Quaker A-Z: Z is for Zen

Wallpaper Zen Spirit 1280x800 edition 2006Z is for Zen

No, I’m not suggesting that you become a Buddhist or learn to meditate. Instead I’m suggesting you find a way to bring a bit of Zen acceptance of what is, into your life.

While managing a meeting house you have to accept that there will be days when:

  • Someone thinks that pouring cornstarch and jelly into the toilet is a good idea, and is confused as to why this didn’t work as a disposal mechanism.*
  • Someone decides your garden/doorstep/outside space is a toilet or a rough sleeping area causing disruption and upset to the others using the building.
  • Someone discovers that the downstairs is completely flooded by the storm water coming up through the basement toilets to the level of several inches (and it is still raining hard).
  • Someone takes out their frustration and anger at you for things that are outside your control, and you didn’t even know about.*
  • Someone steals or breaks or loses items that are rather vital to the smooth running of the building – leaving you to deal with the fall out.
  • Someone comes to ask deep questions about Quakerism and their own spiritual journey – while at least one of the above is also happening, leaving you to wonder about your own spiritual journey and nourishment.

It is very easy to become stressed and to feel as if running the building for the meeting is no longer a service offered with joy, but instead is a headache that you wish would go away.

It is at this time you should remember that Quaker Faith & Practice contains wisdom to cling to in difficult times:

A&Q 23: In times of difficulty remind yourself of the value of prayer, of perseverance and of a sense of humour.

Find a way forward that supports you and shares the stress of your trials and tribulations.

  • Join the Wardenship e-list
  • Attend a Wardens’ Talking event organised by Quaker Life
  • Attend a Managing Your Meeting House event at Woodbrooke
  • Set up a chance for all Premises members in your local area to get together to swap stories and best practice.

There is much to be said for the value of a well told story, to a nodding listener who understands the complexities of sharing a beloved building with the public, and that the most difficult users may attend on a Sunday morning…

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*Messy play lead to messy toilet unblocking – which wasn’t helped by the glitter they’d included in both.

*My favourite of these is the person who was furious to discover that they’d been thinking it was Thursday all day and turned up for their class…. Which wasn’t on – as it was actually Wednesday, and blamed me for this. “You have ruined my evening!” I listened and said I was sorry for their disappointment.

Quaker A-Z: Y is for D.I.Yourself

Urban Greening red paint jobY is for Do it Yourself

Quakers have a long and worthy history of working together to solve large and small problems. Painting parties, working in the garden – even the Quaker Tapestry was done as a group effort.

As mentioned in V is for Volunteers you may get professional people volunteering and you should always ensure that the people you are asking to do the work have the skills necessary – or are paired with those that do.

Of course there will be times when it is best to bring in outside or at least competent people to do the work. In Six Weeks Meeting’s Handbook

Members of Premises Committees or wardens will often be able to undertake small routine maintenance tasks such as changing light bulbs, checking electrical leads, renewing tap washers and minor attention to decorations. In some cases members may be qualified to undertake more major tasks, but Committees must not entrust work to those who,
however keen, are not sufficiently skilful, experienced or qualified to undertake it.
.
The use of inexperienced or unskilled labour can result in expensive damage even with apparently straightforward tasks such as decorating. Safety is paramount for those undertaking voluntary work and it is also essential that there is adequate insurance cover. Friends must ensure that any work they carry out themselves is in accordance with current regulations…

At a Wardens’ Talking event we were asked to write on post-its the most annoying bit of our jobs. One of those read out was, “I feel the I spend my time putting right the efforts of bumbling amateurs.”

Without hesitation I turned to Vincent (my husband and at the time co-warden) and asked, “Yours?”

“Yep!”

Thankfully that wasn’t a common feeling. After that, we continued in that job for more than a decade.

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Quaker A-Z: X is for eX-hibitions

climb up to the moor flyer3X is for eXhibition

Earlier this week I went into Friends House specifically to visit this exhibition – and thoroughly enjoyed it. Gorgeous colours and textures shown off beautifully in the space, the sound track enhanced the art as you moved around the exhibit.

There were several Ffriendly faces that I recognised, but there were also others who had been tempted into the space because of the art.

