Outreach is for me an invitation to others to join us in our way of worship and response to life which are so important to us that we wish to share them. At the simplest level this means supplying information about meetings, Friends to contact, and basic beliefs, all of which should be given accurately, clearly and if possible attractively. In the second stage outreach offers to others, through meetings, personal contact and literature, the experience and truth which Friends have found for themselves through three centuries and which impel us just as strongly today. It is different from some forms of evangelism in that it does not use mass emotional appeal, idiosyncratic demands or autocratic compulsion but only the persuasion of insight, humanity and good sense. It does not depend on rewards or threats, but on the active acceptance of those who see it as truth. Edrey Allott, 1990QF&P 28.09 http://qfp.quaker.org.uk/passage/28-09/
Why our reluctance to let our lives speak with a Quaker label?
Just the other day, we had a very good presentation about Quaker work in the Middle East over the last 150 years at Meeting (as part of our 4th Sunday after shared lunch programme). One of the things that struck me was the fact that the speaker said: there are of course lots of Quakers who do and have done lots of work on Middle East issues, but they often don’t put a Quaker label on it.
And earlier in the year, when I was standing as a candidate in the local elections, one of the members of the Meeting asked to see my public candidate statement (which was published on the website of the local Green Party – for whom I stood) and after she had read it, she said: you have mentioned that you are a Quaker far too often.
And yet earlier – actually nearly 10 years ago, when I was party to a discussion about outreach, finding new attenders and possibly members, in a Meeting in continental Europe, one seasoned Friend said: I’d never say that I’m a Quaker when I’m in a non-Quaker group or at work.
So why is it that we hide our light under a bushel? And quite often so tightly that not even the subtle rays get out?
And how do we think people will know about who we are and what we stand for?
The opportunities we create for ourselves – and how we can use them
At Britain YM Gathering in 2014, we agreed a statement on the violent situation in Palestine and Israel and with special reference to Gaza which, at the time the statement was drafted, was in the middle of a bloody war.
This received a certain amount of public attention in the media; it was a bold statement, one that is not uncontroversial among Friends in Britain (or elsewhere); but it is one that many of us – and I count myself in that number – are very proud of. It is measured, clear, committed to alternatives to violence, and it makes a clear request of our government to act.
So what has happened with this statement from the point of view of individual members and Meetings taking action and using it as an outreach tool?
I would be interested to know what others have done. What I have done is this: I have written to my MP and sent her a copy of the statement; I have asked her to support the call both for the UK government to recognise Palestine as a State and to place an arms embargo on Israel.
She has responded; to give her her due, she responds to most of the e-mails she gets from me. Her response was fairly bland and included a standard response from the Foreign Office who basically said they had received too many communications about the situation in Gaza to respond to them individually.
I wasn’t impressed with either their or her response. So I have now written again and asked her to comment on the two specific requests Quakers in Britain make of the UK governments; I have also asked her to find out the response of the Foreign Secretary and the Business Secretary to these requests and to make sure they are aware of my views.
And I have asked her to make sure she participates in the debate in the House of Commons, scheduled for 13 October 2014, to debate the motion “That this House calls on the government to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel”. I don’t know whether she would support the motion; I rather suspect not; but I want to make sure she knows that I do and that she at least hears what other MPs have to say about it.
This is one form of outreach; by communicating with our elected representatives as Quakers, they become aware of (in Edrey Allot’s words) the experience and truth which Friends have found for themselves through three centuries and which impel us just as strongly today.
Questions to ask ourselves
If we are not prepared to take that action, daily, weekly, all the time, are we failing in one key form of outreach?
If we are not saying to people that what we do comes from our being Quaker, from the insights we gain from the experience of Meeting for Worship, then are we selling ourselves and Quakers short?
If we do things that are informed by our being Quaker – and how could we do other – without putting a Quaker label on them, how are we letting our lives speak in a way that might open the experience of Quakerism to others?