Feedback and reflections on NFN MfW&CC 1 April 2021

Trevor (NFN web person): I hope other Friends will contribute to these reflections.
I received an email this morning from Humanists UK which began: ‘Dear Trevor, You and I are not religious’.

I replied to say: ‘ ‘You and I are not religious’ not a reasonable assumption.
There are many religious humanists.
See David Boulton ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist’ at https://qug.org.uk under pamphlets.
Not even reasonable for British Humanists to be so determinably anti-religious!’
https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/pamphlet-26/

(Except the spell-checker didn’t like ‘determinably’ and rendered it ‘determinable’ – never mind, I suppose I meant ‘determinedly’.)

Some attending the NFN MfW with creative conversation presentation by William Purser last night commented that they too were in some sense ‘religious humanists’ or that they were uncomfortable with some humanists’ anti-religious activities and that the value (and values?) of religions or religious groups should not be sniffed at.

I suppose that must include ourselves as members of or Friends of ’The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain’ (or elsewhere).

The meeting was well attended with Friends from right across the UK as well as a few from the USA and I think Africa and possibly elsewhere. (Please let us know!).

We thank William for his presentation ‘Fox to Opium via Marx….?’. I think William intended to be provocative or at least to provoke some thoughts and reflection in the following ‘creative conversation’ which it certainly did. (It’s perhaps not quite ‘worship sharing’ but not ‘discussion’ although some Friends obviously felt the urge to move in that direction – even debate or Q&A!).

Likewise, I intend to be provocative here or, I hope, to provoke further reflections and conversation (by these people, right here, now on this website as Harvey Gillman might have said).

One participant asked ‘what brought us all to this nontheist meeting, which we are not getting from our own local meetings?’ and (another?) ‘unity or what unites us is more important than anything that might divide us’ – religion, politics or economics for example?

It seems that quite a few of us do identify as ‘humanist’ in some sense, some as atheist, some as ’nontheist’ and some as ‘theist’,  while some thought that any differences between theist/nontheist weren’t even worth talking about.

From my own experience of NFN Friends, conferences and the Steering Group over 10 years, I’m sure there is quite a wide range of views or beliefs held but that all take comfort from our practice in Meeting for Worship and Quaker social activism (which includes political matters and ideas about the need for a ’new economics’).

Have I captured some ‘sense of the Meeting’ and have I been sufficiently provocative, at least not to induce yawns or snores??

(I had intended to put in a whole lot of hypertext links but I’ll assume you can all use ‘duck, duck go’ instead). https://duckduckgo.com/

We did this time have a final 20 minutes in breakout rooms after the meeting and it would be interesting to hear of any feedback (respecting privacy) from those groups. In total I believe we had about 95 attending the meeting and about half remained for the final chat in the breakout rooms at the end. My own area meeting (East Cheshire, near Stockport/Manchester) was quite well represented with at least 4 of us attending and there were two of us in my breakout group. At least one person in the main conversation had commented that men had tended to dominate the contributions a bit and that was true at first in our breakout group (I think there were 4 men and 4 women in that group. I didn’t notice what the overall balance was in the main meeting and I hope my binary reference is acceptable).

At the previous meeting with presentation by John Senior on 4 March there was quite a bit of feedback on the ‘Chat’. This time the Chat was disabled because some people apparently thought it was distracting. I on the other hand thought it was a useful additional channel of communication between participants including the organisers and a means of clarifying items not heard well.
What do you think?

Helen Gilbert on the Facebook group (link below) commented:
Tim (Regan), I enjoyed the Zoom meeting and talk, it would have been lovely to have been able to thank people by written message as I am not always able to get a good connection to speak or be seen. I know having ‘chat messages’ running along side a speaker and discussion can be a bit distracting but it can be helpful if your connection is poor (as I use an underpowered Chrome Book or for those using phones). Would it be possible for the message function to be turned on even if it is for 10 mins at the end just so the speaker and yourself can be thanked?

Comments on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1631439757083868:
Helen Gilbert
I really enjoyed the second of the Non Theist Network meetings for ‘worship’ tonight with an interesting talk on whether religion is the ‘opium of the people’. It was interesting to consider also any links between Jesus and Marx, in the discussion group afterwards. I find myself thinking that for me the link between them is that they were both motivated by compassion and love for those in need, and the motivation and reputation of both have very debatably been damaged by their ‘followers’. Thanks to the NTN for an interesting talk and debate.

Gabi Clayton
Thanks for today. I look forward to the next one.

(See additional comment from the Facebook group under Comments below).

