Tag Archives: American Friends

NFN Newsletter Issue April 2022

Familiar? Graphics is not my strong point – there’s quite a story behind the above attempt to re-create the masthead from David’s last newsletter.

Greetings Friends and welcome to our Spring 2022 Newsletter!

At the NFN AGM on 17 February, a couple of Friends suggested that perhaps it would be a good idea to continue the newsletter which could be emailed out to everyone on our wider mailing list and even printed and posted for the small number not on email. Printed copies could also be left at Meetings, Friends House and Woodbrooke etc. as a form of ‘outreach’. I have in the past produced a local meeting newsletter on the meeting website with the option of a printed copy. As the proposed NFN working group(s) for a newsletter and beyond the group for the ‘Creative Conversations’ do not seem to have yet been implemented, I thought I would produce an occasional newsletter in the form of a post on our website – so here it is for spring.

Creative conversations
Our next MfW and Creative conversation is at 7pm on Thursday 7 April, 2022: David Parlett,  A Theist Cuckoo in the Nontheist Nest. For further details look on the website at:

David Parlett – A Theist Cuckoo in the Nontheist Nest

Details of further conversations will be emailed and posted when available.

If you are interested in sharing your Creative Conversation with the Working Group, or would like to join us, email clerk@nontheist-quakers.org.uk. If you have already registered you will automatically receive links to our Zooms approximately a week before each meeting. As ever we would love to hear from you!

Nontheist approaches to religious language
This course took place on ‘zoom’ and Woodbrooke’s ‘moodle’ learning environment with Rhiannon Grant from 28th February to 27th March. About 20 Friends took part, possibly a majority might identify as nontheist Friends and a number of us from NFN were present, but a wide range of ‘theist’, ‘humanist’ and ‘nontheist’ viewpoints were represented. The discussions on the Moodle Forum for the course were most interesting.

The course was oversubscribed and we are told it is likely to be offered again, perhaps this year – look out for it and I would thoroughly recommend it. By the end of the course I was thinking ‘now we need a course on Nontheist approaches to God’ – but see below.

Further courses at Woodbrooke
We have already publicised the above and two other courses coming up soon:
The three courses are given by Rhiannon Grant. They are:

(Please note that these courses are organised by Woodbrooke and designed by Rhiannon Grant. They are not produced by the Nontheist Friends Network.) To judge by the first, I believe these shorter further courses will also be well worth attending and several of us have signed up for them already. (Pay as led).

Pronouns
The following pronouns are used in this issue: we/us/our means those who ‘manage’ NFN business – Steering Group, Working groups, NFN members, website or newsletter contributors etc. I/me means Trevor Bending as website editor and producer of this issue. I hope that future issues will include your contributions: articles, quotes, images, jokes, comments, letters etc. (See the end of the newsletter/post to see how to contribute. You can also make comments/leave a reply on the website below and on most other pages). Suggested deadline for submissions to a next issue (Summer 2022?) is mid-June – 21st if you like. I’d also be happy to accept contributions or responses to this issue for supplementary publication before the next issue.

Quaker blogosphere and social media
Quakers across the world, including nontheist Friends, are very active on the internet. There is a well-established nontheist Friends Facebook group with American and British moderators (Helen Gilbert is the British moderator). The group is public, so anyone can view it and the very interesting discussions that take place there, but to comment you will have to sign up to Facebook and apply to join the group. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1631439757083868

One American Friend who posts there regularly is Chuck Fager editor of Quaker Theology whose website/blog ‘A Friendly Letter’ is worth a visit. Rhiannon Grant’s blog ‘Brigid, Fox and Buddha‘ is definitely worth following along with 213 other followers. Speaking of followers, the NFN website is now followed by over 250 people.

Other Quaker blogs include:
Ben Wood’s ‘The Armchair Theologian’ – although this doesn’t seem to have been updated for 16 months.

Craig Barnett, author, Woodbrooke tutor and co-founder of the City of Sanctuary movement who currently serves on the Book of Discipline Revision Committee has a blog called ‘transitionquaker‘ and you might begin with his post (from 2014!) on ‘The Imaginary Theist’

Another Woodbrooke tutor, Mark Russ, has a blog at https://jollyquaker.com/

Another (professional) Quaker theologian, Rachel Muers, has a blog which she posts to somewhat intermittently, sometimes controversially. https://rachelmuers.wordpress.com/

Quakerquaker is an interesting blog/forum with multiple contributors expressing alternative views.

