Yearly Meeting Gathering

Renoir Two women and a girl in a landscapeMore on Membership.

It is different for each of us, but our insights are collective: ours is a Do It Together not DIY society. Our discipline is difficult, for we must give over our own wills. We move away from a rigid demarcation of members from attenders. Most meetings use attenders to do particular jobs. Some attenders do not apply for membership out of a feeling of unworthiness, but none of us is Worthy in that sense (or all of us)- we keep learning. Some reject membership fearing the burden of the tasks of the meeting, and all those committees. We reject outward sacraments, considering the underlying spiritual reality, but we still have this process. And some, contrary to expectation, find joining transformative. Someone suggested a re-commitment act for members.

Though we are collective, we give space in which each person can work out her/his spiritual journey. We come together and maintain our cohesiveness not through all using the same words, but through mutual respect and care, which is more difficult. We share structures which permit our experiences to happen. We need something which can unite us: perhaps it is the power of God.

We issued a Statement on Gaza urging diplomatic recognition of Palestine. The clerks said that it was particularly carefully drafted, but some speakers from the floor quibbled, wanting more emphasis on Hamas rockets. They delayed our statement by only a few days.

I went to the “Jane Austen Dances”, which were on at lunchtime daily, once. I had not heard dances Jane might have done in Bath around 1805 called that before. It was crowded and enthusiastic and bodged, error-prone. On the Friday evening some people did a demonstration on the stage, but I did not find the chance to perform worth the effort of practising.

I found Ben Pink Dandelion giving the Swarthmore Lecture charismatic. He was eye-catching and charming. He waved a page of A4 saying it was his entire notes. After, a woman told me he was irked sometimes by female admirers sitting at his feet and looking reverent. In his question and answer session, I found his jokes not brilliant, and most of the laughter sounded feminine. But someone else said he is gay.

Thursday morning I was exhausted, and weepy, in misery around not being able to stay on the sick indefinitely, but not getting work either. I sat in the sun in the camp site with a novel, then wandered in to talk to an Overseer. Being heard, I could talk myself into calm. I had met the man at the clerks’ course, but did not recognise him because he had shaved off his moustache. Then I sat in the gathering tent chatting and joking.

Mark Smulian, an Israeli who had been part of a band with Palestinians talked, and led us in a workshop clapping rhythms and taking turns to improvise across the rhythm. Aged 18, he volunteered to be a paratrooper, and had to police a curfew. On patrol, he saw an “Arab” out, so gave chase, and when he caught her found she was 15, so let her go: his human reaction went against his training, law and duty. Thank God.

A filmed experience of YMG:

11 thoughts on “Yearly Meeting Gathering

  1. I don’t understand much of it, but it moves me deeply nonetheless. I realize that Quakers are not a formless group that sits around until someone speaks. I don’t know why, but I hadn’t realized it was organized and … well, organized.

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    • Not boyfriénd material? Yes he does, but he was talking of his teens and how “girls” were a preoccupation then. Alas!

      Did you know that tomorrow is the 2000th anniversary of the death of Caesar Augustus?

      On organisation, we have firm rituals. Meeting is in a specific place, at a specific time. The meeting may start a few minutes early- when the first person sits down, we say- so if anyone sits down in the meeting room we either sit down too or shut up and get out. We do not interrupt each other or answer each other, though we may refer to something someone else has said. There should be moral content to the message given. We end by shaking hands. In business, the clerk calls people to speak, and if there is disagreement, we sit in silence in hopes we may resolve it, or defer it to the next session. The main discipline in business is letting go of personal desire, to seek the common good. We surrender ourselves. We are communal, not individual.

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