"MOULDED BY FRIENDS"
My hope is that by tracing the influence that being a member of The Religious Society of Friends has had on my life it may help to identify some pointers for the future. I like to feel that it has been a good influence, but as well as positives there have been negatives, and I will touch on those too. I have to confess that in putting my thoughts together for this evening I have been thoroughly self-indulgent. Please forgive me for this. I have greatly enjoyed casting my mind back over the years trying to identify the influences about which I will speak, and to assess their significance in my life.
Underlying all that I am going to say is my certainty that God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit exist, though this unseen and mystical presence can be, and often is, described in other ways and other words. The opening verse of the Epistle to the Hebrews Chapter 11, Weymouth translation, is "Now faith is a confident assurance of that for which we hope, a conviction of the reality of things which we do not see".
You will probably say to yourself many times as I am speaking "there is nothing exclusive to Quakers in that". Certainly much of what follows could have happened whatever denomination I belonged to, but some I feel is unique to Quakers.
My title "Moulded by Friends" has caused some hilarity – mould grows on damp old things.
An alternative was "The constant drip of Quakerism in my life", but that’s also open to misinterpretation.
To provide a framework, I’ll give you a potted history of my life. Then I’ll talk about my experience of the moulding process. Finally I’ll indicate what in my opinion would ideally be the most valuable results of these influences.
I was born in 1931 in Tramore, Co. Waterford. My parents were both Friends, and so were all my grandparents. My mother was Kathleen Roberts, and I can trace my ancestries, both Jacob and Roberts, right back to the 1650s, Quakers all the way. My mother died when my brother Weston was 5 and I was 3. Happily two years later my father married Stella and from then on she was my mother.
I had a very happy boyhood, went to Newtown School, left at 15, and stayed in Tramore until I was 18. I then went to London to learn my trade, moved to Dublin when 19, fell in love with and married Brigid when I was 25 in 1956, & have lived in Dublin ever since. In 1988, after working for 41 years, I gave up my office job. Note, I don’t say "retired" – I just changed my occupation. I’ve been busier than ever since then!
The first, most significant and most enduring Quaker influence in my life was undoubtedly my father, Charles Jacob. The 100th anniversary of his birth was just a few days ago. He lived to be 94. In the family, in business and in the community he put into practice the advices and counsel of integrity, fair-mindedness, recognising that of God in every person irrespective of religion or any other circumstance, and he was always willing to take responsibility.
True to his own Quaker upbringing he was ecumenical long before it became fashionable, and it never made any difference to him whether a person was Catholic or Protestant. This attitude certainly rubbed off on me too. Of course in the 30s and 40s there were virtually no religions other than Christians in Ireland.
I want to read two extracts from "Christian Faith & Practice in the Experience of the Society of Friends" which is a Britain Y M publication last printed 15 years ago. A revised edition has been published more recently. A broadly similar Irish publication is in the last stages of production, and is expected to be published next year.
William Penn, in 1693, wrote "the humble, meek, merciful, just, pious and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers. This world is a form; our bodies are forms; and no visible acts of devotion can be without forms. But yet the less the form in religion the better, since God is a spirit"
And in 1952 the World Conference of Friends in Oxford, which I was privileged to attend as a twenty-one-year-old, included in its closing declaration the following: The Quaker faith is Christian. This involves a belief that all people everywhere are within the family of God who is our Father. God has been apprehended in other religions and we feel in fellowship with all who truly seek him…. We are all children of God in that his care for man includes all. Only potentially are we sons of God. The sons of God are those who are led by the Spirit, who do the will of God. All those who do the will of the Father are brethren of Jesus in the Spirit".
Part of the 5th Query reads "Do you seek to discern how much of your time, talents and resources you should devote to the service of others?" While my father did not seek the positions, he was willing to give his spare time to many activities in the community, including being honorary secretary, and then president, of the Waterford Chamber of Commerce, and he was one of the original Tramore Town Commissioners. I will return to this theme later.
