Chapter 9 of Quaker faith & practice is called ‘Beyond Britain Yearly Meeting’. I read this chapter through and I thought: I don’t have anything to say about this. I don’t have a personal connection to any of this work. I know people who have been to FWCC events, but I’ve never been to one myself. I know people who know about the work of QCEA, but have only a vague awareness myself. I know people who have visited other Yearly Meetings, but I’ve never done that myself. I know people who are involved in QCCIR, but I’ve never served there myself. I know people who are involved with ecumenical and interfaith work, but my involvements have always been minor and are now well in the past.
I nearly ignored the chapter. I don’t feel connected to it. But I do wonder whether it’s worth staying with this sense of disconnection for a little while, especially in the context of a chapter which is all about how we as Britain Yearly Meeting are connected to bodies and communities beyond ourselves.
When I was grasping for a personal connection, in the thoughts I outlined in the first paragraph of this post, I tried to think of my own actions – but as a second best, I thought of the people I know and the things they do. It isn’t the same, but it does give me a feeling of semi-connection. I might not have done this or that myself, but hearing a first-hand report from someone at least makes me aware of the possibility.
I happen to have that second-hand connection because, within BYM, I’m a generally well-connected Friend. My personal friends and family are involved in some of these things; I’m connected to several local meetings, which increases my chances of meeting someone who serves on any given committee; I attend committee meetings where I meet people who are also involved in these aspects of BYM’s work. I note that I wouldn’t get that from this chapter, which gives generalities and guidelines and gestures at the experiences, but doesn’t contain accounts of personal experiences.
I don’t want to generalise too far from my responses to this chapter. However, I have to imagine that many people feel this way – or even less connected – to much more of the book than I do. For me, this feeling of disconnection from the text was unusual enough to be notable. Ten years ago, before I came into membership, before I attended Yearly Meeting regularly, before I served on Sufferings and before I wrote a PhD about Quakerism and before I got a Quaker job, I think I would have felt like this about much more of it, perhaps even about all of the church government chapters. Could the text do more to make it easy to feel connected with these aspects of the Quaker community? Could we as that community make it easier to ‘come inside’ and discover all this stuff?