#AdventWord 2019: 11 Confess

Confess by Dagny Mol on Flickr

Confess makes me think of admitting that you’ve done something wrong, or perhaps something you’re uncertain about.

I liked this idea of public confession – but mainly because it means that people are examining their lives. Of course the other part is that by reading what others have confessed someone may realise it isn’t just them, which can be good to discover.

The end of the year is a good time for such examinations. Taking the time to have a look through what has happened this year, what goals and aspirations you started with back in January and where you are now.

You can’t confess if you never look back or acknowledge where you may have made mistakes. It makes you vulnerable, open to being hurt or rejected – but these are good things. Quaker Faith & Practice Advice & Queries 17 reminds us that we should “Think it possible that you may be mistaken”. Brene Brown researches shame and advocates being vulnerable as a way to remain healthy.

#AdventWord 2019: 10 Grace

David Hollcraft from Flickr, used under creative commons license

I’m always grateful to have today’s #AdventWord grace offered to me. I try to offer it to others.

I struggle with offering it to myself – but on a day which has turned out as today as done…. Where I’m getting to one of my morning ‘to-dos’ at 8pm tonight. Grace is all I can offer for myself and promise myself that I will try again tomorrow.

#AdventWord 2019: 9 Root

Root Llee_Wu from Flickr

As a gardener I know that roots are important. They support, nourish and interact with the community in the soil. Today’s #AdventWord reminds me that it is vital that any charity, business, worshipping group or other organisation stays in contact with its roots.

Regular reviews of where you’ve come from and where you want to go are vital to ensure that you continue to grow, develop and stay connected as a community. While working with clients it can seem that the ‘business’ part of the charity is separate from the main aims of the charity, yet they must stay connected and reflect each other.

There must be a flow of information and inspiration from both sections, with transparency and integrity to guarantee policies and processes grow from and support the reason for the charities existence.

For example, I often say to people wanting to hire a building I manage, ‘This building’s primary purpose is to be a home for the local Quaker worshipping community”. Keeping that in mind means that everything else flows freely through the system. ‘Is this a good idea?’ can be compared to that statement – does it help Quakers use their building for worship, or any concerns that the meeting has discerned.

With this firmly in mind any suggestion with the defence ‘It will make more money’ when held against that purpose can be considered irrelevant. ‘It will help us maintain the building or move forward on a project’ means that the suggestion now has merit. ‘It is something that the meeting has discerned needs to happen’ now gives it the highest priority.

Roots only grow in fertile soil, so everyone involved in the decision making must ensure that they are nourished, supported and interact with the community around them. Not only the local worshipping or charity community, but the wider local community. Supporting trustees, employees and committee members is a responsibility for everyone within that community.

  • How can you work with your committee to gain the support you need?

#AdventWord 2019: 8 Worthy

worth title

Today’s #AdventWord comes on a Sabbath – a time of rest. Although as I opened up for Meeting for Worship, set up the chairs, took in the coffee and milk for the refreshments, did the washing up and am writing this post now… I’ve not managed to keep the day as purely for rest and contemplation. Yet, they were jobs that I felt needed doing – I decided they are ‘worth’ trading some of my free time. Deciding what is and isn’t worthy can be tricky.

There is, it sometimes seems, an excess of religious and social busyness these days, a round of committees and conferences and journeyings, of which the cost in ‘peaceable wisdom’ is not sufficiently counted. Sometimes we appear overmuch to count as merit our participation in these things… At least we ought to make sure that we sacrifice our leisure for something worthy. True leisureliness is a beautiful thing and may not lightly be given away. Indeed, it is one of the outstanding and most wonderful features of the life of Christ that, with all his work in preaching and healing and planning for the Kingdom, he leaves behind this sense of leisure, of time in which to pray and meditate, to stand and stare at the cornfields and fishing boats, and to listen to the confidences of neighbours and passers-by…

Most of us need from time to time the experience of something spacious or space-making, when Time ceases to be the enemy, goad-in-hand, and becomes our friend. To read good literature, gaze on natural beauty, to follow cultivated pursuits until our spirits are refreshed and expanded, will not unfit us for the up and doing of life, whether of personal or church affairs. Rather will it help us to separate the essential from the unessential, to know where we are really needed and get a sense of proportion. We shall find ourselves giving the effect of leisure even in the midst of a full and busy life. People do not pour their joys or sorrows into the ears of those with an eye on the clock.