Of course in the Society of Friends he was active in many roles. This had an influence on me, and made it natural for me to follow his example. He always took his responsibilities seriously, as illustrated by the following incident. I had just left school and was working in his office. He was Clerk of Yearly Meeting, and he sent me to E P Deevy’s men’s outfitters shop on the Quay to buy him half a dozen new white collars to wear at YM. This was one way in which he could show respect for an occasion on which Friends would be seeking to carry through their deliberations in the presence of God.
[Note:- for significance of sections in bold type or in brackets see last page]
At that time Waterford Friends ran a boarding house, the Tuskar Lodging House, a shelter for destitute and homeless men. One of my jobs was to bring her wages each week to the lady who ran the Tuskar, and collect from her the weekly takings. For many years before that Quakers in Waterford also provided cheap meals for people of slender means, in the Munster Dining Rooms. (Waterford Working Men’s Penny Bank). This Quaker tradition of service to the community certainly influenced me, albeit unconsciously.
Part of the tenth query reads "Do you make opportunities for all, especially young people, to understand the basis of Quaker experience and witness?" In other words do you help people to learn about it and from it, and try to pass this on to others? My father did that for me. You may say to yourself "ah, yes, but what is the basis of Quaker experience and witness"? I hope that by the time I have finished my address you will feel I have given you my answer to that question.
My father made a pretty good job of living out the words of Isaac Penington, in 1667, "Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying for one another, and helping one another up with a tender hand".
I also know that Stella’s huge warmth, generosity and welcoming approach was greatly valued by everyone with whom she came in contact, but as I had really left Waterford by 1949 this was not a particularly strong influence on me.
My grandparents, Edwin & Jessie Jacob, lived a hundred yards up the road from us in Tramore, and as children Weston and I spent a lot of time in their house and garden. Edwin was a "sound man", intelligent, methodical, reliable, kind, and unassuming, and Jessie was imaginative, generous, greatly valuing the Bible and always standing up for the underdog. They were a quintessential Quaker couple, and influenced me a lot. Thanks to my grandmother I read the scriptures a lot in my teens. The edition of the Bible, with a concordance, that she gave me half a century ago is still my favourite. Grandparents have their uses.
Until his dying day my father happily recalled when he was a young man overhearing one of Waterford’s leading solicitors saying "There’s only one person in Waterford I would entrust with looking after my affairs and family if anything happened to me, and that is Edwin Jacob". Trustworthiness. Integrity. We like to think of these as part of the Quaker interpretation of our faith, though of course they are to be found in all other denominations and religions as well. My father was very proud that his father had also been Clerk of Yearly Meeting. I have often wondered if pride is a sin, but I do remember one Yearly Meeting many years ago when I posed that question I was told that it all depends on what you are proud about, and the nature of your pride. I gathered that it can be allowed in certain circumstances!
Between 1937 and 1949 first my grandparents and then my parents took a total of 8 evacuees/refugees into their homes for varying periods. This was an example to me that I have never forgotten, though have not lived up to. The first couple, Fritz and Mirza Marckwald, had to leave Germany about 1937 because of their Jewish connections. After a year or two in Ireland they managed to make a modest living for themselves in Galway, until Fritz was taken on as financial controller of Waterford Glass when it started up just after the war.
A year or two later Stefan Feric, a young Austrian with Jewish connections, arrived to stay with us. Tradition has it that he swam the Danube to escape from the Nazis. Certainly he was a strong swimmer, and I owe my life to him as he saved me from drowning once when I got into difficulties bathing off Tramore strand. In due course he finished his college degree, in Dublin, got a job here, married, and only died quite recently.
Although plenty of folk who were not Quakers helped by taking refugees into their homes at that time, Friends had a tradition of doing so, and I am sure our family was influenced by it.
In 1940 the four children of Tommy Maguire (who lived in London and with whom my father had business connections) arrived to stay with our own family in Tramore, as there was a real fear of bombing in London. Three were with us for 18 months, and one stayed for longer. This was a wonderful period for Weston and me – we loved the extra company, it did us a power of good, and we have stayed in touch with each other ever since.
