A Cautionary Tale for British Quakers.
Fred, after being invited to his local football team’s supporters club, decides to join it, though he does not like football. He likes the company, the ambience of the clubroom, the social activities and the cheap fares to distant towns for away games. On such occasions he slips off to explore the town until it’s time to rejoin the coach. He tells no lies - no-one asks him if he sincerely supports the team.
After some months, noticing he is an able person, the club asks him to lead the membership committee. He organises many more activities - but none specifically to do with supporting the team. In time, more and more join the supporters club for the sake of its facilities, though many don’t support the team.
Another member realises the situation and asks Fred whether he feels dishonest, hypocritical. Fred points out that he’s never lied, he does a good job, and anyway they couldn’t find anyone better. The members are happy. No-one stops them supporting the team.
Eventually the football club's Directors realise they're getting no support from the so-called Supporters’ Club. What should they have done? They assumed that only people who supported the team would join the Supporters Club. But they did nothing to ensure this. They did nothing to increase newcomers’ enthusiasm, such as describing the club’s heroic history, or explaining the intricacies of soccer. They took no action while the club fell away from the purpose for which it was founded. Earlier members’ sacrifices, building up the club, were betrayed.
People who start to attend our meetings hear little of religion. God - or even The Inward Light - is seldom mentioned, Christ virtually never. They may be shown some literature, much of it written long ago, but no guidance as to what is and is not still relevant. Reasonably they conclude, based on the evidence of their eyes and ears, that this is not a religious society in anything but name. The Bible sits in the centre for no reason other than tradition. Meanwhile, attenders are encouraged to become members. Few Visitors structure the interview or their reports according to the advice in QF&P. Able new members soon find themselves in positions of authority - Overseers, Elders, Clerks.
The word 'religious' in our organisation's title does not merely mean spiritual, ethical, friendly, very nice, meditation, New Age. Religion is defined clearly and unamiguously (in the Concise Oxford Dictionary) as: "Human recognition of superhuman controlling power and esp. of a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship… particular system of faith and worship,…". There’s not much room for fudging there!
But is our Society religious in anything but title? Let’s turn to our official handbook, "Quaker Faith and Practice". Its most relevant section, "Advices and Queries" commences "As Friends we commit ourselves to a way of worship which allows God to teach and transform us." The first Advice includes "Trust them [love and truth] as the leadings of God …". Is it possible to dismiss these words as ambiguous , or as irrelevant? The entire membership had a say in updating this book, subtitled "Book of Christian Discipline", as recently as 1994.
I ask again: Should the club have accepted Fred? Should they have appointed him to a critical position? Did they have the right to let the Supporters’ Club cease to be a supporters’ club?
Stephen Petter, 29/12/06 (Revised, first published in the December Newsletter of Bristol & Frenchay Monthly Meeting.)