Caroline C Graveson, 1937

Qf&P 21.22

Along with this passage, the last sentence of Advice & Queries 18 reminds us, ‘Attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness.’ That if we’re not careful we will be too busy doing the urgent, and miss out on doing the essential.

Especially if we are doing a job we love, we need to ensure that we are ensuring there are margins in our schedule and that we don’t burn out. Being able to do that, without feeling guilty that we’re not doing something more ‘worthy’ is essential. It is another part of ensuring our meetings, charities and any other organisation is sustainable.

  • How do you make that judgement about what is worth sacrificing your leisure for?

#AdventWord 2019: 7 Unity

Unity
Unity by Dr. Wendy Longo Flickr

2.89 In all our meetings for church affairs we need to listen together to the Holy Spirit. We are not seeking a consensus; we are seeking the will of God. The unity of the meeting lies more in the unity of the search than in the decision which is reached. We must not be distressed if our listening involves waiting, perhaps in confusion, until we feel clear what God wants done.

London Yearly Meeting, 1984

Today’s #AdventWord Unity is one that sounds so simple and yet is so hard to live up to. Quakers have a phrase, ‘way will open’ which is often applied to decision making as well as creating plans. You can read quite a good secular explanation in an unexpected place. Way Opening & Decision Making: a blog post on Quaker decision making – combined with martial arts, not the most common of companions.

However, the article, in common with many others has one aspect wrong. Quakers aren’t seeking community consensus, instead as the quote above says instead we are waiting for the will of God to be revealed. This can come from the oddest of places, you’ll have two very different agendas and then through silent loving waiting, other ways are pieced together. A word here, a suggestion there and you find yourself in a completely different place.

As a clerk I help to create the agenda, and will write draft minutes – setting down all the factual background bits that need to be in the minutes for them to make sense in a hundred years or so and then collecting phrases that might come in useful.

  • “We agree to do xxxx”
  • “We don’t agree to do xxxx”
  • “We don’t accept the recommendation from the sub-committee and ask them to work with xxx and xxx to bring back an alternative at our next meeting”

Of course sometimes what emerges is something completely unexpected, but everyone there feels that the spirit is moving and it is quite astonishing how quickly things get agreed then.

My favourite quote about this is also from Qf&P, passage 2.92. It shows the power of this method and the unity that can be found by faithful listening.

The day was Friday, and we were mindful that within a few hours we would be going in separate directions, never to be gathered under the same circumstances again. As we met for worship that morning we were faced with the decision, whether or not to approve the epistle. We had laboured for several hours the day before, and it looked as though preferences for wording and other concerns would make it impossible to approve the final draft.

However, something happened which transformed the feeling of our meeting… [A New England Friend] said something like ‘I know that the blood of Christ and the Atonement are very important issues for some Friends, and I don’t see anything in the epistle which addresses those convictions…’

In the discussion that followed, [an] evangelical Friend expressed his concern that the number of references to Christ might be difficult for Friends not used to Christ-language. What had begun as an act of loving concern for other Friends transformed the meeting into a unified whole. The discussion had changed from persons wanting to ensure that their concerns were heard to wanting to ensure that the concerns of others were heard and that their needs were met. We had indeed experienced the transforming power of God’s love.

Paul Anderson, Report of the World Gathering of Young Friends, 1985

The text of the epistle may be found at 29.17

#AdventWord 2019: 6 House

community
photo by http://www.mikemcsharry.com/ on Flickr

This isn’t a post about ‘Why have a meeting house?‘ but instead about the sharing of that house with other faith groups. Quakers respect other faiths and are willing to work alongside them, including sharing our buildings with them. Not only in a eirenic or ecumenical way, but because sharing our building is a way of building community and finding connections between disparate groups.

