Is it time for Meeting for Learning to return to Queensland?

Judith Pembleton, Queensland Regional Meeting

Some Queensland Friends who have experienced the Meeting for Learning (MfL) program in past years would like to invite the Meeting for Learning program to return to Queensland in 2024 and are wondering if Friends from other states would be interested in attending.

If you are unsure what committing to the two-year Meeting for Learning program would involve, the description on the AYM website is a comprehensive description:

The Retreat is part of a year-long program, with a Retreat week marking each end of the journey. For most of the program, individuals remain part of their regular community; the residential Retreats provide the opportunity for individuals to commence and complete their MfL spiritual journey in the company of other members and attenders from around Australia.  It is a time of inner seeking of the Spirit and learning about Quaker ways in company. During the year projects are chosen and undertaken by each member, with encouragement from their support group.

The size of the group is restricted to approximately 16 retreatants, guided by up to four facilitators. The facilitators provide reading materials, exercises and spiritual guidance to assist each participant. The resources provided allow retreatants to develop their knowledge of Quaker writings and beliefs, and to reflect on their own spiritual journey. 

The format of each day is similar (with the exception of the silent day mid-week), allowing time for discussion, exploration and reflection. During the retreat, some activities are carried out as a whole group, some in small groups, and some are undertaken individually. Both structured and unstructured time is included. A highlight of the retreat week is a silent day mid-week.

Individual Friends’ experiences will be different, but two personal reflections are offered to provide a flavour of what it can offer:

Margid Bryn-Burns’ experience

Participating decades ago in a New Zealand adult education workshop, which I’d stumbled into quite by mistake, I commented after some time to a fellow student about how excellent this particular course was.

“I agree” she replied, adding: “They’re Quakers you know.”

And, for me, taking part in the Meeting for Learning programme was a similar realisation, allowing me to appreciate just what over three hundred years of accumulated knowledge and learning, tempered by the Spirit, can offer.

Others who attended with me in 2014 may have had previous similar experiences. For me, it was the first time of experiencing convalescence for both my being and my soul.

It was a week of discovery and recovery, a time to explore and heal in a totally accepting and supportive environment, an opportunity for openness and honesty and, so to gently grow; a quiet, informally disciplined programme with superb facilitators. This programme – compared to most learning undertakings – was minimalist, yet, as I have experienced in other Quaker undertakings: Less is More!

The programme involved large groups as well as small intimate group work. Lots of time for private contemplation with beautiful gardens and open spaces available.  One-on-one sessions with a facilitator offered intimacy and support.

I contacted other 2014 participants requesting their responses and they wrote of it being spiritually enriching, of how the programme supported a deepening of relationships and their gratitude for having participated.

For some it can be a struggle to make time and for others it could be both time and a financial stretch. This is always recognised by those who have the task of organising this event and some financial support is offered by the participants’ home Meeting.

My experience . . .

I joined Queensland Friends for my second Meeting for Learning week and at first felt a little out of step as most of the others were in their first week, but the program is flexible and I was nurtured by the fellowship of seekers who were open and supportive of one another. Of those who participated, most of us have formed groups that continue to meet and offer spiritual support. Our 2004 MfL group has been meeting monthly for close to 20 years.

. . .  and another Friend’s experience

My first week was in Melbourne where one participant’s reflections on her experience captured much of the hesitation on joining something new followed by the joy of the week-long unfolding. This Friend is no longer in contact with Australian Friends, so I could not check her permission to include her words in this article, but this article was shared generally at that time.

“I arrived in Melbourne expecting to be full of energy. I wasn’t. I clammed up and closed down. The atmosphere was soothing, like balm to my aching body. I sat down in the circle. I felt tired and heavy. I wanted to cry.  I realised how much energy it took to maintain my façade of coping, how much energy it took to maintain my life – the daily duties, the physical, emotional and mental demands. I took the load off. A week didn’t seem like it would be long enough. Would I have to go inside and sort out the mess before I even started to emerge? I didn’t even have the energy to think about it.

“Yet something guided me through the fog, something that knew my pain and knew what it would take to heal and strengthen me.

“There was a plan — the physical structure of our days, the topics for discussion, the resource file of inspirational writings and leadings. Then there was the spiritual journey we were all on as individuals, seemingly external to our conscious selves yet intrinsic. Then there was the group dynamic. I looked around at this group of people on Day One and knew we would create something great together.

“For one week I lived in the moment. I lived in the presence of being connected. I surrendered to a Being – both a state and a divine entity, far greater than myself — which loved me and showed me the way … The group sessions seemed gentle and unobtrusive. And yet there was power and intensity behind the questions. I asked myself far-reaching questions about spiritual nurture and fulfilment within my faith community. I verbalised my doubts, concerns and insecurities. The process is as important as the content and I therefore allowed myself to grow.

“I used my contemplation time to record my insights, to listen to God and get replies. From Tuesday evening to Thursday morning, we had a period of silence like an extended Meeting for Worship. It was truly wonderful.”

 

In the year-long gap between the retreat weeks, each participant chooses a project — it may be working on meditating more regularly, or writing a record of your experience; for one participant, it was to attend Pendle Hill Quaker College in the US for a year.

 

If you are interested in participating in Meeting for Learning retreats in Queensland, please contact Margid Bryn-Burns or Judith Pembleton.

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