The senior editor of Friends Journal has a topical blog here: https://www.quakerranter.org/

Finally, for blogs today, Friends’ House has an active blog with various contributors: https://www.quaker.org.uk/blog

(Many of these blogs and quite a few more are listed here: https://blog.feedspot.com/quakers_blogs/)

There are also several Quaker Universalist Facebook Groups, American and British, and the websites of the UK Quaker Universalist Group, the American Quaker Universalists and our American Nontheist Friends (to which we also link on our website). Those American Friends also still maintain the nontheist google group which is very lightly moderated and springs into life from time to time!

Other current and forthcoming events
We have already mentioned David’s talk this Thursday above, the courses at Woodbrooke, and the Quaker Universalist Group Conference on Health and Healing is taking place this weekend at Woodbrooke and online. Friends may also be interested in the upcoming conference (‘Living Truth – A Rallying Call for Quakers’) of the new Quaker Truth and Integrity Group (QTIG) which is taking place online from 25-30 April. Speakers include Rachel Muers, Ben Wood, Jane Dawson and Molly Scott-Cato. Attendance is free but requires booking now. The session on Saturday morning (30 April) Drawing things together, agreeing an epistle, and framing next steps hopes for all participants to contribute ideas towards ‘helping Friends live out our Testimony to Truth in the power of love’ out of a ‘concern for the state of truth and integrity in public life across the UK and indeed more widely, (and) the Quaker Truth and Integrity Group seeks to discern what might be done to help redress the current situation.’ QTIG has a steering group, the clerk is Gerald Hewitson assisted by Jan Arriens and I’m pleased to say we have been able to help Jan with developing their website using QMN (Quaker Meetings Network) software (https://quaker.app/about/) which is designed for Quaker Meetings and recognised groups to create, fairly easily, websites with no knowledge, or desire to have any, of HTML, style sheets and the like. Jan has managed to do this very well and the website now has some 11 pages. (By way of comparison the NFN website has evolved, over 10 years since Brian Wardrop first created it, to have some 45 pages, numerous additional articles, documents, sound files and images etc., 133 posts, over 400 comments and some 250 followers – more about this below).

Quaker Humanist
In the last newsletter produced by David Boulton, I drew attention to David’s 1997 Quaker Universalist pamphlet, The Faith of a Quaker Humanist. A number of the participants in the ‘NARLA’ (Nontheist Approaches to Religious Language) course outlined above would probably identify as ‘Quaker Humanists’. I’ll put here an extract from that pamphlet – the section on ‘Faith’. David wrote:

Quakers will have no problem with the word “faith”. Theirs is a religious tradition, and in religious traditions faith invariably occupies a central place. Friends have their own (regularly revised) book of “faith and practice”. Humanists, on the other hand, generally avoid the word, precisely because of its religious connotations. This is a fairly recent preference. Nineteenth and early twentieth century humanists were often happy to write of their “faith”, even of their “religion”. As late as 1960 Julian Huxley gave one of his broadcasts the title The Faith of a Humanist. But today humanists usually prefer to see themselves as representing a “world view” rather than a “faith tradition”.

I have no quarrel with that. I am not going to challenge the convention that, when we talk of faith traditions, world faiths, inter-faith dialogue, we generally mean religious traditions, world religions and religious dialogue. We do not normally regard, say, socialism or existentialism or humanism as faiths in this sense. But few would deny that there is a strong element of faith in all these secular isms. Some of us would say it takes a lot of faith to remain a socialist these days! And perhaps in the light of the cumulative inhumanities of the twentieth century, it takes a lot of faith to be any kind of humanist.

So I am using “faith” not in its acquired sense as a body of religious beliefs but in its more basic sense of a kind of combination of trust and hope. Faith in this basic sense is not about belonging to a religious group, still less about believing dogma simply because that is required of us by some outside authority and tradition. Faith is the voluntary acceptance of certain uncertainties, and the willingness to trust and hope despite those uncertainties.

