Tag Archives: 2020 Conference

Dinah Livingstone – On Dover Beach

Dinah delivered our third and final talk of the NFN 2021 Conference on 21st July and ’rounded off’ the series very fittingly.

(The many links below generally open in a new window or tab).

Our three speakers spoke quite independently, guided only to deliver their talks based on their idea of spirituality – ‘That’s the spirit! – dimensions of spirituality.’

Nonetheless, the notion (one of George Fox’s ‘windy notions’?) of Spirituality resulted in three talks which, very different as expected, hung together to satisfy and inspire different members of our ‘Quaker Kaleidoscope’.

Dinah is the editor of the Sea of Faith’s magazine ‘Sofia‘ in which role she succeeded the previous editor, NFN’s ‘own’ David Boulton (one of the key founders of the Nontheist Friends Network) in 2004 and changed its name to ‘Sofia‘.  Gill Pennington mentioned David’s ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist‘ (1997) which I understand is still the most often downloaded booklet from the Quaker Universalist Group’s website. We can see and perhaps ‘feel’ the threads linking Humanism, the Sea of Faith Network and the Nontheist Friends Network.

The Sea of Faith Network takes its name from Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘Dover Beach’, one stanza of which reads:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

You can find the full poem (4 stanzas, 37 lines I think) here:
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43588/dover-beach

Was it surprising to many of us that Dinah’s talk from a ‘sea of faith perspective’ was so biblical? Both Andrew Copson and Gill Pennington had mentioned biblical stories but Dinah wove an account of what I might call the ‘sea of faith version of religion, humanism and nontheism’ drawn substantially from the bible as if it might be considered the source of these ideas. This is consistent with Dinah’s re-naming of the SoF Journal to ‘Sofia’ – a serendipitous extension of the acronym SoF. (An alternative spelling for ‘Holy Wisdom‘ being Sophia). The wisdom literature of the bible provides this potential biblical basis for Don Cupitt‘s ideas and Dinah’s talk. (SEA OF FAITH NETWORK started in 1984 as a response to Don Cupitt’s book and TV series of the same name.)

At the very top of the Sea of Faith website homepage it states:

“The Network…
Explores the implications of accepting religion as a human creation;
Promotes the validity of creative, human-centred religion;
Affirms the continuing importance of religious thought
and practice as expressions of awe and wonder and
celebrations of spiritual and social values.”

Only slightly less prominently on our NFN website (You have to look under ‘About’ and then ‘Aims of the network’ here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/about/aims-of-the-network/), we state:

“The Network’s aim is to provide a forum and supportive framework for Friends who regard religion as a human creation. We want to ensure that our Religious Society of Friends is an inclusive rather than an exclusive Society. We seek to explore theological and spiritual diversity and their practical implications, in respectful acceptance of different views, experiences and journeys.” (clause 2. of our constitution added the words ‘and attenders’ at our last AGM).

It’s almost as if the Sea of Faith is the Christian branch of the nontheist humanists and the nontheist Friends network is the Quaker branch of the Sea of Faith. (and I’d always thought of us as the nontheist branch of the Quaker Universalist Group). Perhaps we should convene next on Dover Beach?

Joking apart, we can surely feel those threads referred to above linking Humanism, Christian origins, Quaker Universalism, Sea of Faith and the NFN.

Dinah drew from the bible, and Christ’s teaching, its essential humanism or human facing concerns. This is perhaps not so surprising given that ‘Humanism’ has arisen, in the last two centuries, from within the Western Christian tradition. As one wit reported in a recent Quaker meeting ‘God created man in his own image – and man returned the compliment’ (or was it the other way round?). I had better at least mention at this point the Goddess to contrast with God the Father.

This ‘pre-conference reading’ bibliography prepared for the 2020 conference provides links to David Boulton’s and other NFN books: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2020/03/01/a-2020-nfn-conference-bibliography/

(Some of the links above are repeated):
https://sofn.org.uk/pages/dinah_livingstone.html
https://www.sofn.org.uk/links/don-cupitt.html
https://sofn.org.uk/sofia/index.html – Sofia magazine
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43588/dover-beach
https://www.sofn.org.uk/links/index.html – useful links
https://www.sofn.org.uk/links/spirituality.html – SoF links for Spirituality

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!)

Your views!

