Tag Archives: newsletters

What’s ‘appening? – current affairs

I think that after 3 weeks (to the day) another post would be timely.

Our next Meeting for worship and Creative conversation is next Thursday 2nd June at 7pm where we will consider “Humanists and Quakers – How do we differ, and what are the similarities – an interactive evening”.  For full details and registration see here. (Sorry about the old link last 5 days – now correct I hope).

We have established, in addition to the Creative conversations Working Group, 5 further Working Groups that I know of (18 April) according to those who put their names forward. Some are more active than others as I mentioned in the previous post ‘No more NFN Conferences‘.

NFN Newsletter

The NFN ‘Newsletter’ Working Group has 4 names to it: Bryan Osborne, John Senior, Catherine Carr and myself Trevor Bending. This has not been active but may come to life if we try to produce a Newsletter for June as suggested previously. All Friends, NFN members, SG members and other sympathisers are invited to contribute (see that ‘previously’ link) and you may hear further after Britain Yearly Meeting 2022 has finished.

Quaker Faith & Practice revision

The Quaker Faith & Practice revision WG held its first meeting on the 18th May, hosted by Steven Goldblatt (NFN Treasurer) and attended by David Boulton, Chris Thomas, Gisela Creed, Bryan Osborne and myself. It was decided that updates would not be provided from this group until some clarity is discerned about what we hope to achieve. I won’t continue to participate in this group (for other committments) and am not sure if Bryan will for the same reason although he was able to help us off to a good start with a presentation and some insights from a meeting held with the BYM Quaker Faith & Practice revision Group by Cambridge AM. That presentation showed up later in the YM session on QF&P this week. If you want to contribute to the BYM Revision Groups deliberations you can do so in the following ways: Read BDRC reports to Meeting for Sufferings on this page https://www.quaker.org.uk/resources/quaker-faith-and-practice/revising-quaker-faith-practice
– see also creative project “Open to new light” on Padlet and other social media links on that page.
Ideas and pieces of writing can be submitted using this online form:
Q f&p: submit ideas for the next revision – QForms
https://forms.quaker.org.uk/qfp-idea/
or contact BDRC committee secretary, Michael Booth, by email to qfp@quaker.org.uk or write to him at Friends House.
(BDRC stands for Book of Discipline Revision Committee).

(Quaker faith & practice can be found online here https://qfp.quaker.org.uk/ (and it is more up-to-date than any printed edition))

Or, you can give your ideas about a nontheist contribution to QF&P revision to the NFN WG here:
nontheistfriend@gmail.com
preferably with ‘NFN Quaker Faith & Practice revision WG’ in the subject line.

Helping Woodbrooke ‘design’ nontheist courses

The “Helping Woodbrooke ‘design’ nontheist courses” Working Group consists of Tim Regan, Catherine Carr and Chris Thomas. I have heard no more about this since I withdrew on 23 April.

Website Working Group

The Website WG consisting of Chris Thomas, Ella Dorfman, Tim Regan and myself (Trevor) has probably been the most active with I believe at least 4 meetings (and lots of emails and ‘Slack’ messages) so far. I think you will probably hear more about this from Tim next Thursday evening (and/or by email) with an invitation to help by participating in surveys or interviews.

NFN Conference Working Group

This was dealt with in my last post. The Group has only Catherine Carr (from the SG) and myself. I believe at least half a dozen people would be needed to organise a Conference (but see that last post). There was only a limited response to that post and no-one came forward to help organise any kind of Conference. Perhaps, therefore, there will be no further NFN Conferences (some of the most rewarding weekends at Woodbrooke I have been to) until NFN members call for one and come forward to organise it. I’ll keep you in touch!

No more NFN Conferences? – and other matters

I believe 5 additional Working Groups were proposed at the AGM in February and all those who came forward to express an interest were contacted by our clerk Tim Regan on 18 April to take matters forward. So far, only the Website working Group (6) seems to have been particularly active. (the others being QF&P revision (6 or 7), Conference (2), Newsletter (4) and Woodbrooke courses (4) – numbers in brackets names coming forward).

Whereas 6 people (including 3 members of the Steering Group) put their names forward for the Website group, only 2 people (and I was one of them) came forward for the Conference group – which appears to me to be a bizarre sense of priorities.

Why the concern for the website (which seems to be working fine?) and so little for a future Conference when the latter, whether at Woodbrooke, elsewhere or online, has been one of the annual highlights for Nontheist Quaker activity, support and the AGM?

Am I to take it that NFN members and past or potential future Conference attenders have no further interest in such an event whether in person or online?  I do hope very much that this isn’t the case as I have always very much enjoyed NFN Conferences of which I have attended at least 6 at Woodbrooke and one online (2021 in lieu of 2020 cancelled through ‘covid’).