We all now look forward to the next meeting on 6 May: Philip Gross, The language of poetry, and creative uses of the word ‘God’

Nontheist Friends Network invites you to their second MfW+CC on Thursday evening, 1 April at 7PM UK time

Dear Friends,
It was such a pleasure to see so many familiar and new faces at our first MfW and Creative Conversation. Nontheist Friends Network invites you to their second MfW+CC on Thursday evening, 1 April at 7PM UK time, by Zoom.

William Purser will share his presentation, ‘Fox to Opium via Marx….?’.  To read a bit about William, see Trevor Bending’s post here.

Please note the new time, our MfW+CC will start at 7PM (not 7:30PM) to allow for a ‘friendly chat’ upon conclusion of the Meeting.

If you are interested in attending and have not registered, please
email the Clerk (clerk@nontheist-quakers.org.uk) to register.

If you previously registered, there is no need to re-register, you are on the list. You will automatically receive Zoom links to this and subsequent Meetings, approximately one week before each Meeting. We ask that you please do not share the Zoom link with interested Friends, but encourage them to email the Clerk (clerk@nontheist-quakers.org.uk) to register. You may unregister/unsubscribe at any time by replying to this email address.

New Format:
• Zoom Room opens at 6:45PM, please arrive early.
• 7PM: Welcome and Meeting for Worship: approximately 20 minutes for quietly gathering ourselves and connecting.
• Creative Conversation: up to 20 minutes for presentation or raising a question.
• Open discussion: up to 40 minutes for creative exchanges, expressions, and reactions; hopefully fostering community and fellowship.
• Conclusion: ending with a few moments gathered in silence.
• Friendly chat: 20 minutes for socializing for interested Friends in small group breakout rooms
• Duration:1hr:45m-2hr:00m

In Friendship,

The MfW Working group (Gisela Creed, John Senior, William Purser, and Kiera Faber)
Nontheist Friends Network

March 2021 newsletter and website updates

An excellent March 2021 newsletter edited by David Boulton was emailed out to NFN members on 22 February and has been added to the website today. (You will find it under ‘Articles-Newsletters’).
(And do have a browse of past articles on that Articles page).

Further speakers and dates have been added to our new ‘Meeting for worship and Creative Conversations‘ programme. (that link just returns you to the homepage, correct at this time, but sometime in the future you might have to look for that page elsewhere).

For feedback and to comment on the first meeting on 4 March, see that post.

Other changes to the website include the addition of ‘Google translate’ for overseas visitors and a ‘flag counter’ (right hand column) some months ago which shows that we have had over 1000 UK visitors, 700 US visitors and over 300 from 45 other countries since last October (5 months). I’m not sure what to make of that!

Feedback and reflections on NFN MfW&CC 4 March 2021

As mentioned elsewhere in Comments, and as one of over 85 participants, I thought for a first attempt on zoom it went rather well tonight.  This seems like an excellent place for some ‘fizz’ (or is it ‘phys’, snap, crackle and pop?) on the website.

I would like to invite all present at the meeting tonight to offer their feedback, reflections, queries, suggestions and comments here on the website. (Please comment or ‘Leave a reply’ below – comments will appear within 24 hours or so after moderation).

I would like to set the ball rolling by congratulating John Senior on what I thought was an excellent presentation drawn from mainly familiar sources, for provoking much thought, comment and reflection and for being delightfully short, leaving more time for those contributions from many.

Your comments here might include further reflection, references OR comments and suggestions on technical matters and organisation.

We have already had 3 comments (ahead of the meeting) on timing (answered in the comments). One attendee tonight would have liked to start a little earlier whereas I thought a little later (after the children have gone to bed? – see those comments).

There will never be a perfect timing – always inconvenient for somebody and I’m sure the working group will want to leave that as it is at least for the next 3 months tho’ perhaps that can be looked at in the future.

Some people struggled a bit with zoom but that gets easier with practice and I’d suggest people who want to speak, unmute themselves first, whilst keeping quiet and then be ready to speak when invited.  Not quite in the spirit of ‘worship sharing’ but some people obviously felt confident to say or answer something very briefly by interjecting. (Please don’t do that to hold the floor!).  Otherwise as Mackenzie (University Friends Meeting, USA) advised: For anyone looking for the “Raise Hand” button, you might find it under “Reactions” (new zoom) or under Participants (old zoom). (And once raised an option changes to remove raised hand).

