Katherine Purnell, Tasmania Regional Meeting

Worship is the seedbed for new openness to Love and Truth.  The greatest gift we can give is to listen deeply.  The greatest gift we can receive is to be heard.

These words begin the section on Spiritual Nurture in the summary document of Quaker Voices in the 21st Century (www.quakers.org.au in members’ archived section).  Helen Bayes and I travelled in the Ministry around all AYM regions during 2007/8.  The process was to re-find the source of our Voice to action rather than the possible actions themselves…  We want to explore how each inward leading can be tested, clarified and supported so that everything we do is recognisable as a Quaker Voice…

An essential part of Quaker Voices is to strengthen the Community: a blessed community.  By listening with each other in safe meetings, words, illustrations and personal stories come to be shared.  Leadings become real.  Friends can become courageous and articulate about describing to each other and the world, their spiritual and mystic experiences, convictions and sense of priorities.

The memory of two projects I shared in still excites me – the preparation over many years of this we can say and Quaker Voices in the 21st Century.  I experienced worship, leadings, nurture, support groups and communication at deep levels in the company of committed Quakers.  We drew on tried and true discernment practices, which sustained our enthusiasm for the tasks, resolved problems and found better ways.  These were gifts to me, were totally engaging and I think helped the Society to engage with the Spirit.

My own journey:

Who we are now is the plaiting together of all the influences of our lives; family of origin, education, work and re-creation.  For me a huge part of my re-creation has come through the Quakerism of Friends past and present.  I feel that the raw materials of my early life have been moulded and transformed.

As a young woman coming first to Quaker Meeting I was, looking back, a divergent thinker, who enjoyed spontaneity, questioned the status quo and was judgemental, idealistic and very defensive.  Being the family’s eldest, a war-baby whose father served overseas during my infancy, I took in my mother’s insecurities and fears, which she held close then worked out in vigorous activity.  I was given much love but felt I never quite earned it and had to “be good” to avoid having my emotions, which I was slow to express, manipulated.  I was encouraged to be skilful and dependable and was trusted to take responsibility and some leadership roles.

Now, looking back over 50 years “in the fold”, I can see how my potential has been used and transformed by the guidance of the Spirit through Quaker opportunities.  It is hard to describe a daily life as it interleaves with deeper experiences.  This time I am trying a mind map to tell the story.  It isolates, incompletely, some of the sources of nurture IN and some actions OUT.  Some of the major influences in my formation of my faith and practice were;

  • Kindergarten Training Colleges 1958-60, Health Education & Early Childhood degree, Social Ecology
  • this we can say Committee 1996-2004, Quakers in the 21st century 2007-9 – collaborative projects and involved Travelling in the Ministry
  • Alternatives to Violence Project 1991-2013, Meeting for Learning 1995-6 – experiential learning, Quaker Peace and Race Relations YM Committees 70s & 80s
  • AME independent school, establishment, teacher & parent 1972-84

Katherine Purnell's mind map

I understand that there are three major ways of experiencing the world – visual, aural and kinaesthetic; the last two drive my communication.  Words and actions motivate me and language is super-important, although I have had to come to terms with my reluctance to argue, deal with jargon, express my emotions and I rarely “hold forth” in a social setting.

For me the most important aspect of using language is listening.  The nurture I receive when I really listen is life-giving.  It helps me lower my defences and take in something of the essence of the others, so that I can empathise with them and appreciate their unique contributions.  Listening to others shows hidden parts of me.  Effective communication comes when I share myself, ideas flow and we begin to discern opportunities together.  I enjoy how creative I feel when friends encourage, appreciate and share equally.  Spiritual Friendships give me times to speak and listen in turn with one person – the story of each life unfolds, our hopes and vulnerabilities gradually revealed.  Often it is only when I hear what I am saying that I realise who I really am and what I really feel – I am listened into be-ing.

I have come to value more structured communication opportunities also.  I found a niche when interviewing for the Quaker radio program Dovetalk, which was broadcast for 20 years in Canberra.  I value preparing and presenting experiential workshops and setting the stage for participants to trust, share and grow in group settings – where we can put our lived experiences into words in the company of several listeners ready to participate deeply.  I love to hear Friends unfold their own stories which inspire others.  They also energise the teller when the group listens empathetically.  The Alternatives to Violence Project, Meeting for Learning and other organised sharing sessions set up safe spaces, giving unhurried chances to hear ourselves and others speak. 

Quaker communication rests very squarely on our testimonies; simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality; and is carried through our processes.  All our Meetings: worship – including silent ministry; business; clearness; our publications and conversations – can and should cultivate those qualities.  I feel a spiritual connectedness and transformation when I can experience that “there is that of God in everyone”. 



Share This