Discussion by Rhiannon Grant, David Boulton and others on Ministry etc.

‘Is it irresponsible to claim that spoken ministry comes from God?’
A fascinating and subtle post on Rhiannon Grant’s blog with discussion and comments by Rhiannon, David Boulton and others about where ministry in Meeting for worship comes from and perhaps the existence and nature of God/Goddess.

Brigid, Fox, and Buddha

(Extract) At the Nontheist Friends Network conference, in the questions and discussion after my talk, a friend asked about my approach to ministry. Most of the question was about how we understand ministry in meeting for worship, but along the way he raised a very interesting point – he said (and I paraphrase here, but hope that his point is clear and made in terms he would accept) that he wouldn’t want to claim that his spoken ministry came from anywhere but himself, because so much damage is done in the world by other people who claim that their instructions come from God…..

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QRB status minuted at Steering Group meeting in York

A meeting of the NFN Steering Group was held at Friargate Meeting House, York, yesterday 6th July 2017.

Further details will follow but it was minuted, amongst other items, that:

  • “7. Being a Quaker Recognised Body

Michael Wright has read to us the advantages of being a Quaker Recognised Body. We are pleased to learn that we need not restrict our membership to Quaker members and attenders. We ask Trevor to put our QRB status on our website.”

This recognition from being formerly a ‘Listed Quaker Group’ was approved by Meeting for Sufferings in April of this year.

The SG Meeting also confirmed the date and topic of next year’s annual conference and AGM at Woodbrooke as being from 9th – 11th March 2018 on ‘Quakers in 2033? Where are we heading?’
It was further agreed and minuted that the cost of the conference to participants in 2018 will be subsidised from our reserves at £199 per head to encourage attendance which we hope will exceed the 40 rooms to be provisionally booked. (The subsidy being approximately £25 per head and the net cost to participants £199).

Old website retired

Our thanks to Brian Wardrop for maintaining the previous NFN website over many years. Our registered domain name ‘nontheist-quakers.org.uk’ now comes to this site.

Most of the material on this new site has been derived from the old site so we still owe much to Brian’s original hard work. I hope the switch-over will run with no teething problems, but if there are any glitches I have overlooked please add a comment below. (or click on ‘Leave a comment/comments’ above to leave your reply).

Trevor Bending

Non-theism at QUG conference.

I came across this recording on the QUG website of Jan Arriens commenting on non-theists at the QUG conference at Woodbrooke a couple of weeks ago and thought it would be of interest here.

Jan indirectly refers to his having spoken at our conference in 2015.

If you don’t wish to listen to the whole 28 minute recording (such busy lives!) then the first 7 minutes upto a member of the audience referring to the Dalai Lama as a non-theist but not a materialist is of particular interest. (I hadn’t intended the link below to be so direct so hope QUG won’t mind and if it doesn’t work properly see the link to their website above).

Trevor Bending

Five weeks later

On 22 March (2017) I added a review of our Minute and Epistle from 2012 and said I would work through our existing articles, perhaps one every 6 days or so. Such is optimism. That was some 5 weeks ago (37 days precisely) so IF I continue at the same rate it might be 18 months, not three, to work through all the existing articles.

What is the point?  Well, I thought that reviewing our existing material might benefit me and at the same time draw in reflections and comments from others and give an appearance of something new every week (or every 5 weeks?) until something really ‘new’ was forthcoming from elsewhere.

Since that last ‘review’ there have been 4 posts, 4 comments and reports and minutes of the 2017 conference and AGM, and an April Newsletter with a report on the 2017 Conference added to the website. If you haven’t seen them yet, have a look now!

One of the posts was on a possible Facebook group and unless there are further responses, perhaps that will rest with the last comments there? Please do add your comments or replies here below or anywhere on the site that comments are allowed. If members of our Steering Group (or indeed any other members of NFN) would like to add comments, make Posts or otherwise contribute to the site, we would be pleased to see that happening.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, here is a quick review of the next article up (see the Articles page from the bottom) contributed by Sarah Richards (now Siddle since her Quaker marriage a year or so ago), our Membership Secretary and Treasurer, on ‘Quaker Discernment: A non-theist view’, in May-June 2013.

Sarah, a mathematician,  makes a comparison between the reality or existence of God and that of ‘i, the square root of minus one’. Earlier in her article, Sarah says “I do not believe in any form of eternal entity which can, at will, cause unique violations of the laws of physics, chemistry and biology.”  But “I do have an open mind on whether there might be some kind of Entity of Ultimate Reality which is beyond both the space and time in which we live and our comprehension, but which might in some way provide a reason why anything exists at all: but that is another story.” (She does not believe such an entity would have any human characteristics.)

Her discussion is quite deep and considers Quaker Meeting for Worship for Business, the process of ‘discernment’, the will of God and leadings of the Spirit, concluding that ‘this confirms my suggestion of a ‘will of God’ which can exist without the need for a God to will it: a non-theist solution to the concept of Quaker Discernment.’

As I have not done justice to her discussion here, I hope you might read the original article. In general I have not put direct links to all the articles and posts referred to here, in the hope this will encourage readers to browse or search for them and thereby become more familiar with the website, the material it contains, and perhaps come across other items that interest them.

Once again, please do add your comments or replies or otherwise contribute to the site. (It just needs a small amount of effort to see how you can do that!)

