the friend online
28 August 2009

A sideways glance at Yearly Meeting

Joe Thwaites was one of seven young Friends who helped ‘behind the scenes’ at Yearly Meeting Gathering this year. He shares his thoughts with Eye

On the whole it was an enjoyable experience with an eclectic mix of tasks – from dragging a large amount of kitchenware on carts to one of the furthest away colleges, acting as cinema projectionists in two of the lecture theatres each evening, to racing (sorry, delivering) mobility scooters around campus.

However, I am going to abuse the privilege of this column space to have a whinge about a small minority of Gatherers. Many Quakers have a natural thirst to fight injustice, which is commendable. However, it seems that some honestly can’t see the difference between opposing apartheid and complaining that they do not have enough cutlery. They argue the latter with equal indignation and zeal as the former, if not more.

They only make up a small minority, but they’re often the ones who we ended up spending most of our time dealing with, which naturally presents a very skewed image of the average Quaker! I had to work hard at times to remind myself that most Quakers are lovely kind and caring people – luckily the planning committee helped by being living proof of that.

When Britain Yearly Meeting was coming to agreement on the issue of same-sex marriages on Thursday and Friday, I found myself preoccupied with the publicity implications of the decision. As some Friends suggested we ask our registry officers to break the law, or refuse to conduct any marriages until same-sex marriages had the same legal status as opposite-sex ones, I couldn’t help but think ‘this will make the headlines’ and ‘this will boost the profile of Quakers’. Perhaps my calling is to the Friends House media relations team!

I then felt guilty as later, during the trustees report, one Friend chastised their use of the term ‘Quaker brand’. I like that Quakers do not proselytise or shout about their good work, but when we take momentous decisions or when we’re campaigning on really important issues, shouldn’t we attempt to make our voices heard? As it happened, we didn’t really need to, since the story got picked up by the newswires and most of the respectable press. The Daily Mail couldn’t quite bring itself to use the terms gay marriage or weddings without putting them in inverted commas. Just think what it might do to the house prices!

I was particularly pleased to see, in The Times’ coverage of the same-sex marriage decision, mention of how Junior Yearly Meeting had found agreement much earlier in the week. Many of the same-sex couples who spoke throughout the week said they didn’t want to be treated as different or special and just wanted to get on with their lives. What really pleases me is how much of a non-issue same-sex marriage is for us younger generations (for some older Quakers, as we saw, it is also not problematic, but none of the dissenting voices were under thirty, and some of the strongest ministry in support came from young Friends).

When I arrived at Yearly Meeting I was unaware of the agenda and was surprised to find this was still something that needed to be resolved. Being at the forefront of social change, I had assumed that Quakers had come to terms with it back in the eighties. I was glad that a decision was finally made, but if it hadn’t been done this year, it would not have been long before it was – younger Friends do not have the patience to endlessly debate the scriptural implications of two people’s love for each other when we quite clearly have real problems of truly Biblical proportions to deal with. As Martin Ward, the clerk, said once the minute on committed relationships was agreed, ‘now we move onto climate change…’

Joe Thwaites


This week's .pdf
In this week's online edition... rss edition

US Quaker lobbyists ‘say it with flowers’
Oliver Robertson
Campaigners disappointed by lack of progress over UK arms export rules

The spiritual side of gardens
Oliver Robertson
News round-up

In the care of the Meeting?
Laurie Michaelis
Lockerbie grief and justice
Julia Cadman
The centrality of worship
George Baines

Leaving Quakers…
Sarah Pearce
… beginning a journey with Friends
Helen Smith
Good Lourdes
Matthew Biggs
The pulse of God’s blood in our veins
Gerard Benson
Tricks, treats and choices
Alison Leonard
Tackling climate change together
Gerald Conyngham
A sideways glance at Yearly Meeting
Joe Thwaites

Things to do, where to stay, people to see etc...

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