Full booking details and application forms are now on the website.
Further details including booking of our 2020 annual conference and AGM at Friends’ House are now on the website here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/events/nontheist-quakers-annual-conference-2020/
Please book as soon as possible as numbers are limited!
Preliminary details of our 2020 annual conference and AGM at Friends’ House are now on the website here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/events/nontheist-quakers-annual-conference-2020/
Please put the date in your diary!
Your Steering Group spent the day at Lancaster Meeting House on Wednesday (7 SG members in attendance) to discuss plans for the coming year.
There was a lot of discussion of possible amendments to the Constitution around issues of membership and aims but in the end it was decided that no changes should be recommended to our aims or structure as reflected in the Constitution and the only change to the latter required to be put to the next AGM for ratification is that the phrase ‘listed informal group’ in paragraph 1. needs to be updated to ‘Quaker recognised body’ to be technically correct.
Alternative arrangements for an Annual Conference and AGM in 2020 were also discussed and the current intention is to go ahead with a weekend conference at Woodbrooke, perhaps with 3 principal speakers, on the topic of Spirituality and with the title ‘That’s the Spirit! – Dimensions of spirituality’. It is hoped to find speakers who would span the wide range of views, both amongst Quakers and elsewhere, about Spirituality. Further details on the website and by email/newsletter as they become available.
We also agreed to take a booking at Britain Yearly Meeting (weekend gathering) in Bath for next August, topic to be arranged.
Our finances were reported to be in good order and it is hoped we will be able to publish a booklet of talks from the 2020 conference.
One item of some concern is that although we now have 125 ‘followers’ on the website and email the Newsletter to more than 80, only a significantly smaller number of NFN members have yet paid their £10 subscription for 2019-20 which was due from 1st April.
If you receive the Newsletter (a further edition shortly) and have not yet joined the Network or paid your subscription up to date, the steering group would much appreciate it if you did so now!
A little late in arriving but here a slightly more formal report on our 2019 Conference at Woodbrooke than the more personal reflections published so far.
The Conference was attended by just over 30 people, a few of whom only attended on the Saturday.
In addition to our NFN feedback form, there were at least two other feedback forms from Woodbrooke itself and that may have accounted for the relatively small number of our own feedback forms returned – just 10.
These were for the most part very positive and the Saturday afternoon trip to the Bourneville Carillon was greatly enjoyed by those who decided to go. (Details from the feedback forms can be found here.)
The conference began on the Friday evening with a ‘getting to know you session’, first of the Steering Group members explaining who they were and then small groups of about 4 ’neighbours’ asking various prompted questions of each other. These groups were ‘fluid’ in that first one and then another member of each group was asked to move to the neighbouring group, first to the left and then to the right.(Thus about half the meeting moved from one group to another at some point). This seemed to work quite well and was followed by an introduction to the history of the NFN and its present situation by David Boulton. Questions about the future of NFN were then left to be followed up ahead of the AGM on Saturday evening.
On Saturday morning our first speaker was Hugh Rock of NFN (and who did all the work of managing the Conference bookings) who spoke on what he thought was a defining characteristic of Quaker practice: ‘The authority of no authority: the paradox of Quaker unity through diversity’ as the ‘actual, unifying, but rather difficult to summarise, practice of Quaker Faith.’ which referred to the absence of a priesthood or hierarchy (‘The refusal of priesthood tells of the reliance and validation of individual experience.’); the discernment of ‘God’s will’ or ‘the sense of the meeting’ as part of the ‘Quaker business method’ in Meeting for worship for business. (For non-Quakers, ‘business’ here means the business of running Quaker Meetings and making the many decisions about activities which have to be made to keep things moving forward). (‘The refusal of vote taking within the Society is a powerfully equalising principle. It recognises, unusually, that democracy may be a form of dictatorship.’). He went on to illustrate this with a practical example drawn from John MacMurray’s statement that ‘the central conviction which distinguishes the Society of Friends is that Christianity cannot be defined in terms of doctrinal beliefs’ (Swarthmore Lecture 1965, p50). Hugh saw this ‘authority’ deriving from an absence of ‘authority’ as a key aspect of Quaker unity enabling the acceptance of great variety in belief (perhaps from nontheism to evangelical christianity) under one roof and great fluidity in our boundaries. Unity, diversity and boundaries being the theme of the conference. (Hugh’s post-conference text of his talk can be found here.)
