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The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life
(can becoem 2 parts)

Many commentators are noting that Quakerism is not in the best of health. Membership is declining and there is an ongoing theological debate. But we should remember that the early Quakers turned their back on theology and concentrated instead on good practice. There is no such thing as Quaker orthodoxy but there is the Quaker Way. We are defined by our practice.

In the gathered meeting each individual shares in the attentive listening to the Spirit and its outward expression in ministry. The worship generates a circle in which inward prayer inspires outward action and reflection of the outward action informs the process of inward prayer. There is no hierarchy. It is more than democracy. We practise the full participation of all who attend in worship, participation which extends beyond the local meeting. We have a beautiful organisation of individuals set in membership in Monthly Meetings, worshipping in local meetings and all contributing to a Yearly Meeting.

Helen Rowlands has described the Way in her study of authority. She uses this term in its senses of permission as well as weight. The authorities of the individual person, of the worshipping community and that of tradition are held one against the other in a trinity so that no one authority can assume power or control over the other two.

We are eroding the Way. It is well recognised that nobody is much bothered about going to Monthly Meeting. We seem to be satisfied that our local worshipping group can be plaintiff, judge and jury. That is not an idle metaphor. The system set up by George Fox was in the nature of a court of law. It is a practical demonstration of how we test our individual responses to the Spirit against the combined understanding and wisdom of our mutual Friends, rather than simply among our friends. The first discovery of Friends was that we can hear for ourselves what the Spirit is saying to us. The second discovery was the sorry realisation that we can so easily con ourselves into believing we have heard the Spirit instead of our own ego. Monthly Meeting was the forum.

My friend Clive Sutton is unsure whether Monthly Meeting as devised in the horse age is even fit in the bicycle age. If that is so we have a remarkable capacity for tenacity. Well into the motorcar age, Monthly Meeting alongside Advices and Queries was one of the two major influences which drew me into membership. But I am now one of a rare breed. I have been watching the decline of Monthly Meeting for some two decades. A decline manifested in the tedium of business method, nominations, minutes and a monthly meeting tea. Symbolised by the appointment of a single or possibly two representatives from each local meeting. It seems to have lost its function whereby Friends from differing local meetings may meet together.

Now, RECAST has given us a wonderful opportunity. Meeting for Sufferings has been set free to examine its role as a crucible. And every Friend and local Meeting is similarly invited to examine how we might engage with each other, how we may enable each other to test our individual responses to the Spirit.

But wait, for this revitalisation to occur I think there is another facet of our Quaker Way to be restored.

I would like to introduce a concept from outside. We are very familiar with the postscript from the Balby elders that the letter killeth but the Spirit giveth life. Jewish thinking is similarly well acquainted with the way that the codified law is deadening. But the rabbis recognised a different corollary to the life giving spirit. They said it is one thing to codify the law, it is another to interpret it with anecdote and story. Knowing that interpretations can get out of hand they combined the two thoughts into a single puzzle: "halachah without agadah is dead but agadah without halachah is wild1": the uninterpreted code, the letter, killeth, but the unfounded interpretation must be tempered. Translated into the postscript we might say that the living spirit does not set us free to go exploring wildly. The phrase is "live adventurously". The practical Quaker Way is the same genius of paradox.

In the previous article I observed that our meetings for worship generate a creative circle of inward prayer and outward action which inform and inspire each other. Our purpose at meeting for worship is to be attentive to the Spirit and to respond to it. Drawn forward by a vision of heaven on earth, we are called by the Spirit. By careful enquiry I realise my gifts. My responsibility is to use them.

Yet my experience is that more and more of our meetings for worship are wrapped in a silence in which we do not dare to test our convictions. The still small voice is indeed still and it is small, Experiments with Light notwithstanding. These Experiments do indeed disclose our darkness. But that doesn't mean that the darkness is somehow not good, that it shouldn't be there. It very much should be because without it there is no pressure to act. The Light may indicate the direction and pull us toward itself but the jet propulsion comes from behind.

