Meeting for Worship for Learning is a very powerful tool. As Quakers – in fact, I suspect, as liberal inhabitants of the modern West – we value our freedom of thought; and as a community, so many of us have been damaged one way or another by the teachings of other denominations or religions that we can be quite suspicious of Teaching. We like our questions and don’t want to be told what answers we should accept.
That’s all fair enough, but it would be a shame if our sometimes justified suspicion of Teachers led us to ignore what answers we have – both from those other members of our community who have something worth hearing and what we ourselves might have to share.
One way to facilitate this kind of sharing is Meeting for Worship for Learning, which can take many forms. Recently, I completed a cycle of a programme called Hearts and Minds Prepared – a group of about eight from my local meet met for twelve sessions, to consider a whole range of Quaker topics, including our history, our testimonies, our methods, and our spiritual journeys. I’d been wanting to do Hearts and Minds Prepared since it came out, and kept missing opportunities, so this was a long-awaited treat; and although sometimes difficult and sometimes moving, it was just as good as I’d hoped.
To me, the key aspects of this kind of work are listening to one another, facilitation rather than lecturing (that is to say, one might as the organiser of the session have certain material to put in or specific activities to suggest, but you are flexible, listening to the group as you ask the group to listen to one another), and not too much structure. Like a semi-programmed Meeting for Worship, it needs to have enough space and silence to develop along whatever path opens up. Sometimes I try and put these principles into practice with non-Quaker groups; the Brownies take to it relatively well, but undergraduates are sometimes nonplussed!
I was considering writing about Woodbrooke here, but I see that Stephanie got there first!
You may have picked up by now that I’m a pretty studious person, someone who enjoys learning, and so it’s no surprise that many of my outstanding Quaker moments involve Meetings for Worship for Learning of one kind or another: Quaker Quest, private study and discussion groups, Hearts and Minds Prepared, all sorts of things at Woodbrooke, weekends away with the Monthly/Area Meeting or my local meeting, Bible Study… the list goes on, and I plan to keep it growing.