Trevor Bending

Godless for God’s sake – reprint

As promised, a few words on the Godless for God’s Sake reprint, for the Newsletter and website.
David Boulton:

Godless for God’s Sake – ‘an invitation to conversation’
Godless for God’s Sake
has been credited with kick-starting the dialogue between nontheist and theist Friends when it was first published nine years ago in 2006. In fact, it brought into the open a subject that had been quietly making ripples for at least a couple of decades. Written by 27 Quaker nontheists from 13 Yearly Meetings in the USA, Britain, New Zealand and Australia, and addressed to ‘readers who seek a faith or world-view free of supernaturalism’, its first edition topped the list of best-selling books in both the London and the Philadelphia Quaker bookshops. Chuck Fager, editor of the American Quaker Theology, asked rhetorically: ‘What have we come to in Friends’ religious thought when the most exciting book of Quaker theology I’ve read in recent years is produced by a bunch of Quaker nontheists?’ An unapologetic theist himself, he added: ‘The proper response to the testimonies in these pages is not scorn or witchhunts but an invitation to further conversation’.

Godless had to be reprinted twice within 12 months, then several times on a print-on-demand basis, until stocks were exhausted. But publication of recent books both attacking and defending nontheism, coupled with concerns about how the controversy might affect plans for a revision of Quaker Faith and Practice, have prompted new demands for Godless, resulting in a fresh reprint, generously financed by the American-based nontheist Friends planning group.

Copies are available from the Quaker Centre Bookshop, telephone 020 7663 1030, price £9.50. All proceeds (after bookshop discounts) go to the Nontheist Friends Network. You read it when it first came out? Read it again with fresh eyes – or why not treat your meeting library to a copy?

David Boulton

(see also picture and extracts on Nontheism page)

Facebook Group?

At the AGM on Sunday one topic we discussed was whether we should set up a Facebook group for the Non-theist Friends Network (UK). There were pros and cons discussed.

The cons were that:

  1. Many of our members (and many people interested in the work and ideas of our network) do not use Facebook (for a variety of reasons)
  2. It would be yet another place to have to check for interesting posts or discussions, adding to the sense that we may miss things.

The pros were that:

  1. Many people are used to following groups or pages on Facebook and so regularly check to see if there is anything new, even on their phones through the day
  2. Lots of young people use Facebook. I’m 51 and it is a little alarming that I’m referred to as young at some NFN meetings so it would be good to encourage some actual young people to engage in (or with) the network

Rhiannon sent us a couple of vibrant Quaker Facebook places she is involved with that may illustrate what ours might be like:

  • Quaker Renewal UK group (here).  (You do NOT have to sign up to facebook to read this – just close their pop-up window with ‘Not now’ or cross in top right corner. You WILL have to be signed up to facebook if you wish to join the group and join in the discussion – Trevor)
  • Reading QF&P page (here) (much the same as comment above)

And the Quaker LGBT Fellowship UK also has a Facebook group (here). (N.B. That’s a closed group so you cannot see the activity there without joining first – and being signed up to facebook.)

It would be great to hear your thoughts – just add a comment below this post.  (‘Dumbledad’ who posted this is our Steering Group member Tim Regan)

News and newsletters

By an oversight (or lack of it?) the newsletters for December, January and February have only been added to the website today.

The December newsletter is near the foot of the ‘Articles’ page (with earlier newsletters) but for 2017, the January and February newsletters have been added to a separate page in the ‘Articles’ sub-menu.

I have not (as yet) put them as a sub-page to ‘News’ which currently carries ‘posts’ to the website for technical reasons. I hope some posts by other members of our steering group may appear soon.

The next newsletter will probably be ‘April’ with further reports of our March conference. In the meantime see the text of Rhiannon’s talk in the previous post.

Talk: God or whatever you call it

Talk given by Rhiannon Grant

Brigid, Fox, and Buddha

This talk was given at the Nontheist Friends Network conference at Woodbrooke, 24-26th March 2017. 

This is a talk with two halves. In the first half I want to talk about talking about God, and in the second half I want to talk about God. In the first half I’m going to ask: can we say anything about God, and if we can, what are we doing when we say things about God? In the second half I’m going to ask: what kinds of things do Quakers typically say about God, and what should we, as a community, do about talking about God.

Before I start, I want to say two things about the way I’m going to talk. Firstly, I’m going to use the word God a lot. I’m going to use the word God because it’s in the title of my talk, but also because it’s a…

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Five years on.

In preparation for our annual conference this weekend I thought I would try to start a series of quick reviews of the articles we have accumulated on the website over the last five years.

I will try to add about one review every 6 days or so which would mean about 3 months to review all existing articles – we’ll have to see how that goes!  I hope this will encourage members of NFN and visitors to the website to themselves ‘review’ this old material and reflect on where we have been and where we have got to over 5-6 years.

Let’s start then with the ‘Minute and Epistle’ from the first annual conference in March 2012. (All the articles can also be found under the  ‘Articles’ link in the menu at top of page so you can also read ahead and anticipate!)

Our 3 speakers then were Philip Gross, Quaker poet from Wales; Don Cupitt from the ‘Sea of Faith’ and James Riemermann from Twin Cities Friends Meeting, St. Paul, Minnesota. I remember this conference very well and how James’ presentation of ‘coming out’ as a ‘non-theist’ in his meeting moved me to tears. A search for ‘Riemermann’ on the Twin Cities’ website reveals a multitude of papers including this interesting piece on Theological Diversity from 2009.

The minute was signed off by the then steering group of just 5:
Frank Bonner, David Boulton, Maureen Tinsley, Miriam Yagud and Michael Yates. Four of these have since left the steering group after giving ‘yeoman’ (and ‘yeowomen’) service to start the NFN ball rolling, leaving only David on the present steering group of 11.

Do have a look at the original articles referred to and add your comments below. If anyone would like to help out by writing some of these proposed reviews or indeed book reviews or anything else of interest then please let me know via the ‘leave a reply’ box below or in a comment on the ‘Contacts’ page.  I look forward to seeing you at conference and taking any questions you might have about the website.

Trevor Bending