After the war Marianne Fischer came over from Berlin to stay with us for a year or two. She was one of three teenage daughters of a German couple who were in Ireland working on the construction of the Shannon hydroelectric scheme in 1928 and got to know my parents. Twenty years later, in 1948, there was little or no food in Berlin, so Marianne came over here where there were plenty of good Irish potatoes, bacon and cabbage, bread, milk, butter and lots more. Again, this turned out to be a real bonus for our family, and we still see Marianne from time to time.
Our family were regular attenders of Meeting for Worship in Tramore. Although there was no Sunday School and it was a small Meeting, the regular Bible readings by William E Jacob, the regular reciting of the words of her favourite hymns by Edith Jacob, and the occasional ministry by others were part of my upbringing for which I am grateful.
(Then there were reminiscences about Tramore Meeting and Tramore Friends. Edwin Jacob always coming into Meeting wearing his hat, and then putting it on the bench beside him. Mabel Jacob – who was evangelical – holding gospel meetings on Sunday afternoons. My aunt Dorothy – later Dorothy Clay – being rather cross with me as a small boy for dropping a marble which rolled right across the floor in the middle of Meeting. And the surprising number of Friends from the very small Tramore Meeting that later became well known in Ireland Yearly Meeting – Robert Jacob, Anna Jacob who married Maurice Wigham, Robina Bell (now Chapman), William Bell, Jim & Veronica Sexton, Joy Chapman (now Simpson). And the benefits of having a Meeting House so much part of one’s life that it was natural to use its basement for storing a sand-yacht built by three of the young adult Friends, and its garden for growing potatoes during the last war).
I went to Newtown School when I was 8, at first as a day scholar and then as a boarder. John Brigham was Head and the Quaker influence was very noticeable. All the staff understood the aims of Friends even if they weren’t Quakers themselves, and we absorbed a lot from them without realising it at the time. It was a small school, only 90 pupils. My time there was happy and fulfilling.
(Memories of Arnold Marsh who, with the approval of Friends and by using his own energy and resources saved Newtown from sinking into oblivion in the 1920s and 1930s, who left in 1939 when I first became a pupil. And of John Brigham, an English Friend who became Head before he was thirty, and was a very good influence on us students. And Eileen Webster, another Friend, who influenced generations of pupils, and is now in a nursing home in her nineties. And Lester Smith, who though agnostic, was very much in tune with the ethos of the school. And Quarterly Meeting, a three day event in those days, held in Waterford once a year, which any Quaker in the school was allowed attend on the Monday Morning, and to stay on for the excellent lunch. It was a real bonus being a Quaker!)
Although I attended Meeting for worship regularly in Waterford, somehow it did not have the same influence on me as Tramore Meeting, though Waterford Friends, and particularly Norman Baker, were good to us
Junior Yearly Meeting was started about this time, though I have to confess that I didn’t get much out of attending Ireland JYM or even a residential London Junior Yearly Meeting at West Linton in Scotland. I must have been an insufferable prig, as I had left school by then and felt JYM was a bit too juvenile for me. We often underestimate how mature young people can be. However, assisting Rosalind Hanaghan (now Ros Matthews) to compose the Ireland Junior Yearly Meeting epistle to be sent to other Junior Yearly Meetings round the world probably helped form my picture of the world family of Friends that has meant so much to me in later years
One of the defining moments in my Quaker journey through life was in my late teens when I was still living in Tramore and attended a Young Friends Committee in Dublin for the first time. John Goodbody and Joe Haughton were the star members of the committee. They conducted an effective and productive meeting with good natured banter and humour, and got through the business with lots of laughs thrown in. It was an eye-opener for me, and there and then I decided that if that was typical of Young Friends, I wanted to be a Young Friend.
Aged 18, I went to London for 7 months to get some business experience, and saw a bit of English Young Friends, but was little influenced by them.
