Wednesday, July 30, 2008

British Quakers and convergence

Reading Robin's blog started me thinking about where British Quakers stand in relation to the convergent conversation. These are just a few introductory thoughts and I intend to write a bit more about my own 'convergent' experience later.

From where we are the whole idea can seem very distant from our day to day reality. After all in our country we do not have different Yearly Meetings with different traditions and so do not need to make an effort to talk to any traditions outside our own - do we? It is all too easy to think that 21st century British Liberal Quakerism is the only way to be a 'real' Quaker.

We forget - or more often we never learn - that while American Quakerism in the 19th century reacted to the different claims of Hicksite, Liberal and Evangelical views by splitting into different groups with different traditions, we in Britain changed from one orthodoxy to another. While retaining the unprogrammed tradition of worship, in the 19th and early 20th centuries British Quakerism was Evangelical. The increasingly Liberal Quakerism which we inhabit now took over as the new orthodoxy in the 20th and 21st centuries.

So what does our history have to do with where we are now and does any of it matter? I think it matters a great deal because if we look around us and see only like-minded people then it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to listen to other Quakers 'out there' who do not agree with us. There is an assumption that we are true Quakers and other yearly meetings who do not share our traditions are somehow second-class. Our very liberalness can make us narrow minded and even make it hard for Friends within our own yearly meeting who want to express their faith through Christian language to do so for fear of hurting others.

I know that it is not always easy to hear strongly-held beliefs that differ from our own. I am not saying that we should not disagree but that we should make an effort to hear 'where the words come from'. British Friends need to be part of the convergent conversation because in this way we can listen to the voices of other Quakers from different traditions outside our own country and our own comfort zone. We can speak about what Quakerism means to us but also hear the true Quaker faith expressed in other ways. We must not isolate ourselves but try to share the hope that is in us all.