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World Gathering of Young Friends – Epistle

To all Friends everywhere,

Greetings from the World Gathering of Young Friends 2005. 226 Friends gathered together in Lancaster University, United Kingdom, from 16th – 24th August 2005. Our theme was ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Now, what fruit shall we bear?’ taken from John 15; and William Penn’s challenge ‘Let us then try what love will do’. Among us, 58 Yearly Meetings and 9 monthly meetings and regional groups were represented, with speakers of more than twenty different languages. We were called to be gathered together at the place where our Quaker movement first bore fruit, the heart of 1652 country. We returned to our shared roots, to the birthplace of our collective spiritual identities. Through climbing Pendle Hill as a community, to live out George Fox’s vision of a great people gathered together, we found a unity with the place and one another, among the bright green hills, surrounded by grazing sheep.

We felt great joy in being together and many Friends gave thanks for being here. However, our hearts were filled with sadness too. In the hall where we met there were many empty chairs, and we were always aware of those Friends who could not join us here in Lancaster. Many were absent because they were denied visas, others because they found when the time came that they could not join us after all. Their loss is our loss as well, for without their presence we could not feel their truth reflected in their words, their experiences, their faces and their smiles. However we could feel their presence in our hearts. We have selected 2 representatives from each region to go to a post-WGYF gathering in Kenya to share with these brothers and sisters the Love and Spirit that we felt in this gathering.

Twenty years have passed since the last World Gathering of Young Friends, held in Greensboro, North Carolina, USA. To what purpose were we summoned once more?

Here we tried each other’s forms of worship, silent and programmed, songs in many different languages, scriptural readings, hand holding. We were open, amazed, stretched and blessed. We learned that the great presence in our lives can be called by many names, Jesus, Christ, God, Inner light, Spirit, Love or many others. Ultimately, through listening to the Spirit that moved us, not the words in which we expressed our movement, we strived to become one organism, one body made up of many different parts (1 Corinthians 12:13).

We were united not so much in the expression of our faith as in our common desire to be unified and by the power of the Spirit amongst us during these 9 days. We were challenged to put aside the labels we hide behind, programmed, unprogrammed, liberal, evangelical, and come together as Friends of the Truth, seeking together for the common truth behind our language. We have not finished this process. We are only at the beginning of a long path, but the love and joy we have felt in being in this place together have allowed us to come this far, and we pray that they will lead us further yet.

The time here has been a chance to reflect on our lives. We have been challenged to recognize ourselves as God’s children, and respond in willing devotion. The love we have found here is not for us to own but to share. We desire to show our love by doing good and avoiding harm to all people and to all the Earth. We must let others see this love and know its source so that they may come to share it.

The Spirit present in our gathering summoned us to be a gathered people, and spoke through the many different people and cultures here to remind us of its glory, power and purpose. The Spirit is at work in all of us, and it is calling us not to judge one another’s forms of worship but to examine our own hearts, find our own calling. We are called to take what we have experienced here and give it back to our communities.

Far away meetings now have faces, stories and friendships that make them real to us. Bridges have been built at our Gathering which we call on Friends everywhere to nurture and support. We will keep this contact alive through exchanges, more frequent gatherings and opportunities to work together. Through this contact we will give strength to each other and share our gifts. We must face the future challenges of the Religious Society of Friends together.

Where we explored the theme of the vine and the branches we found that its fruits are born from love. We have experienced what Love can do in this Gathering, now let us try what it can do in the world.

World Gathering of Young Friends – reflections

Aidan McCartney, Coleraine PM

For me the first day of the World Gathering of Young Friends on 16th August 2005 was the end of a vision that I and some other Young Friends had worked towards for over 4 years. However, it was thrilling to see that, the last day of the World Gathering on 24th August was the start of a vision for many more Young Friends who attended. During the gathering lives were changed, Friends beliefs and practice were challenged, but throughout it all was a genuine commitment to learn from one another and to develop relationships. It was the relationships fostered between people who seemed to hold very different values that I believe were and are the key to understanding between Friends worldwide.

In a way I was surprised by the willingness of all those who attended the World Gathering to try to understand each others faith. I had expected more arguments and less desire to trust each other and to love one another. Knowing some of the diversity of belief present at the gathering I believe that this could only have been brought about by the power of God in our midst. I don’t mean to suggest that there wasn’t heated debate and awkward questions being asked, but perhaps there was more willingness to try to answer the awkward questions and not just hide behind what you have always believed.

