The response to my survey about ‘afterwords’ has already been incredible. The survey is still open (part 1 asks about all the Quaker meetings you have attended including ones which don’t use afterwords, and part 2 asks for details about a meeting who use afterword or something similar), and will stay open until I go to Woodbrooke in mid-July. I will then be analysing the results and exploring some examples in detail – many thanks to everyone who has offered their telephone number for this purpose!
At the moment, I’ve got at least some indication about the use or non-use of afterwords in more than 200 meetings worldwide. Some, of course, have more than one report, and these sometimes conflict – usually I think this is because people were there at different times and the practice has changed. Some people might have misremembered, though! A few interesting things have already emerged.
One is that some people are very puzzled about ‘afterwords’ or have very strong feelings for or against. Although this is skewed at the moment because people who seek me out to give their opinions are more likely to have strong feelings, I do get a clear picture that for some people this is a make-or-break issue, one which they would leave a meeting, or even Quakers entirely, over. Is afterwords like Marmite – love it or hate it? I’ll be actively looking for people who could go either way or feel neutral about it to see whether this is true, or just a first impression. If that describes you, I’d be very glad to have your survey response.
Some different names have been suggested. I already had ‘afterwords’, ‘afterthoughts’, ‘bridging time’ and ‘not quite ministry’, but it can also be called ‘reflections’, ‘the bridge’, ‘sharing time’, ‘joys and concerns’, or not given a name at all. A number of people report meetings where it’s simply introduced with a stock phrase and not named as such at all. This diversity in naming may reflect a diversity in practice – that’s something I’m hoping to check as I dig deeper into my results – and also makes it more difficult to talk about the practice. That could also be one reason why it isn’t much discussed in Quaker publications. Again, if your meeting uses a different name, please do add this to my survey responses!
Finally, although people are often not sure when ‘afterwords’ or something similar began in a meeting, most of the confident reports I have suggest it appeared in Britain Yearly Meeting in the 1990s or early 2000s. Reports from before that, from the mid-1980s, are all clustered in the USA at the moment, although I’ve also seen a suggestion that it was brought from South Africa. If you remember it being used in the UK before 1990, your survey response would be even more valuable!