At the Manchester Conference in 1895, William Charles Braithwaite made a suggestion that must have astonished many faithful Quakers – that it was possible that “in the fields of music, art and literature and in others, Friends may witness to the Glory of God and advance that Glory by their service.”
Fast forward to Australian Yearly Meeting in 2016, and we find that reports of the meeting in Hobart are largely about the music, the art, the tapestries, visits to art galleries and museums – and even dancing! Our Quaker forebears, if they could have seen us through the mists of time, may have thought that we had gone “off message”. But perhaps we are just finding a new medium for the message.
Early Quakers never agreed on matters of theology, but at least they had a common language in which to disagree. But modern Australian Quakers come from a variety of religious and secular backgrounds, and we lack a shared language. The society in which we live certainly lacks a common language for discussing those things which give the deepest meaning to our lives. We may be finding new means of communication “in the fields of music, art and literature.”
A continuing concern at our Yearly Meetings is how we are to relate to our indigenous peoples and appreciate their culture. Wies Schuiringa tells us how she travelled to the Garma Festival to see what she could learn, and a group gathering at Silver Wattle celebrated the contribution of indigenous Australians to the Quaker movement.
In our next issue we want to look at Alternatives to Violence. Lately Australians have become a lot more aware of violence in our society – abuse of children, bullying in schools and the workplace, domestic violence, violence in detention centres, and violence associated with alcohol. This awareness is a hopeful sign, but what are the alternatives? We are sure that many Quakers have knowledge in these areas, and we look forward to hearing how people are trying to live, in the words of George Fox, “in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars”.