There were representatives from 58 Yearly Meetings and 9 other Friends groups at the conference. We had Friends who practiced bread and wine communion in their churches, Friends who felt more comfortable with Buddhism or Islam than Christianity, Friends who vehemently defended the “right way” to practice silent worship to Friends who spent most of their worship services dancing in the aisles! It was a great crucible of ideas of how to live as a Quaker and for me was so fascinating. I was disappointed in a way that I was so involved in the organisation, because I would have loved to have talked to more people and learned from them. It was satisfying to know that others were having these conversations because of the work I was putting in to the organisation.

Two of my favourite days during the gathering were the trip days. This was possibly because of my role in organising sessions so I could relax on those days with less to do. One day we split into 4 groups and visited 1652 country sites at Swarthmoor Hall, Lancaster Castle, the Quaker Tapestry and Firbank Fell. I travelled to Firbank Fell via Brigflatts Meeting House built in 1675. We held a Meeting for Worship there which was a powerful experience. On another day all 226 of us climbed Pendle Hill as George Fox had done. This was a personal vision I had had of the gathering a couple of years ago, so to see everyone on top of the hill eating lunch with the sun blazing down on us was an emotional feeling and a real highlight.

My main responsibilities at the gathering were with the Programme Committee, we had planned the schedule and the events that would take place during the day. Here is a typical day at the gathering. We started each day with a worship session which was lead by a different regional group each day so some days it was programmed and some days unprogrammed. Then we met in base groups, these were groups of about 10 people representing the diversity at the gathering. There was a curriculum for this time to ensure we covered similar issues, we shared about our experiences of being a Quaker, what our meetings were like, our views on Jesus Christ and our vision for the future of Friends among other things. After lunch there were workshops or interest group sessions. This gave Friends a choice of activity and were in slightly smaller groups of around 50 people. Workshops were held on anything you can imagine from trampolining to American Friends Service Committee, from Plain Dress to Learning Nepali! After workshops, there was a period of free time around dinner time which was a great time to talk to people, throw a Frisbee around or check your email.

In the evening we had a second plenary session of the day. We began with some worship and then it was over to our plenary speakers. We had 4 speakers who stayed with us for the whole gathering and spoke on three occasions each. They were Colin Saxton, Northwest YM, USA, Deborah Saunders, Philadelphia YM, USA, Oliver Kisaka from Kenya and Ute Caspers from Germany. These 4 speakers spoke in very different ways and about different things at times but were all challenging. We were challenged to forget our own human desires let God work through us. Also to give God the glory for what He can achieve through us. All of our speakers approached their task with great sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and also with good humour and I appreciated their words so much.

Some evenings we had further activities, including a Bible Quiz, singing, dancing and the compulsory cabaret session! There was also plenty of time to get to know each other, the weather was kind to us and many Friends stayed up long into the night talking on the lawn or in the square beside our accommodation block.

In conclusion, I can only say that the World Gathering of Young Friends was a great success through the friendships made and understanding built across cultures, languages and ways of worship. My thanks to you all for the financial and prayerful support for me personally and for the gathering.

Meditation: Duty to one’s self, one’s soul

Sarah Hardy Jackson, Monkstown Meeting: : talk at Ulster Quarterly Meeting, 23 September 2007

Sarah Hardy Jackson is a convinced Friend, a member of Dublin Monthly Meeting for over 30 years. She has served as clerk, overseer and elder of various meetings, including a period as Yearly Meeting recording clerk. This talk was given twice in different versions. Her thought developed over time and each version is specific to a different audience. The first version (Duty to Oneself) was given to Friends at Ulster Quarterly Meeting, held in Bessbrook Meeting House in September 2007. Here she could make reference to our queries and other shared experience as Quakers. Later she was asked to give the Meditation which forms part of the World Day of Prayer Service for Christians of all denominations, held in Monkstown Meeting House in March 2008. Her own experience during the intervening time, the reaction of the audience at Bessbrook, the content of the set part of the service, and the fact of being heard by a wider audience, combine to create a version that is both shorter and with a broader context.


The request to write something for Ulster Quarterly Meeting came in mid-March, a time when the world changed very fast for me.

My 84-year-old mother, resident in New York since 1950, had gone to live with a nephew in England the previous November. It was not a good decision for either of them, and the relationship was falling apart. By prearrangement, she was to visit me in April. Suddenly the nephew decided that enough was enough and he wanted her out of his house as soon as possible. With nowhere else to go, short of money and getting frail, my mother would be living with me by the end of May.

So my response to the request was that I was unsure of what the future would hold and thus of whether I could offer anything to Friends by September. But this was the second time Ulster Friends had asked me for a talk, and it seemed that I should not say NO forever to such kindness and faith.