In 1950 I moved to Dublin and for the first year I was in digs with Dr Joe Wigham and his daughter Barbara (now Barbara Davidson of Waterford Meeting) who of course were Friends. I went to work in Goodbody & Webb, a Quaker firm of Stockbrokers. I already knew a number of Friends in Dublin, and undoubtedly I benefited from being part of the wider Quaker family. Churchtown Meeting was welcoming, I liked the ministry of William Wigham, Isaac Swain and others, and I went regularly. A number of Friends will remember William Wigham in particular speaking in Meeting. He was a tiny man, five foot nothing, with a big bushy beard and a fine strong voice. He would stand up, jut his beard out, and his first words would explode on the Meeting. Immediately he would have everyone’s attention, and his message was always worth listening to. Just like one of the Prophets.
Various Quaker families made me welcome in their homes. Harold & Doris Johnson were particularly generous and hospitable, and their house, The Barn, became like home from home to me. Harold had joined Friends as a young man, and came to epitomise for me and for many of my generation what a Quaker should be. Apart from my father, Harold had more influence in my life both as a Quaker and as a person than any other. He encouraged and facilitated Young Friends’ activities such as riding trials motor bikes, and climbing in Dalkey Quarry, and he provided a mini-bus for group visits to Edenderry Meeting and other outings at week-ends, and to the continent in the summer holidays. He was the mainspring behind the annual early summer Glenmalure Conference which was an invaluable residential weekend at which Young Friends discussed the Bible, Quakerism and other matters, and it had an energetic outdoor element as well. I can still feel the chill of our before-breakfast dip in the Avonbeg River (very refreshing) and the satisfaction of making it to the top of Lugnaquillia later in the day (very exhausting). And Harold’s simple but profound exposition of passages from the Bible remain in my mind after half a century.
After one of these weekends I was typing up the Queries at lunch-time at my place of work (life was leisurely in those days), and one of the secretaries asked what I was doing, so I showed her the Queries. She thought they were exceedingly helpful and took a copy for herself. They are a good thing to give to anyone enquiring about the Society of Friends.
Susan Bewley, Doris Johnson’s mother, known to all as "Granny Bewley", was also a key influence cementing me into the Quaker way of life. I was one of many that were often invited to Sunday dinner at Rostrevor Road, where not only was there a special warmth in the welcome, but also a variety of interesting people to meet.
The Dublin Young Friends Group was active during this period, with weekly meetings in autumn, winter and spring, visits backwards and forwards with Northern Young Friends, producing one act plays, giving an annual Christmas party for the children of poor families living near Eustace St., etc.
Irish Young Friends as a whole quite often had week-ends together, and had conferences cum work parties at Newtown and Lisburn.
(Climbing the Mountains of Mourne was one of the highlights – the view from the top is magnificent. Another highlight was spending the week-end with the Poole family in Cahir, Co. Tipperary, and climbing to the top of Galtymore – equally fine views. David Poole and I both have copies of a photograph taken on the top, which includes Gavin Pitt, and Roger Kyle who died so tragically not long afterwards in a fall on Cave Hill, Belfast).
I remember one weekend in Portadown. We had booked Saturday lunch in a restaurant for fifteen but only eight turned up. The restaurant insisted we pay for all fifteen, so Brian Pim said to us "early Quakers would have gone out into the streets and brought in the destitute and homeless to share our lunch", so we did just that. The restaurant couldn’t believe it!
This period in the 1950s was a vintage time for Young Friends, we got to know each other well, enjoyed each other’s company and formed friendships which have lasted ever since. One such friendship was very special for me and blossomed into marriage – Brigid and I have been sharing our lives now for 47 years.
We all went to Meeting for Worship quite regularly, because we wanted to, and although we went to different Meetings, it was a valuable part of our Quaker life.
Although I did all sorts of other things as well (including sailing and singing), the Quaker element was a constant backdrop, and influenced me profoundly. When talking with non-Friends I have always enjoyed dropping the fact that I am a Quaker into the conversation if appropriate. I remember the gales of laughter at the sailing club when I said I couldn’t go sailing the following Wednesday evening because it was Monthly Meeting "which takes place on the first fourth day after the second first day of every month". This led to all sorts of interested questioning about Friends.
