Liz Field, New South Wales Regional Meeting.
For some years now, an important part of Yearly Meeting has been the Meeting for Worship for Remembrance. In this meeting we hear the names of all of those Friends who have died since the previous yearly Meeting, and we reflect upon their lives and how they have touched us. Testimonies are not read at this meeting; rather it is a time for worship and out of the silence can come ministry which reflects on the Grace of God that manifested in the lives of those Friends.
The origin of this Meeting lies back in 1996 when a Friend – then living in Hobart – was saddened by the deaths of two Friends beloved to her, and who had lived in other states. This Friend was not able to attend either memorial meeting, and thought that there may be others with similar regrets. Out of informal discussions on this came a request through Tasmania RM to hold a Meeting for Worship for Remembrance at Yearly Meeting.
This was held for the first time in Sydney in 1997 at the time of the Thursday Epilogue, and has continued to be an integral part of Yearly Meeting since then. It was moved from epilogue to the last morning (which proved unsatisfactory as people needed to pack) and then to the Wednesday morning, where it has remained ever since.
Different approaches have been used: sometimes with names read in blocks of three, sometimes names with dates of birth and death, sometimes with very little introduction, sometimes with a longer explanation which invites Friends to reflect on these lives and possibly other losses they have experienced.
We have learned from ministry during these meetings how the Friends who have died have touched the lives of others in deep and significant ways, sometimes in ways which are difficult to express in the written Testimonies which we hear at the beginning of most formal sessions.
The Testimonies, too, however, give us wonderful pictures of Friends, some of whom we did not know; but of course, there is not time or space in the agenda for us to hear all Testimonies which have been compiled during the year. As well, Testimonies are not compiled for all Friends who have died throughout Australia, and unless there has been a detailed Memorial Minute to them, we learn nothing of their lives.
Some years ago it was agreed that a printed set of all Testimonies and Memorial Minutes be made available in a Quiet Room, but this is not always done, unfortunately – possibly because of the demands on the time of Friends organising Yearly Meeting, but possibly too because it is sometimes forgotten. I hope it can be re-instated, and that Regional meetings prepare at least a Memorial Minute to all Friends who have died and forward it to the YM Secretary to be added to the Dictionary of Quaker Biography, which is otherwise incomplete.
The Meeting for Remembrance – together with the reading of some Testimonies or collations of Testimonies, and the availability of the full printed set – give all of us who attend Yearly Meeting the opportunity to learn about and reflect upon the lives of those Friends who have died since we last met.
With regard to the yearly collection of testimonies that are made available at Yearly Meeting, there have been a number of attampts to make them more widely available to all Ffriends. For a few years they were included in Documents in Retrospect, another idea was to make a set for each Regional Meeting – these were labelled and left in the quiet room at the YM gathering and then taken home to each RM library. Some RM clerks decided that each worship group should have a copy and made such copies available to the LM libraries and WG correspondents.
Now that we have a well established website, perhaps the testimonies could be placed on the website for a year or two with one batch removed when a new batch from a recent YM is added. Would Friends appreciate this?