It has been a busy time trying to re-establish life for my mother in a new place with new people. Not to mention that she’s an Englishwoman now living in Ireland! Through the generosity of so many people and agencies, she is living a semi-independent life in sheltered housing and seems healthy and as settled as one might hope for. Since May I have been treading the difficult line between trying to make everything right for her and remembering to value my own life, work and needs. Much of the time I was so caught up in duty that I lost love and soul. From that awareness of my own failings and an incident at a Ministry and Oversight meeting come the germ of this paper.

Duty and service to others

In June was my final M and O meeting before completing the current term as an elder. That seemed like a chance to reflect on what had been achieved in the previous three years, along with the hopes and wishes for what might have happened instead. I was glad my term was over, especially as it ended in the middle of the settling-in period for my mother, whose needs were frequent and often difficult to meet. The demands were onerous and I was close to exhaustion. It was hard to remember if I had given anything of myself to the Society as an elder over the years. Time and duty, yes; but how much of my real self had I contributed?

The previous Sunday at Monkstown meeting we had heard most of the General Christian Counsel, with all its prescriptions about behaviour, being a better F/friend, those impossible measures of ourselves. Then at M and O we heard the fifth Query. Usually I note the part about honesty and integrity, pat myself on the back as this is not a huge issue for me, and get on. But this time I was caught by the final sentence: “Do you seek to discern how much of your time, talents and resources you should devote to the service of others?” When that phrase has spoken to me before, I’ve thought I should do more, be a better child, parent, wife, citizen, Quaker. Give more, think of myself less, and be more dutiful. Here I was, exhausted, close to losing any sense of my self, my soul, or what was true and right for me. And Quaker writing seemed only to reinforce the demands. The weight on my shoulders felt heavier than ever.

At M and O we had some discussion, the usual one in Quaker committees, about how to get more people involved, why the young adults do not come among us and certainly not to business meetings, what is the future of the Society. We all know this discussion. We’ve heard it many times. By definition, if you’re here at Quarterly Meeting, you’re one of those who do give up time for this communal purpose. You sit on committees, bring the flowers, take the children’s meeting, and visit the sick and elderly. And maybe your hair too is greying and you have a sneaking niggle about how long you can go on doing all this and who will do it then.

Duty to the self

A light shone for me. We may just have this backwards. The Queries are all about tasks and hurdles to overcome. They can feel very negative. It is difficult to achieve all these duties about relationships with others. They are the actions, the results; but what about the core value from which service proceeds? What is it that Quakerism teaches above other paths to God? What canst thou say?

What about the relationship with our self? That of God, which we are exhorted to seek and to meet in everyone else, is also in our self and our soul. Perhaps God’s spirit does not call us to attend business meetings, teach Sunday school, or other outward tasks. What if our gift is quiet worship, or growing geraniums, or painting pictures, or dancing? Are these self-indulgent? And what does that really mean? If God did not want us to feed our soul, why would we have one? Why would we have needs and wants? Do we have to deny our self in order to follow God’s will?

From childhood society, and particularly religion, teaches us to deny ourselves and put others first. But that’s not what Jesus said. He told us to love God first and then to love others as our self. In Matthew 22:37-40, he says this in reply to a question about which is the greatest commandment.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So we are commanded by Jesus, by God, to love our self. Of course there is a risk we might become selfish. But that is different from loving our self, our soul: for this is our true being, what God really wants of us and for us. Unless we do listen to that voice, we may never discover who we really are and what we are truly called to do.

How easy it is for duty and other people’s ideas and standards to become adopted as our own. It is natural for us to want to fit in with our family, culture, church or school. We may rebel a little as teenagers, but most of us eventually conform. Unless this outside standard is really true for us and our soul, at some stage this unthinking acquiescence will come adrift. We may lose heart, become depressed, burn out, give up, or drift away.

This is not to advocate free love and a world without standards. But there is a huge need in each person’s life to take time to find out what is really true at a spiritual level. And that can change over time. We may have to make this journey more than once. Perhaps every decade we need to revisit this. Who am I now? What is true for me now? That doesn’t mean that what was once true is now false; just that I have changed, and it no longer fits.

We must not fear change. It is part of us, part of all living things. And on the whole we change for the better. We mostly try to pare down the layers, to get to the kernel of eternal truth in us, to find what we are truly meant to be, to know, and to embody.

Change in the individual can seem like a threat to others. They like predictability. Oh Jean, she’ll always take the children’s meeting. Well Jean may have given all she has to that task. She may need to feed her own soul for a while. That may mean she sits quietly in meeting for worship for many months. Or maybe she needs to go walk in the mountains on a Sunday. The voice that calls her is the voice she needs to follow. Even if all the outside voices around her are complaint, talking of duty and responsibility, Jean must follow the inner call of her soul.