From my experience of being involved with the QUG (Quaker Universalist Group) Conference at Woodbrooke over several years, last year online and especially the ‘blended’ Conference at Woodbrooke and online this year when I was heavily involved with managing the online component (but most of the work being done by the QUG team at Woodbrooke), I know that organising a blended conference is very much more demanding than organising one online or even just in person.

If we can’t assemble a team to organise a blended conference (rather more than half a dozen perhaps) or an in person only conference (still 5 or 6?) then perhaps we could rise to an online only conference organised by as few as 4 people perhaps?

There might be a ‘Conference-lite’ alternative which would be simply to have (in person or online) a ‘meet-up’ for social exchange, sharing ideas and worship and so on – perhaps a ‘nontheist retreat’? – organised by just the participants themselves with only 2 or 3 people taking on some prior planning, bookings etc.  Online this might seem little different from our monthly ‘Quaker Meetings with Creative Conversations’ although it could be over a weekend with more time together. In person would be quite a different experience – and perhaps even that could include the possibility of ‘dropping in’ online.

Does anyone else in NFN feel the need for a Conference (or ‘meet-up’) – or should I go back to bed?

I really would appreciate some feed-back on this – whilst you are preparing your articles for a future newsletter.

Oh, by the way, I mentioned ‘other matters’ – the ‘Conversation’ last night on ‘How do I as a nontheist Quaker relate to deeply Christian Quakers‘ went extremely well with some very interesting contributions, particularly, I thought, those from Jean Wardrop and David Boulton. I will try to return to this later but if anyone else who was there would like to write up something for the website now, that would also be most welcome.

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 @).

 

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!

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

Time to book and Newsletter

The (more or less final) programme for the 2020 NFN Conference at Friends’ House is now available on the website (Please see the Home/Conference page).

We also have a December Newsletter (this version is very slightly different from the two emailed to members a week or so ago) which has a few additional details about the conference.  Please note in particular the point about emailing David Boulton if you would like to express an interest in sharing your own understanding or experience of “spirit” and “spirituality”, or giving a brief account of your own spiritual journey, at the Conference.

There is an article about nontheism and correspondence in The Friend, an article by Piers Maddox about being ‘A humanistic Quaker’, and an article about our good Friend (and NFN member) John Lynes preparing to defend himself at his trial after his arrest during the Extinction Rebellion blockade at Dover Docks in the summer.

Please note too that we really would like some new members on the Steering Group if NFN is to continue in something like its present form or organise further conferences.

Now (at just £50!) is the time to book for the conference (28-29 March 2020) – or maybe it would make a nice Christmas present! (Quakers don’t do that do they?).

The Conference fee includes Saturday evening dinner and Sunday lunch but not accommodation in London if that is required:
The Penn Club are offering a special discount to Friends attending the conference. Book before January 31st to avail of the discount. To book call The Penn Club on 020 7636 4718 or email: office@pennclub.co.uk and quote non-theist conference. Space is limited and subject to availability. (I think booking before Christmas would be highly advisable TB)
(Our clerk, Gisela, negotiated this to Penn Club members’ rates and believes a single starts around £85, including a very good breakfast.)

Gisela also recommends the Bedford (single £102, double £138) and the Tavistock (single £91, double £117) Hotels, both within 10 minutes walking distance from Friends House and often used by Friends’ committees. (See https://www.imperialhotels.co.uk) They do give discounts for group bookings of more than 10 people. So if anyone feels able to take that in hand, you are welcome!
(There are cheaper, or more expensive, options but it would be as well to book soon).

Towards a Nontheist View of Discernment

Towards a Nontheist View of Discernment

What is discernment for you? A recent piece in The Friend (by Neil Morgan, 9 August issue) titled ‘How nontheists view discernment is giving me a headache’, argues that without the sense of revelation from God, and sense of connection with God, discernment loses its distinctive Quaker quality. So what are nontheists doing? Are they just ‘listening empathically’ to each other? The piece ends with the plea, ‘Could Rhiannon [Grant] or someone from the NFN please explain to me what they are doing when they are discerning – or at least what they think they are doing?’ (This was in a review of Rhiannon’s book Telling the Truth about God. Rhiannon reminds us that she does not self-identify as a nontheist but is a friend of nontheists.) In response, we asked our members to share their views on how nontheists view discernment for publication in this newsletter, identifying writers only by initials. Here are some responses (so far…)

The Nontheist Friends Network is my spiritual home. Born in 1935 I have always been a sceptic about God. My mother was a Grammar-school science teacher, my father a pillar of the Welsh Calvinist Methodist Church.

When, as a young child, I asked my mother where God was, she said ‘Oh – up there somewhere’, to which I responded – ‘He cannot be thick, or else he would fall down’. I have never been a ‘believer’ in God or been able to ascribe any significant meaning to the word. My ambitious father sent me to a Quaker boarding-school, simply because he could not find a private Methodist school that he liked.