For the same Mackenzie, the website I was referring to for Michael Wright’s article on prayer was of course THIS Website! See under ‘Articles’ and scroll down for several articles by Michael which include ‘Prayer beyond belief‘ where Michael deals with ‘The Bible; God; Jesus; Doctrine; and Prayer’ and the section on prayer is a substantial part of the article although he mentions other points relevant to our conversations tonight.

Another suggestion made in the meeting was to have breakout meetings next time for smaller groups (and giving more people time to say something – 8 supporters) whereas others preferred to keep it as one whole group. In some ways, though it might be a bit of a technical burden on the hosts, it might be possible to combine both, with those who want smaller groups to be allocated to say upto half a dozen breakout rooms at random leaving those who prefer ‘a big session’ together in the main room for the others to rejoin at will.  That would certainly be an experiment but it might work.

I will finish with a few quotes from the chat transcription, including references and John’s texts and then it’s over to YOU to continue the conversation if you will.

John Senior Llanidloes to Everyone : Texts quoted:
A&Q 1 & 3
F&P 19.04, George Fox, 1648
F&P 19.07, George Fox, 1652
*George Fox’s letter to Lady Elizabeth Claypole, 1658
F&P 21.65, James Nayler
*William Penn in ‘No Cross, no Crown’, 1682
F&P 26.12, Geoffrey Hubbard, 1974
F&P 20.06 Philip Rack, 1979
*These items should be available online
*Here is the extract from Fox’s letter to Lady Elizabeth Catchpole (Oliver Cromwell’s second daughter) in 1658 quoted in part by John: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/fox_g/autobio.xvii.html#fnf_xvii-p17.1
Elizabeth died later the same year aged 29 and her father died later the same year.
*Here is William Penn’s ‘No Cross, no Crown’:
https://www.gospeltruth.net/Penn/nocrossnocrownIndex.htm
I don’t know if John might provide the quote he used?
John has now provided the text of his presentation and it is available here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/news/john-senior/

From Mackenzie (she/her) University Friends Meeting, USA to Everyone : From North Pacific Yearly Meeting’s F&P (3rd Ed, p.19 – p32 of pdf a 303 page 6Mb document) on nontheist Friends: A number of Friends in NPYM do not believe in the existence of a deity. This perspective cannot be described fully in a few words. Many nontheist Friends live in awe and wonder of the world, feel deep and mysterious connection to people and nature, and are convinced of the infinite sanctity of life. Nontheist Friends share strong callings to service, to the mystery and power of the gathered meeting, and to the importance of community in spiritual growth. Nontheists are warmly welcomed and valued as members of our Friends meetings. (see also http://www.nontheistfriends.org/ our Friends in the USA)

From Michael Boulton in BC Canada to Everyone : For me Quaker Worship is an act of Listening, being open to promptings wherever it comes. It is not noise of profession, but is of active listening, silencing all noise from inside and the external world.

From Enna to Everyone : Can I ask, do you feel comfortable using the phrase: “holding you in the light” instead of “praying for you”
And if so, how does what was said earlier about the light being a luminosity experienced during our stillness, relate to this phrase? or is it a different meaning.

From Gisela Creed to Everyone : I just say: thinking of you with all my heart.

From Pat Blackheath SELAM to Everyone : A good question. Are we humanists? or ?  (David Boulton a principal founder of NFN who was with us tonight wrote for the Quaker Universalist Group in 1997 ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist‘)

From Helen to Everyone : I hope we have not let go of the possibility of mystical experiences in the silence from whatever the source or attribution it is given either internal or external, for me listening in the silence is the experience that matters, but even though I identify as non-theist I have felt great feeling so love and joy in the silence that felt mystical. I do not know how to pray or hold others in the light except to feel love for them or send love to them in my thoughts so I hope that suffices!

From Paul to Everyone : Jesus lived 2000 years ago and the Buddha lived 2,500 years ago or so and we find their ideas helpful so George Fox is fairly recent in comparison.

I have included above a selection of chat comments with names and hope that is acceptable. I could put the whole transcript (as I got it) on the website for those who didn’t save it but that would involve having everyone (who contributed)’s names there so it might be better to email the clerk if you didn’t and would like a copy.

Now it’s my bedtime too and it really is over to you to continue with any appropriate comments below. (If there are a lot, I won’t respond to all, but you too can help by responding too – Creative Conversations!)

NFN Monthly Meeting reminder

Don’t forget the first of these monthly meetings with Creative conversations is tomorrow night Thursday 4th March 2021 at 7.30pm UK time (UTC). You can see all the details in the previous post and on the relevant (new) page, which is currently set as our home (landing) page under ‘Events’.