Real service can only come out of the inner truth. It is not a substitute for it. If service is done purely from duty or habit, while useful, it has nothing of joy or love. It does not come from the heart, from the soul.

There is brief reference in the second Query to making time for private retirement for meditation, prayer and thanksgiving. The General Christian Counsel talks of giving time to the consideration of your spiritual growth. But these phrases about the value of quiet as the centre of our life are drowned in reams of words about duties, tasks and action.

The gift of silent worship

At the FWCC triennial this summer, the question was whether the Society has a prophetic vision for today. I was not present there to hear the discussion, but I do know we must share the good news of our direct experience of God in the deep silence, with our own and other young people. I feel this so deeply, yet it did not move my children. Was this because when they were young I was always off at business meetings, moaning about the paperwork? Did I never share the deep joy and refreshment of my soul in a gathered meeting? To listen, to really listen to myself, to others, to God in the silence of the meeting: it’s hard to achieve, but when it happens I am refreshed and renewed. I am saved from bombardment by my own ideas and all the environmental noise. I hear the peace. I hear the truth. It’s rare and doesn’t happen every time. Often I mishear, speak ministry that doesn’t ring true. But sometimes, just sometimes, I do. And what a gift it is to hear that clear note. How do we share this understanding that all of us can experience God directly?The great gift of Quaker worship is that it provides, even insists on time for quiet reflection. The amount of quiet may depend on the quantity of ministry in our particular meeting. People use this time in many ways. I’ve heard some say apologetically that they use it to sort out the problems of their daily life. Why apologise for that? Yes, we all hope to praise, to hear God’s message, to do all sorts of higher activities in this time. But it has to start with a cleared mind. Nothing new can come in if we are preoccupied with duties and cares. Using the time to mentally housekeep and make those lists, that’s not such a bad thing to do. It would be sad if it were the only thing that ever happened to us during meeting for worship. Sixty minutes of that a week would be a bit dull. No room for joy there. But if it helps us to centre down, we should do it.

Some people talk about meeting for worship as the place to recharge their batteries. That was true for me when I first went to Churchtown meeting, aged 26 with three small children. I would arrive each Sunday exhausted in every way. I left with a bit more calm, a lot more patience and energy. Of course by the following Saturday I was back at the bottom again. But each Sunday I learned a little more about the importance of taking time for myself.

For many attenders, that is all they want of meeting for worship: a place to be quiet and alone in the company of others. We old hands need to remember just how great is the gift of focussed silence. There are few quiet places left in the world, fewer still for people who know they have a spiritual need that so far has been unfulfilled.

It is hard to listen to one’s soul, the self. All the roles, tasks, activities, and other people’s needs seem so pressing. Caring for our soul can seem so much less important, certainly less urgent: something to be deferred. The state of the meeting house roof, a father’s ill health, the employee who is always late: these might seem vital. And so we neglect that which nourishes us.

The funny thing is that it doesn’t take much time to have a healthy soul. If we go for that daily walk, listen to that music that moves us, look at that sunset, stroke that cat – whatever it is that feeds us – something every day, we can be well. And we’ll also get huge energy for all the other outside tasks. But we need first to take time every day to be quietly alone with our self, our soul.

Service and love
Once we’ve been coming to meeting a while, we hear the queries, and we get asked to serve on a committee. For some people this is a natural progression as they start to be more in touch with their own soul. Service then can come from their inner truth. But it’s essential that we not drown each other with tasks. The Society of Friends is a do-it-yourself religion. We do need to take part, or most of us do. It’s important to recognise that this cannot be forced on people. It has to be something we embrace because it is right for us, not something required of us because it’s right for the meeting.

What if no one will serve on a committee, people ask. Then lay it down, I answer. I was on the Outreach Committee in Dublin for many years. A time came when we recognised that we had become just inreach. The same Friends came to every talk, all of them old Quaker hands. We had nothing new to say. So we laid ourselves down. When the need did arise, after several years, the elders took it on and are doing it more effectively than we did.

We must have faith that change will come and is not a threat. The way we’ve always done things is not the only way. Coercion of people to do tasks, to serve on committees, the banging of the Quaker gong on duty: these are not the right way for them or for the Society. If no one agreed to be a clerk, elder, overseer, committee member, would that be so terrible? Many things might not be done for a while. That meeting house roof really might leak. But something would happen. That old Quaker word, concern, comes in here. Someone would have a concern. Someone would act. Other people would respond and gather around to help or encourage.

