John Michaelis, New South Wales Regional Meeting.
Enriching Quaker life
Quakers everywhere aspire to deepen and enrich their lives. A group at Wahroonga local meeting, called the Living Experimentally Circle, has for some years been exploring ways to achieve this. Group members are committed to meeting monthly for a year, but are open to new members only at the beginning of each year. Each member of the Circle chooses a project or concern and each month shares plans and achievements for their chosen project.
Early Quaker experience
That hunger for deeper and richer lives was a key motivation for early Friends. They shared their experience of a Living Spirit that spoke to their human condition and they chose to support each other in discerning how that Spirit might guide their decisions and shape their lives. They experimented with yielding to the nature and movement of the Spirit in good times and in hard times. Regular Meeting for Worship for Business kept their awareness of the Spirit alert and was the time when members tested their discernment with one another, and recorded it either in the name of the member, or, if recognised as applying to the whole meeting, in the name of that meeting.
Forward 400 years
In today’s world our understanding of the word spirit (with or without a capital S) varies from Friend to Friend so the meaning of the early “Quaker-speak” query “Did it come from the Spirit?” is subject to discernment. Recent experiences facilitating AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) Discernment Workshops among Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Hindus in Indonesia and Nepal have given me new insight into this query. In Nepal and Indonesia there were never more than two Quakers in a workshop. Yet all the participants who were of many persuasions committed to live by ground rules that included loving yourself, loving others as you would like to be loved and to live with integrity. They committed to meet regularly, holding each other accountable for the way they applied these ground rules in daily life. Their creed, language and terminology are not Quakerly but their commitment and actions are, and I identified them as from the spirit.
The Discernment Workshop follows a Claremont Process that mirrors our Business Meeting. Meetings begin and end in silence. Participants speak from the silence, reflect on what others say and seek the best solution regardless of personal interest. As I watched different faiths embrace such familiar processes I reflected on what makes us Quaker – our name and organisation, the nature of our relationship to a higher power or how we live and relate to each other?
How to achieve this today
Wahroonga Local Meeting has decided to make the discernment and support of the Leadings and Concerns of our members the primary focus of Business Meeting. We developed a series of queries to guide the process. We expect to hone the process over time as we contemplate our experience.
Our meeting has been working together for more than a year to streamline our business process and as a result, Business Meetings are now significantly shorter. However, practical matters of business will never go away and we agreed where necessary to extend our Business Meeting over lunch. For the Living Experimentally Circle a shared lunch has enriched their time together. Rather than break, members bring their lunch to the meeting and it becomes part of their shared worship and community experience.
Wahroonga meeting adopted the following queries to guide the process:
|In preparation for Business Meeting
1. Do I have a concern or leading, existing or new that I think may be of the spirit that I am ready to test in the in the meeting?
2. Do I have a concern I would like to lay down?
|Queries for introducing new concerns
1. Name your concern.
2. Describe your concern. Friends listen to where the words come from, not whether they like or agree but whether they are of the spirit. Does the concern ring true here and now?
If the sense of the meeting finds the concern is of the spirit for that member it is recorded in their name.
If the meeting discerns that the concern applies to all members, it is recorded in the name of the meeting.
3. What if anything have you done about your concern?
4. Is there any help or support the meeting can offer?
5. What do you intend to do before next meeting.
|Queries for ongoing concerns
1.Name your concern
2. What did you intend to do since you last shared at this meeting?
3. What have you done about your concern since you last shared at this meeting?
4. What have you seen, observed and experienced since you last shared at this meeting?
5. What have you learned or what can you learn from this experience?
6. Is there help or support that meeting can offer?
7. What do you intend to do before next meeting.
|Queries for laying down concerns
1.Name your concern
2.Why you would like to lay down the concern
If the sense of the meeting finds laying down the concern is of the spirit it is recorded as such.
Time will tell whether our experiment as a local meeting will deepen our life together as a spirit led community. We will ponder the outcome of our experiment and share and review it with other Friends.
The queries above derive from the Living Experimentally Circle motivated by research by Ian Hughes, and from Queries for the Conversion of Manners and Tests of Leadings both by Nadine Hoover.
Very often people in any Meeting (well my Meeting anyway) are not aware of the depth and content of work being done on Quaker, Peace or community projects. This is an excellent way forward for Meetings to “know one another in the things that are eternal”.
How many people are in each circle/group? Do the monthly meetings listen to just one Friend, or are there add-ons to ministry already given in a previous meeting by all participants?
I would like to see this in action.