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?
One speaker talked in detail about the science of gender and her own experience of transition. The other speaker 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.
Irene Ridgeon and Caroline Jones represented us at the Remembrance Service on 14 November in Woking town centre, by laying a wreath of mixed white and red poppies. The white poppies represent remembrance for all victims of war, a commitment to peace and a challenge to attempts to glamourise or celebrate war. The wreath was as recyclable as we could manage and decorated to a design by Patricia Norman.
The topic for our November Quaker Faith and Practice study group was racism as outlined within the BYM Epistle.
Extracts from the Epistle: “Racism is systemic. To most white people – including white Quakers – it is largely invisible, like the air they breathe. As long as it stays unrecognised, systems and institutions that perpetuate white power are left unchallenged. Racism and oppression are often daily realities for those without the advantages conferred by white skin … Belonging is being accepted as one's true self. Who are we to resist what God has created and continues to create in all their glory?”
For October our Quaker Faith and Practice study group chose the section on making our Quaker meetings more welcoming for trans and non-binary people.
It was a privilege to share the session with a trans person who kindly and generously guided us. It was pointed out that Meeting for Worship when we sit in silence should not cause a problem for anyone and the area of potential opportunity to give offence would be during the chat afterwards. The advice given was not to make a big thing about saying the wrong thing; just apologise and move the conversation on. It is not about you and your views, it is about being a welcoming community.
Our Quaker Faith and Practice study group met in September to share our personal views on what impact we can make in furthering the cause of Climate Justice. It was a good time of sharing and we agreed to send a letter to Jonathan Lord, MP, prior to COP26. The session was loosely based on extracts from the Britain Yearly Meeting Epistle and the intention is to look at other topics within the Epistle at future evenings.
On Monday 21 June our Quaker Faith and Practice group had planned a celebration in the Peace Garden on Monument Road. Unfortunately, due to the weather, this had to revert to Zoom.
We started with a reading from QF&P 20:16:
‘Our testimonies arise from our way of worship. Our way of worship evokes from deep within us at once an affirmation and a celebration, an affirmation of the reality of that Light which illumines the spiritual longing of humanity, and a celebration of the continual resurrection within us of the springs of hope and love; a sense that each of us is, if we will, a channel for a power that is both within us and beyond us.’ Lorna M Marsden, 1986
Then the evening was enriched by the sharing of video clips of badgers, nesting birds with beautiful songs, summer-time photographs, poetry and reading, plus a lovely rendition of ‘Morning has Broken’.
On 15 May the Woking Debate was titled: Air Pollution: a hidden threat to Woking?
There were two speakers: Kevin Davis the Portfolio holder for the Environment and the Economy on Woking Borough Council; and Professor Prashant Kumar, Associate Dean (International), Professor and Chair in Air Quality and Health at the University of Surrey and Founding Director, Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE).
Kevin Davis said that recently there has been a decrease in air pollution and the problem in Woking is not as bad as is generally thought but it was established during the debate that Woking does not monitor particulate matter levels and so we have no real grasp of this problem.
Professor Prashant Kumar emphasised that all greening is good. Green cover can reduce air pollution by 10-20% and by busy roads by up to 60-70%. To cut down emissions we need to question whether we can control the source of the emissions. Do cars have to go through these roads? How do we empower people to protect themselves? Electric vehicles and traffic lights are top-down approaches.
Kevin committed to working with Prashant in the future. Woking is the smallest borough in Surrey but it is trying to improve and become more green. We need to change our behaviour when people go back to their cars after lockdown.
This was quite a technical topic and because of that we got to a level of detail that we rarely reach in the Debates. A recording is available here.
At our March Quaker Faith and Practice meeting (on Zoom) we shared our insights arising from reflecting on paragraph 21.27 where Ralph Hetherington speaks of feeling ‘all of a piece’ with everything around him. We explored Oneness, ‘God all in all’, Ground of Being, panentheism and what it means for how we live. One person remarked that he had never experienced such a thoughtful, rich and beneficial conversation in 20+ years of church meetings before attending our Local Meeting.
On 20 March the Woking Debate was titled: Is knife crime and gang culture a growing problem in Woking? What is being done?
There were four speakers: David Bentley, the Borough Police Commander; Dave Cook, from the Prison Officers Association, who is a prison officer of almost 30 years’ service; Patrick Green, from the Ben Kinsella Trust; and Ali Waheed, an NHS worker who runs Combat Sports League to promote a healthy lifestyle for young people.
In conclusion Patrick Green said that we all need to take responsibility. We need to reach out to young people and connect with them. Ali Waheed spoke of the need for more funding and early intervention. David Bentley said that there are only a few incidents in Woking but appealed for help in reaching young people getting into trouble to turn them in the right direction. He asked for people to contact him who wanted to help. Dave Cook said he would love to be unemployed: “Stop filling prisons with people who could be helped before”.