If our structure of local meetings has become crystalised in formality so too have our meetings for worship. If we don't go to Monthly Meeting or anywhere beyond our local meeting, if we have no opportunity to use the authority of the wider community which holds our combined membership to test what we discover in the process of listening to the Spirit, we very sensibly decline to follow what could be our egos. What irony!

We deny the truth of the Spirit and, declining the opportunity, we decline. Our congregations are dying. People come for an hour of silence instead of a time for inspiration. The codified silence is killing us. I can hear the howls of protest. But remember this. Meeting is both listening and responding. The Quaker Way is a practical demonstration of how to balance the dead and the wild. Listening without responding is dead, responding without listening is wild. What happened to living adventurously? Have we pulled the shutters tight against the wind of the Spirit? In the context of Meeting for Worship, how many times do I come away feeling totally refreshed for the week ahead? Because somebody had the inspiration not just to speak but to do something that led me into the creativity of life? What about worshipping adventurously? Alex Wildwood wants juicy Quakerism. So do I.

Anthony Gimpel


This week's .pdf
In this week's online edition... rss edition
Discernment, or passion ?
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Canada Yearly Meeting - 721 words
John Courtneidge, Hertford and Hitchin MM
Armed police: a dilemma
Chris Gwyntopher
Something Special - 871 words
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Quakers and climate change
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(faith: 28 July) The Radical Tradition
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Conrad Adams: brief life history
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Quaker in a Quandary
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Lancashire & Cheshire General Meeting
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Bible parables
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The Creative spirit at Glenthorne
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NFF weekend
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Roger Iredale, Mid-Somerset MM
Armed Police and the cycle of violence
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Still destitute in Britain
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How we live
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How we experience the divine
Stevie Krayer
Alice Oswald, Woods etc
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‘Being an Elder’ - A weekend at Woodbrooke for new elders
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‘Being an Elder’ - A weekend at Woodbrooke for new elders
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The puppy that was born in Bethlehem
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Meetings for Clearness
Cathy Eglington
Denmark Yearly Meeting
David Penn
The history of the life of Thomas Ellwood
Colin Billett, Worcestershire and Shropshire MM
Beyond Capitalism
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My mediaeval neighbours of the world village
Peter Arnold, Alderney (part, Southampton and Portsmouth MM)
6th and final letter from the West Bank
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Is your Quakerism punk enough?
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The Quaker Business Method
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The spirit has its songs
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Lesser evil
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(faith: 28 July) Quaker Business Method - from Quaker Faith & Practice
simon gray, Warwickshire Monthly Meeting
Love your neighbour as yourself
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A Quaker graveyard
Harriet Martin
Malcolm Elliott
Lorna Watson
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Colin Rendall (Clerk to QHA)
A New Door is Opening
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The Survival of Religion
Peter Arnold, Alderney Mtg
Jessica Fagerstrom
Energy and environment – a perspective
Dave Feickert
Review: Questioning the Comet
Felicity Cox
Remembrance Sunday
Ann Lewis
The Green Man – a rejuvenated archetype?
Ben Francis
Quaker Voluntary Action moves onwards – and southwards
The root of all evil?
Judy Kirby
Welcoming the new Dean of Manchester
Christopher John Green
On being Friends
Harvey Gillman
Darwin revisited
Frank parkinson
Multifaith and hope in the West Bank

Living Adventurously
Judith Smith (Pontefract MM)
Submit a link
Obituary: Carol Hamer
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Friends: an element or compound?
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Why Richard Dawkins is Right but for the Wrong Reasons
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**Special? Where can we go from here?
Richard Hilken
MP's Commitment to Africa
Jill Allum

An Interview with Alice Beer
Anne Stewart
Making terrorism history
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Resistance to conflict resolution
Sue Bowers, Marion Wells-Bruges
To CRB or not CRB?
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A little bit of torture
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Bench Marks
Peter Lawless
The magic of discernment
Roland Carn, Hampstead MM
Fleas and Strictly Come Dancing
Roland Carn, Hampstead MM
Between things past and things to come
Roland Carn, Hampstead MM

