Average read time: 4 minutes

Are you ready for 2021?

Paul Parker explores how Quakers in Britain might meet the challenges and potentials of the coming year.

Quaker communities are sometimes fragile, but also resilient – finding ways to support each other in troubled times. Image: Shutterstock
Quaker communities are sometimes fragile, but also resilient – finding ways to support each other in troubled times. Image: Shutterstock

Are you ready for 2021, or are you still reeling from 2020? The pandemic, like a powerful lens, has shown up more clearly many of the challenges we already knew we faced – both inside our Quaker community and in the world around us. In this blog I want to take a look at some of those challenges, and consider the questions we need to ask ourselves in order to meet them.

Quakers are invisible

We're a small faith community, and our meeting places are often discreetly tucked away. The public doesn't know much about us or how we worship. We can be hard to find, and hard to find out about.

If that was already so, the move to worshipping online – which most meetings have managed to make so well – has made it even harder. Our public face to the world has, much like our own faces, been masked from view. And yet those who do manage to find us, even online, often describe the experience as being like 'coming home'.

Are you and your meeting ready to make your Quakerism visible in 2021? Is your public face on display? What will you do to invite people to experience Quaker worship in 2021?

Our meetings are fragile

The median Quaker meeting has 21 members, down from 24 in 2009. That probably equates to around 12 worshippers on a typical Sunday. That means there are around 250 Quaker communities relying on small numbers of people to keep everything going.

Many meetings have experienced numerical decline, but where there is growth, it's in smaller meetings, rather than larger. We still don't know the impact of the pandemic on our numbers in 2020. And yet our communities are resilient – we have found ways to worship together and support one another in troubled times.

For some, the chance to see Friends online has been a precious time of connection in a lonely and disorientating year. Online meetings have allowed Friends who had drifted away to reconnect with us, and Friends who can't attend in-person meetings have been able to join in worship.

At the same time, Friends who can't – or don't want to – worship online have been slipping away. Our children and young people have – in many meetings, not all – disappeared from view, their precious contribution to our communities lost.

Are you and your meeting thinking about how to reconnect, rebuild and strengthen your Quaker community? Will you find ways to ensure that all Friends in our communities can feel engaged and valued? Are you listening to the needs of our children and young people, and making sure they are provided for?

Quakers can worship anywhere

We already knew that our silent, waiting worship could happen anywhere, and at any time – round a campfire under the stars, in a listed 17th century meeting house, at a community centre, a kitchen table or a street protest. To that list we can now add Zoom.

Are you ready to embrace the opportunity to worship wherever and whenever it comes – online or in-person, indoors or outdoors, on Sundays or on weekday evenings, or first thing every morning? How can we revitalise silent waiting as a spiritual practice for our time and weave it into everyday life – for ourselves and for the many others whose lives could be transformed by it?

There is work to do

The world around us is in crisis. Covid-19 has starkly exposed the pandemic of inequality in our society – manifesting through racial, economic and climate injustices. And we live in an uneasy time – one in which our divisions are deliberately exploited and polarised for political gain. We too get drawn into toxic debates, sometimes forgetting the power of listening and human connection in a time of mistrust of institutions and opposing tribes.

Are you ready to play your part in building the community we seek – one in which each individual is valued, their voice heard, their need addressed? Are you building bridges – personally, locally, nationally and internationally – which will help the world recover?

Are you willing to stand alongside those whose need is greatest, to use our voice to influence change? And are you willing to be silent, when it is another's voice which needs to be heard?

2020 is over, thankfully. It is time for the work of 2021 to begin. Are you ready?