Attendance as a Representative to the Friends World Conference in Oxford in 1952 when I was 21 was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the world family of Friends, and how a religious denomination can accommodate such diverse interpretations of the same truth – and variations of the language used to speak about our relationships with God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit – and of our method of worship. Certainly it was one of the incremental steps in the influence of Friends in my life.
A year later participation in a seven week "intervisitation" programme in the USA involving Young Friends from both Europe and North America was an unforgettable experience, and had a major and enduring influence on me. We were all enthusiastic, energetic young people with high ideals. We stayed with Quaker families wherever we went, we worshipped together, discussed everything under the sun, went to that American institution "Summer Camp" together, attended various Yearly Meetings, and ended up at an American Young Friends Conference in Guilford, North Carolina. My knowledge and understanding of the large number of Friends outside Europe who have pastors, whose worship is programmed with sermons and hymns, and who are often at the evangelical end of the spectrum was greatly enlarged. We made firm friendships, many of which were as still good as new when we participated in a "Former Young Friends Reunion" in 1997 in Richmond Indiana, nearly half a century later. My spiritu al reservoir was filled to overflowing that summer of 1953 and I have been drawing from it ever since.
Not surprisingly, I have been watching with interest the preliminary arrangements that are now being made by Young Friends for the their next World Conference to be held in England in 2005.
When we got married, Brigid and I moved to Monkstown Meeting which has been a constant influence in our lives. It has had periods when much of the speaking had little spiritual content, but nowadays we frequently have really inspired ministry. In addition to worship, participation in looking after the other affairs of the Meeting is an important part of Friends way of doing things, and I will return to this later.
For the next thirty years life was busy, with work, family, music, boats, caravans, holidays in Connemara, hill walking, the garden, travel, art, photography, education, making things, and so on, but my thoughts and actions in the home, in business, in sport and other activities were undoubtedly influenced by Quaker teaching.
During this time there were fallow periods in my Quaker involvement, but this may be no bad thing. In one way it is analogous to the hour of quiet worship on a Sunday providing a haven of peace to refresh our spirit for the week ahead. In any case, it is good to re-discover Quakerism every now and then. (I find a very good way of doing this is to pick up and browse in "Christian Faith & Practice").
In this period there were a number of Quakers who had a significant influence on me.
Jack Freeman was one of the partners in the business that I joined. He had a great influence on me. The hallmark of his business life was absolute integrity. He was a successful businessman, much respected and consulted. He had a strong Quaker background which undoubtedly had influenced him, and when business was slack – as it was in the 50s – he regaled some of us over afternoon tea with stories of his Quaker forebears and their friends. He was generous to the Society of Friends, but I never once knew him go to Meeting for Worship. He was always doing kind things for people for nothing. He used to say "That’s a bit of what I call God-reward-you work – God’s the only person who will reward you for it!"
Basil Jacob, my father’s first cousin, who let me share his flat for a year or so, was an active Quaker all his life. I got to know him well, and he certainly was one of the Friends who influenced me. He spent most of his time doing kind acts for others, never looking for thanks, and no-one knew the half of what he did. His integrity was absolute. (He was also a keen sailing man, so he must have been a good chap!) He gave me this piece of sound advice. If there is something that has made you cross, and you want to tell someone off about it, write your letter to them, and put it on the mantelpiece overnight, ready to post the following morning. Invariably, in the morning you realise it would be a mistake to mail it, and you tear it up instead. Thus you have got it off your chest, and have also avoided being unkind to someone.
