Welcome to Southern Marches Area Quaker Meeting.
Southern Marches Area Quaker Meeting (SMAQM) covers a large geographic area from southern Herefordshire to mid-Shropshire and into mid-Wales. The Area Meeting has some of the oldest continually-used Friends Meeting Houses and is an active Quaker community.
Epistle from Yearly Meeting
held at Friends House, London on 24th – 27th May 2019
“Loving greetings to Friends everywhere,
Our themes have encouraged us to look through the lens of privilege at climate justice, and at diversity and inclusion. The opening session was one of tenderness and love. We heard about the need to be a trusting and trusted community, sharing our insights and experience, perhaps bringing to light what has been hidden. In their introduction, our clerks acknowledged that we are confronting difficult and potentially alienating topics. There is a risk of becoming mired in introspection and failing to address the challenges presented to us.
Each of us is at a different stage of this journey and has different understandings of the issues involved. The word ‘privilege’ has been used in two distinct ways this weekend: as a blessing we experience and as the unearned advantages a person can inherit from birth and/or accumulate over time. This has brought some frustrations. Our identities are complex and multifaceted. We need to be aware of the ways in which we can simultaneously have, and lack, privilege.
The words of Junior Yearly Meeting (JYM) frame the challenge we face: “We recognise the exclusion we may create is not intentional but it doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible for it. There is a feeling Quakers are passively inclusive. Our testimony to equality makes us complacent.” (from JYM 2019, Minute 1)
We need to be gentle with Friends who feel uncertain about how to engage whilst moving with a sense of urgency, knowing that these issues are an everyday source of pain for some of us.
Over 1,200 Friends have participated. Our twin themes have been woven together in main sessions, parallel sessions, special interest groups, programmed and unprogrammed worship, across different age groups and in the buzz of our shared spaces. The children’s programme focused on caring and including. Exploring the themes worshipfully through dance and singing has been a gentle way to make friends and build our spiritual community.
During our time together, we’ve shed tears of joy, of emotion and of sadness. We are thankful to Friends who were able to share the riches and vulnerabilities in their life stories. Listening to these stories in the Spirit helps us to reflect on how we need to change.
“There is nothing that age, experience and status can do to pre-judge where and how the Light will appear.” (Quaker faith & practice, 23.32)
We recognise that the Light may not be warm and comfortable but be a spotlight exposing our vulnerability, complicity and fear. It is from such discomfort, even being broken, that spiritual growth can come alive. We want to stay with the struggle and hold the tension.
Guilt and shame emerged as strong themes in our opening worship: guilt for what we’ve done and shame for who we are and for what we’ve inherited. By sitting with overwhelming feelings we have the hope of transformation: anger and fear can become passion and love. Helplessness can trigger us to learn. Accountability and responsibility can guide us to make changes in our lives. In the Swarthmore Lecture, ‘On earth as it is in heaven; the kingdom of God and the yearning of creation’, we were challenged that the more we give ourselves over, the more we are given.
We have heard how our sense of being ‘Quakerly’ can itself be a barrier. As Quakers, we are not called simply to be good – how instead, in our frailty, are we called to live faithfully?
“Somewhere beyond right and wrong there is a garden. I will meet you there.” (Rumi)
Let us begin to understand what it means to be in unity with others and with the whole of creation, acting out of love rather than duty or fear. It’s all about Love.
Signed in and on behalf of Britain Yearly Meeting,
Clare Scott Booth, Clerk”
Epistle of Junior Yearly Meeting
held at Frontier Centre, Northamptonshire 12-15 April, 2019
To all Friends everywhere, From 12 to 15 April 2019 70 participants and 13 adult team members met at the Frontier Centre in Northamptonshire for a weekend of inward and outward reflection on the theme “Diversity and Inclusivity: how can we use our ideals to change our reality?”
A strong undercurrent of this event has been privilege. Many of our sessions have had elements of examining privilege within them. This has led us to look at our own privilege and how it varies for different aspects of our identity. One of our early theme sessions included choosing different colour beads to represent our privilege.
Alison Mitchel, Libby Adams, Maud Grainger, Sadhya Darr, Teresa Parker and Matt Alton ran workshops that enabled us to look at different aspects of privilege in our society. These discussions have been difficult for some, examining our own privilege is difficult due to our unawareness of it. Our lack of diversity prevents us from sometimes seeing our own privileges, but our denial of its existence doesn’t remove the inequality caused by it.
After discussing Quaker business processes and having a Meeting for Worship for Business, we wrote a minute addressing the question “What is our reality as a Quaker community and how does our privilege affect how we understand it?” In preparation for this, adult team members facilitated sessions that explored this question in different learning styles, allowing everyone to engage in the question in a way that was comfortable to them. A point was made that if we do not allow for a diverse way of engaging certain topics, we are excluding those who don’t thrive in conventional learning environments.
In addition to theme sessions we have had a multitude of fun social sessions. Base groups (small groups) fostered community and inclusivity throughout the weekend and a quiz on Friday night broke the ice and allowed us to get to know each other better. The Easter Egg Eggstravaganza was a social activity that was for everyone as it had aspects for all to engage in, for example the competitive, sporty, or quiet in us. Our venue had activities on offer, so on Saturday some participants did archery, kayaking or went on the king swing whilst others watched the film Freedom Writers. The Open Mic was a resounding success with so many people signing up that later on in the day we had Open Mic 2.0. Dress up drama brought much hilarity and allowed us to reinvent classic fairy tales with a spin on different aspects of privilege. A highlight of all recent JYMs is the Ceilidh, with mocktails named with Quaker puns and this year was no different.
We began and ended our days with Meeting for Worship, giving us the opportunity to be calmed, settled and spiritual. Some focuses of these worship sessions were Kenyan Quaker hymns, the ocean and a bonfire. These helped us to centre down, providing some Friends new experiences.
Throughout the weekend, we were joined by several guests. Georgina Bailey, Clare Scott Booth, Iain Law, Max Kirk, Paul Parker and Naomi Major joined us in discussions, worship and games and provided insight to their aspect of Quakerism. Kai Weynberg and James Jenkins joined us as ecumenical guests from the United Reformed Church and the Methodists.
We have had an insightful weekend full of learning experiences and hope to go away and apply our new perspectives in making Quakers as inclusive as possible. We hope that the rest of Yearly Meeting takes the opportunity to listen to the opinions and perspectives of younger Friends, and other minority groups within Quakers and actively absorb our ideas. We ask older Friends to be open to change and differences in experience, recognising the diversity of lived experience within us all, just as we as JYM have been learning to do. We feel that all Quakers, young and old, must use our privilege for the betterment of society. It’s encouraging to see young Friends inclusion in national Quaker bodies and we wish for this to continue.
Signed in and on behalf of Junior Yearly Meeting 2019, Anya Nanning-Ramamurthy Lucy Cox Dodgson Junior Yearly Meeting Clerks 2019