Wies Shuiringa. New South Wales Regional Meeting.
The foundations for my faith come from growing up in the Mennonite Church in a rural region in the Netherlands. The liberal Protestants did not socialise with the Calvinistic Protestants; farmers did not socialise with their farm labourers; trades-people socialised amongst themselves. Public schools and Christian schools are equally subsidised by the State and children from these different schools did not socialise either. Catholics were few and a curiosity.
I saw the social divisions in my community– the acceptance that the lower social classes were where they should be.
I also saw that the Gospels preached something different to the conditions that I saw around me.
I became a member of the Mennonite Church when I turned 30. It was a commitment to base my life on the values of the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus. Fortunately Mennonites do not require literal acceptance of the bible because I have never subscribed to a virgin birth, walking on water, The Resurrection or similar supernatural events. I also do not believe in an intervening God, who can choose to smite or not to smite; nor a God to whom we can prayerfully petition for rain to break droughts or for it to cease so to end flooding.
I am no literalist, but I can discern meaning within the myth. Perhaps I am then what some call a “cultural” Christian who identifies with the Christian values but reads past the rigid narratives.
I do though find some Biblical texts important. For example Micah 6: 8: “And what does the Lord require of you: To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This is a text I have reflected on during Meeting for Worship, or in difficult work situations.
In my work I find Christian reflections and values essential for framing what I discern and do. Why is it that we seek out people who are in a difficult time in their lives, the ones who have drifted or been pushed out of society? To this question reflection answers “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” [Mt25:40].
Perhaps then my faith is more of a choice what I like to believe in–a choice of what makes sense to me in my daily life and in my work.
I often use the Quaker guidance that there is that of God in everyone. When my understanding of my staff, colleagues and clients is guided by this, or when I reflect in this way before doing something, the possibilities are so much greater.
The organisation that I work for has formulated a number of values that guide the organisation’s work: optimism, integrity, collaboration, respect, effectiveness.
Whilst I like these values and their definitions, and I use them in my work, I rather like to think that such values have not just been developed by several clever staff members. I like the idea that these values have a deeper resonance in the world religions.
There is a deeper level of understanding over the ages, formed from a deeper seeking about who we are as human beings and what our purpose is.
I’ve worked in organisations which have placed in all of their publications that they are “non-religious”. I always delete this in job description, or job ads, and other such publications that I have had to look after. I have never been called on it. I think that it is a petty branding statement to be different from Anglicare, Catholic care, Uniting care and other denominationally based care providers.
I think too that my interest in ecumenical work and working with representatives from the different churches is also part of healing the religious and societal rifts that I grew up with: rifts which delineated who you could talk with and who not. How the beliefs and lives of others were made fun of. Difference was suspect rather than celebrated.
At times Quaker practice can make situations rather uncomfortable for my colleagues.
Some time ago, I terminated somebody’s contract during the probationary period. I had employed a person who was not suitable for the job. This was a very difficult process with a lot of agonising. The staff member concerned could “talk the talk”, but not “walk the talk” and was becoming a liability in the service. I knew that this staff member belonged to a church tradition.
On a cold day, in a very cold office that we had booked for the morning, my team leader and I met with this staff member who knew that the meeting was for the purpose of officially ending the contract. I could have dealt with the situation by phone or email, or by posting a letter of termination of employment, but by doing that I would not have been only a coward, nor would have had the opportunity to recognise “that of God” in the person.
We met and confirmed the termination, the last details of handing over the work and the keys, and other such required details. We had calm and general discussion wishing the person well, and then it was silent. I felt very comfortable, holding the silence to acknowledge this difficult moment and holding the person in the Light. After several minutes I broke the silence and we finished the meeting. My team leader and I then had a strong coffee and she asked me: “what happened, you are never stuck for words, and I did not know what to say … that was so painful?”
I had felt calm and could let the person go, knowing that there was a deeper human sharing in this difficult situation for all of us who were present. We were all in the Light, present to each, and in the Grace of God.