This was a powerful Debate. You can watch it here.
On 20 February the Woking Debate was titled: Woking in 2050: Dream or Nightmare?
There were four speakers: Susan Venn, who has just retired as a researcher at the University of Surrey, studying what makes a good life; Victoria Russell, a young local businesswoman concerned about the cost of housing in the area; Raul Lai, a local young man working for equality and social justice; and Jonathan Lord, MP for Woking.
All the speakers agreed that there is pressure on the town to provide more housing, which causes strong reactions particularly about high-rise buildings, and more investment is needed in local services. Transport is a big issue that may need rethinking because of environmental concerns and the pandemic and Brexit may have changed what kind of development we need in the town centre.
The monthly Quaker Faith and Practice meeting in February (on Zoom) had the title Giving and Receiving a Helping Hand. Paragraphs 20.02-20.10 were suggested reading material beforehand.
As always there was much personal sharing of feelings and ideas alongside attentive listening. Everyone has equal opportunities of being invited to speak in a QFP session. After over six years of richly meaningful Meetings of this kind the initiative is taken each month by whichever Friend volunteers. Confidentiality about what is shared remains with the group attending on any one evening.
If any Friend reading this considers the topic to be of interest I recommend the QFP paragraphs above are read and thoughts shared with any willing Friend/ friend. That might be sufficient to encourage Friends to think about how many different ways there are of lending a helping hand. We might not always know we are doing it! It is also worth thinking about how we ourselves might ask for a helping hand when needed. In fact I would go so far as to say that deep, reflective experience of receiving is a prerequisite of successful, loving giving.
On 16 January the Woking Debate considered: Are we giving vulnerable children the help they need?
There were three speakers: Sian Jones, the Early Help Project Lead and Programme Manager (North) for the Surrey Care Trust, David Munro, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey, and Justin Price, the head of Freemantles School, which is dedicated to children with autism.
All three emphasised the importance of early intervention for children to fully develop their relationships and build the confidence to overcome neglect and abuse. Financial constraints are severely limiting what help can be provided which is why volunteers are vital. They all agreed that more resources are needed.
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 despite the pandemic by switching to the Zoom online platform. This year five talks have been planned so far on the following subjects:
16 January: Are we giving vulnerable children the help they need?
20 February: Woking in 2050: Dream or nightmare?
20 March: Is knife crime and gang culture a growing problem in Woking? What is being done?
17 April: What value is arms and military expenditure to the UK?
15 May: Air pollution: A hidden threat to Woking?
Please get in touch with us if you would like to attend any of these and we will send you the link nearer to the event.
We normally take part in the ceremony in Jubilee Square and lay a wreath along with several other local groups and organisations. As this was severely limited this year and not open to the public, we decided to lay ours later in the day.
On 5 September the 44th Woking Debate considered the question, has Covid-19 made the return of austerity inevitable?
The speakers were Ann-Marie Barker, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Woking Council, Jonny Cope, a Conservative, Sharon Galliford from the Green Party and Sue Atkins from the Socialist Party. There was a surprising amount of agreement amongst them that austerity is not an inevitable outcome of Covid.
They all advocated greater investment by the government although differing on the focus for this: Ann-Marie Barker felt that we need to change our priorities to match the changes in the way people work since the pandemic with money invested in sustainable transport, housing and social services; Jonny Cope felt that providing more opportunities for people to learn new skills and greater investment to provide jobs in green industries was important to replace those lost from the hospitality sector: Sue Atkins felt that the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands needs to be addressed with a major shift towards helping the least well-off; Sharon Galliford recommended much greater co-operation, an overhaul of our financial systems with less emphasis on competition and a greater understanding of the value of voluntary work, and a ‘green new deal’.
On 19 August Anne Jones from Mediation Surrey gave us an introduction via Zoom to the work being done, largely by volunteers, to address conflict between neighbours and within families in Surrey. Trained mediators provide impartial support and facilitate meetings in which those experiencing problems can express their concerns in a calm and mutually respectful atmosphere, often resulting in a greatly improved situation for all parties.
Two of our members are already volunteer mediators and if you think this is something you would be interested in you can find out more here.
The August Woking Debate via Zoom considered the question of whether we are giving immigrants a fair chance to start a new life in our country.
Councillor Ayesha Azad, deputy leader of Woking Borough Council, was a child immigrant to this country. She believed that we have a fair immigration system in place and has found our society to be open, tolerant and dynamic.
Donovan Blair was born here but his parents came from Jamaica. They instilled their values in him but he has never felt truly accepted. The Government has created a hostile environment and sanitised history. Attitudes are improving but these are complex issues.