After the morning tea and coffee break, we were addressed by Tony Philpott, Clerk to the Quaker Universalist Group, who gave a carefully thought out presentation of the history of ‘universalism’, in various senses, throughout Christian history, referring to inclusivity and exclusivity, and then the history of Quaker universalism from George Fox, Margaret Fell, William Penn and others through to the 1990’s and the forming of the Quaker Universalist Group (QUG). He gave, by way of example, a personal account of his own journey ‘From Christian to Quaker’, the subject of his book of that name, which also deals with a broad range of religious viewpoints (varieties of Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist and Quaker). Tony examined unity, diversity and boundaries within Quakerism in Britain Yearly Meeting, based on Ninian Smart’s ‘Dimensions of the Sacred’. He then looked at issues to do with definitions, membership, etc., and suggested that Quaker universalism may have much to offer as a solution to the problems raised by diversity.
On Sunday morning our third keynote speaker Marisa Johnson from Friends’ World Committee for Consultation – Europe and Middle East Section (FWCC-EMES) spoke on “The gift of difference in the World Family of Friends”, addressing the vast diversity of culture, theology and practice within the Quaker World Community. Her account was illustrated with slides and a moving video from the meeting of FWCC representatives in Peru in 2016. The video illustrated that ‘vast diversity of culture, theology and practice’ in a way which no text would have done. Marisa’s talk was also deeply personal, relating her own spiritual journey from her native Italian Catholicism to a London Church of England (‘because it was there’), then Methodists, and then to the ‘Sea of Faith’ and Quakers in Cambridge, as well as the personal journey from being a child and young person in Italy to a married woman in England (with an English husband Mick, also present for the Conference). Marisa spoke about how, through her international work, she has come to value the “uncommon ground” and how she moved from celebrating the freedom from dogma to trusting her leadings to keep her safe during very dark times in family life. Many present were I think moved near to tears by Marisa’s account and the illustration of the great diversity across the world family of Friends. Marisa finished with a word game she has devised to illustrate how certain (for example, biblical) words can be re-phrased in ways which are associated with quite different emotions. (The example given to me was ‘Evil’ versus ‘Cause of Harm’). The text of Marisa’s talk (minus a few personal anecdotes) can be found here.: The gift of difference in the World Family of Friends – holding on to the Uncommon Ground.
Our Saturday afternoon programme had continued with 3 short presentations volunteered by course participants:
Roger Warren Evans, South Wales, on his own version of ‘Advices and Queries without using the word God’: “‘Take Heed, Dear Friends’, a nontheist re-statement of the values and perceptions of Advices and Queries”;
Kitty Rush from Massachusetts on “‘New Bottle Quakerism’. Finding words to describe the Quakerism of today which would be useful to theists and non-theists alike”;
John Senior, Mid-Wales, on “Quaker spiritual practice – Advices and Queries 1 and 3 shorn of supernaturalism, a toolkit”. (John has a further session on this topic on 30th May – see here.)
These were followed by the option of further discussion of these presentations or a walk through the park to Bournville for a Carillon performance.
After Tea and before Supper, the Saturday programme continued with open discussion around reflections prompted by ‘To be or not to be’ (paper, David Boulton 2019, as included in participant packs, on the future of NFN) preparatory to the Nontheist Friends Network AGM itself.
Saturday evening had our usual ‘Quaking with Laughter’ followed by Woodbrooke’s Epilogue.
The Conference closed on Sunday after Marisa’s talk, a plenary session and finally lunch.
It is also worth noting that participants included those from the following (Area) Meetings: Bath, Cambridgeshire (3), Chilterns, Cumberland, Gloucestershire (3), Ipswich, Kendal & Sedbergh, Leeds, London West (2), Massachusetts (2), Mid-Thames (2), Mid-Wales, North-East Thames, South London (2), South Wales (2), Southern Marches, Sussex, Taunton, Torquay, Warwickshire, West of Scotland (4), Wirral (E&OE!).
A personal view from one of our Steering Group members.
ALL Conference participants are invited to share THEIR reflections here.
(Scroll down to the very bottom to complete ‘Leave a reply’ there. You may leave the ‘website’ field blank and only need enter your name and a valid email address which will not be shared or visible on the site).
It will soon be 3 weeks since our NFN annual conference at Woodbrooke for 2019. Time enough to reflect a little on the experience.
There were about 32 present for all or part of the conference (I don’t have the exact number) and I was somewhat surprised, looking round the Cadbury Room during our final plenary session on the Sunday, that I could name everyone there (but for one surname which I had to look up). That has never happened before.
Of course, there were many ‘old friends’ (as distinct from ‘Old Friends’) who had been to many NFN conferences before but, amongst the 28 there for that final session, there were 10 who had not attended previously.
The lower numbers than previous conferences (when we have had between 50 and almost 100 attending) presented some disadvantages but also created a cosier atmosphere and the feeling by the end (at least for me) that everyone knew everyone else.
