Last weekend was Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain, held at Friends House in London from Friday afternoon (24/5) to Monday afternoon (27/5).
During a Yearly Meeting “we aim to create a truly gathered community who can go to the heart of who we are and what the world needs of us”. Our discernment and time together should be
“an inspiring event which takes us into and out beyond ourselves, and also carries us back, strengthened and grounded, to our local meetings and daily lives”.
[from minutes of Yearly Meeting Gathering 2009 Planning Committee]
Some of the business of the meeting is to make administrative and procedural decisions, but lots of it is “seeing one another’s faces” – meeting together as a national community.
This year’s meeting didn’t make any big, outward-facing decisions. It felt like an opportunity to pause; to spend quality time together; to concentrate on who we are together and how our relationships work as an organisation and as a community; to consolidate our Quakerness. It felt like an opportunity for me to do some of that as an individual too.
I made some new friends and spent time with old friends, without some of the intense kaboom friendships that sometimes happen at these things – interactions at this BYM felt gentle and comfortable. A couple of the new friends introduced themselves to me because I looked like familiar sort of people. Some of my friends from my old meeting in Sheffield introduced me to people I’d met but not got to know from my new meeting in Wanstead; I chatted a bit more with some other Wanstead people and feel like it’s time to let go of some of my reservations (and shyness and homesickness) and get to know people there better.
Yearly Meeting prompted me to think about some aspects of the way my life’s been arranged that have been sitting uncomfortably with me (mostly relating to how I go about activism; a bit about social stuff and scheduling) and to make some adjustments so things fit better with what I think is right and with what I think is sustainable. (Nothing big! Just small-scale life-changing.)
This year’s Swarthmore Lecture (on the Saturday evening of Yearly Meeting) was one person talking about their own life and personal experience – rather than big philosophy or politics. I appreciated that, this year, and it prompted me to read the Testimonies published for this Yearly Meeting (short Quaker biographies of people who’ve died recently). I’ve enjoyed hearing and reading about a huge variety of ways of living as a Quaker, especially when it’s clear that all these people are/were fallible humans. I like fallible humans.
On Sunday evening my friend Mark led a singing session and I enjoyed being part of it. [Here are Mark’s own thoughts from Yearly Meeting.]
I’m still feeling quiet and gently introspective, and starting to get to grips with the next things on my to-do list (and looking forward to summer holidays).