Kayte Cable has set up a small charity in Woking and Guildford to provide support for unaccompanied and trafficked children and young adult refugees, often escaping civil war, many of whom suffer from mental health issues and whose needs are not adequately provided for.
Waleed Hassan, an immigration solicitor, said that the rules are discriminatory. He believes that politicians are using immigrants as scapegoats. They already have to pay £3000 to apply to come to the UK. For a family, this can come to £30,000 over five years as well as needing to contribute to access the NHS.
The 42nd Woking Debate and the second on Zoom took place on 4 July to consider whether we should be striving after economic growth or happiness and fulfilment as our fundamental goal. The four speakers covered several different perspectives.
Primo Masella, who works in the HR department of BP, explained how the company has changed from being hierarchically organised, to putting its employees’ well-being at the heart of changes in its way of working.
Dubby Stemp, who has a masters degree in positive psychology and is training as a psychological well-being practitioner within the NHS IAPT service told us that in the World Happiness Index the UK comes 13th while having the 6th highest GDP and the USA comes just 18th with the highest GDP. Costa Rica comes 15th for happiness while down at 77th for GDP.
Kruawan Sookcharoen, who has been on the staff of the Buddhist temple in Knaphill for the 15 years since it opened, is coordinator of DIS UK. Kruawan said that to achieve happiness we have to let go and become detached, practice generosity and reduce our greed, which can be achieved through meditation. She then led us in a short meditation.
Our monthly study sessions on Quaker Faith and Practice continue on the second Monday in the month. The June session offered the opportunity to share thoughts on the subject raised in paragraph 27.03 Can we settle the question, “Is the Society of Friends Christian or not?”, John Lampen, 1985 ; and thoughts about the Yin and Yang aspects of Christ in paragraph 26.58, Damaris Parker-Rhodes 1985
The first Woking Debate using the Zoom app took place on 9 May. There were 28 participants which was a very encouraging start and gives us hope that we can improve on that at future events. There were four speakers on the topic, ‘What good is football?’, three of whom were directly involved in the sport, being a director of Woking Football Club, a professional footballer and a referee, and a local borough councillor with responsibility for leisure activities.
All spoke enthusiastically about the opportunities that football provides for character building and teamwork for the participants and friendship and companionship for them and for their supporters, both individually and as families.
There was agreement amongst the speakers and others that, at the local level, there were few incidents of racism but more needs to be done to encourage LGBTQ+ players and officials to feel safe enough to be open about themselves. Much more is being done to encourage girls to take up the sport and a corresponding improvement in the quality of their performance at all levels was commented upon.
Since 22 March we have been meeting virtually each Sunday, using the Zoom app, and have all been pleasantly surprised by how successful it is proving to be. The screen shot was taken after meeting when we had a short period of sharing.
As well as being able to see all the regular faces at Meeting, it has been an extra delight to see those of us who have been unable to get to Meeting for some time or who are currently in another part of Europe or even in the USA even though this can present quite a challenge, given the time difference!
It has made us realise that when we are able to meet again in person this may well provide a way to offer an additional meeting for those unable to come to the Meeting House.
On 14 March the Woking Debate took the form of a play, “A Rock and a Hard Place”, written and performed by Journeymen Theatre. Based on a true story, together with real life experiences shared by other women, the play explored the complex nature of domestic abuse, ranging from coercion in its many forms to women’s deaths at the hands of abusive partners.
The play also revealed the impact of funding cuts on the refuge system and on the support available for women caught up in a cycle of abuse. It appealed to all of us to recognise and highlight this major human rights issue in our own communities.
Our first, and until further notice, only shared lunch of the year was held on 2 February. Afterwards Sheila Coles told us about Irish Quakers and their association with Mountmellick work, a special type of white-on-white embroidery.
It was particularly used to decorate household items: work bags, tablecloths, dressing table sets, handkerchief sachets and nightdress cases, etc. While a total of over forty different stitches have been recorded from old pieces, it was most usual to use only ten or so and some of the best work makes use of only three or four. It was of particular significance to Quakers as it epitomised their testament to simplicity.
The first Woking Debate of the year took place at Christ Church on 11 January on the subject, “The Climate Emergency: what can we do?”. It was very well attended, and extra chairs had to be brought in to seat everybody.
The debate was opened by three speakers who each brought a very different perspective: Norman Johns, chair of Woking Environment Action, talked about local grass-roots activities; Danny Hubbard from Extinction Rebellion put things into a national and global context, and Dr Justine Huxley, the CEO of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, brought a deeply spiritual “call to action”.
On 22 December, Irene attended a Woking Extinction Rebellion action outside Christ Church, when carols were sung to traditional tunes but with new, awareness-raising lyrics! There was a good turnout of singers who were accompanied by an excellent brass quartet.