Experiences relevant to Quaker service and practice. Updated August, 2013.
Stephen Petter, b 1937. Member of RSoF since c. 1975
Early in my life I was sent to Sunday School (in Canada). Back in England, my father but called himself an atheist, but we suspected it was to RC Mass he disappeared very early on Sunday mornings. He had been brought up as a High Church Anglican. My mother occasionally went to the local church. At my Grammar School we had a good though severe RI teacher, Mr Cox, who likened non-Jews to "the dust of the pan". In my teens I read about 'the mystical experience' and have longed to experience it. I attended various Christian churches. My favourite was the Baptists, for their emotional singing, their exciting total immersion baptisms, and their good-looking girls. After church we would get into a delicious, sensuous huddle and sing The Lord's Prayer, Mario Lanza style. But each denomination disappointed or troubled me. I called myself an agnostic, but continued to be interested in religion and spirituality. Around 1960, when in Hawaii with the RAF, I was attracted to the Buddhist Temple, and read their booklets avidly. Later in Britain I had dealings with Nichiren Shoshu, the Buddhist Peace Activists, and a close friend was a member of the lay branch of this Order, now called Sotto Goki International (SGI). Around 1970 I took the Transcendental Meditation course, and did TM for many years. I reckoned I would not have got through an OU course without its invigorating help. But my only experience of Quakerism was when our foster-son was sent to the Quaker school at Sibford Gower.
I had another urge to join a religious group in the late 1960s or early 70s. My son was in the Coventry Cathedral choir and I loved listening to them practising. But I found the services too much 'the Tory Party at prayer'.
Around 1971 I attended an archaeological lecture at Coventry Friends Meeting House, and so discovered Quakerism. I immediately felt at home. I soon became very active in the organisational structure and an avid attender of conferences and retreats, short courses and discussion groups. I have attended many courses at Woodbrooke including one of three months, and also courses in Powell House which is New York YM's equivalent. I have read a good few Q books but would not say I am deeply steeped in them. I have read other spiritual books, particularly valuing "The Perennial Philosophy". I have led or facilitated discussion Quaker groups. I have given talks on Quakerism and relating it to other religious and mystical practices. I have had significant conversations with John Punshon, Rex Ambler, Tim Peat, Peter Eccles, and Janet Scott. Thus I consider I am quite familiar with British Quakers' underlying philosophy.
I have worked at or held office at all levels within Quakers: FWCC; Europe and Middle East Section of FWCC; Meeting for Sufferings and two other central committees; YM Nominations Committee, YM Nominating Group, London & Middlesex General Meeting, Monthly Meetings. At local meeting level in BYM I have served at least once as: Overseer, Elder, clerk of Premises Committee of a busy Meeting, Assist Clerk of MM, twice a member of General Committee which is my MM's finance and property committee and trustees of its several charities. Currently (2013) I am its clerk, earlier I was clerk to its Finance Committee. I have served on many Quaker committees, working groups etc. I was on 'Ministry and Counsel Committee' of a MM in Southeastern YM in the USA, and later its clerk. I attended 8 annual meetings of EMES, on most of which I was one of the Exec Committee. During that time I set up the system for the recruitment of the governing committee of Friends School, Brammanah, Lebanon. I have attended one World Conference (in Honduras) and two FWCC Triennial Conferences (New Mexico and Birmingham, UK). I have attended almost every Britain YM since I joined, and also other YMs about four times. I have been active in Quaker Homeless Action and Alternatives to Violence Project. I have taken an active part in BYM debates such as 'RECAST' and its several predecessors. I was Assistant Clerk to Sidcot School General Meeting. I was on two Monthly Meeting working groups, in both of which I play a very active part. One was the charitable status working group where inter alia I drafted the terms of reference of the future trustees. I have served on a Warden recruitment panel, whose selection has proved very satisfactory. On three occasions (two issues, CCBI and Kosovo) my spoken ministry at Yearly Meeting has been said to have been very helpful. I was convenor of Quaker South Asia Interest Group.
I have been a 'spiritual traveller' visiting and praying and meditating in many faiths' temples, etc. in several countries especially India - where I have spent weeks in several ashrams. I have attended many different Quaker Meetings for worship in Britain and abroad, including Evangelical Friends Churches. I occasionally attend services of other Christian denominations. I gave a talk to the Alister Hardy Society on Quaker MfW as a form of mysticism.
I would like to be able to devote more time to seeking nearness to God and to sharing my religion and spirituality.
I have been active during the past two years or so campaigning - mainly through my AM newsletter and in letters to The Friend, but also by speaking in YM - against the rise of evangelical non-theism. I hold dear to and seek support in trusting the beliefs implicit in the first paragraph of Advices and Queries and in Advice 1. (Sections 1.01 and 1.02) In 2009 (?) I entered the essay competition organised by Friends Quarterly with a piece titled One-oh-One. It is still on the Friends Quarterly website.
In most of my working life I designed and implemented systems involving people, in departments such as Organisation and Methods, Systems and Data Processing, and Employee Communications and Participation. I was a leading member of a team which introduced fundamental changes into the motor industry, leading to success in reducing strikes. I was given probably the best Training Officer training there was, and became Management Training Manager in a major company. I have presented and designed management courses, also other communications such as launching a Company newspaper and specifying industrial relations films.
In the 1970s as a mature student I obtained a degree with the Open University, taking a range of courses centring on Socio-technical Systems which included Organisation, Psychology, and Sociology. The latter included some comparative religion. I also obtained a Certificate in Industrial Administration which was part 1 of a Diploma in Management Studies. It included statistics, accountancy, and law. Later I took a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (Further Education).
I have always been active in various voluntary organisations, usually as secretary but also as Chair, Clerk, or Treasurer, and as a delegate or representative. These include: a social club, a street pressure group, Labour Party, Trades Union, Trades Council, Green Party, Arts Club, Students Union. I have attended and spoken at large national conferences. I incorporated Quaker Homeless Action and was its Company Secretary for several years. I am or was recently Company Secretary of two Registered Charities (AVP Britain and Friends of Sangam Foundation) which are also Limited Companies, and I recently resigned as Clerk to Governors of two schools. I recently registered a new charity. I was active as a school governor.
I have founded or 'incorporated' several organisations, converting associations into Limited Companies and Registered Charities. With one of them I was able to get Companies House and the Charity Commission to accept Quaker organisation i.e. no voting, Quaker Decision Making process, no proxies, clerk rather than Chairman, etc. I have drafted initial constitutions several times. Thus I consider I know a bit about systems and organisations.
I am a member of the Alister Hardy Society which is closely allied to the Religious Experience Research Unit, and of the Bede Griffiths Sangha. I was for some years a local organiser for Christian Aid. I have been an active member of the Labour Party, and since c 1987 the Green Party, for whom I have stood as a candidate in two General elections and many local elections. I have been successful as the campaign manager for the Green Party, getting two members elected where it was considered unlikely. I am a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and also the Bristol Cycling Campaign. I represented Friends of the Earth as a co-opted member of one of the Scrutiny Commissions of Bristol City Council, and served on two transport related working parties there. I was founder and leader of a successful local pressure group.
Thus I consider that my education and experience make me potentially useful to the Society of Friends, which, next to my extended family (which includes four Quakers), is the most important part of my life.
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