Piers Maddox is compiling a new NFN newsletter for October and sent this request for the website:

Do you have anything to share with the group? Thoughts? A book review? After a period of newsletter inactivity Piers has committed to produce a few. Please send contributions to him at piersmaddox@gmail.com. 400 words maximum please. Deadline for next issue is Monday 5 October. Thanks!

That’s 13 days to go.  I’m sure Piers will welcome any items of general interest to Quakers and perhaps how you have been faring with your meetings during the present pandemic.  Please turn your thoughts to this this coming weekend and I wonder if there are any reflections on ‘Nontheism and Spiritual practice in the time of the coronavirus’?  I have just completed a rather lengthy survey by the University of Coimbra on my feelings and experiences during this awful time.

Some Friends seem to have quite enjoyed the ‘lockdown’ but that is clearly not true for most people and I lost one very good friend to the virus in May.  Your thoughts, reviews of books read during this period or any other reflections on Quakerism, NFN or these times will be most welcome.

The Steering Group is actively considering what to do next; will convene an SG meeting by Zoom shortly I believe and we will be discussing whether and how to hold a conference and AGM at least partly by video link (probably Zoom) at that meeting, so your thoughts on that possibility too will be welcome.

Piers awaits your contributions with bated breath.

NFN April 2020 Newsletter

Our April 2020 newsletter which David Parlett sent out to NFN members on 15 April is now on the website with messages from our clerk Gisela, new membership secretary Roger, Marcus Aurelius (apparently, although it might be Andrew Copson of Humanists UK or even David Boulton), myself as designated webperson, David Parlett and Helen Johnson of Croydon Local Meeting about all sorts of interesting issues. (and so far I haven’t mentioned coronavirus).
Trevor Bending

(PS not providing a link to the newsletter is a deliberate ploy to assist you in exploring the website – lots of interesting stuff including newsletters from 2013 to the present – now, where could it be? Tip – try the drop-down menus above or the menu on the mobile version of the website).

AGM postponement, membership and Steering Group

A minute from our clerk (9 April 2020):

The NFN Steering group sends heartfelt, loving greetings to all its members and friends during these difficult times.
As you know we have postponed our annual conference and the AGM until better days , and we hope that those of you who were going to attend will have the opportunity at a future date to join with us. The Steering Group will continue unchanged for the time being, except that Roger Warren Evans will take over responsibility for membership from David Parlett.
To simplify administration, membership will be rolled over until the future AGM and free membership will be offered to any new applicants meanwhile.
We wanted to reassure you that the Steering Group is in good spirits. During these uncertain times we will do our best to stay in touch mainly through our website, by telephone and email. We welcome all your thoughts, reflections, suggestions and questions and are looking forward to a lively exchange of thoughts and experience. Trevor Bending invites us all warmly to contribute to the website.
With your moral support we will keep the network ticking over for now.

Stay safe and well,
Gisela Creed, clerk

The Steering group: Gisela Creed (clerk), Piers Maddox,( treasurer), Trevor Bending, (website), David Parlett, (newsletter), Roger Warren Evans, (membership), David Boulton, Sarah Siddle, Keith Ryecroft, Tim Regan

News from Humanists UK

As not everyone is signed up for comments, I thought I’d ‘upgrade’ this comment from 21 March to a post.

One of our speakers at the cancelled conference was to have been Andrew Copson, CEO of Humanists UK. He posted this on their website and emailed it to anyone signed up to their website. Although almost everything is about coronavirus at present, I thought his remarks were worth drawing attention to.
Near the bottom of his article, he quotes Marcus Aurelius ‘Peer deeply into yourself. There is a source of strength that will spring up within you, if only you look.’ and comments: “His words are not revelation or fancy. They are based on solid observation of the human capacity for resilience and courage in a crisis.”
I wonder if Quakers, even non-theist ones, might have a slightly different explanation?
https://humanism.org.uk/2020/03/20/message-from-the-chief-executive/

Coronavirus and Conference Cancellation/Postponement 2020

The Steering Group of the Nontheist Friends Network (NFN) has been closely monitoring the situation with the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic and reviewing the advice issued by Government and Public Health. It now seems likely that the situation will worsen in the next few weeks.