I fall in love. I trust and hope that my beloved loves me as I love her. I cannot furnish myself with irrefutable, logical, scientific proof that she loves me and that our mutual love will last till death doth us part. Indeed, common experience offers plentiful evidence which might presuppose me to assume the contrary! My acceptance of her love, and my giving of my love to her, has to be an act of faith. I promise to be faithful. Our lives together are based on this trust and confidence – con-fidence, “with faith”. And that faith has to be constantly renewed. From time to time it may fade, or be broken. But such faith has its own imperatives for survival and growth.

On a more mundane level, I fall ill. I call the doctor. There is no certainty that her medicine will cure me. I know only too well that medical science is inexact, imperfectly understood even by doctors. But I place my confidence in her. I have faith in her proposed remedies, albeit a rather sceptical kind of faith which is contingent on their working at least some of the time.

I live in a consumer society where the free market is god, where greed is exalted, where property rights take precedence over human rights, where there is said to be no such thing as society. I have lived through a massive dismantling of collective and cooperative enterprise and a triumphalist demolition of social values. If I remain a socialist, a communist or a liberal social democrat, I exemplify the triumph of faith over experience. Faith, to borrow Byron’s image, is flying the flag of freedom (or whatever banner we may be carrying) against the wind.

My point is that it takes faith to be a humanist or a Quaker. There is no certainty, no logic of history, no immutable grand design which guarantees that all will be well, and all manner of things will be well; that love will prevail  over hatred, “that of God in ·everyone” over that of the devil, the “ocean of light” over “the ocean of darkness and death”. If, before we try to live by them, we demand rational demonstration or proof that human values of love, compassion, sympathy and fellowship will prevail, we shall never get started. If we choose to try to live by these values, to build a society in which these values are exemplified, we had better recognise that we are unfurling our banners against the wind. We are choosing to live by faith.

So I am not proclaiming a new faith-tradition, a belief-system called Quaker Humanism! I am saying what is obvious: that we live by faith, whether we like it or not. And I am saying, which is perhaps less obvious, that there is much common ground between Quaker faith and humanist faith, which is what we are about to explore, first by unpacking the word …
Quakerso David continues and we will consider whether to offer any further extracts in future newsletters. In the meantime you can read the whole pamphlet here.

Continuing this theme, Tony Philpott, clerk to QUG, wrote a book in 2013 called ‘From Christian to Quaker‘ that can be found here: https://qug.org.uk/publications/books/from-christian-to-quaker/
That would make useful preparation for the ‘Are Quakers Christian’ course mentioned above.

Similarly, Michael Wright, clerk to NFN from 2015 to 2018 (sadly, Michael died last year) wrote his account of Jesus in his book ‘Jesus Today‘. (link takes you to the pdf of the book on the website). and that too might be useful preparation for that course and for ‘Why attend meeting for worship if you don’t believe in God’..

The website
I have heard no further about a working group to consider our website (and use of social media) but will be happy to work with that if it happens. In the meantime please send any suggestions or contributions for the website to me (see below).

I will try to give some helpful tips for using the website.

The appearance varies significantly as between a laptop or desktop computer on the one hand and a phone or mobile device on the other and whether you use the latter in portrait or landscape mode (turn the phone sideways!) and on the size of the screen. On a mobile you can scroll to the very bottom and choose ‘View full site’, but you will then need to view it landscape.

On the full site the main menu is the 8 items across the top of the screen (below Nontheist Quakers)

which are: HOME           NEWS       ABOUT            EVENTS               FAQ       ARTICLES        CONTACT          HOW TO?

These items are on every page and remain at the top of the page even when you scroll down. Home takes you to whatever is currently the home page (sometimes varies); NEWS is news (the latest and previous posts);  About is about NFN and has a drop down menu of 5 items (6 pages including About). Events you can guess (past, present and future) with a drop down menu (varies). FAQ is Frequently Asked Questions and has one further item, also about Nontheism and a book, in the drop down menu.  Articles has articles and newsletters (drop down with two items) going back to 2013.  Contact takes you to a form to fill in to contact us via the website editor (I pass messages on or answer them myself as appropriate). How To? tells you what I’m telling you now but is much more complicated and somewhat out of date.