I was delighted to see such an event and was glad to hear that it had been busy and attracted people who were in Friends House for other reasons as well as those attracted by the exhibition.

I’ve known several meeting houses hold similar events – ranging from small displays in the lobby to larger installations which fill the entire building. Kingston Quaker Centre, which opened in September 2014, built in picture display rails to the main communal area with the expectation that they will hold exhibitions at some time.

So why hold such an event?

It can be a form of inreach – a way of supporting and encouraging members of the meeting, members of the wider Quaker community (Area Meeting to Yearly Meeting and beyond) who are artists professionally or as a hobby.

It can involve artists in other faith groups who are producing spiritually inspired work on a similar theme, encouraging discussion across boundaries.

It can encourage people to visit the building who wouldn’t otherwise. A form of outreach and marketing – as visitors may remember the venue when they next organise an event.

It can show regular visitors aspects of Quaker beliefs and testimonies in a way that a leaflet rack, no matter how well stocked, cannot.

It can inspire discussion and exploration of the themes within the meeting, with these discussions occurring across ages and involving the whole worshipping community.

It can raise money for a specific cause or for general Quaker work or support the artists who created the work.

It can be fun as the group work together to create something beautiful.

Inspired?

Although the Climb up to the Moor exhibition was also a lot of work, done by a dedicated group from the Quaker Arts Network.

However, you can start smaller – displaying a range of historical peace posters such as those available from the Quaker Book Shop, or a series of prints from the Quaker Tapestry (perhaps linked to one of their Slide Talks?)

  • Have you ever held an exhibition at your building?
  • Have you any hints or tips to help such an event go smoothly?

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Quaker A-Z: W is for Where does the money go?

2013 06 18 Collection box

W is for Where does the money go?

One of the difficulties I have found in both being a warden, and in dealing with finances is that most people aren’t interested.

They nod politely when you mention money, glance at the account reports briefly when presented (if they’ve attended Business Meeting) and it is usually the same small group of people who actually ask any questions.

During the Treasurer’s Course at Woodbrooke earlier this year Alison Gray, one of the facilitators, shared the reports given to her local meeting.

Alison explained that as she is a primary school teacher she’s used to explaining complex matters in a simple fashion. “I ask my children if they can understand these reports, if they can then I know I can take them to Meeting.”

2015 03 01 Alison's flipchart treasurer's presentation pg12015 03 01 Alison's flipchart treasurer's presentation pg2  More traditional spreadsheets and account reports are available, but these give a simple easily understandable overview.

Glancing at these will give you a deeper understanding of the answer to that perennial question, “Where does the money go?” as well as its partner, “Where does the money come from?” In this meeting, as in so many, room hire brings in more than Quaker contributions and collections.

  • Have you tried such illustrative reports?
  • Do you have any other suggestions or examples for ways to encourage interest in the financial aspects of the meeting?

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Quaker A-Z: V is for Vulnerable Victim

2011 07 28 banking cheques

V is for Vulnerable Victim

After a case of fraud in North Somerset and Wiltshire Monthly Meeting, members of that Monthly Meeting and Quaker Stewardship Committee produced a report titled: A vulnerable victim (you can download a copy at that link). The Judge at the Crown Court hearing referred to the Religious Society of Friends as “a vulnerable victim” and the report continues this theme:

This report was commissioned following a joint meeting of members of North Somerset and Wiltshire Monthly Meeting and members of the Quaker Stewardship Committee. The report outlines events leading to the theft of £148,151 by a Friend who had been serving as Treasurer of the Monthly Meeting and the steps taken by Friends following its discovery in June 2004. The prime purpose of the report is to provide the Monthly Meeting with an independently written record of events and to draw the wider lessons that will be of value both for itself and to the wider Religious Society of Friends in Britain Yearly Meeting; it does not set out to identify responsibility for events or to apportion blame. The history of events shows Friends trying to find the best way forward for the perpetrator and for the Monthly Meeting; balancing necessary legal processes with seeking to find ways to apply principles of Restorative Justice. The report also describes how Friends set about finding ways that enable them to fulfil the responsibilities of Trustees to protect the property of the Monthly Meeting and ensure that it is used properly.