We must trust. We must not get bogged down in organisational bureaucracy. Record keeping is important, but it can be hard to keep one’s heart, spirit and faith when focussed on that role. I’ve served in the central office and know what it’s like to be the one paid Quaker in Ireland. And there are Quakers all over the land in a similar state, so overwhelmed by committee work and dutiful service that they have almost lost touch with their soul, the inner spark which is God working in them. Let us not allow that to happen. Let us teach ourselves and our young people the essential value of the soul. Let us give it time and space and quiet to reflect. Our great gift is the meeting for worship. Regular attendance there can keep us in touch with God in a deeply personal way. And all the best things that we get from meeting for worship can be ours every day. We know how to centre down and listen to the still small voice. We must give ourselves, our souls, that gift every day. The service that comes then flows from love. In Paul’s words (1 Corinthians 13: 1-3, 13):

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing… And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Meeting for Worship – Adam Grennan

Discussion memoir contributed by Adam Grennan to an Outreach meeting at Monkstown Meeting House, Dublin on October 1 2008, as a contribuion to the ‘What do You Think?’ series.

Early Days
‘9/11′ is a date that no one will easily forget. What happened that day in 2001, seven years ago, is etched in the minds of people all over the world who through the pervasiveness of television saw the moment when the planes hit, over and over again. The tragic loss of life, countless heart-rending stories and the sheer barbaric nature of the act challenged the faith – not just of those directly involved – but of us all who believe we share a common God. So when, by coincidence, exactly one year later on the 11th of September 2002 I was accepted into the Religious Society of Friends the two events became forever entwined in my personal search for true meaning. Apart from the obvious distinction of good and evil there is another difference. The events of that day in 2001 catapulted the world into a new order over night. In contrast I had no Damascene like conversion. Mine is a journey which began many years ago in a place which will be familiar to countless Irish people.

My upbringing was typical of the time. I was baptised and raised in the Catholic church. The priest, standing at the baptismal font, refused to administer the sacrament until my father accepted that Adam was not a saints name and either change it or have it tempered by something more appropriate. So I became Adam Benedict in honour of the Saint who happened to be commemorated on that day. Years later my mother told me that I owed my Christian name – not to the story of creation – but to a crush she had on Adam Faith, a well known pop star in the fifties. To this day I wonder what the priest might have said had he known.

My formative years attending Catholic schools was not an unhappy one. I have many fond memories of both primary and secondary. I never experienced anything other than kindness from the De La Salle brothers. I do remember odd things about going to mass. Like my father disturbing the serenity by perpetually having to clear his throat – a symptom no doubt of an earlier encounter with TB. I remember too the enormous cross hanging above the central altar with Christ on both sides. I don’t recall any sermons but in those days there wasn’t much of a focus on involving children. My older siblings drifted away one by one. Oh they said they were attending mass but I knew otherwise. When it came to my turn to break away I rather naively went and told my father that I had attended my last sermon. I can still feel his anger and sense his outrage.

In ’79 riding on the wave of the Popes’ visit I returned to the Catholic faith but it didn’t last long. Although I married in the church I honestly say now that at that time I didn’t feel committed to the faith. I don’t intend to analyse that further, nor do I believe that the road I’m on is the only one. All I can say is that it seems to be right for me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My first encounter with the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers as we are also known, came in the form of a book, written by an American Friend, Robert Lawrence Smith. In the introduction he wrote: “Quakerism is a pragmatic faith that depends on inner experience, on habits of mind and feeling that comes from living rather than from reading yet, an incalculable part of what we know comes from familiarity with the lives of those who have come before us”. Quoting from Deuteronomy he reminded us that: “we all warm ourselves by fires we did not build and drink from wells we did not dig”.

Having stirred my curiosity, through the modern convenience of the Internet I found this Meeting House no more than two miles from where I lived. Crossing the threshold the following Sunday I began an experience which Patricia and I are attempting to describe to you this evening. Believe me this isn’t an easy task. The difficulty in trying to describe a Meeting for Worship is that very little happens, very little, that is, in terms of outward appearance. Yet, Meeting for Worship is the very heart of Quaker experience. It’s the place we seek spiritual renewal, a place where we can grow in community, the well-spring of our ministry and testimony and the basis of discernment in Meetings for Business.

To understand the historical origins of the Meeting for Worship it is first necessary to recall something of the life of George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends. He was born in 1624 at Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire. His father was a weaver and a church warden. His mother was well educated and came from a long list of martyrs. Young George was encouraged to understand his religious beliefs and to question what others believed. In doing so he witnessed much hypocrisy within the early established church. At the age of nineteen, he left home and began visiting and questioning those who were considered to be religious people but he found few answers to his spiritual searching. In 1647 during a period of deep despair and depression, George Fox records in his journal, that he heard a voice which said: ‘There is one, even Jesus Christ, that can speak to thy condition, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy’. This was only one of several ‘Openings’ that Fox had but it represented a turning point. From this moment on he knew that he could have a direct relationship with God. Fox now also came into contact with other groups who felt that here was the truth that they had been seeking. It was from these groups that Fox and other ‘Children of Light’ or ‘Friends in Truth’ as they called themselves at that time, took their Meeting for Worship.

