A goal for our Meetings

Reg Naulty, Canberra and Region Quakers

We all have a hope for what our meetings will achieve: spiritual enrichment for those who attend, and some wider social good in the surrounding community. The suggestion here is that the meeting have a further goal: that of becoming a blessed community. 

The term comes from Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion. It has a chapter entitled “The Blessed Community” which is described in all its glory. It is hard to imagine an actual meeting being exactly like it, but it can be approached by degrees. Kelly: “there are degrees of Fellowship, from wider, more diffusive relations of love to nearer, more intense inter-knittedness.” [P. 78] 

To arrive at Blessed Community, advises Kelly, we must at times retire to a single centre where we are at home with God and with one another, which looks like a meeting for worship. Kelly writes with a forceful enthusiasm which can be off-putting to relaxed Australians, but what he is urging is put in terms of quiet reasonableness in Advices and Queries. Thus, “we seek a gathered stillness in our meetings for worship so that all may feel the power of God`s love drawing us together and leading us.” That is a blessed community. Advices No 3 is that we should know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of life. It is hoped that this habit of stillness will guide us to a centre in which God`s love can be felt and shared. 

Our testimonies make a contribution here. Thus simplicity, the following of which made Friends wear distinctive clothing in times past, now has environmentalism to explain some of its benefits. A simple lifestyle leaves room for the spiritual life and is a source of strength. 

There is integrity which is a constant challenge in a secular society. We need to keep our word, and maintain honorable financial affairs. Poor William Penn is a warning of what can go wrong. He suffered from a dishonest Quaker accountant whose work Penn never checked. He did not realise that all the documents he signed were transferring property rights to the accountant. Since he signed them they were legally valid. That earned Penn a year in debtors’ prison. We shouldn`t be suspicious, but we shouldn`t be naive either. 

The peace testimony is a clear manifestation of our inner life. We bear no ill-will to anyone. Early Christianity was pacifist until about St Ambrose [339-97] who came from the governing class and thought as they did. We tend to underestimate the appeal of pacifism. For example, Bertrand Russell, probably the most influential philosopher in the English-speaking world in the last century and a stalwart atheist, wrote that his pacificism in World War I was the most wholehearted and least hesitant work he had ever undertaken. 

As for equality, the attempt to prevent the rich becoming richer and the poor, poorer, is a constant economic and political struggle. 

The testimonies should be a unifying force among us. We come from very diverse backgrounds. The influence of our upbringing is hard to shake off, and many of us will keep some of it all our lives, so patience and politeness are necessary in our meetings. Angry denunciations of theological, moral and political positions should not happen. 

Friends hope that the stillness of meeting for worship will gently shepherd us to the centre in which God is felt. When the shared experience of God`s life binds us together, we shall have reached blessed community, and home at last. 

 

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