This report is not only a useful summary of the events and procedures (and lack thereof) in this specific instance, it is also a useful reminder to all people charged with handling monies that it is in their own best interests to ensure good financial handling and reporting procedures are available.

A Friend in NSWMM has written: Speaking as a past treasurer [in a different MM] the question of trust versus bureaucracy should not be an issue, rather, sound financial systems should protect the treasurer against any allegations – true or false. I would require this if I was ever to be treasurer again.

An article by Alan Sealy in the Friend also endorsed the view that this report should be mandatory reading and commented on the thoroughness of the report – which drew upon Business Meeting minutes and reports that had been kept.

If you haven’t read this report – or haven’t read it in some time I do recommend it. Especially the ‘What can be learned?‘ section which points out possible solutions to the difficulties and problems discussed in the report – but common throughout the voluntary management sector.

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Quaker A-Z: U is for Unique

Unique Selling Proposition / Unique Selling Point / USPThis post is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

U is for Unique Selling Point

It is unlikely that your building is the only venue in your area. I remember having a discussion with the warden at Bridport who commented that their small village had a plethora of places to hire rooms – all competing against each other. But this can happen in larger towns and cities too – and small differences can mean the difference between someone choosing your venue over another.

The first and possibly most obvious Unique Selling Point or USP is that the venue is a Quaker Meeting House and any profits go to support Quaker work. However, unless you are a Quaker you may not know much about Quakers or care about this work.

Instead, each building needs to think about what they can offer that means the hirer will want to come to their venue compared to another. Once you’ve thought of your list ensure you publicise it.

If you rang a hotel to ask for a room and were told, “£50” and then rang another and were told, “Our standard rate is £50 per night and includes use of the pool, free wi-fi, complimentary breakfast and parking.”

Which would you go for?

The first hotel may well have offered all of that too but they didn’t spell it out so their potential customers may go somewhere else.

Friends House Hospitality on their venue site (not quaker.org.uk) include their tag line:

“With us, events don’t cost the earth.”

and have another statement pointing out that this is a Quaker building (if you didn’t know Friends referred to Quaker)

“As a Quaker concern, the facilities provided are both of high quality and honestly priced. The welcome is always warm and friendly.”

Perhaps your budget doesn’t go to a slick website or brochure? Bridport didn’t – but what they did have was a Warden who was willing to go that extra bit to give advice and help to the groups that chose the Meeting House to ensure that they continued to flourish and use the building. Word of mouth is after all the best marketing there is.

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Quaker A-Z: T is for Threshing

Threshing the crop, 1480

This post is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

T is for Threshing

Threshing is a rather arcane word, but its use dates back to the earliest Quaker publications and internal letters. Most people I’ve spoken to have never attended a threshing meeting – and yet a threshing meeting held to discuss the ideas and theories around an issue can be incredibly helpful in ensuring that everyone present understands and has a chance to explore the issues.

Rachel Muers and Rhiannon Grant have just finished some research into British Quaker understandings of Threshing Meetings. I took part in one of their meetings which contained a wide range of discussion and views. They’ve published their findings in a report you can download from the University of Leeds website, currently third document down.

We find it helpful to see a threshing meeting as a “threshold” or transitional space – usually, into Meeting for Worship for Business. Threshing an issue is one of the ways in which a meeting can work to bring “the whole of its… life under the ordering of the Spirit”. Threshing meetings themselves are usually held in a spirit of worship, but, unlike business meetings, they are not focussed on reaching a decision through discerning the will of God. Rather, they focus on exploring and understanding the complex, messy and multi-stranded nature of the “whole of life”. This includes, especially, strong emotions, rational arguments, and disputes about matters of fact – all aspects of our lives that might be set aside or downplayed as a Quaker business meeting reaches a decision, but which need to be heard and taken into account in the preparation for that decision. A threshing meeting is one way in which Quakers can respond collectively to the advice to come with heart and mind prepared.

Threshing meetings should still be a Quaker space – they are often described as spiritual, intense, emotional, grounded but have a more fluid arrangement than a Meeting for Worship for Business. They aren’t to be considered just a place for ‘blue-sky-thinking’ or similar secular management phrases, there should be relationships and the process is guided by the facilitator(s).

