Paths to Meeting

27th October 2023

There are lots of paths that lead people to the doors of a Quaker Meeting. A few of us were brought to children's Meeting by parents or grandparents and have continued attending ever since. That used to be the normal route, but it is less and less common now. I was taken to Meeting like this, from babyhood, because my mother discovered Quakerism shortly before I was born. She stayed for the rest of her life, and I'm still actively involved (although I did stop attending for about a year in my teens, probably just to prove to myself that I had a choice!). These days, most newcomers are adults, though families are still warmly welcomed. Some Meetings offer children's classes and others are willing to start one up if children appear.

So what causes those adults to turn up and see if Quakerism suits them? Not only are there many paths to the Meeting House door, but some of the paths seem to open up at particular moments in people's lives. Often someone will come at a time of change, when they are adjusting to whatever life has thrown at them – maybe a divorce, or children leaving home, or retirement. Or maybe Covid and lockdown has triggered a re-think of what is important in life. Some come because they have a friend who's a Quaker, or they get involved in a Young Friend’s group as students, or they have bumped into Quakers in groups campaigning for peace, or climate justice, or refugee rights, or they found themselves in a Quaker Meeting House for some other event and picked up a few leaflets.

Quite a few Quakers, when they tell the story of how they arrived, talk about becoming disillusioned with the faith group they used to be involved with. Perhaps they began to feel that they were just going through the motions, that they were too much a passive part of the congregation, and wanted a faith where experience and action are more important than a set of beliefs or a fixed liturgy. Maybe the specific attitudes of the church or the minister (to gay couples, or to the full participation of women, for instance) made them feel excluded. Or they just longed for silence in worship.

You don't have to give up your previous church or faith to attend Quaker Meeting. I've known a couple who took turns, both going to worship together in his place one Sunday and in hers the next. There are Quakers who also regard themselves as Buddhists, and there are even “Quanglicans”!

These days of course, more and more people won't be coming from any kind of faith background, and may have no clear sense of 'believing in God'. Yet they may find something in the experience of a Quaker Meeting for Worship that keeps them coming back for more.

For some, the path to the Meeting House door will be short – their friend takes them one Sunday and they experience an immediate sense of 'coming home'. For others, the route will be long and winding. They may dip a toe in and then try other churches or faiths, before eventually gravitating back to Quakers. They may read books, watch videos online, and do online or in-person courses (see for a wide range of these). They may start to attend Meeting for Worship online (again, Woodbrooke offer these, throughout the week). Indeed, many these days seem to find what they are seeking in an online Quaker worshipping group. This is a new phenomenon, and we don't yet know whether online groups will prove to be satisfactory long-term. My personal hunch is that for most, the wish for a real-life spiritual community – with coffee and biscuits! - will eventually bring them to their local Quaker Meeting.

What might bring you?

Helen Drewery