Where are we going?

Some thoughts on British Quakers' proposals for organisational change, and the effect of becoming Registered Charities.


In the discussions on RECAST and on Trusteeship, I am concerned that we are being led to a place without having had the opportunity to agree that thatís where we want to go.

When I was on Sufferings it was mistakenly thought that I opposed the centralisation that was taking place. But what I objected to was that we had never been asked whether that was what we wanted.

Now I have a feeling that we are being led into a national and Monthly Meeting structure that may be preferable to that which has served us well for 350 years, but about which we have not been informed, let alone asked.

When the RECAST proposals came out I was all for them. But there was one feature I thought very odd. That was the proposal that the role of the Monthly or Area Meeting in future should be largely inspirational. Like others I regarded this as impractical. Monthly Meetings have far too much unavoidable business.

Recently I was appointed on to my Monthly Meeting Trustee body, and we have been reviewing its role and that of its individual members. I became troubled by the fact that it seemed to be exceeding the authority it is given by its Terms of Reference. These say it is to deal with property and finance. But it involves itself with staff employment, Health and Safety, Childrenís protection, and goodness knows what else. I was pondering whether this was or was not a good thing, whatever the current terms of reference, when the penny dropped.

It occurred to me that those who are leading us have worked out that under the system they envisage the reason that Area Meetings will have time to become mainly inspirational is because most of their functions will be taken over by their Trustees. Then I realised that the same model was being envisaged nationally. Meeting for Sufferings, renamed Representative Meeting, would deal only with generalities, trying to set broad aims, but with tenuous control on whether they were implemented, while the organisation would be controlled by the small committee of Managing Trustees.

I think we need to consider two questions. First, is this model a good one? I can see it has many merits, not least that currently Monthly Meetings are run by largely self-appointed Friends, some of whom attend more out of obligation that for interest or because they are thought to have suitable expertise.

Secondly, and more importantly for me, is the question - is it right that these structures are being quietly imposed upon us? Should we not openly discuss and agree where we want to go before being led to discuss details of the short stretch of the road ahead?

There is of course a third question. To what extent will coming under the control of the Charity Commission inhibit our freedom to act as led by the Spirit? Is there any advantage other than tax avoidance? Are we aware of the kind of attitudes that prevail amongst Trustees, dominated by their legal and stewardship responsibilities, as opposed to the discernment of a larger, Spirit-centred meeting?

Stephen Petter, 20/2/06

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