I’m sure some of those who had not attended before may feel quite differently and one participant who was rather unhappy with what he saw as ‘unquakerly’ behaviour by some there, wrote and told me about that.
I would be very interested to hear from other participants, and especially those who had not attended before, how they felt about the conference. We only received 10 feedback forms, which were generally very positive with mostly ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ ratings, and this might have been partly because there were also at least two feedback forms from Woodbrooke to complete. I know it can be difficult to find time to complete forms in the hurry to pack and leave on Sunday, but I also wonder whether only those who felt most enthusiastic, bothered to complete the forms!
You can still let us know ‘how was it for you’, either by commenting below (‘Leave a reply’), or by emailing one of the Steering Group, including myself at trevor(at)humber.co.uk (replace the (at) with the usual @ symbol (and no spaces) in your email ‘To:’ field).
Different individuals will have responded differently to different aspects of the conference but I found, as I often do, that the overall effect was very inspiring for me. Any one part on its own might have been less so, but taken together, for me, there was a good balance between our 3 main speakers and other aspects of the conference.
One slightly unsatisfactory aspect was that we did have problems with the microphones, mainly because many, myself included, find them difficult to hold close to the mouth the whole time you are speaking and find them off-putting. Microphone problems affected the short presentations where one speaker could be heard very well and the others only with difficulty. I thought that this might partly have been because the mikes handled some voices better than others.
But apart from those difficulties, I felt the conference overall was excellent. I hope we can add some specific information and reflections on each of our 3 key speakers shortly.
Please do let us know about your experience of the conference and any thoughts about future conferences, local gatherings and indeed the future of NFN as discussed at the AGM.
I have left the 2019 Conference page (29-31 March – last weekend) as the home page for the time being but enabled comments on it so, if you were there, please use the comment box (‘Leave a reply’) to give us further feedback on the conference. I will use my discretion as to whether to publish, edit or remove these!
Otherwise I have tried to update the website to reflect recent changes but some areas might still be a bit out of date. Much of the ‘old content’ is still relevant and of interest, so please have a look around (a good browse) and let me know through comments on relevant pages if you feel anything needs updating or refreshing.
It was very agreeable meeting everyone last weekend, even if, in the end, we only had just over 30 participants. Being smaller loses something but I think we also gained from the smaller numbers.
One enthusiastic first-time participant suggested we should have conferences on themes of general Quaker interest rather than just related to non-theism, theological positions and so on – but last year’s conference was on the future of Quakerism – will it survive?
What do other Ffriends think about this?
Feedback from the conference was generally very positive and further details will follow in due course.
PS. If NFN is to continue, we really do need some of you to come forward to join the Steering Group. (We can co-opt new members between AGM’s). So, if you feel you could give even just a little time, please email us or use the Contact Form to send me a message.
Looking for David Boulton on wikipedia the other day hypertexted me to wikipedia on Nontheist Quakers (worth a read) including a short list of ‘Notable Nontheist Friends’ (only two of whom I’ve heard of) and then to wikipedia on Nontheism which is a fascinating read (follow the links there to ignosticism and ietsism) and which explains very well why ‘nontheist’ is likely to remain the best label we can find for our Nontheist Friends Network.
Look forward to comments on this (‘Leave a reply’) and see you at the Conference on 29-31 March?
NFN began some eight years ago and from time to time we have considered whether there is any need for NFN to continue. Today, David Boulton writes: ‘When we founded the Nontheist Friends Network eight years ago we promised ourselves that one of our aims would be to lay the network down as soon as it had clearly served its purpose‘
David’s piece is attached here (in Word) and will be mailed out to NFN members as well as being distributed to our Conference participants at Woodbrooke at the end of the month (29-31 March).
There are currently 12 members of the Steering Group. Some of these, including our Clerk, have been very busy organising this year’s Conference. Hugh Rock, who is one of our Conference speakers this year, has taken care of Conference bookings for the last three years and payments are eventually handled by our Treasurer.
At least three of our Steering Group members would like to step down this year, or, in some cases, take a less active part. If, therefore, after discussing David’s thoughts in the piece attached, the AGM should discern that NFN, and our annual Conferences, should continue, then we will likely need new blood in the Steering Group.
We hope that all participants in the Conference will choose to attend the AGM:
Saturday 30th March 2019, 17.15-18.15 AGM of the Nontheist Friends Network (Cadbury room) all welcome (although it’s not compulsory!).
We also hope that a number of you might put yourselves forward, whether for a more or a less demanding role, as members of the Steering Group. (We do not have a ‘Nominations Committee’!)