We have now added two further confirmed dates/speakers, so John Senior and William Purser will be followed by Philip Gross on Thursday 6th May and Kiera Faber on Thur. 3rd June.

We look forward to seeing you there and if you haven’t registered yet, please email as shown to do so.

New NFN monthly Meeting for Worship and Creative Conversation

At the NFN gathering on Zoom on 27th January a working group was proposed to consider further meetings as Meetings for Worship with Creative Conversations hosted by NFN on Zoom. This working group has now initiated such meetings on a monthly basis as follows:
(Note the additional dates below!)

Nontheist Friends Network (QRB) invites you to a monthly Meeting for Worship followed by Creative Conversation. Each meeting hopes to offer a different topic, shaking the Quaker kaleidoscope and perhaps shining a light on different ways of looking at our (more) traditional ideas.

By Zoom on the first Thursday of the month at 7:30pm UK time, starting on Thursday 4 March, 2021.  (7.00pm from 1 April). All are welcome.

Please email clerk@nontheist-quakers.org.uk to register.

Presenters:

4 March: John Senior, ‘Seeking the Light – is Fox still relevant?’

Please note the new time (6.45 for 7.00pm UK time from 1 April)
1 April: William Purser, ‘Fox to Opium via Marx….?’

6 May: Philip Gross, The language of poetry, and creative uses of the word ‘God’

3 June: David Parlett, A Theist Cuckoo in the Nontheist Nest

Date to be confirmed: Kiera Faber, Drawing Silence in Art

Date to be confirmed: David Boulton, Taking Leave of God in the Quaker Tradition

Interested in presenting a ‘Creative Conversation’? All are welcome to share their ideas with the MfW Working group: Gisela Creed, John Senior, William Purser, and Kiera Faber. Email clerk@nontheist-quakers.org.uk.

Format: (New Format from 1 April)

  • Meeting for Worship: approximately 20 minutes for quietly gathering ourselves and connecting.
  • Creative Conversation: up to 20 minutes for presentation or raising a question.
  • Open discussion: up to 30 minutes for creative exchanges, expressions, and reactions; hopefully fostering community and fellowship.
  • Conclusion: ending with a few moments gathered in silence.
  • Duration: 60-90 minutes, depending upon the natural flow of conversation.

Like all Quaker Meetings for Worship, these are open to everyone: Quaker or not, ‘theist’ or ‘nontheist’, ‘religious’ or not.  So we look forward to seeing you there.

History of the NFN – 2

Here’s a second instalment of early NFN history.

This also serves as a bit of a tour around the site: visit our articles page and hit the link to newsletters ‘at bottom of page’ https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/articles/  where you will see newsletters from 2013-14 and onwards (direct link: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/articles/#newsletters ). If you then scroll up a little, you will find our many articles starting from 2013 – 6 articles or talks from 2013 by Sarah Richards, Michael Wright, Jean Wardrop and Paul Bates on Discernment, Gretta Vosper, Continuing Revelation, Prayer, God and Quaker Diversity – well worth reading from those ‘early days’ even 7 years later – do have a look and continue exploring!

On our American Friends site, there is an article by Miriam Yagud – one of the founders of NFN in the UK – on a gathering in Canterbury in 2011: http://www.nontheistfriends.org/article/getting-beyond-the-words-nontheist-friends-network-at-britain-yearly-meeting-gathering-canterbury-2011
You can also explore that site further and have a look at their list of Contributors articles: http://www.nontheistfriends.org/contributors

Now, we need a similar list of contributors here and you can sign up to be a contributor (with a free wordpress.com account) OR submit an article by writing to me and pasting it into the Comment box on our Contacts page here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/contact/
I think that should keep you all busy for a bit, and I look forward to hearing further from you (or just leave a comment below).
Trevor Bending

History of the NFN

At this 2021 New Year’s tide, I thought it might be interesting to have a look at our NFN (UK) history to help us reflect on ‘where we are’ and ‘how we got here’.

The earliest history directly on this site is our 2012 Minute and Epistle to be found here: https://nontheistquakers.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/nontheism-among-friends.pdf

However, there is even earlier history, from 2011, on our companion US site here: http://www.nontheistfriends.org/article/what-next-for-quaker-nontheism and here: http://www.nontheistfriends.org/article/new-nontheist-friends-network-in-britain
Going even further (way back to 1976) there is a report on the US site of an FGC meeting in New York in that year: http://www.nontheistfriends.org/article/report-from-nontheistic-friends-workshop-at-fgc-1976-2

An early and moving post by James Riemermann of (and at) Twin Cities Meeting, Minnesota from April 2005 can be found here: http://www.nontheistfriends.org/article/my-spiritual-journey-riemermann

The earliest post I can find on the US site concerns a gathering of nontheist quakers including David Boulton, David Rush, and Kitty Rush at Woodbrooke in January 2004, posted by Os Cresson here: http://www.nontheistfriends.org/article/greetings-from-woodbrooke-2004

That should whet the appetite for now and there might be more to follow!

