Tuesday, June 21, 2016

All welcome?

We don't have many Meeting Houses in this country (eight according to our Yearly Meeting Documents in Advance), and I've not yet been to them all, but I'm reasonably sure all of them say 'All welcome' on their signs outside.

Yet I heard in the last week of someone who had grown up part of the Quaker whānau going Meeting recently and when being asked what he was doing these days basically got told 'you can't do that and be a Quaker'.

I remember some years back discovering that the only Quaker MP sitting in Westminster at the time was a member of the Conservative party. Not the most common political party of choice in the UK amongst Friends, but he wasn't asked to leave or be quiet about being a Quaker. I accepted that even though I might not agree with his politics, and wondered how on earth he balanced his political and religious beliefs, that he was entitled to them, and after all when asking George Fox about wearing a sword William Penn was told to 'wear it as long as thou canst'. In other words your conscience, that still small voice, that of god in you, will let you know when you can no longer maintain seemingly opposing stances and you will know which you have to follow.

If someone comes to one of our Meetings apparently holding values different to those commonly accepted by Quakers what is more likely to bring them round to our way of thinking; being told they can't do/be/believe something and be a Quaker, or being made to feel welcome? A better response would have been 'well you don't find many of those amongst Friends, but I'm glad you still felt that you could come to Meeting' or 'that's an interesting choice, what led you to choose that?' If we want people to reconsider their actions then surely in the quiet of Meeting and in the heart of our community is the best place for them to do so, and it is less likely to happen if they are made to feel unwelcome and unwanted. It can take a lot of courage and psyching yourself up to attend Meeting when you know that what you do is likely to be considered unpopular; to still go anyway because you need that space to worship among Friends is not a decision that will have been taken lightly. To answer honestly when asked 'what are you doing these days?' rather than give an effacing answer that will be more palatable takes courage and integrity.

It isn't a situation that only those with occupations generally perceived to be 'unquakerly' who experience this kind of response when they come to Meeting. I've regularly come across Young Friends who when making it to Meeting for Worship for the first time in ages are basically harangued for not coming more often and expected to explain the absence of others of their peer group. Do we expect any other age group to have to explain themselves if they erratically attend, and vouch for their peer group who they may not have seen in months, maybe even years? And then Friends wonder why our Young Friends don't come to Meeting more often.

If we're going to have signs up saying 'All Welcome' then we need to mean it and live it.

No comments: