Recently, at a board meeting of a small Quaker organisation the one board member who isn’t a Quaker asked us: ‘So what are Quaker values’? Not an unreasonable question as we had been going on about the unique selling point of the service we provide being ‘the Quaker values’.
The immediate answer he got from one of our number was: read Advices and Queries. I didn’t really think that was a sufficient answer but couldn’t come up with anything quick and straightforward either.
I googled the Quaker Social Action publication ‘The Q-BIT at the Heart of a Quaker led organisation’
I sent him a copy by e-mail and I referred him to page 24 (of the pdf) where in a nice and accessible box you can find the following:
Of course, the issue with any such list – just as much with a list of our Testimonies which are often used in such discussions – is this: (a) do we live up to these values? And (b) are they unique to Quakers?
Why do these two questions matter? They both matter because they are about authenticity and about identity.
Of course, we don’t always live up to all of these. We’re not perfect and we don’t claim to be perfect. It’s more important to own them and to keep trying. And of course, in theory we do. But in practice, certainly in Britain in Europe more broadly, we don’t have enough diversity within our group to be able to hear all voices and views, for example.
But the question of uniqueness is probably the more controversial. The issue here is that we claim values that others would also claim and maybe they interpret them differently but is it right for us to claim them as ‘Quaker’ values.
It puts me in mind of the discussions in the political sphere of ‘British’ values, many of which are far more universal than that.
So where does that leave us?
The one thing we do seem to have in common and seem to have uniquely in common is our worship based on silence; our willingness to shut down the noise which we are otherwise constantly confronted with; the willingness to accept that silence – as much in a group as on our own – can be uncomfortable because it tends to bring out all sorts of thoughts that we normally try not to allow any space for. It is a silence that makes space for the crucial question: what is really important? What is it that really matters? What do I want to spend my time, energy and money on?
One of the really important issues is that of equality – or to put it into political terms – the growing inequality, which our society is blighted with. I know that Friends are doing work on this; I know there will be some concentrated effort around this over the next few months. But the question for each of us individually and for our Meetings is this: given that most of us are among the better off – though not among the 1% – what can we actually do practically that will make us ‘patterns and examples’; i.e. the people who are the change we want to see.
One key issue is housing inequality. Can we find a way of demonstrating what that would look like without making ourselves homeless and without creating a massive managerial and administrative burden for someone?
Just a thought and a question! If you have ideas of how to bring that about, please let me/us know.