Sunday, 27 February 2011

Joining the Quakers

OK, I'm not really planning to join the Quakers (yet), although I did attend the United Reformed Church for a while and have been toying for - oh- about the last seven years- with the idea of jumping ships to another denomination. Articles like this one today are exactly what we expected but do make it increasingly difficult, though possibly increasingly important, to stay in the Church of England. The words below are taken from the Quaker website:

There is a great diversity within the Quakers on conceptions of God, and we use different kinds of language to describe religious experience. Some Quakers have a conception of God which is similar to that of orthodox Christians, and would use similar language. Others are happy to use God-centred language, but would conceive of God in very different terms to the traditional Christian trinity. Some describe themselves as agnostics, or humanists, or non-theists and describe their experiences in ways that avoid the use of the word God entirely. Quaker faith is built on experience and Quakers would generally hold that it is the spiritual experience which is central to Quaker worship, and not the use of a particular form of words (whether that be “God” or anything else)."

 My main problem is that I am not an agnostic, humanist or non-theist, but then again I have no problem with the beliefs and journeys of those who are and would be quite happy to be alongside them.  All faiths need a central core of beliefs and values, the problem in our post modern world is how rigidly those beliefs and values can be imposed and how much room there is to respect a diversity of belief and practice.

I would like to see a greater freedom and respect for the diversity of beliefs and experiences around the issue of sexuality in our church. I cannot see it coming in a hurry and it is a great shame because it speaks to me of a church whose leadership is out of touch with our society, fearful and cautious, dishonest, unimaginative, stultifying and unwilling to validate and be enriched by so many of its members.


  1. Yes, I know what you mean here, Sue. I have dabbled with the Quakers, as friends of mine – former happy clappy Charismatic Evangelicals – eventually migrated along that path and so I would attend meetings held at their house (BIG house) as there was no local Quaker meeting house – ironic in a town practically built by Quakers. I used to go to the meeting house near the Town Hall in Manchester on a week day lunch time when I was a student in Mancheter. A decade or so later I began to dabble in Quaker gay and lesbian groups, but I didn’t warm to the movement.

    There is something comical (and often sad) in manner in which ‘means’ very quickly become ‘ends’. You see this again and again with church movements over the centuries. Hence contemporary Evangelical churches can become so ‘contemporary’ that they are a culture of their own – the ‘contemporary’ feel, there to attract new members, passes a ‘critical mass’ and becomes itself something that is exclusive and actually puts a good number of people off. Similarly with Anglo-Catholic worship – the number of sulks and queenly outbursts (ironically often from str8 men) because acolyte ‘A’ did genuflect at the same time as acolyte ‘B’ or the like are legion. The purpose of worship and the notion of ‘church’ as body of Christ become muddled over time and egos and culture take over. As Fr Gregory CSWG once said in a homily – we tend to gravitate to where our compromises with the Holy Spirit are least obvious – or best hidden. Like much Fr G said, it can mean different things to different people – as is the case with many famed for ‘profound’ statements!

    The great hope of Anglicanism, particularly from 1662 onwards, was that it could be many things to many people and try and remain a ‘catholic’ church, not veering off to extremes in either direction. Alas, particularly since the 1980s there has emerged various groups (usually, though not all) having an Evangelical flavour that have sought to become divisive and use the issue of sexuality (and gender) as a means of demonstrating ‘orthodoxy’ to the Christian faith. The fact the foundations of Anglicanism have long been considered to be Scripture, Reason and Tradition have been by-passed and a particular hermeneutical reading of Scripture (tho’ highly selective!) has been adopted in some quarters in a power struggle between Evangelicals – who make up the largest ‘faction’ in grassroots Anglican churches – and moderates, Anglo-Catholics & liberals, who were (in the 80s and 90s at least) over represented in senior positions in the CofE. And to my mind this is the real issue at the heart of much of the hot air on the subject of homosexuality – it is a power struggle. It is unfortunate that two wrongs don’t make a right – and neither the blatant queeny antics of some liberals nor the vicious, disproportionate and often hypocritical stance of some Evangelicals meets the actual mood or needs of your average church-goer. Both alienate rather than the reverse; or attract nutters who are intent on slaying or ameliorating their own demons.

    Hence to my mind, you can’t beat a nice middle-of-the-road Anglican church, where, yes, there is certain degree of discipline where things sexual are concerned (i.e. promiscuity and overt queenery are no-nos) but in the main, people are seen as well able to decide for themselves how they related to God and Scripture.

    You might find, Michael Ramsey’s ‘The Gospel and the Catholic Church’ a helpful read, if you have not already read it. Written when he was only 31 or so, it is a masterpiece and should be read anyone who claims to be Anglican – of whatever theological hue. It is still in print, which I think speaks volumes!

  2. "(i.e. promiscuity and overt queenery are no-nos)"

    And I would so love a church in which there were no no-nos on the assumption that we are all adults and that each of us is answerable for our own personal lives to God alone.

    I would so love a church where people could make crashing mistakes without being judged and where they could learn from those mistakes and remain fully part of the whole.

    I would so love a church where, if there did have to be any no-nos, they would have to do with tax evasion and not with sexual behaviour.

  3. Erika

    "I would so love a church where, if there did have to be any no-nos, they would have to do with tax evasion and not with sexual behaviour"

    Yes, I fully agree, I only made reference to sexual issues, because it was mentioned in Sue’s post. And I did dabble for a time with an overtly Anglo-Catholic church in central London that was little better than a gay-bar with mass! Even returning from the altar rail you got ‘cruised’. Hence why I feel there needs to be some ‘discipline’ – but as you note this has to cover all aspects of our lives.

    I rather miss my old church in North London, which did tick many of the boxes you note. It was also nicely ‘middle-of-the-road’ Anglican. – a part from the time we (I being in the choir) had to sing at a funeral where the deceased had requested a requiem, complete with incense and I had an asthma attack and a choir boy fainted with nausea!