Victor Bewley was a very special person, and his interpretation of Quakerism, and the way he lived it, had an influence on me, just as it had on many others. His compassion for others, his support for those he felt were not getting a fair deal, his Herculean efforts to change people’s attitudes when he felt those attitudes were wrong, (but never in an unkind way) – and much else besides. In one practical way he influenced my thinking about Quaker business meetings. When I was Clerk of Monthly Meeting he regularly made a point of suggesting to me ways of getting important matters of real interest onto the agenda of Monthly Meeting each month, with the result that we had excellent attendances. (But I have to confess that the best attended Monthly Meeting when I was Clerk, with over 80 present, was a few days after a Quaker who did unQuakerly things, Richard Nixon, visited the Quaker Burial Ground at Timahoe in Offaly, and was greeted there by some members of Dublin Monthly Meeting.)
When I left my office job in 1988 at the age of 56 I still had plenty of energy, some of which I used on Quaker affairs. I was one of the organisers of the Quaker Tapestry Exhibition in 1992. This experience was influential in that it made me realise, somewhat to my embarrassment, what great goodwill there is towards Quakers in Ireland, and encouraged me to think more positively about the role our small group of people could play in the life of Ireland.
It is interesting that just recently the pioneering role played in Irish affairs in the first half of the 1900s by Rosamond Jacob and Lucy O Kingston (mother of Daisy Swanton of Cork and Elsa Peile of Richhill) is beginning to be appreciated more widely. I am sure their Quaker background was a strong influence in their thinking and their actions.
So far, I have spoken mainly about the influence that specific Quaker people and events in my life have had on me, and I will now address other factors that added to the process.
Earlier in this address I referred to "the basis of Quaker experience and witness". I would like to quote part of an article that appeared recently in The Friend, an independent Quaker weekly within Britain Yearly Meeting. I don’t always go along with things in The Friend, but I found this helpful.
"There is something more, in reality, than we can perceive with our senses and measure or hold in our minds. This "something more" is not merely the object of belief; it is experienced by the individual as a presence – and an absence. It is not simply an individual experience since we can also encounter it as a group. We believe that all people have the potential for this experience.
This is the experience that has been given such names as "God", "The Light", "The Inward Christ", " The Spirit" and "That of God in everyone". It is not the naming that is important, but the experience. The heart of worship is the desire and attempt to experience this presence.
We experience this presence as giving us insight, guidance, power and courage in the dilemmas of our lives, particularly in moral questions and in our spiritual explorations. We do not find it to be infallible, but it is a safer guide than reason, expediency or inclination. We do not expect it to protect us from external evil, but it can show us how to bring good out of evil.
We have found that the promptings of this presence, obediently followed, lead to lives full of meaning and value for others. We have found that if most people were to discern and follow these promptings, politics would be transformed, and the culture of violence and war would be replaced by a culture of generosity and peace.
This presence has been embodied to a very high degree in some people who have shown us how whole lives can be an expression of love and truth. This presence is revealed day by day in the actions of countless women and men. Our life-time’s experience of this presence is like a journey during which we learn and grow. We cannot yet know whether it has a final stopping place, before or beyond death. We encounter difficulty, disorientation, fear, loss and anguish at times on the journey, but fundamentally it is an experience of joy."
And another article tells of finding:-
"…in Quaker worship the reality of Jesus’s teaching, and the presence of the Holy Spirit".
While the Bible is of course at the very centre of all Christian denominations, Friends are fortunate also to have a wealth of material written by ordinary Quakers over the last 350 years describing their spiritual and temporal experiences. These were the plain people, like you and me, not saints living at a different level. I have been helped and influenced over and over again by reading and dipping into Britain Yearly Meeting’s "Christian Faith & Practice in the Experience of the Society of Friends", as well as our Book of Discipline, and other publications. One of my favourite quotations from Christian Faith and Practice is William Penn’s "True godliness don’t turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavours to mend it".
I find General Christian Counsel and the Queries for Serious Consideration in our book of Christian Discipline an excellent means of bringing me back to basics.
I would encourage everyone to take away a copy of the reprint of these which is on the side table, read it regularly, and give copies away to anyone that is interested.
I have observed and experienced the methods advocated by Friends working well in all sorts of situations in daily life, at home, in work, sport and recreation.