To quote William Penn:
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. William Penn, 1693

I found this blog post, “Finding more in common” by Marigold Bentley, talking about inter-faith week a useful reminder of the many ways and reasons that Quaker communities strive to work with and welcome other religions, while giving some guidance on how to ensure those invitations are welcoming and inclusive.

While managing buildings, I deal with many different worshipping groups, from the smallest two or three person silent retreat to a larger community coming together to hold a Bar Mitzvah, Eid meal, or other celebration. At an ecumenical group we were discussing long-term hirers, and other churches were surprised that the Meeting Room was used by so many different faiths. Our buildings aren’t set apart, but for me this willingness to share is a way of showing respect and celebrating the sacredness of the everyday.

Some meeting houses are in more diverse areas then others; one meeting house may be used by local synagogues as an overflow/larger area for celebrations and community gatherings, as a mosque for the regular Friday prayers, and by Buddhist meditation classes. Another may be used by Ba’hai, or Hindu, or any number of religious groups, including other Christian groups. The intermingling of these groups on the calendar and during community gatherings encourages the strengthening of our own spiritual lives and the building of a more peaceful world.

#AdventWord 2019: 5 Raise

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Perhaps not surprisingly the first topic that today’s #AdventWord Raise inspired was money. Raising money is a continual topic when running a meeting or a building – charitable or not.

At one point the building would have been supported and even built or repaired by the worshipping community. However, for most buildings I’ve visited the building now is maintained by professionals and supported more by other activities – hiring the building out to groups, or through longer-term leases.

One topic I’m often asked to comment on is the level of room hire charges. This is a continual debate and one that doesn’t have any easy answer. Often people will say that they’re happy to be at the cozy and cheap end of the market, while others aspire to be in align with a local office or conference centres. I go into this in more detail in the marketing course, you can read one article about this here: Marketing the next steps.

Another continual topic is how to raise interest in the worshipping community for the various behind the scenes jobs that are essential. Finding ways to ensure that reports and conversations explain what is happening throughout the year. Then for projects that people understand the plans and fully support the people doing the work.

If you are trying to ensure people feel part of the process and are willing to increase their funding there are some simple steps that can have fairly impressive results.

  1. Tell people about the need, people give more for specific topics so perhaps draw out a list of things that might be of interest and work through them. This month talking about raising money to support the local LINK group, next month bursaries for sending people to courses and conferences, then on to the library, hospitality, etc. Having different people speaking to support is always best as there is a personal connection. People often do this for ‘special collections’ for outside organisations but it works to educate the community about its different aspects.
  2. Ask – give specific targets, create an annual appeal letter and suggest that people review their giving as often a standing order is set up and then forgotten about. If someone isn’t giving by standing order make it easy to complete the form – including gift aid if applicable and offer help if needed.
  3. Share the knowledge and responsibility, consider a finance team rather than just a treasurer. Break the role down into tasks and see if simplifying systems can remove some of the tasks. For example, no longer having a cash collection removes the need for banking, counting, etc.
  4. Keep reports simple and use illustrations where possible – there are examples in the Quaker A-Z: W Where does the money go? post from a local meeting treasurer who checks the reports against her primary school children. If a target isn’t made tell people – but also celebrate when targets are reached.

How do you raise interest in finance and building management within your community?

#AdventWord 2019: 4 Humble

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String connection workshop activity at Managing our meeting houses conference at Woodbrooke

The Lord has told you, ·human [O man], what is good; he has told you what ·he wants [the Lord requires] from you: to do what is ·right to other people [just], love ·being kind to others [mercy; lovingkindness], and ·live humbly, obeying [walk humbly with] your God.

Micah 6:8 Expanded Bible

Like so many behind the scenes supporting jobs, building management is often seen as a humble purpose, busy with blocked toilets, leaking roofs and cluttered chaos. Yet, it is how this job is done that is the important thing.