I went to university, and became Secretary of the Cambridge Humanist Society, under the chairmanship of E M Forster. I regard the world’s religions as among the greatest artistic creations of mankind. I realize that millions have found inspiration in their images of Deity, but I cannot share them. For me, religions resemble great symphonies, inspiring works of sculpture or painting, wise sayings – and they are part of my world, but not supernatural.

And yet I loved my Quaker school and its diverse, cosmopolitan, community. I loved Reading Meeting, which we attended every fortnight. I came to love Quaker ways, and Quaker values. Later, in my sixties and an Attender at Swansea Meeting, I was accepted as a Member, and became a Friend. I came home. [RWE]

I am surprised that Rhiannon Grant’s book gives Neil Morgan a headache. Nontheists have a heart and an awareness of all the rich sensitivities of the human spirit, communicated for instance by poetry, art and music. They also share the characteristic human sense of empathy and compassion towards the feelings of others. They bring all these senses to bear on matters that require discernment – senses that some would call spiritual. [GGS]

I find a quiet place and I think. Not exactly rocket science. I may do this during MfW too. Occasionally I may do some research and read things that may relate to a concern, or I speak to people. This process may take some time, depending on the concern, or it may just be listening to points of view at a meeting for worship for business to compose a minute. Either way it just requires some head space and a time of thought without the intervention of a God figure. I often come to a revelation all on my own. [AK]

I’m listening to what Friends have to say with an open mind and an awareness of my own possible prejudices, being prepared to make up my mind or change my mind according to what I hear. I weigh it all up, using my experience and intelligence, think about ‘what love requires of me’ and I speak my views if I feel it would be helpful. If a decision goes a way I’m not happy with, I accept that this is what Friends wanted and try to accept it with good grace,

I’m certainly not waiting for any kind of divine guidance. [LE]

My late husband called Quaker processes ‘the jewel in the Crown.’ As Assistant then Clerk of my Meeting, I found discernment to be a bright facet of the jewel.

It is hard work, to put oneself aside and listen – really listen to what each Friend says. Then to keep that so important space between each contribution is vital as we begin to ‘take on board’ the many aspects of the item under consideration. This will lead to a moment when the Clerk feels it is right to attempt a minute. The Clerk then needs to be upheld by the quiet, loving support of those present as he or she tries to put into words the sense of the Meeting.

The minute first proposed can then be worked on, if need be, until Friends feel it to be a true reflection of the discernment process that has just taken place. This has been achieved by a group of Friends having mutual respect, care and love for each other and for the furtherance of Quakerism. [AR]

I see discernment as a way of improving the quality of discussion and of eventual decision- making as compared with more common ways of handling group discussions such as committees and voting.

The very fact of meetings (of any kind) implies universal recognition of ‘collective intelligence’ alongside individual points of view. My own experience has left me in no doubt that (a) the outcome of meetings can be influenced by the mood of the meeting and (b) that the mood can be managed. Such management can take the form of, for example, the style of the chair, the meeting conventions and practical aspects such as timing, papers circulated, accommodation and so on.

Quakers have developed a particular style of discussing business matters that is harmonious with Quaker values and therefore, on the whole, observed. The discipline of waiting to be called by the clerk to speak, of avoiding engagement with others who have spoken, of speaking respectfully, of a readiness to be persuaded and of careful recording of the discernments of the meeting by the clerk all lead to a productive interaction between individual views and the collective intelligence which, to me, is the essence of discernment.

So I understand Neil Morgan’s use of the words revelation and connection but I see them applying to the relationship between individual views and collective intelligence rather than to God. [GH]

I have never ever thought that discernment was only possible with a belief in God!
This would mean that only ‘religious’ people could do any good – which is obviously not true.

For me, Quakers are a constant reminder that the fundamental tenets of Quakerism – peace, equality, sustainability, justice and truth – are what we need to keep in mind on a daily basis and that is what the community of Quakers gives me. [MW]

Discernment does not lose its distinctive Quaker quality because one is a non-theist. In meeting I try to think good thoughts and how I can do better with my life – it tempers the bad stuff in the world. I do not sit there worrying about whether it is God, or simply my conscience bringing these thoughts out. But it does. For me Quakers is about what you do, not whether you believe in God or not. [EW]

Neil Morgan (9 August) asks how nontheists regard Quaker discernment, assuming that they necessarily cut ‘God’ out of the equation. I am a member of the Network who does actually believe in God. But what I believe in is not the existence of God but the presence of God, and for me that difference is vital.

