Monday, July 24, 2017

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015-2017 - Z for Zed - The End

This is my last post in the Quaker Alphabet Blog. Since 2013 I have been through the alphabet, writing about Quaker related subjects, four times. Most of the other people who set out on this journey together have moved on to other things and it is time for me to do the same.

I have found this a useful prompt for my blogging - although sometimes no prompt is loud enough for such an arch-procrastinator as myself. The alphabetical structure has sometimes been difficult - not many names begin with Z, although some do, and some letters are much more difficult to find subjects for than others. I was particularly proud of X for Xylography!

I set out to use this format in part to continue to write about lesser-known Quakers of the past and I am happy to have done that. Of my biographical posts the most viewed has been Annie Elizabeth Clark. I certainly intend to continue with this theme and it will be a relief not to have to squeeze my writing into the confines of the alphabet.

Occasionally my alphabetical posts have been historical in other ways and there are themes there which I may try to expand on in future.

Another strand of my blogging has always been the autobiographical and when my life experience and my Quakerism have intersected some more personal posts have appeared in the alphabetical sequence.

So this is not really an ending. I am leaving one particular framework behind but I hope I can use it as a stepping stone to more writing. The difficulty that the alphabet structure was meant to remedy still remains - how to make myself sit down and write. To find out whether I have made any progress there you will have to watch this space!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015-2017 - Y for Yearly Meeting Gathering

Back in 2013 I wrote a post about my experience of Yearly Meeting and as I said then I have been a regular attender for many years.

London (later Britain) Yearly Meeting has usually been held in London but in modern times there have been moves to change this. In 1905 London Yearly Meeting was held in Leeds and there were other occasional forays out of the capital - to Birmingham in 1908, Manchester in 1912 and 1926, Llandrindod Wells in 1924, Scarborough in 1925, Bristol in 1937, York in 1941 and 1942 and Edinburgh in 1948.

Younger son at YM 1986
It was intended that Yearly Meeting should be held in the summer every four years outside London and a minute was made to that effect in 1945. However the organisation of these 'Residential Yearly Meetings' took a while and the first was not held until 1986 in Exeter. I was there as part of the Quaker Women's Group presenting the Swarthmore Lecture and my family came too. In fact the children enjoyed themselves so much that they insisted that we should make it a family tradition. So we continued to go not only to Yearly Meetings in London but to residentials in Aberdeen in 1989, in Warwick in 1993, in Aberystwyth in 1997, in Exeter in 2001 and in York in 2005.

Author and younger son at Aberdeen YM 1989
From 1991 it was decided to hold Summer Gatherings between Residential Yearly Meetings. These were to be predominantly social affairs with no decision-making agenda. The Yearly Meeting in these years was still held in May in London. We did not go to the first Summer Gathering in Bradford but did attend those held in Lancaster in 1995, Canterbury in 1999, Loughborough in 2003 and Stirling in 2007.

Eventually however the organisational and financial burden of these different gatherings became too much, especially in the years when both Yearly Meeting and Summer Gathering were held. The decision was therefore made to amalgamate Residential Yearly Meeting and Summer Gathering into Yearly Meeting Gathering with YM sessions and social activities being thrown together and particpants being able to make their own agenda.

Epilogue at Yearly Meeting Gathering in Bath 2014

The first Yearly Meeting Gathering was held in York in 2009, followed by Canterbury in 2011 and Bath in 2014. This year YMG will be at the University of Warwick and I will be there.

Any longer residential gathering is bound to be an intense experience, sometimes almost overwhelming, and I have sometimes found it difficult, needing to carve out spaces of solitude and calm for myself. But there have been many happy and uplifting times as well as difficult ones and I have always been glad that I have gone.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015-2017 - X for the unknown

X is a kind of question mark, an unknown value in an equation. When writing a blog I find that each post is setting out into the unknown. Even when writing within a structure, like the alphabet, the element of mystery and surprise is still there.

One of the things which keeps me going back to Quaker meetings is this element of the unknown. Although there are structures and procedures which have grown up over the years and give a comforting safety and routine, there is also the unknown which, if we are open to it, has the power to discomfort and change us, leading us on to explore new paths.

Quaker community is like this too - both supportive and challenging. Encountering the unknown is what allows community to grow and deepen - but it is seldom easy. I am someone happy in my own company but I know that I also need to make the effort to be part of a community. X for me is the unknown that allows me to balance these two impulses.