In Quaker by Convincement, Geoffrey Hubbard’s seminal work on convinced Friends – that’s people such as Patricia and I who are not birthright Quakers but converts – he wrote that Robert Barclay, a contemporary of George Fox, said ‘…though there be not a word spoken, yet it is the true spiritual worship performed.’ The worship was so intense, the spiritual exercise so profound, that some shook and quivered under stress and earned for the Children of Light or Friends in Truth the nickname of the ‘Quakers’.

The Outward Appearance
Meeting for Worship, or just Meeting for short, can take place at any time in any place. All that is required is a room, some chairs and the promise of not being disturbed. Meetings in Ireland are typically held at 1030 or 1100 on Sunday mornings. Most Meetings, such as this one, have their own Meeting House but some, usually small Meetings – such as that in Galway – gather together in private houses. All Meetings are open to everyone who wishes to attend.

The room itself has chairs or benches organised in a square or circle two or three rows deep. There is a table in the centre, on which there is usually a vase of flowers. The decoration is calm and tranquil so there is nothing to distract the gathering.

As the time arrives people drift in and sit down. Friends usually sit in the same place week after week. The modern business practice of ‘Hot Desking’ hasn’t yet reached Friends Meeting Houses. As people sit the Meeting begins in total silence. Inevitably this silence is broken by one or two latecomers but within 5 to 10 minutes the Meeting has ‘centered down’. The Psalmist invites us to: “Be still and know I am God”. It’s in those first few moments, as the cares and worries of the day are let drop that Friends begin to experience the essence of a Meeting for Worship.

In some Meetings – like this one in Monkstown – a Friend will then stand and read a short passage from the Bible. The speaker and bible reading are prearranged. Friends mandate very little, so the person who is scheduled to speak, may decide not to read this passage and substitute it with another reading. They may also choose to supplement it with a second reading of spiritual content which has meaning to them and may come from any source. Entirely their choice.

Now beyond that initial set reading there is no program. The Meeting may continue in total silence or within a few minutes someone may stand and speak for a short time and then sit down again. That’s not premeditated in any way. The silence returns. Some minutes later another person might stand and speak, and so on it goes. The number of people who speak or Minister in Meeting can vary considerably.

The signal that the Meeting has ended is when two of the Elders – those whose main responsibility is to nurture the spiritual life of the meeting – simply shake hands, prompting other Friends and Attenders to do likewise. The Meeting is closed. The clerk reads any notices, visitors are welcomed and all comers retire to another room for a cup of tea or coffee and a welcome chat.

Children are equally important as adults in Meeting for Worship and, of course, are very welcome to attend. However, it is generally accepted that most young children wouldn’t sit through an hour long Meeting without becoming a bit restless and that there is also a need to provide some guidance and help towards understanding. So after the first 15 minutes has passed, one or two Friends will take the children out to another room to run Junior Meeting or, Sunday School until Meeting for Worship has ended.

What I have just described to you is the usual format of an unprogrammed Meeting for Worship in Ireland and for the most part in other countries too. However, some Meetings in America and Africa are quite different. These are programmed Meetings, which are often led by a pastor, include some hymns, bible readings and a sermon or talk. There also may or may not be a period of silent worship. We are part of a world Quaker community where diversity adds to the richness of our collective experience.

The Meetings, where the business affairs of Friends is done, are conducted as a continuance of the Meeting for Worship. They are often started with a short period of silence and are based on our belief in the presence of God and seeking divine guidance in all decisions made.

Now I’m conscious that the description you’ve just heard may sound sterile but this is just the outward appearance of what is happening. To fully understand the Meeting for Worship we must go deeper and understand something of the light that guides the Meeting.

In her book, Living the way, Quaker spirituality and community, Ursula Jane O’Shea states: Many early Friends were seeking at the time they heard George Fox preach. In Quaker terms they were not converted by his words but by the testimony of their own inward guide, who affirmed what they heard and led them to join the movement and transform their lives…

In Meeting we gather and wait patiently in silence, knowing that we are in the presence of God, and by our stillness making ourselves open to him so that we can know his will. Thus in spoken ministry we act as a channel for the guidance of God within us. Vocal ministry comes through us not from us. It is not an intellectual exercise.