Our testimonies on peace, integrity, oaths, temperance, the sacraments and other matters become built into our lives.
For instance, Query No. 7 – "Do you faithfully maintain our witness that all war, or preparation for it, is inconsistent with the spirit and teaching of Christ".
Quakers are known for their testimony against war.
In some cases this has led to people joining Friends purely because they support pacifism. They miss the point. Our pacifism is just one of many outward manifestations of our inner spiritual beliefs, beliefs that should infuse the whole of our lives seamlessly (or as seamlessly as possible – none of us is perfect).
(As regards our refusal to take oaths, for early Friends this was a refusal to swear allegiance to a monarch or a state, their allegiance being unswervingly to God. Some time later the refusal prevented Friends from attending university , thus barring them from a career in the professions. Anyway, the Bible says "Thou shalt not swear". And in court, when as a juror or a witness we are asked to swear on the Bible, we refuse and ask to "affirm" instead – this often causes consternation, and presents the opportunity to say we are going to tell the truth anyway, and it makes not a pin of difference whether we have sworn on the Bible or not – saying this gives me impish pleasure).
As regards the sacraments I always endeavour to put our point of view in positive rather than negative terms. The following is an extract from an article I wrote for the Catholic periodical "The Furrow" ten years ago entitled "What Friends Believe".
"Because we believe God and man have direct relationship and mutual correspondence at all times, we do not feel the need for the sacrament of Holy Communion (or the Eucharist).
We believe in spiritual baptism, yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and thus water baptism seems to us unnecessary – "John indeed baptised with water, but ye shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit".
Because we believe that a written creedal statement limits the interpretation of God, and because with the passage of time such statements may be no longer be as helpful or as relevant as when originally written, we do not have a written creed. Besides, the existence of a written creed can lead to an attitude of mind which brands as unbelief that questioning of accepted ideas without which progress is impossible.
At its best, our method of conducting business – making decisions by gauging the "feeling of the meeting" rather than by votes – is extremely valuable in reaching good decisions and maintaining harmony, and can be adapted for use by Boards of Directors and by Trustees.
Integrity in some businesses is not always what it should be, but certainly the Quaker background of the firm I worked in meant the firm was highly respected and trusted.
Sadly, even fifty years ago, sport also had some who were a little fast around their corners. I remember a sailing race where a helmsman sailed the wrong side of a buoy. It shortened the course for him, and thus he finished nearer the front of the fleet. I was the only one to see it happen. It never occurred to me that after the race he would sign the required declaration that he had obeyed all the rules, but he did, and I told him I didn’t think he should have. Years later he referred to the episode in a way which showed he had come to respect honesty in sport. Regular reading of our Queries reminds us that we should keep up high standards
We all take our part in every aspect of our religion. Our Meetings for Worship depend on each of us playing our part both in the quiet worship together and in being prepared to speak when led by the Spirit to do so. In our Meetings for church affairs we are all responsible for decision making. The duties of clerking and writing minutes are undertaken by ordinary Friends. So are the multitude of other things necessary to keep the Society running. We are thus familiar with the concept of everyone playing a part. This background means we have the experience, and are happy to take on responsibilities such as Secretary or Treasurer of groups and organisations outside the Society.
The following is an illustration. I happen to be involved in some charitable trusts and foundations and also their umbrella bodies in Ireland and the UK, the Irish Funders Forum and the Association of Charitable Foundations respectively, and it is noticeable how many Quakers you find among the trustees and the staff of trusts which may have nothing at all to do with Friends. At an ACF conference in Nottingham earlier this month there were a dozen or more Friends out of less than 300 participants. Four of us met by chance on the stairs and jokingly said "let’s have a meeting for worship". (We punch above our weight!)