The report is a fascinating glimpse into current day practices while explaining the historical aspects of threshing. I do recommend it – especially the three fictional case studies, plus the specific recommendations and description of the processes that lead to a successful threshing meeting.

  • Have you even taken part in a Threshing Meeting?
  • Does your meeting use this tool?

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Quaker A-Z: S is for Safeguarding

2011 08 07 worshipping group & cathedral 2

 A&Q 18 How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

S is for Safeguarding

Safeguarding is the protection of children and adults from harm. It is often seen as only applying to children, and yet abuse can affect anyone no matter their age, so safeguarding guidelines apply also to vulnerable adults.

It is often seen as only applying to sexual relationships, however, abuse can happen within other relationships too.

Fundamentally, harassment and abuse is a serious misuse of power and authority, committed by a dominant partner in an unequal relationship. Power is a fact of life, it is present in every relationship and situation, it is how that power is used that causes problems.

Area Meeting Trustees have a responsibility to adopt a Safeguarding policy and to see that all AM activities abide by it.  This includes all local meeting activities and any Quaker residential events.  Premises committees need to consider how to remind Friends of the policy. A local meeting can choose to create and adopt a more stringent safeguarding policy if they feel it necessary.

However any other non Quaker groups who are hiring the building do not need to be aware of, or to follow the AM Safeguarding policy. Instead they must have their own policy and ensure that they follow any other laws or regulations. Premises should ensure that the group know that it is their responsibility to do this and to ensure that they know it is not Premises’s responsibility to critique the policy or to ensure that it is abided by.

I suggest my clients put the following clause, or something simialr into their terms and conditions:

The Hirer must ensure that all necessary Child Protection checks have been undertaken before the Hire Period commences. (Name) Meeting cannot accept any responsibility for a failure to comply with this legal requirement. Children must be supervised at all times.

Quaker Resources

National resources

  • Churches Agency for Safeguarding (CAS) is the national body that provides Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) criminal records application service and safer recruitment training, information and advice.
  • NSPCC has useful resources including research and fact sheets
  • Elder Abuse has resources specifically aimed against the
  • Mencap has resources for people with learning difficulties.

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Quaker A-Z: R is for Responsibilities

2015 07 17 Colourful pencil sharpeningsThis post is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

R is for Responsibilities

Every Relationship has more than one side, as well as more than one set of rights and responsibilities.

Local Meetings may be used to reporting that they have at least considered the list of their responsibilities found in Qf&P 4.33 to Area Meeting. If a local meeting decides to hire out space to other groups it also comes with responsibilities.

There are various responsibilities linked to having a public building open and available to the public.

  • Some are legal – like fire risk management or accessibility
  • Others are good stewardship such as keeping the building in good order, or ensuring good security.
  • Or make management of the building easier such as updating inventories and contracts
  • You might consider customer satisfaction for example hirer management – ensuring that groups have are compatible to be next to each other.
  • Community consideration – for example ensuring groups are respectful of the local neighbourhood when leaving.

What other responsibilities can you think of?
Has Premises ever considered such a list?

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Quaker A-Z: Q is for Quantities (and Quality)

2015 07 14 buying in bulk 2This post is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

Q is for Quantities (and Quality)

Buying in bulk can save money – whether from a warehouse store as pictured above or elsewhere. As long as you are able to store the resultant quantity and use it up before it can be spoiled. In bulk doesn’t mean having to buy things in hundreds either.

One of the many uses of an inventory

  • is the ability to work out how quickly items are used up.
  • plus as how much space you have to safely store replacement items.

Knowing these two facts can help you set budgets as well as decide when it is worth paying for higher quality items and when cheap and cheerful is more sensible.

It can even lead to reorganising within the building to ensure that there is a safe and suitable space for storage.

Always amazed at how much decluttering is possible is most meeting houses, often because Quakers declutter their own houses and bring things to the meeting house to donate. When sorting at Muswell Hill just after we started I came across a box carefully sealed and labelled, “Unwanted Crockery”. I did check before getting rid of it.

  • Does your Meeting buy supplies in bulk?
  • Do you find that this helps keep costs down?

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