For as long as I can remember I have been constantly aware of a presence that is ‘closer than breathing’, very personal, yet not entirely part of myself. It has always been with me, more or less out of eyeshot, and its presence means that I never feel lonely or alone. Not only that, but I also feel that it both guards and guides me. Whatever it may be is reliable and comforting. I call it ‘God’ because I grew up with the word and still find meaningful and useful. But it’s a name, not a definition. I ‘believe in’ it in the etymological sense of credo = cor do (Latin: ‘I give my heart’). I also share in the presence of God corporately, mostly in meeting for worship.

I feel that to speak of God as ‘existing’ is to categorise God as part of the universe, bound by space and time, whereas the presence of God is not an objective reality but a subjective human experience. People may claim they don’t see God as a bearded old man in the sky, yet many still speak as if they do. If God ‘exists’ anywhere, it is in the human heart, not ‘out there’. A literal belief in the externally ‘real’ existence of God seems dangerous and demeaning. The NFN provides me with a respectful and non judgmental forum enabling me to explore my theology more thoroughly than in most other areas of Quaker life. I may not like the word ‘nontheist’, but I treat it as a name, not a definition. After all, I don’t define myself by reference to my own name.

Thus I can understand Quaker discernment as joining with others in listening to and acting on the leadings of God, and as an occasional clerk and elder for many years can attest to its efficacy. [DP]

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Book review of Michael Wright’s ‘Jesus today – a Quaker perspective’

Book review: Michael Wright’s  ‘Jesus today – a Quaker perspective’
by David Parlett (extracted from our forthcoming NFN Newsletter)

Isn’t it remarkable how some of the best books on Jesus are written by former clerks of the Nontheist Friends Network? (David Boulton’s Who on Earth was Jesus?, published in 2008, became – and maybe still is – a standard text book in some RC seminaries following the enthusiastic recommendation of Henry Wansbrough, general editor of the New Jerusalem Bible.)

Now Michael Wright has published Jesus Today – a Quaker Perspective, to add to the collection. Michael was an Anglican priest for 40 years before leaving ordained ministry and becoming a Quaker, so he knows whereof he speaks. Furthermore, his knowledge is up to date: while most of his quotations are from the bible and Quaker Faith and Practice, he also draws on valuable material from such writers as John Spong, Karen Armstrong and Marcus Borg. ‘What I am seeking to share with those who read this’, he explains, ‘is a fresh appreciation of Jesus, his life and teaching, which is not trapped in the mindset of the past’. He regrets that ‘Few [Quakers] refer to Jesus or the gospels in meeting for worship. Mention of him can even be unwelcome to some. I hope now to stimulate an interest in the significance of his teaching from which we can draw inspiration for our values and practice today… There is a significant contrast between Jesus’ original teaching and behaviour and the authoritative doctrines and orthodoxies later developed and then imposed by the institutional churches. Quakers have largely either challenged or sidelined these since the foundations of our movement in the 17th century.’

If Chapter 3, devoted to ‘some elements of the Quaker way’, will serve well for newcomers and enquirers who find some of our language and attitudes unusual and perhaps baffling, chapter 4, ‘A Quaker approach to the bible’ is essential reading for many of us who think we know it well enough already. ‘Quakers share the biblical narrative with other Christians, and we value the scriptures without taking everything at face value. We pay attention to the spirit who gave the scriptures, rather than abiding by the letter of them.’ (This is almost word-for-word Robert Barclay). ‘Our approach to the scriptures is distinctive and not widely understood, even among Quakers’. Rather than adopt creeds, he adds: ‘The early Quakers […] delved into the scriptures and drew from them inspiration to shape their lives in the circumstances of their own time. This we can do in our day. Our Quaker testimony to truth and to integrity, to equality and justice, to peace, to simplicity and sustainability, all spring from gospel principles which Jesus taught’.

Michael then looks at the four gospels, using an image that particularly appeals to me. As a former journalist, he likens the style of Mark to The Daily Mirror, Matthew to The Daily Telegraph, Luke to The Guardian, and John to The Sunday Times as it used to be.

Chapter 6, ‘Revising our understanding of the Jesus story’, precedes ‘Some Quaker Responses to Jesus’, in which we are reminded of George Fox’s central experience of discovering Jesus within himself and of the impact of the Quaker message in English life when first shared publicly. But the scene in Britain today is very different from the 1640s: ‘Then Christian religious practice and teaching was the shared experience of just about everybody, although there were lots of disagreements between different groups about what should be taught and practised. Today Christian congregations are clearly a minority, in which the distinctive Quaker voice is a minority within a minority’.  David Parlett

Michael Wright’s Jesus Today – a Quaker Perspective is published by Sixth Element Publishing, 2019 (ISBN 978191221857-8). Michael has very kindly allowed us to add it our website at: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2019/07/23/jesus-today-book/ (182 pages pdf), but if you would like a nice printed copy try Friends House Bookshop.