Among Friends we are influenced by the trust built up between the members of our Meetings, and we feel comfortable in being open about our feelings, instead of bottling them up for fear we will be ridiculed. Sarcasm and ridicule are two of the unkindest things people can visit upon each other. The sixth Query should be read frequently, and not only by Quakers. "Do you cherish an understanding and forgiving spirit? Do you avoid unkind gossip and the spreading of rumour? Do you avoid damaging the reputation of others? Do you cultivate an appreciation of each individual’s worth?"
The people called Quakers are a tiny minority of the population, and a slightly unusual bunch – some might say odd – so we are familiar with, and undaunted by, situations where we need to stand up for what we believe in, even when surrounded by critical or opposing views.
Again, an illustration. When I was in a senior position in the firm where I worked I was invited to a top level dinner at the Roman Catholic Maynooth College, which turned out to be a softening up exercise to persuade businesses to donate large sums towards a building project at the college. I found myself sitting beside the President of the College. I plucked up my courage, and hoping that I was speaking truth with love, I referred to the Ne Temere decree. This decree laid down that a non-Catholic who was marrying a Catholic had to give a written undertaking that the children of the marriage would be brought up as Catholics. I told him that I would not agree to my firm giving any donation whatsoever to Maynooth until this decree was abolished. (The decree was later changed slightly, but I don’t think I can claim credit for that).
I have spoken mainly about the "feel-good" factors up to here.
What do I feel has influenced me negatively?
People who misunderstand the nature of our Meetings for Worship, and who use the fact that anyone may minister as a licence to speak too frequently, or go on much too long, or for unsuitable messages to be given, or to treat it like a debating society. And semi-political speeches are my pet aversion.
The way in which our meetings for church affairs, or business meetings, can lead to stale mate because one or two Friends will not accept the "feeling of the Meeting". And the way decisions can sometimes be forced through which are not the feeling of the Meeting, rather than considering matters deeply, calmly, patiently and in a balanced fashion, with the help of the Holy Spirit, before coming to a decision.
And the way on occasion we can take an agonising length of time to reach the simplest of conclusions.
I sometimes leave a meeting exasperated and frustrated, and wonder whether Friends have lost their way.
The last fifty or a hundred years has seen an unexpected development that I am afraid has had an adverse influence on the Society and its role in the world today that is not generally recognised. In previous generations Friends had wonderful courage in embarking on fresh undertakings such as relief of hunger in the Great Famine, prolonged travel abroad in the ministry, Daniel Wheeler going to Russia, social housing provided by the Malcomsons, Richardsons, Cadburys and Rowntrees and so on. That was the era when substantial business men who had built up resources were ready, able and willing to be courageous and take major decisions. Now we have very few Friends in that category, and this seems to have led to a deficit of courage in a number of ways. In addition, a number of Friends have developed an aversion to all big businesses, whether or not the businesses are acting responsibly towards customers, employees and the environment.
What, then, do I regard as the most important Quaker influences in my own life?
Sometimes recently joined Friends are hesitant because they feel they do not know enough about the Quaker way of doing things. This was highlighted for me once when Paul Marsden, now a respected Monkstown Friend but then newly joined, said to me "It’s all right for you, Philip, you’ve been a Friend all your life, you’re marinated in Quakerism". There is so much helpful material written about the Society that it should be possible for anyone to learn most of the important features from the key books of reference and advice, and from listening to experienced Friends.
What would I most wish Quakers to be influenced towards?
If at this stage you have come to the conclusion that I am enthusiastic, committed and incurably optimistic you are probably right. If you have also decided I am opinionated, I am afraid you are probably right too.
For many years I enjoyed singing in a choir. The high points for me were always while I was singing and was able to listen to the other voices and my own blending together and making a heavenly sound. Similarly with Friends – we can and should each play our part – different parts, different notes, but listening to each other, and acting in harmony.
I will end with some words from George Fox:- "…be obedient to the Lord God and go through the world and be valiant for the Truth upon earth;…then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one"
Philip R Jacob
Notes:- Sections in bold type in general indicate where I feel the Quaker influence was strongest. Brackets indicate that I was speaking extempore, and the words may differ slightly from those that I actually used. Italics indicate quotations.