The left hand column (white on black) disappears if you reduce the size of the window (or on a small tablet) and is a site map which is not especially useful. Look instead in the right hand column which is mostly green on white and has more navigation options. It will only disappear if you make the window extremely narrow when it then appears right down the bottom above the white on black column which has also then located itself there. All this is perfectly standard practice for window navigation on the web.

That right hand column contains ‘Search…’ which is very useful for finding everything about say ‘Jesus’, ‘Bible’ or ‘David Boulton’ (5 pages in the latter case – try it, it’s fun! I just tried ‘Elephant’ and it brings up one item).
This search will NOT find items in Articles or documents (pdf, Word etc.) – scroll down the Articles page to see what is there.

In the case of a mobile phone or narrow tablet (unless viewing ‘full site’ – see above) it’s quite different: You will then see a single column (the current home page) with Menu and Search at the top. (Turning it sideways – landscape – just makes it larger and easier to read). You can scroll to the very bottom for ‘full site’ as mentioned above (passing much of interest on the way???) but if you tap on Menu, you will get a drop down menu of the 8 main items and their sub-pages. You can also tap on Search and then enter your search term – on my phone you then have to tap ‘go’ to activate it but may vary depending on phone or tablet.

I think that’s more than enough – have fun exploring the site (45 pages plus lots of interesting articles and documents) and don’t forget to enter your email address to follow the site if you haven’t already done so. Oh, and leave your ‘replies’ or comments anywhere indicated on the site – if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, wait a day or so for it to be ‘moderated’ – and tick the check-boxes for ‘Notify me of new comments by email’ and ‘Notify me of new posts by email’. Any questions? Email me!

At 5 pages of A4, this newsletter is shorter than David’s last one by 1 page – I’ll try and do better next time – send me those articles!

NFNnewsletterApril2022 – Word version (most hypertext links should work)

NFNnewsletterApril2022 – pdf version (to print; probably only links which show full url’s will work)

The Newsletter is published three or four times a year. To keep up with NFN events visit our website www.nontheist-quakers.org.uk. For more information about the Network email clerk@nontheist-quakers.com. To contribute to the Newsletter or the website email trevor at humber.co.uk (remove spaces and replace at with @).

 

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.

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!)

Careful Discernment or Spiritual Timidity

Friends might like to read this from Friends Journal:

https://www.friendsjournal.org/careful-discernment-or-spiritual-timidity/

(Friends Journal, the major publication of Friends Publishing Corporation, is the consolidation of two previous Quaker publications and corporations, Friends Intelligencer (Hicksite) and The Friend (Orthodox), at the time of reunification of the two yearly meetings in Philadelphia.)

The Next Testimony

I think this article in ‘Friends Journal’ (USA) for a new Quaker Testimony deserves to be much more widely read, both amongst Quakers and in the wider world:

The Next Testimony

What a defence/definition of politics and democracy (and equality). George Fox, Gerrard Winstanley and John Lilburne would have thought just so.

Note also the advert there for ‘God’s Big Tent‘ – in these fractious times, can Friends in Britain offer this kind of vision – a testimony to democracy and equality?

Nontheist News?

The NFN Steering Group will meet in Lancaster on Wednesday 24/7/19 (usually just one annual meeting in addition to the Conference/AGM).

Topics under discussion will include NFN structure and organisation; Future conferences/events/participation at BYM gathering; Website and online presence; Membership and Newsletter; Finance; Publishing pamphlets/ booklets?; Name question: “Nontheist Friends Network” or?

Expect to hear further here soon.

You may or may not have noticed two new posts by Os Cresson on our American Friends website. (It’s taken me more than 2 weeks to notice and only then because I needed to visit their website for reference). These posts appear automatically in the ‘Feed’ we get from them which you can find towards the bottom of the right-hand column here. (These don’t appear on the mobile version – but you can there scroll to the very bottom and choose ‘View Full site’, then scroll to the bottom again and you will find them there. Such fun.)

But I do suggest Os’s posts are worth a read:
http://www.nontheistfriends.org/article/theists-and-nontheists-friends-together

Report on 2019 NFN Conference

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!).