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Making a Yearly Meeting Gathering for all Quakers in Britain

Juliet Prager explores ways to reach out to Friends who were absent – by choice or circumstance – from the week-long event at Warwick University.
Photo credit: Mike Pinches for Quakers in Britain
Photo credit: Mike Pinches for Quakers in Britain

When I opened the Yearly Meeting Gathering 2017 programme, I was really impressed. The week promised so much, and I couldn't wait to be there.

But I haven't always felt that way about Yearly Meeting. In the years I've been a Quaker I've often been to Yearly Meeting – but many times I haven't. For me and for other Quakers, there are plenty of good reasons for not being part of this particular event.

Some of us can't get time off work. Or our families have other ideas about how to spend their holidays. It can be too difficult to juggle other commitments. Some of us are daunted by the cost – even when we know about bursary support. Some people don't feel comfortable in large gatherings. Sadly, some people find Yearly Meeting too cliquey. Or, simply, Yearly Meeting doesn't seem that relevant to them.

A movement for all

This year's theme was movement-building. If we're serious about building movements, we have to make this real not just for the Quakers who gathered at Warwick University for a week in early August – but for the Quakers who weren't there as well.

I remember hearing about an elderly Quaker who faithfully attended Yearly Meeting for as long as anybody could remember. As they grew older and less able to travel, they would still prepare for the event by reading the documents, encouraging other Friends to attend, and afterwards asking them how it had been. And during Yearly Meeting itself they would sit quietly at home, upholding the meeting.

Keeping in touch

In the 21st century we have new ways to keep in touch, and people who weren't there could keep up with the news, if they wanted to. Anyone with a computer or smartphone could follow Yearly Meeting on Facebook and on Twitter via @ymevent_britain and #YMG2017. It was even possible to read the spoken ministry online, as it happened. The minutes and epistle are now available.

But can we turn this around and find ways for the people who are at our Yearly Meeting Gatherings and other Quaker events, to uphold Quakers who aren't there?

Yearly Meeting's three-year consideration of 'living out our faith in the world' ended with a minute for all Quakers in Britain. It aspires to "remove barriers and actively seek wider participation in the full life of our meetings". That's an excellent place to start.

Personally, throughout the week I spent a little time each day keeping all Quakers in my thoughts. I listened out for practical ways to connect what we were doing in Warwick with what Quakers are doing in local meetings. Already, I've had the chance to talk with people from my meeting about how to bring back the energy and excitement - without making others feel excluded.

Every meeting is different, and I'm not sure exactly what that means yet. For Quakers in Leeds I suspect it'll involve doing something practical. My hope is that you'll join me in finding ways to make this a Yearly Meeting for all Quakers in Britain.