So, after careful consideration, and with deep regret, we have decided it is in the best interest of our participants , the keynote speakers and all who are near to us to cancel our conference, which was to be held 28-29 March 2020 at Friends House, London : “That’s the Spirit”, and postpone it to more certain times later or the following year, to be agreed.

This is not an easy decision for us to take but we feel it is the responsible thing to do now. We are disappointed not to meet you and engage with our subject of the different dimensions of spirituality. The decision will have some financial consequences for us, but we hope that by postponing , we are able to lessen the impact.  We are upholding all those affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and are hopeful we can forge virtual connections with many of you over the coming weeks, especially at a time when it will be important to come together while being encouraged to stay apart.

We hope that this announcement gives you time to cancel any accommodation and travel bookings . Your fees will be refunded at the earliest opportunity and we will stay in touch regarding a new conference date.

Gisela Creed
Clerk, NFN, 16/03/2020
Latest update here.

PS. Roger Warren-Evans will be contacting all participants with refund information shortly but it may take him a little time to work through the over 40 bookings received.

As Gisela indicates, it is hoped to hold the conference eventually, either much later this year or possibly next.  Information about the AGM (which is also POSTPONED!) will follow in due course.

Being ‘hopeful we can forge virtual connections with many of you over the coming weeks’ is in part an idea that in the absence of the conference, and perhaps being at home, we might all make use of the website to communicate our thoughts about the conference theme, the coronavirus and the new circumstances we all now find ourselves in. If you would like to send us your thoughts or start a conversation, please use the Comment/Leave a reply box below or at the foot of any relevant page or post.

Coronavirus and Conference 2020

Important announcement:
Would all participants of our annual conference please note that the NFN Steering Group is actively considering the risks and increasing spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus), which might well mean that the conference will have to be postponed until a later date. We hope to make a firm announcement about this on Monday 16th March.
If a postponement to an undefined date is decided upon, we will of course refund your fee straight away.
So keep well and watch this space.

Best wishes to all of you,
Gisela

Clerk NFN

A 2020 NFN Conference Bibliography

Conference bibliography: (Still valid for the conference now in 2021)
Items which may be worth referring to before, during or after the conference. (Links in each case lead to a source for the books).

‘Becoming fully human – Writings on Quakers and Christian thought’ by Michael Langford, published by Friends of the Light, 2019. https://friendsofthelight.org.uk/our-books

Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being’ by Paul Mason, 2019

The Trouble With God: Religious Humanism And The Republic Of Heaven‘ by David Boulton,

(see this post on the above books: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2019/07/11/the-republic-of-heaven/ )

Twelve Quakers and …‘ – Quaker Quest series

Kindlers‘ – Series of booklets

Godless for God’s sake‘ edited by David Boulton (also available in Kindle).

Titles in the Quaker bookshop online section ‘Spirituality and religion’ under ‘Atheism‘. (including ‘Book of Atheist Spirituality’, ‘Religion for Atheists’ and ‘The Young Atheist’s Handbook’ – all out of stock on 5/2/2020).

Telling the Truth about God‘ (in ‘Quaker Quicks’) by Rhiannon Grant

The Guided Life‘ (in ‘Quaker Quicks’) by Craig Barnett

ALL of the above are available in the Quaker Bookshop in Friends’ House except when out of stock – we will try to see if copies can be made available over the Conference weekend.

See also these items on the NFN website: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/faq/#a4
https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2017/11/30/god-words-and-us/
https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2019/08/26/quaker-advices-and-queries-for-nontheists/
AND search the website for ‘spirituality’.

Quaker Universalist Group booklets: https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/ (some to buy, some for free download)
39: The Language of Spirituality by Alan York: https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/pamphlet-39/
32: ‘Choosing Life: Embracing Spirituality in the 21st Century’ by Joycelin Dawes:
https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/pamphlet-32/
31: Human Beings Yearning for a Faith by Clive Sutton: https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/pamphlet-31/
30: ‘A Platform of Consciousness: Spirituality without Religion’, by Adrian Cairns: https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/pamphlet-30/
26: ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist’, by David Boulton:
https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/pamphlet-26/

Annual Conference 2020 Further update

With just a month to go, documents for the conference and AGM have been updated on the Conference page and we hope these will be the final updates.

Look forward to seeing you there. (And if you haven’t already booked, contact Roger now to see if he has any spaces left!)