bits, which can include challenging spiritual experiences and difficult decisions. But – especially when the event has been thoughtfully prepared – I found we go away richer for it.
One Friend travelled for two days and two nights to get to General Meeting for Scotland, and the same to get home again. That's some inspiration for those of us who resist going to a business meeting being held half-an-hour away from home.
Of course, many factors can make it difficult for people to access our meetings and gatherings, and these people shouldn't be forgotten – something I acknowledged in a
blog post last year. Later in January we'll have some more news on how we're working to make Yearly Meeting 2018 as accessible as possible.
3. Food nourishes the soul
Time and again, we've been delighted by delicious meals shared together in Quaker meetings: hot soups, fresh sandwiches, healthy salads, and astonishing arrays of cakes. What makes these meals most memorable is the conversations over them.
Friendships deepen, questions are explored, insights are shared. It's reminded me of this part of Quaker faith & practice 10.08:
After a leisurely and useful preparative meeting, Friends sat at a long table in the children's room to enjoy supper together…It was sacramental, in the sense in which Friends so profoundly believe.
Quakers have also come together with their local communities over shared meals to extend a hand of friendship to newcomers and those facing difficulties. Once example is Swindon Meeting, who in 2017 wrote about how a monthly invitation to tea and cake at a member's home became an opportunity for refugees to find support, care and understanding.
4. Quaker leadership makes a difference
This year I've seen a lot of inspiring leadership.
Quaker meetings thrive on our many forms of leadership. The person who doesn't just put the kettle on, but encourages everyone to take a share in the washing up. The person who invites the newcomer for a meal at just the right time. The person who not only asks a younger Friend to take on a key role, but supports them throughout. The person who keeps an eye out for exciting news about national Quaker work, shares it with the meeting and nudges people to get involved.
Of course, we also need good clerks and treasurers to support the meeting. Around Britain, we're blessed with clerks who prepare carefully for business meetings; help everyone to know what the business is about; ensure different views are heard; support the meeting to listen prayerfully; and write a clear minute. We have treasurers who steward our money and tell us what's available to the community. In turn, we support them: each one of us upholds these Friends to be the servant-leaders we need.
5. New growth
Not only are meetings exploring new ways to worship and witness, but we're also attracting new members. Certainly, I've visited meetings reeling from the death of much-loved members, and heard instances of people whose journey takes them away from Quakers, but real growth is also evident.
In one meeting I heard of a 20-year-old student who learned about Quakers on her course; now, she actively contributes her local Quaker meeting and has set up a Quaker group at university. She applied for membership, so that she could make a commitment to this meeting before moving away after her degree.
Young Quakers are at the heart of our community. The end of 2017 saw the launch of the Young Quaker Podcast, made by and for Young Quakers and exploring a range of topics from faith and spirituality to Quaker history.
Please let us know if you'd like one of us to visit your meeting and learn from you. We're looking forward to the coming year and hope you are too.