Reading Qf&p 16 & 22: uses of the Big Red Book

Chapter 16, on Quaker marriage procedure, and Chapter 22, on Close relationships, are classic examples of a divide often – although perhaps not always usefully – drawn between parts of Quaker faith & practice. 16 is Church government. It tells you what to do. It has legal implications and it lays on meetings and individuals certain duties. 22 is inspiration or anthology. It’s extracts from people’s writing, some written specifically for this book. It’s personal. It doesn’t tell you what to do.

A friend of mine asked in a discussion what chapter 22 is used for. Who would read it? When? I can think of three situations in which I use chapter 22 and others like it, and I’d like to describe them here.

What do Quakers say about…? If I’m teaching about Quakers, or am asked by an enquirer or new attender, I might generalise in my own words, but I also turn to the book of discipline to give me quotations which support my points and sometimes to remind me of the diversity and direction of what is said. It usually turns out to be an application of a broader Quaker principle, but the extracts allow me to give examples of how this works.

Inspire us about… This is an internal Quaker use, but often similar to be previous one. We are holding a discussion about a specific topic, and I look in the book of discipline for an extract to read aloud at the beginning, or a few extracts to illustrate diversity or different approaches. I haven’t done this, but I think I might take this approach among others if asked to prepare ministry for something.

Help me. I have turned to Chapter 22, among others, when struggling with a problem in life. It can help me to be reminded that other people also face these difficulties – although it doesn’t always work, not least because some of my struggles are not reflected there. (For example: the job market has changed since 1994. So have attitudes to gender and sexuality.) It has sometimes helped me to think differently about a situation; I often need to be reminded to be patient with, and act lovingly towards, people in my Meeting (especially when they give me out-of-date or patronising job search advice, which happens a lot at the moment!). I can’t stand reading self-help books – they have so many tasks to do and good ideas that I get overwhelmed and feel even more inadequate than I did before, so a little bit of advice or someone’s personal story is much more accessible to me.

To be honest, I can remember trying to use Chapter 22 in Meeting for Worship in this way, and I think sometimes I did find the words useful, and sometimes I was simply settled by holding a book, looking at someone else’s words, and thereby starting to move away from an intense focus on a particular problem.

How do you use Chapter 22 and other ‘inspirational’ sections?

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