Tag Archives: William Purser

John Richter’s talk – some thoughts on the challenge

John Richter’s talk on Thursday evening did not feature his work as an artist but proved to be a provoking challenge to Quakers today, non-theist or not, to perhaps change the way we approach things if we are not (in terms of membership) to continue in terminal decline.
John’s ideas might have been unconventional after 60 years a Quaker, perhaps still feeling ‘On the Edge of Quakers’, but drew out a lively conversation of different or opposing views amongst those present (about 82 for the talk).
Our own William P(urser) closed the conversation at the very end with this from a somewhat earlier William P(enn):

“True godliness don’t turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavours to mend it… Christians should keep the helm and guide the vessel to its port; not meanly steal out at the stern of the world and leave those that are in it without a pilot to be driven by the fury of evil times upon the rock or sand of ruin”. (QF&P 23.02) William Penn 1682.

One of John’s suggestions (in relation to his own somewhat declining meeting at Wells-next-the-Sea (Norfolk, England)) was, weather permitting, to leave the doors open so anyone might wander in during the meeting and for people to join or leave the meeting at times to suit themselves – a practice also followed by Friends 340 years ago and indeed in the Sikh Gurudwara today. (In both cases much longer ‘meetings for worship’ – perhaps 3-4 hours amongst 17th century Quakers and sunrise to sunset amongst Sikhs).

Meetings often have a copy of the Bible, Quaker Faith and Practice (The book of Christian discipline of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain – the ‘big red book’), Advices and Queries (the ‘little red book’ being Chapter 1 of QF&P) and sometimes other books or leaflets on the table, with a vase of flowers, in the centre of the meeting. Piers thought that visitors or newcomers to a meeting find this off-putting if the Bible and ‘Christian discipline’ have negative associations for them. But, we are the Religious Society of Friends and there were contributions from those who disliked the associations of ‘Spiritual’ whilst others might want to emphasise ’the Society’ (of which you can be a member – ’socio’ in Spanish) at the expense of ‘Religious’. Tom Shakespeare the 2020 Swarthmore Lecturer (https://www.woodbrooke.org.uk/research/swarthmore-lectures/) expressed a preference for ‘Religious not Spiritual’, doubtful about those who say they are ’Spiritual not religious’ and the associations of ’Spiritual’ with ‘New Age’ spirituality and perhaps ’Spiritualism’.

However, Jesus said: Mark 3.28-9 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (New Revised Standard Version).
And as the Nontheist Friends Network, our online conference in 2021 was entitled ’That’s the Spirit – Dimensions of Spirituality’
(https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/events/thats-the-spirit-dimensions-of-spirituality-nfn-conference-2021/ ) which included an impassioned talk on Humanist (or secular) Spirituality.by Andrew Copson of Humanists UK. See also https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/articles/the-faith-of-a-quaker-humanist/#Spirituality

John posed two questions at the end of his talk for the group to consider:
1 What is the purpose of Quakers?
a John’s 4-word answer was “to explore religion together” and
b He asked us to respond with our four-word answers.
2 To flourish as a society we need to make ourselves meaningful to ourselves and to people who might join. What do we need to change?

Howard answered the first with (5 words perhaps) “to have our answers questioned”. Whilst this was drawn from some Quaker pamphlet or notice and makes a nice ‘sound-bite’, I strongly suspect that many would like their questions answered too – I know I would.

John especially wanted to emphasise the open-ness of Quakers and the open ended search for truth which has evolved from the 17th century when Friends felt they had the ‘Truth’ and while this latter claim might still be true in terms of ‘the spirit within’, the ‘inner light’, the ‘Christ within’ and so on, nonetheless we recognise that there are different kinds of truth (for example scientific truth, historical truth, spiritual truth, ‘the facts’, your truth and my truth – what is true for you is not necessarily true for me, and so on) and Friends ask ‘Are you open to new light , from whatever source it may come?’ (Advices and Queries no. 7) (Some Friends question ‘from whatever source’?).

So we see that your answers may indeed be questioned but our ‘queries’ often constitute implicit ‘advice’. We can question and seek but we can also find, or perhaps that’s ‘discern’ in ‘quakerspeak’. We no longer (as Quakers did in the 17th century) go out of our way to attack or challenge ‘Puritans’ (Evangelicals?) or Papists and indeed many of us now find wisdom from the (Western) Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions too, even if we rather specialise in being unorthodox or heretical. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heresy for a good overview of heresy). The great majority of Quakers in the world, in the Americas and Africa in particular, are members of evangelical or programmed meetings with quite different worship practices and beliefs from most ‘unprogrammed’ Quakers in meetings like BYM. Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC – https://fwcc.world/about-us/) by and large succeeds in uniting all the different sorts of Quakers into one ‘family’ with a common heritage and willingness to see beyond differences and work together to ‘mend the world’.

John had himself suggested some ideas for change in his talk and these included the above-mentioned openness (even open doors) and focussing on being a society of Friends rather than a church (building or meeting) and not making silence our creed – that is to say emphasising the importance of spoken ministry and attentive ‘listening’ to what might come to us during the silence. Other Friends present emphasised the importance of friendship and being meetings of friends – doing things together, socialising together as well as to ‘live better in the world, and be excited in their endeavours to mend it’. Whilst there were disagreements and differences of emphasis, many of these came down to different language: spiritual not religious or v.v, society v. church and meeting v. church. The development of language about ‘God’ – or ‘whatever you call it’ is particularly demanding: God is real or a metaphor, ‘theist’ or ’nontheist’ might be a continuum rather than either/or – see, for example, ‘God, words and us’ – https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/?s=God%2C+words+and+us

Whether you were present at John’s talk or not, please let us have your comments and thoughts below!

 

Feedback and reflections on NFN MfW&CC 1 April 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Friendship,

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

NFN Monthly Meeting reminder

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

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

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

New NFN monthly Meeting for Worship and Creative Conversation

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

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

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

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

Presenters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Format: (New Format from 1 April)

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

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