When I joined Friends I had almost 20 years work experience in the IT industry behind me much of which included public speaking to groups of all sizes. Yet, this was poor preparation for what happened the first time I heard that ‘inner voice’ and was prompted to speak at Meeting. I was agitated and my heart was pounding so much I felt it must be disturbing Friends seated nearby and obvious to all. My paltry attempts to resist were brushed aside. At that moment I could no more suppress the feeling to rise than I could stop breathing. As I sat back down some minutes later I felt the gentle squeeze of a small hand in mine. The owner was Moira Gillespie, an elderly Quaker who was to become one of my dearest friends during my first years at Meeting. Moira to me embodied the essence of what it means to be a Quaker. Quite simply, she was love personified.

The contributions to a Meeting can sometimes develop from one Friend to another but there is no room for a debate, answering or contradicting one another. Of course, not everything that is spoken of deepens the spiritual value of the meeting. We are human after all. However, it can also be quite surprising when, from time to time, a Friends ministry speaks directly to another’s unspoken thoughts. On more than one occasion, someone has come to me after Meeting to tell me how what I had said reflected their own thoughts exactly or even helped them in some way. As Quakers we believe: ‘that there is that of God in everyone’ and are moved by the one divine spirit.

Marrianne McMullen, an English Friend, put it beautifully when she said: “Ministry is what is on one’s soul, and it can be in direct contradiction to what is on one’s mind. It’s what the inner light gently pushes you toward or suddenly dumps in your lap”.

Much of what I am about to say here in this final section I derive from Geoffrey Hubbard’s book Quakers by Convincement not just because his description is so eloquent but because it so closely resembles my own experience. He begins by taking the view of the agnostic whom he assumes is looking to understand the nature of man. In doing so our curious friend recognizes his own intellect. Although he can describe the structure of the brain or the physical attributes of the body there is something missing because this alone will not describe either you or me. We are something more.

At this stage let me stop for a moment and relate a personal memory. About 30 years ago, one Saturday evening, while I was still a college student in Dublin, I went to a house party somewhere in the midlands. I can’t be any more precise than that because it was quite normal then to tag along to any and every old bash. As students we were poor so the lure of free food and the odd drink or two was too good to pass up. Nor do I have any idea of either who or what we were celebrating. All I remember is that the house was rocking. Bodies lay strewn in every nook and cranny. As I wandered from room to room, looking for someone familiar I pulled up sharp. Through the melee I could see a face I recognized but not one I was expecting. For a fleeting moment I imagined that I was looking into a mirror for the image in front of me as closely resembled my own as could be humanly possible. What was even more bizarre was that this stranger shared my surname. Many people that night remarked how similar we were but no one was confused between us. Despite the eerie resemblance he was still himself and I was still me. There was something more.

From the moment one becomes aware of this ‘something more’ there is an urgent curiosity to discover more about it. It has something to do with individuality, with being me and not you. Hubbard argues, that if we continue to persist, with this examination, we pass through stage after stage of identifying and rejecting parts of our self which is not the essential self that we seek. The more we know about ourselves the less significant that knowledge seems.

Thankfully, we are offered an antidote to this condition. It is to be quiet, not just physically but mentally. If instead of using the mind, instead of thinking, instead of referring everything to the standards of the intellect, we suspend this continuous argument in our head and become still, then we have a whole new awareness. We are aware of a sense of unity with the whole of creation, aware of the every sense of being which has so far escaped us. Simply put, we have discovered the spirit which is in us.

The nature of the divine spirit is not in the working of the mind but in the motivation which direct the mind. It is personal in that each of us is a channel for it and can be aware of its power; and yet it is universal, in that the divine spirit in you is the same as the divine spirit in me.

You may be sitting there thinking that I haven’t proved anything. No one can prove this to anyone else, but you can prove it to yourself. We are asked to: “Be still and know I am God”. One way of attempting this is by joining in the silence of Quaker worship. There, all about you are engaged in the same effort, and God grows and strengthens in all.

One last story. Earlier I mentioned an old friend, Moira Gillespie. Moira was an artist and it showed. Her house was tastefully decorated by many beautiful paintings and sculptures and surrounded by a magnificent garden. Although when we first met, her speech was already beginning to fail she had an active mind and a vibrant personality. I spent many fine evenings in her company discussing our shared love of poetry and science. In a large bay window hung a prism through which the light often streamed throwing its spectrum of colours onto a nearby wall. That image I carry with me everywhere. To me it represents that no matter how diverse we are there is that divine spirit in each of us and as Quakers of old said: we can truly walk cheerfully over the world answering that of God in everyone.

Adam Grennan, October 2, 2008.

