Is the Quaker meeting a safe space?

The Meeting might seem a safe space, where we come together in Friendship to worship. We come to recharge, away from the World, to be better fitted to live in it. Often it is. I come away feeling loved. And “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”.

God gave me a gentle working over at Zoom worship, reducing me to tears. I hope I come away with strengthened Love, better fitted for my world, with greater understanding, and it was painful. It did not feel safe at the time.

There was a harsh sound like a fog-horn, in repeated blasts, and I was irritated. Someone should mute themselves. They are not showing proper respect to the meeting. Such a horrible sound would distract anyone. I was certain of the rules, and my entitlement.

Then my wise Black Friend ministered on the love and mercy of God, quoting psalm 139 on God’s inescapability. Black Friends have told me the Quaker meeting is not always a safe space. “Can I touch your hair?”

The meeting is safe as far as we work to make it so. We have love, one for another. The practice of sitting still, like poker players where a sigh or the slight tightening of muscles indicates inner turmoil, is an attempt not to distract our Friends. (I find sitting still difficult.) Only love will bind us together, create safety amongst ourselves as we run our meeting, with our different desires and understanding.

Some find that having something to do with their hands, such as knitting, seems to help them centre down. Others find this distracting- perhaps, it is the sense that the crafters are breaking the rules. They should not be doing that. Here is a Quaker discussion. Love can bring us together- the person who is easily distracted, the person who needs something to do with their hands, and others supporting both.

Looking back at it, Quakers are delighted with our 2009 YM, agreeing that we would treat gay marriages precisely equally with straight marriages. This outcome was not widely predicted. Gay Friends went to YM feeling valued members of their meetings, their relationships accepted, even celebrated, knowing that “the acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends”. Those Friends too might be apprehensive about the meeting. We came together in Love, led by Spirit, and other yearly meetings have split over accepting gay people, each side believing they were rooted in Christian principle and even in Love.

Again Friends approach YM in fear. Again, our sense of ourselves- the trans person, and the gender critical- feel threatened. With the clerk in a discussion group, I knew I should not lobby her about the Correct Result of YM, but the temptation was so great I could not speak about the topic.

We must be prepared to be changed. I have been changed beyond recognition, and as God Loves me into wholeness it has been intensely painful. In Meeting I am weeping, for myself and for the World. And at the end of the meeting I hear the foghorn again, accepting it. It does not bother me, and I weep again in joy.

Only Love can save us. All will hear things that might hurt them, but the meeting is not mine to control, and others will say what seems to them right at the time, which may be an act of courage. I pray for a good result, and try to let go of conceptions of what that result should look like.

3 thoughts on “Is the Quaker meeting a safe space?

  1. One aspect of intimacy is vulnerability, and so one outcome is the inevitability that we will at times hurt someone or be hurt along the way. Honesty is another aspect of intimacy, and an unseen danger for Friends is that too often we fail to acknowledge that hurt openly between the two parties. Without that, of course, there’s no healing.
    Historically, there was something called “close labor,” where a minister or elder had to privately counsel a member regarding some personal matter, most likely wayward conduct. I sense we lack that today, to our own loss.
    Friends worship is much more intimate than that of most other denominations, which means we need to be especially vigilant for our tender connections.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, and- it is hard to discern when someone is “wayward” without some particular framework. When there were militia rates, local taxes to pay for local militia, in 19th century England, Overseers could check whether someone was paying them in order to avoid being distrained. Now testimony is differently interpreted, it is not enforcible in the same way.

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