AGM 9 December 2020 – Second thoughts

We now have a draft minute for the AGM on 9 December, which was sent to current members of NFN by email on our mailing list yesterday (Wednesday 23 December).

The clerk welcomed participants and expressed great pleasure in seeing old and new faces. She introduced the Steering Group. Altogether there were 35 people present. After clarifying some ground rules for the procedure of the AGM, an extract from QF&P was read (26.39, Charles F Carter, 1971).
(For full details, see the minute)

The Meeting appointed Piers Maddox (Clerk), Trevor Bending, Gisela Creed, Tim Regan, Kiera Faber, Steven Goldblatt and Roger Warren-Evans to be the Steering Group for 2021, and asks them to find ways of working with small, open planning groups for specific tasks.

One of these might be a working group consisting of interested members of the Steering Group and others to undertake an evaluation of the website and, if an entirely new website is required, come up with at least a created ‘proof of concept’ site.

The clerk (Gisela Creed 2017-2020) thanked the retiring members of the steering group for their work and especially David Boulton whose initiative started the group. She thanked everyone for attending, and ended with a quote by David Boulton from his introduction to ‘Godless for God’s sake, the collection of essays on Nontheism in contemporary Quakerism which David edited in 2006:
There is so much to do. So much in our divided, warring world, our atavistic religion, our polluted politics, our unexamined ways of thinking that we need to SUBVERT! Where shall we find the society of rebels, agitators, and outsiders, the partisan recruits to the underground army of subversion whose loyalty is pledged to the republic of heaven on earth? Who will choose to be Godless- for God’s sake?

The Steering Group page of the website has been updated with the new details, as has the Constitution amended by the AGM:
(a) In section 1, we agree to replace the words ‘listed informal group’ with the words ‘Quaker Recognised Body’ in accordance with changes in the Britain Yearly Meeting regulations.
(b) In section 2, we agree to add the words ‘and attenders’ after the word ‘Friends’ to reflect the open nature of our group.

One Friend at the AGM said that he found the name ‘Steering Group’ off-putting. This came about because a ‘planning group’, considering the setting up of the NFN (which didn’t then have a name) in 2011, eventually decided on the terms ‘nontheist’ (about which arguments have continued to the present day), Nontheist Friends Network and Steering Group (a temporary sort of name?) and that’s the way it’s been ever since our first full ‘annual’ conference at Woodbrooke in 2012. We never got round to changing the SG to ‘Committee’ – but it is not in any way exclusive, is appointed annually by the AGM (I think that means for one year) but, in accordance with normal Quaker practice and our Constitution ‘The appointments of Clerk and Steering Committee will normally be for three years’. Steering Group members may choose to stay as long as required or ask to be released at any time and especially at the AGM which in normal circumstances usually takes place after one year – but in this exceptional year (not to mention the ‘C’ word, well maybe, Coronavirus) took place on ‘Zoom’ after 20 months.

Whilst ‘membership (of NFN) is open to all who sympathise with the aims’,  to be a member of the Steering Group, in accordance with our status as a ‘Quaker Recognised Body’, you should be a member or regular attender at a recognised Quaker meeting being part of a recognised ‘Yearly Meeting’ such as Britain Yearly Meeting. (BYM also stands for Baltimore Yearly Meeting and there are many Quaker Yearly Meetings around the world – see FWCC website for details!)

AGM 9 December 2020 – First thoughts

The NFN AGM on Zoom on 9 December was well attended with more than 35 participants.
It was decided to continue the Network with some changes to the Steering Group and further details will follow shortly.
Thank-you to all who attended and especially those who indicated their willingness to join the Steering Group and/or assist with roles and the suggested planning groups.
More on this will also follow soon and the website will be updated.
We were pleased to learn from Helen Gilbert of the active Non-theist Quaker Facebook group including its numerous UK members and hope there will be links and communication established between this and the Network.
In the meantime, here is the link to that group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1631439757083868

It is an open group so you will be able to read all the posts and comments there (some of which have been about our AGM and very interesting) but will only be able to join in the conversation if you sign/have signed up to Facebook.

Website/log of the Non-theist Friends Network in Britain