Message from the Pastoral Care and Eldership Team (PaCET) for Sunday Meeting 25th September 2022
Dear Friends, As I write the mood of the country is undergoing a perceptible shift as life returns to a kind of new reality following the Queen’s funeral. For days … Message from the Pastoral Care and Eldership Team (PaCET) for Sunday Meeting 25th September 2022
As I write the mood of the country is undergoing a perceptible shift as life returns to a kind of new reality following the Queen’s funeral. For days normal news and normal life has been on hold but now a new reality has dawned as we adjust to Charles III, a new government, and dire global politics. The ceremonials were accompanied by a flicker of debate about whether monarchy is a good system, or not, but that debate was clouded partly because of the complexity of separating the roles from the personalities of those who hold them.
Quakers were founded at a time when a similar debate was raging, but more urgently and certainly more bloodily, than currently – in the form of a civil war. The struggle for power was also intertwined with religious ideas. Fox was born the year before Charles I came to the throne, so Fox was growing up as Charles became increasingly unpopular because of his high-handed approach to governing and to religious reform. George reached his teens at the time of the riot in St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh against the king’s religious pressure, which is said to have kicked off the ensuing conflagration. So awareness, at some level, of the turbulence will have been the backdrop to Fox’s spiritual crisis which led to his leaving home as a depressed, sensitive 19 year-old touring the country seeking someone who could help him in his desperate search for religious certainty and solace.
The resolution of Fox’s quest is crucial to the ethos of the Society of Friends, but also is a bit problematical for us. He writes that four years into his search When my hopes in [all the supposedly experienced people] were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said, “there is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition” and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. [QF&P 19.02]
I take this to mean that he should rely not on what others were teaching him, but rather on what he understood from Christ’s teaching and actions, testing his own impulses and responses truthfully against the standards of truth, love, humility and acceptance that he saw exemplified there. The intellectual problem we have with that today is our different understanding of the historicity of the Gospel stories and the extent to which the Jesus portrayed there is accurate or an idealisation, not to mention whether the first century thought forms speak to the present day. Fox would have found such concerns wide of the mark, because he, and his like-minded contemporaries found that when they turned inward and applied that criterion, they met an unmistakeable and compelling illumination. Thus when God doth work, who shall let [i.e. hinder] it? And this I knew experimentally. [final words of QF&P 19.02]. The Society has testified ever since that turning inward and honestly facing up to one’s highest ideals still leads to acceptance, a sense of purpose, the dissolution of fear, and a compulsion to act.
Fox’s quest was not ostensibly about the political struggle, but its resolution had a lot to do with how early Friends navigated it, leading them to distrust any display of ostentation or form of coercion, relying instead of soft power, such as Gandhi would have called truth-force and the Buddha might have characterised as non-attachment. As the country returns to business as sort-of normal, we appear set to need these.
Bob, on behalf of the Pastoral Care and Eldership Team (Bob Harwood, David Hitchin, Chris Lawson, Tim Pitt-Payne, Theresa Samms, Nancy Wall)