By Peter Morris, New South Wales Regional Meeting.
There is a wonderful paradox between the silence of Quaker meetings and the loud rambunctiousness of meal time. The contrast is a delight and – as a Yearly Meeting “newbie” – engaging and attractive.
It has taken more than 50 years to get to my first Yearly Meeting. As the son of a lapsed birth right Quaker, turned atheist, the journey this far has been very stop/start. Occasional conversations with my Aunts – who retained some involvement and enormous affection for Friends – fed my curiosity but invariably raised many questions.
I had made it to the threshold of local Meetings over that half century on a number of occasions but turned back. I’d make disparaging rationalisations to myself, and anyone else listening, about the “socks and sandals brigade” with its implied dismissal on the grounds of Friends’ naïve other-worldliness.
Yearly Meeting in Canberra provided another wonderful layer to these halting steps. As with the meetings I have been attending over the past nine months Yearly Meeting felt simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar.
For me Yearly Meeting underlined powerfully how much of Quakerism is tacit. It had long confused me that my articulate Aunts struggled so hard to answer my questions. It was Yearly Meeting that explained a great deal about their difficulties. Compared with my small worshipping group meeting fortnightly, Canberra Yearly Meeting felt like full immersion.
Some very subjective and selective impressions:
· The number of smiling, welcoming faces wanting to ensure I felt comfortable at Yearly Meeting
· The small number of 20-50 year olds at the regular sessions (broken by a broader representation at the Backhouse Lecture)
· The string of no-fuss, no-bother, active demonstrations of gender equality
· The number of apparently gentle-men, comfortable in their own skins without any sense they felt a need to bluff and bluster
· In my professional life, where a good decision is most often a fast one and the pithiest one-liner will often win the day, Meetings for Business were an intriguing eye opener
· The sight of Friends wrestling with their passionate and heartfelt positions on vital issues and their equally strong commitment to Quaker process and to working with their fellows.
Quakers’ long history of adopting prescient, ethical positions – almost invariably in the face of opposing public opinion – has been an inspiration to me for decades. I am looking forward to learning more about this experientially and spiritually in my continuing journey with Friends.