Quaker Week 2022: What Does Being a Quaker Mean?
Southport Friends, as part of Quaker week 2022, discussed what being a Quaker means to them, personal Quaker commitment and Quaker personal experience.
Short talk by Gerard Hughes on “What Quakerism means to me, and how I live my Quakerly life”.
I would like to start by explaining why I became a Quaker in the first place. I became a member in 2020 after becoming dissolutioned with the Catholic Church. I had been heavily involved with the church, becoming the Chairman of the Parish Council in Tarleton at one point. I was not comfortable with the way a local parish is a benign dictatorship with the parish priest always having the last say. I was not comfortable with the hierarchical system, the wealth and the dogma. My discomfort culminated when I heard about the excommunication of a girl and her mother in Brazil. The girl had had an abortion following intercourse with the girl’s father. I believe the young girl had some learning difficulties. The father was not excommunicated because his was the “lesser sin”. I do not wish my name to be associated with a church that behaves in this way.
I spoke to the local Parish Priest, explaining my difficulties. He said to me: “Gerard, what you have to understand is that Catholicism is a revealed religion” He didn’t elaborate on this but I took it to mean: We will tell you what to believe and you toe the line! This did not sit right at all with me.
I love what I call the Quaker commandment “Thou shalt work it out for yourself”
It would be wrong of me to criticise and run down Catholicism too much as I know it is important to many faithful Catholics. However, it was not right for me.
I want from a Religion two things: I want it to be both a comfort and a challenge.
It is a comfort. The silence at Meeting, sitting, waiting in the light is very moving and comforting. It is far more meaningful to me than a regimented service. I am comforted by the way the religion evolves. Quakers were one of the first churches to recognise same sex marriages. This was done after much consideration by all members. Local Meetings feeding up to Area Meeting and then onto Meeting for Sufferings. A consensus was built. I am comforted by the lack of dogma and love the phrase “think it possible you may be mistaken” from Advices and Queries. I am also comforted by the great work Quakers do in our communities and throughout the world.
There are many challenges. There are four Testimonies: Truth, Equality, Simplicity and Peace.
I think I am ok with the first, truth, as I consider myself to be truthful and honest with high Integrity, although I am sure I have failed at times.
I am firm about Equality on all levels. Anything different would be Arrogance.
I struggle with Simplicity! Here I don’t think I am a good Quaker! For example I love my cars, I have a Lexus sitting outside and I don’t need such a big powerful car. We have a Motorhome, that makes three vehicles between two of us, eating up resources.
I struggle also with the Peace Testimony. I am not ready to be a Pacificist, whatever that means. Take for example the last major conflict this country was involved in, ie WW2. Take also the Ukraine situation. I do of course support Alternatives to Violence and the fight for peace.
I am proud to be a Quaker. I believe Quakers contribute more than most £ for £. Quakers work hard throughout the world including their work at the United Nations. This inspires me to make my own contribution. I have worked with the Samaritans, becoming the Director for three years in Southport. I started a branch of Andysmanclub in Preston, Central Lancashire. Briefly, this is a group of men meeting to talk about the important stuff, what they are struggling with and the problems they have. I have also worked at HMP Wymott with Samaritans and now as Quaker Prison Chaplain.
I believe Quakers has made me a gentler more understanding person, being non judgemental.
Advices and Queries encourages us to Live Adventurously. I have certainly always tried to do this, taking calculated risks when appropriate.
Commitment. Since becoming a Member of the Society of Friends in 1985 I have constantly served and honoured my word as a witness to Truth and a path of freewill practical and spiritual service to what I know is the true Quaker way.
Personal experience. The first time I attended Southport Quaker Meeting carrying my baby in arms, the greeting we received from Friends and the welcome enveloped us in loving warmth, at that time in my life it was like stepping into another world.
Mine has been a very long road, years, learning in depth the Quaker structure of how our Society has successfully survived, and the design of how it has remained a welcoming place of spiritual gathering, Ministry and nurture, essential for all to retain the knowledge of this structure, any dilution of this way could eventually weaken the pure essence. Quaker Faith and Practice and Advices and Queries are excellent reference points.
A most important structure is, there is no hierarchy, no top down control, we are all equal, role holders who, when it is possible, change roles every three years or so, and all who are connected with our LM /AM or Quakers in general work co-operatively to ensure everyone is helping each other with a tender hand, always with respect, never with controlling managerial behaviours, which unfortunately focus so strongly in the age we live.
Following years of attending Meetings for Worship, business Meetings and how these are conducted, reading, conversations, observations , questioning and eventually many roles I have held in the Local, Area, and National bodies of the SoF, organising workshops, weekends away, walks, days out, witness and organising Quaker weddings and funerals, including humanist funerals, arranging joint worship with the Reverend Philip Waldron of the Unitarians and connections and talks with Canon Rod Garner and with Rabbi Sydney Kay, and other religious and non religious representatives. Travelling far and wide meeting up with new Quaker Friends and attending other Meetings in this country and overseas and for a short time being a Friend in Residence at Glenthorne Quaker Guest House in Grasmere Cumbria, my personal experience with Quakers is very long and varied.
Metaphorically I see my path like a pilgrimage, every step I have taken towards Southport LM and S of F has been a absolute path of Service in every way due to the love I hold for Southport LM and in memory of all the weighty close Friends who went before me and from whom I learnt so much, and I miss.
Living my Q life. I look for the light in each being I come into contact with either physically or electronically, actions and eyes speak, in my world eyes are the windows of the Soul, actions are the affirmations. Always attempting non judgementalism and accepting everyone for whom they are and where they are in life. That of God or Good in everyone.
Spirituality, love, and reaching out a healing hand is essential for all parts and areas of my life.