Vivienne Luke, Tasmania Regional Meeting
I would definitely recommend the Becoming Friends online course to people new to Quakers and to those who wish to deepen their understanding of the history, spirituality and practices of Friends. First, a little background.
In 2012, during a visit to the UK (I was born in Cornwall), my husband and I stayed at the Penn Club on a recommendation from a friend. Whilst there I picked up a copy of Advices and Queries and was immediately hooked. I carried my copy with me throughout our time away and reflected on it each day. Returning to Hobart, I began to attend Hobart Meeting intermittently, sometimes confused and frustrated, other times finding deep inner peace. I had been an active member of the Catholic Church since 1997 and struggled from day one with much of the dogma and practice of the Church. However, the Sisters of St Joseph became an anchor, especially their total commitment to social justice.
In 2013 I enrolled in Becoming Friends online. The course is run out of Woodbrooke using the Moodle platform. Since then I have stopped and restarted twice! The course convenors have been very patient and now I am fully engaged with all that the course has to offer. The stopping had less to do with the course and more to do with my personal struggles with some aspects of Quakers. I have struggled with the often unspoken divisions in Quakers, and with (what I experience as) a comfortable middle-class feel. As someone from a poor family of origin, I have difficulty in this. Having read much of the history, it feels strange to experience the secular feel of much of Quakers. Personally, I have a deep faith in God and have experienced God’s presence on many occasions. It is central to all I am as a person. I have twice returned to the Catholic Church, hungry for the diversity of people it offers in terms of class, colour and outlook, and for the deep commitment to God and to the poor in our society. However, my difficulties with dogma and practice resurface and I find myself alienated again. Hence Becoming Friends has become very important to me. There are many Quakers who understand my struggles and that is very helpful to me.
Each time I have moved away from the Church and re-engaged with Quakers, Becoming Friends has immediately drawn me back and offered a pathway to understanding.
Becoming Friends is a wonderful course to engage with. Over the last few years I had done a lot of reading about Quakers and attended Quaker Quest. I was looking for something to deepen and inform my journey, and Becoming Friends fulfils that very well. The course is well set out and easy to work with. At £20 Sterling, it is also affordable and very good value. The student can work through the content at their own pace and there are no assignments or exams.
A quick rundown on the structure of the course:
Becoming Friends offers eight units plus an opening and closing unit. The units are: Faith in Action, Speaking of God, Silence and Waiting, Experiencing Quaker Community, Advices and Queries, The Sacred in the Everyday, Deep Roots and New Growth, Faithful Diversity.
Each unit has the same structure. There are opening sections called “Distinctives” where the student is given information and background for the unit. Then it moves on to “Discoveries” where the student explores the topic in more depth and their own responses. The final section is “Deepening” and this is an encouragement to really deepen our own practice, understanding, and to share with others. All of this is supported by online companions and the unit online Forum for sharing with other students. I have found the online companions very supportive, encouraging and approachable. The Forums are a wonderful way to “meet” other students and exchange our experiences with the course.
At this stage I have completed three units and am currently immersed in “Silence and Waiting”. I will return to the completed units again, as my understanding deepens allowing me to learn more.
I cannot recommend the course highly enough. It is grounding my practice and informing much of what I do. It has helped me ask questions and engage with Friends more. I can’t pass comment on the units I have not yet done, but those I have were really enlightening and challenging.
Firstly, perhaps local Meetings in Australia could encourage Friends to be available to meet and encourage those doing the course in their area. This would help students integrate more in their local Quaker community and offer support and conversation about the student’s experience of Becoming Friends and of their experience with Quakers. I believe that Woodbrooke offers help to those who wish to support students in this way and they can be contacted online for details. It would be ideal if students had a local Becoming Friends companion and, also, access to a group of people open to sharing with them.
Secondly, what is lacking in Becoming Friends, of course, is an Australian flavour. Perhaps an Australian short course in association with Becoming Friends could provide history and engagement with our landscape and culture. Australia has been called “The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit” – quite a Quaker image? I don’t know if resources would stretch to this, but it would be marvellous if they could.
I hope this brief review has been helpful and that people may be motivated to have a look at the Woodbrooke website. At the top of the page click on “Courses and Learning”, then in the right hand list, click on Becoming Friends.