On 14 November we were visited by a local group of cub scouts keen to earn their ‘World Faiths’ activity badges. They were very well behaved and managed the longest period of Quaker worship of any of the groups so far (we keep this to less than five minutes) and several seemed to enjoy it. We had a section on values to emphasise their importance to Quakers rather than specific beliefs, asking them to decide for themselves about various questions, including whether it is wrong to fight in a war.
On 5 November the Woking Debates hosted the Journeymen Theatre production of ‘The Bundle’.
It told a truly moving story about the hostile environment created by the UK government through changes to immigration law to make it really difficult for refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into society.
Our Quaker Faith and Practice study evening in October looked at Chapter 12, thinking about how an accumulation of little things can make a difference to those around us.
For example, being consciously present in a conversation; having a kindly awareness of needs; and the session encouraged us to look at ways in which we could become aware of what was happening in the lives of those attending our meeting. There was a reminder that steadfast love was not the same as short bursts of interest.
At our Quaker Faith and Practice study evening in September we explored the sentence, “Let your life speak”, in Advices and Queries No. 27. Our conviction, voiced with many examples, was that, when our life is rooted in love, then those qualities which flow from love, such as empathy, compassion, justice, will ‘speak’ through our feelings, words, behaviour and actions, and transform the world around us.
There were no Quaker Faith and Practice discussion evenings in June, July or August, but on 11 August Woking Friends met on a warm evening in the Meeting House garden, where Jean facilitated a session of sharing experiences that occurred during the pandemic and readings that sustained us.
On 6 August the annual meeting took place to remember the use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Participants gathered at the New Inn pub in Send. All were invited to join in the ceremony by sharing a poem, story or something to say. Many of us did so and Dai Williams led us in peace songs, playing on his guitar.
This year, because of the unusually dry weather and the risk of setting vegetation alight we kept the lights on the grass and floated confetti and petals down the Wey in keeping with the Japanese tradition of sending the spirits to the sea.
The Woking Debate on 18 June was titled ‘Does Military intervention work?’ Of the three speakers, David Charters (who could not attend but sent a written contribution) supported the idea in principal but emphasised the need for a credible exit strategy, which he had never been aware of when planning for, or participating in, several intervention operations and believed that political solutions are required for lasting peace.
Peter Glasgow, chair of the Peace Pledge Union, made the point that in modern times the overwhelming majority of those killed in war are civilians. War is never the answer and we need to challenge militarism and build a culture of peace.
John Morris, chair of the Peace Party, suggested that violence was not natural but a learned behaviour. Military intervention does not work and we need to rethink the way we approach the idea of security. We need to promote respect, compassion, tolerance, kindness and generosity in our education system.
On 24 April, in one of our ten-minute talks, Mary spoke about Quakers across the world and the differences in their ways of worship, illustrating her talk with helpful maps and diagrams.
The Woking Debate on 23 April was on the topic, ‘Do we have an effective welfare state?’ We were very lucky to get excellent speakers, Frank Young from Civitas, Clare Burgess and Alison from Woking Food Bank.
Frank, the policy head of a Conservative think tank, said that there is no strategy to lift people from poverty; Clare said that the system is failing those it should protect the most, those with disabilities; and Alison told us about how use of the Food Bank has increased massively. It was one of the best and most moving debates we have had and you can watch the recording on YouTube.
Our Quaker Faith and Practice evening in April looked at QF&P 27:42 on the question of our personal celebration of holy days and what relevance they had to our own spiritual growth. It was once again an enriching evening of sharing.
On the last Sunday of each month we plan to have a five to ten minute talk, after Meeting for Worship, on some aspect of Quakerism. This is instead of the previous quarterly shared lunches, followed by a (longer) talk, that we had in place before the pandemic.
The first talk took place on 27 February, when Rosemary Loving told us about Quaker weddings: a surprisingly interesting insight into how the whole process works.
February’s Quaker Faith and Practice session was another thoughtful, challenging, inspiring, encouraging and memorable evening. Jean led the session looking at the topic of Love. Each of us shared QFP paragraphs and other readings to form the basis of sharing our experiences. The QFP references we heard were: 10.01; 10.28; 11.41; 17.04; 18.13; 22.43; 22.73; and 22.75
An extract from The Primacy of Love by Ilia Delio was shared and the poem called Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden was circulated afterwards as another example of love.
The title of the Woking Debate on 19 February was, Local Democracy: is it working?
Nataly Anderson speaking for the Green Party advocated for more evidence-based decisions and for representative participatory democracy where decisions are reached by panels discussing and working together.
Ann-Marie Barker, for the LibDems, thought that we needed to find ways to encourage many more people to actually vote and more power needs to be devolved to councils by central government.
Simon Ashall, the (Conservative) deputy leader of Woking Borough Council, felt that local democracy sometimes works but many decisions are in the hands of other bodies such as the county council, the police and central government.
Marion Malcher from Extinction Rebellion said that citizen assemblies are urgently needed to show the truth of the climate crisis to people, to hear directly from experts and then deliberate in small groups as to what needs to be done.
The Woking Debate on 15 January considered: What is gender? Does it need to affect how we relate to each other?
Bea McDonald spoke in detail about the science of gender and her own experience of transition. Evan Ridgeon pointed out that we are all on a spectrum between male and female. He said that gender has three important elements: how you feel, how society recognises you and how the law sees you.
There was general agreement that we need to create a world where we do not divide people between sexes and genders.
At our Quaker Faith and Practice study group (on Zoom) we once again had an evening of inspired sharing that expanded our thinking and brought us closer together. We used QFP Chapter 26:70 – 26:75 as a starting point and from there looked at the importance of Wonder in our life, saying, ‘Wow!’, living life abundantly and loving wastefully. There was a feeling of the need to value life, appreciate what we have and tell people why we love them while we can.
The Woking Debates, which Woking Quakers support, aim to encourage active participation in our community by looking at underlying issues facing us. The debates continued throughout 2020 and 2021 despite the pandemic by switching to the Zoom online platform. This year six talks have been planned so far on the following subjects:
15 January: What is gender? Does it need to affect how we relate to each other?
19 February: Local Democracy: is it working?
12 March: Disunited kingdom: how much longer will the UK hold together?
23 April: Do we have an effective welfare state?
21 May: ‘The Bundle’, a play by Journeymen Theatre about immigration
18 June: Does military intervention work?
As and when COVID-19 regulations on social mixing change, we hope to hold as many of these talks as possible in person but initially they are taking place on Zoom.
Please get in touch with us if you would like to attend any of them and we will send you the link nearer to the event.