Neil Chadwick, Darwin Worshipping Group
My main impression of the Yearly Meeting 2014 was that it was revolutionary. The rigid orthodoxy for years based on the principle that yearly meeting must be held in the first two weeks of January each year was seriously questioned. As with the Presiding Clerk, I got the impression that the general feeling is that the meeting should be moved to later in the year.
The seats in the Multifaith Centre were exceptionally hard and uncomfortable, but the preparatory and formal sessions on the question of the Yearly Meeting were to me so exciting that I didn’t even notice the discomfort of the hard seats. Both myself, and the other person from Darwin, Elizabeth Kwan, spoke in favour of moving the dates. We both hope that, one day in the future, yearly meeting will be held in Darwin. Amongst other things, I mentioned that January was a particularly dangerous month because it is right in the middle of the cyclone season. In fact, to my great consternation, during the 2008 meeting in Melbourne, a destructive cyclone did hit Darwin and, because I was in Melbourne, there was nothing I could do about it.
Other people also gave reasons why it would be better to hold the meeting sometime between April and October, and the possibility of July was mentioned.
On a lighter note, the rural location at the Nathan campus of Griffith University was delightful with trees and shrubbery all around. One evening a possum came out and stopped about two metres from me staring at me without fear. The possums in Darwin are too scared to do that.
Personally, for the first few days, I went through culture shock in moving from a small town to a big city. Part of this was the lack of preparation that the local authorities made for a hot climate.
The main meeting room in the centre did have air conditioning, but the rooms in our accommodation had neither air conditioning nor fans, and the first two nights were hot and sticky, similar to evenings in Darwin in November during the build-up. However, in tropical centres, rooms would at least have fans and usually also air conditioning. Because of the uncomfortable heat, I could not sleep on the first night. It is interesting that, as in Darwin, so in South Queensland, the build-up of heat resulted in a violent thunderstorm with strong winds and torrential rain on Monday evening. This thankfully brought the temperature down to a tolerable level.
Every morning, after breakfast, there was a break and then the main Meeting for Worship. I felt that the first two or three meetings went very well with adequate silence. However, later in the week, my impression was that too many people were offering ministering to the meeting, the result being that we had very little silence. This was disappointing for me because I had thought that Friends saw great value in a positive, friendly silence.
I very much enjoyed the company of old friends, some of whom I had not seen for five years or more at previous meetings. I also much appreciated the summer school on “Journey to the Heartland” which I attended during the meeting.
An issue that I raised with the Presiding Clerk and other Friends was the statement in part of Quaker literature saying that the principle of the Priesthood of All Believers is distinctive to Quakers. I think the writer meant that, in the Australian, New Zealand and other traditions, Quakers do not have ministers or pastors. The doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers does not mean that a denomination cannot have pastors. It means that the pastor is not seen as a priest, or “Sacerdos”, who performs the sacraments; that is, an intermediary between the lay people and God. The Baptist movement has ministers and pastors, but one of its important principles is the Priesthood of All Believers which means that believers do not need an intermediary between them and God.
It is also important to remember that Evangelical Quakers, who are numerous in Africa, in the Philippines and in other parts of the world, do have pastors but also firmly follow the principle of the Priesthood of All Believers. This section of the Quaker movement also has singing of hymns, choruses or other items during worship. I was impressed during the meeting with the fact that there was plenty of singing during this yearly meeting, and one devotional melody was actually sung by the whole meeting during Meeting for Worship. In addition, there are other denominations besides the Quakers who have equality amongst and between believers and, therefore, do not see the need to appoint pastors.
By the end of the meeting, I realised that I needed to study more closely the procedures of any Yearly Meeting in first making proposals, then modifying these proposals in preparatory sessions, and then attempting to reach a conclusion of sorts in the formal meetings. I needed to follow one of the preparatory meetings more carefully to note that one of the more important proposals had been cancelled.
Thanks are due to the local Brisbane Friends who were most helpful on practical matters both to me and other participants during the meeting, and thanks are also due to our local SANTRM regional meeting for the provision of a subsidy to people in the Northern Territory to make attendance possible at Yearly Meeting.