Friends Trust (Eire) LTD

Valaura, Kimberley Road, Greystones, Co. Wicklow
The following letter was issued in November 2006 by Friends Trusts (Eire) Ltd. to all Preparative Meetings, Monthly Meetings and Quarterly Meetings in RoI with a copy to all bodies for whom Friends Trusts (Eire) Ltd. acts as Trustee. It was recently agreed to have this letter printed in The Friendly Word and published on the Quaker website to draw Friends attention to in particular the contents of paragraph 2.

Dear Friends

The Directors of Friends Trusts (Eire) Ltd. (FTE) agreed that a letter should be sent to all Meetings and to each body for which FTE hold property or investments to remind them of the role of FTE. FTE only acts as a Nominee and/or bare trustee. Responsibility for management of investments or real estate belonging to any Meeting, fund or committee rests with that body and its advisors. Please consider Chapter 18 from Organisation and Christian Discipline, Trusteeship of Property and Securities.

In its role as Trustee, FTE would like to remind you of the responsibilities undertaken by Friends who are appointed to manage funds and other assets on behalf of Meetings or committees. It is important to ensure that appropriate procedures and systems are in place to support and safeguard Friends who take on such roles, which can be onerous and challenging. Your bank should be able to advise on appropriate best practices. For example cheques should require two signatures, bank statements could be checked by more than one Friend, duties and responsibilities should be reviewed from time to time. Such practices are designed to protect officers and members by building in checks against inevitable human error or deliberate misuse. We should not be complacent in this area, we are aware that Friends in North Somerset and Wiltshire Monthly Meeting recently experienced the trauma of a betrayal of trust involving a substantial theft of funds.

FTE would also like to take this opportunity to remind Friends of the legal requirement to adhere to the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003. You may find it useful to obtain a copy of A Guide for Data Controllers which is available from the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (Tel: 01 8748544) or can be downloaded from

Your friend

Susanna M. Murdoch, Secretary, FTE

Directors: D.B.R. Poole (Chairman), P.R. Jacob, W.F. Bell, E.G.B. Clibborn, J.G. Douglas, S.M. Murdoch, D.A. Pim, B.S. Pim,, B.S.W. Little, R.H. Johnson.

Secretary: S.M. Murdoch.
Charity Number: CHY4458
Registered in Dublin No 10092; Registered Office: Quaker House, Stocking Lane, Dublin 16.


Quakers – from the perspective of a ‘Convinced Friend’

Someone approaching the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) for the first time might wonder what to expect. What happens in the ‘Meeting House’? Can you just turn up? Are you expected to behave in a certain way? Who will you meet? All these questions and many more ran through my head when I entered the Quaker Meeting House in Monkstown for the first time one Sunday more than three years ago.

Monkstown Meeting House, Dublin
Monkstown Meeting House, Dublin

People began to gather in the foyer about ten to fifteen minutes before the start of the Meeting. There were lots of smiles, warm handshakes and a general air of friendliness. I was made feel very welcome, in a non-intrusive way. It seemed more like a family gathering rather than a religious meeting. (I now think it is probably best described as a ‘community of spirit’).

Gradually, people moved into the room where the Meeting for Worship was held. My first impression was of a very simple space. The old Quaker benches and chairs were arranged on all four sides facing each other. There was no altar. Nothing adorned the walls. In fact, the only decoration of any sort was a small table with a bowl of flowers in the centre of the room. As people were seated the Meeting began.

Meeting in Progress
Meeting in Progress

The method of worship seemed a little strange at first. All was quiet. After a few minutes silence a Friend read a short passage from the Bible and then resumed their seat. During the next hour Friends continued to worship mostly in silence. The stillness was occasionally broken when someone stood up to speak. Somehow what was said always seemed appropriate and often connected with my own thoughts. It appeared too as if the ‘vocal ministry’ of one Friend prompted others. The worship continued until at the end of the hour two Friends shook hands.

The children joined the adults for the first fifteen minutes of the Meeting after which they retired to another room where a supervised Junior Meeting took place. This consisted of a mixture of play, readings, craft work and much laughter.

Most meetings are followed by coffee and chat
Most meetings are followed by coffee and chat

Meeting lasted about an hour, and when it ended Friends, attenders (regulars at Meeting who have not joined the society) and casual visitors stayed on to have a cup of tea or coffee or simply to chat before heading off home.

About two years after attending my first Meeting for Worship in Monkstown I decided that I wanted to join the Religious Society of Friends. I still attend Monkstown today.

Note: Those who join Friends later in life are sometimes referred to as ‘convinced Friends’ because they made their own decision to join. A child born to parents who are both Quakers is automatically a member.