**Special? Standing Still in the Power of God
Marge Abbot
Journeying On
David Ford, Banbury and Evesham MM
Nominating for the Nobel Peace Prize
Beryl Milner, Leeds MM
Plain Speaking for Grown-ups
Sarah Richards, Northumbria Monthly Meeting
From the hitherto undiscovered novel ‘MoonQuaker’
Sarah M. Richards, Northumbria MM
What Kind of Power?
Pam Lunn
Quaker Cottage, Belfast
Nancy Mottram
**Special? Day Outing to Woodbrooke
Pat Gosling
q-eye (for publication on blog)

q-eye (for copying, publication on blog)

Iran today
Kath Worrall, Carlisle & Holm MM
Climate Change and Governance Conference
Margaret Glover (QPS-Futures Link)
Is nuclear fuel spent or bent?
Peter Lanyon, vice chair, Shut Down Sizewell campaign
Tony Haynes, Guildford & Godalming MM
Elizabeth Grill Watson
Minneapolis Friends
**Special? (set 26/5 folder) To answer that of God
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On poetry
Herbert Lomas
(set 26/5 folder) Peace Pledge Union’s CO Project
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Halfway there and still going strong…update on a work in progress
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Promoting Restorative Justice at the UN
Marian Liebmann

The Advert
Margaret Cook
Researching Quaker Ancestors
Michael Hargreave
A Visit to the West Bank, Palestine , March , 2006
Alan and Pauline York
Promoting non-violence in the West Bank
Gerald Conyngham
Britain Yearly Meeting special issue
A Letter From Iran
Emily Johns
Thoughts … on the big transition into silence
Gerald Drewett
Article cleanup

Trustees in the tool room
Dave Feickert, Balby Monthly Meeting Representative on MfS
** Set 14 July folder Houses for Meetings
Mary Brown
**Special? Why do I still go?
Alan Russell
Inspiration from Chechnya
Chris Hunter
Drafting a Yearly Meeting Epistle
Geoffrey Carnall
All God's creatures
Rev. Feargus O’Connor
Factions and Frictions
Michael Oppenheim
Conscience remembered
David Boulton, Kendal and Sedbergh MM
**Special? Voices of dissent
Janet Hyland
** set July 7 folder The humanist challenge
Jan Arriens
Responsibility to Protect – Resolving the dilemma
Richard Lawson
The Case of David Hicks
Christopher Nordin Adelaide Meeting South Australia
** Special? Finding the Rainbow
Richard Hilken
Qeye 28 july

test article


Open Sundays at Ettington Meeting House (1684)

Quakers who helped Jews
Peter Kurer
Educating for Life: Johann Christoph Arnold
Joe Hine
'Faith's new age' at Woodbrooke
Judith Smith, Pontefract MM
Housing Needs of Single Older People:
Edith Jayne, Kingston PM
Evil and the god of all creation
Noel Staples
Helping Children to develop spiritually… a joyful challenge.
Sarah Piercy, Luton and Leighton MM
Supporting HIV Counselling in Kenya
William West, Hardshaw East Monthly Meeting
Survival – Duality into Unity
Harry Underhill
The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life
Anthony Gimpel
Understanding young Muslims
Brian Hawkins
Silence and other similarities
Judith Lazarus
Open House weekend
Emily Milner
Share the silence
Kathy Baroody
Clare: tagging log - 5 May (inc) 2200 - 2250

The Last Taboo
Barbara Prys-Williams
Getting to grips with wickedness
Laurie Michaelis, Witney MM
Helping young people to deal with the past
Diana & John Lampen
Discovering the obvious
Roger Sanderson, Notts & Derby MM
Reweaving the web

Report from the Middle East
Franco Perna
Communities Resisting Violence in Colombia
Lani Parker
Christmas Eye

International Edition: Quakers enter Korea (1953)
George W Whiteman
No charges pending in Quaker college brawl
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Judy Kirby &
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Simon Risley
Low wage Britain continues
Alan Sealy
The cost of abstinence
Helena Chambers
Quakers in Criminal Justice
Julia Richardson
Facing down the Obama-crunch
Oliver Robertson

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