Sunday, 3 April 2011

Finding Quakers

By way of a lead-in to more diverse aspects of my journey, I'd like to talk about how I first learned about Quakers, and came to consider myself one.

I actually wasn't consciously aware of having heard of Quaker or the Religious Society of Friends until my first year of university, although I was aware of the cereal brand (which is not a good thing to mention when you meet someone and find out they're a Quaker... maybe I'll explain that at some point). While helping with a particularly bizarre campus protest, some existing friends and myself met another first year that I hadn't been familiar with, and, as people do at university, we all made friends. Quite quickly in the conversations, the young woman mentioned that she was a Quaker - I have absolutely no memory of the context of this, just that it happened. There was some very vague explanation of this, but I think the aspects she chose to explain were mostly chosen for the degree to which they might seem strange to 'normal' people; things like not voting, for instance, though I think she did work in the fact that Christianity is optional and the Bible isn't particularly important. After that, I did understand slightly more when Quakers were mentioned in the media, but I didn't give it terribly much thought for some time - it never seemed to be an apt topic of conversation, although I was curious.

Fast forward two-and-a-half year, to early in fourth year, and I meet another young woman who was a Quaker. I had had some conversations with her in the context of some student societies we were both involved in, but religion had never come up. I should explain that I have always been curious about religions and love to learn about them, and had done various things towards that over the intervening years. At the Writers' Guild Christmas meal, I was sat across from the woman in question, when conversation turned to religion (I assume - my memory of it isn't hugely clear), and she mentioned that she was a Quaker. I expressed interest, and over the conversation and a few others we talked about it more. By the end of the year, I was going out with her, and then learned a lot more, going to my first Quaker event that summer - a Summer Gathering/Work Camp at the Young Friends Centre at Pardshaw, near Cockermouth (the latter being in the Lake District), and learned some more there. I still considered myself just curious, although I had realised that my own personal beliefs were compatible with Quaker teachings.

A month or two later, I went with my girlfriend to a wedding of an old school-friend of hers -- a Quaker wedding. I talked to various old friends of hers there, including one who was interested in the fact that I wasn't a Quaker, but was curious. On explaining my own personal views, she pronounced that I was a Quaker, I just didn't know it yet. Perhaps she was right.

From then on it's quite run-of-the-mill - I went to Young Friends' General Meeting as an Enquirer the following February. I should note that every February, YFGM holds an Enquirer's Gathering alongside the main meeting, the term Enquirer used among Quakers to refer to those who are interested in learning about Quaker teachings, traditions, practices and so on, particularly those who are willing to learn by doing. by later that year, I considered myself a Quaker. For those who know (and care) about these things, I have not yet sought Membership; this was originally because I wasn't confident about remaining in one area, and Membership is held by Area Meeting. Now it's because I don't have time to be involved in local matters as well as national Young Friends stuff, and as Membership is held by Area Meetings, it's meant to imply a willingness to take on some of the work of the Meeting.

Oh, and the Quaker I talked to at the Christmas meal, and then started dating? I'm still with her, and we intend to marry when we get around to it.

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