the friend online
02 October 2009


Terry Waite spent almost five years in captivity as a hostage in Beirut. There, he learned to face silence creatively and recently became a Quaker. Ros Smith talked with him

During your long imprisonment did you have any indication that you would eventually become a Quaker? And what finally drew you to make that decision?

No, I did not consider it at that time. What eventually made me decide was the desire to experience the creative use of silence in worship.

There was a time when in Anglican forms of worship there was space for silence and contemplation. In recent years services have become so ‘busy’. One is instructed to stand, sit, greet one’s neighbour, sing, sit again and room for quiet contemplation is squeezed out. There is tremendous value in sharing silence with others and the years of captivity were years when I learned how to enter more deeply into silence. I should also add that across a lifetime I have respected the ethical position taken by the Friends and although I am not a pacifist I lean strongly towards that position.

You have dual membership, Terry, so are there any aspects of Quakerism that do not fit too well with your Anglicanism? And, conversely, what are the similar elements that have enabled you to integrate the two disciplines?

I have frequently said that looking at religions is somewhat like looking into a Victorian drawing room. Such a room is full of clutter.

Across the generations religions attract to themselves a great deal of clutter. In captivity I had a bit of a clear out and felt the better for it. I can well understand that there are many different roads to God and different forms are helpful to different people. I do not in any way reject my Anglican roots but I find them complemented by my membership of the Friends.

Are there any current political issues that you would like to comment on from a Quaker point of view? What spiritual motivation guides you in these views?

Oh plenty and I would bore readers to tears if I were to give a full answer to this question. In political action I try to keep in mind that I need to be working for that which contributes towards wholeness. We are surrounded by destructive forces both within ourselves and in the wider world.

My actions need to be directed toward turning these forces so that they may be used creatively.

I believe that while you respect the fact of civil partnerships as such, you hold strong views about the recent Quaker decision to allow same sex marriages to take place within the Meeting? Would you like to clarify your thoughts on this controversial decision?

I think this is to do with the term ‘marriage’. I have no problem whatsoever with same-sex unions and giving such unions adequate legal standing. As I understand it, marriage implies the union of man and woman and forms the basis of a family in which, in most circumstances, children are created as a result of that union. I cannot see why a same-sex union should be called a marriage. It is a valid relationship but, to my mind, different than the institution of marriage. By all means let a civil partnership be blessed but don’t confuse the situation by calling it a marriage.

I believe that while you were chained to a radiator in Beirut you listened to the BBC World Service and the broadcasts of the (then) religious affairs correspondent, Rosemary Hartill, who is now also a Quaker. Would you like to tell us something of what that connection meant to you at the time?

I spent almost five years chained to a radiator or to iron staples driven into the wall. Alas, I only received a radio during the last few months of captivity but when I did it was a lifeline. It was particularly good to hear the voice of Rosemary whom I had known when she was with the BBC and also to hear other old friends. I well remember the first ‘Thought for the Day’ type broadcast I heard. After having been alone for many years I was anxious for some spiritual comfort. One evening an Anglican clergyman came on and began to speak about the spiritual lessons one could gain from Winnie the Pooh! I had to laugh. ‘Well’, I thought, ‘at least the Church of England hasn’t changed in the past five years!’

Ros Smith


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A testimony to Love
Judy Kirby, Editor
Circles of silence
Gerard Benson
A view of Quakers
David Wood
Testimony to peace
Helen Steven
Middle East witness
Ann Wright
Peace for all
Stephen Hanvey
Living the testimonies
Helen Drewery
Harvey Gillman
Testimony to Equality
Jonathan Dale
Committed relationships
Phil Lucas
Quaker thought in literature
Marina Lewycka
Quaker thought in poetry
Gerard Benson
Ros Smith
Marian Liebmann
Equality and social justice
Belinda Hopkins
Testimony to Simplicity
Jan Arriens and Marion McNaughton
Laurie Michaelis
Testimony to Truth
Linda Pegler
Integrity in public life
Tony Stoller

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