From the Micah quote above – ‘to do what is right to other people’, often translated as to act justly. Which can be your own attitude, or how you treat suppliers, contractors, volunteers and others working alongside you to get the work done.

However, this can include much more, such as transparent policies, paying a living wage, being a Fair Trade church.

The second phrase ‘being kind to others’ is also translated as ‘loving to show mercy’. So often being willing to forgive and move forward toward reconciliation can be seen as a weakness, yet being willing to accept others frailties can build a stronger team and community. Of course, there are times when being loving towards someone means making hard decisions, but that can also be done in a transparent and truthful way.

Finally, the third phrase ‘live humbly’ with the idea of walking alongside God brings us to a more spiritual aspect. So often meetings get caught up in agendas and projects, plowing through items to ensure it is all dealt with efficiently. Yet, it is important to leave time for discernment, to work out what is not necessarily easiest or most efficient but what those ‘promptings of love and truth in your hearts’ are leading us towards.

How can we ensure that all aspects of our building and business reflect these three phrases or instructions?

#AdventWord 2019: 3 Time

2014 07 31 sculpture in the city Time here becomes space

Today’s #AdventWord Time made me think of plans, calendars and schedules. It won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I have multiple to do lists, calendars for each ‘hat’ or role/client, not to mention lists of lists. They’re all reviewed regularly, in theory so nothing falls through – although of course it does. As I trust the calendar – it can mean that things go wrong when the calendar is wrong…. but that’s all part of life!

I see the schedules, checklists and calendar as creating space, I don’t spend time wondering what I’m doing today as it’s already planned. I trust that the past-me who sat and planned out the week, knew what they were doing, and that there is margin included for all the extras that appear in my day.

When I do mentoring I tell my clients to be nice to the future-you who will be grateful for the work you are doing now. Preparation and thinking now will mean less work later, thinking through and creating policies and procedures at a time where there isn’t a crisis is so much nicer than doing in the middle of one after all.

When I do clerk support – I supply a calendar spreadsheet (download it from here), which builds up to be a record of what needs doing when, and when it was done. Most maintenance jobs – whether physical or administrative repeat on a schedule and once that’s recognised you can put it onto the calendar and it will remind you, so you don’t need to remember. Although you do need to look at the calendar of course!

Atul Gwande’s book the Checklist Manifesto showed that a checklist makes even the most efficient and accurate person or team that bit more efficient and accurate. Important if you are a surgeon or pilot, but also important whatever you are doing.

#AdventWord 2019: 2 Visit

Bromley Quaker Meeting House

One of the things I love about working for MBS is the chance to visit so many meeting houses and churches. Each looks different, each reflects the time and place that it was designed, built, or renovated. There is a collection of images on Flickr created by a Quaker photographer John Hall – well worth looking to see if you recognise any of the buildings, or just enjoy a virtual visit around the country – and abroad.

The English Heritage Quaker Meeting House project was done during 2015 & 2016 with the report being presented at Bath Britain Yearly Meeting Gathering (YMG) as a special interest group. The room was a reasonable size but the group overflowed, not only standing room but also into the corridor as people gathered to hear about how special our buildings are – I loved hearing non-Quakers tell us what a wonderful resource and heritage that Quakers across Britain had preserved.

During the survey a total of 345 meeting houses were visited across Great Britain: 324 in England, 12 in Wales, 7 in Scotland and 2 in the Channel Islands. You can read more about it and download the reports for each building, as well as the national overview report on their website: http://heritage.quaker.org.uk/ Central England Quakers used that information to produce their own booklet, showing a Quaker time line against the founding of each of their meetings.

Reading through the national overview report, and listening to the presentation what struck me was the love that people have for these buildings and gardens and how interesting each one was. Although in Norfolk and Waverley – the survey shone a light on the buildings (ten, of which six are listed) noting that all buildings were loved but often by just one or two people locally, and where the Premises person was often was 90+ years old and still climbing ladders.

Visiting other meeting houses, and churches can create connections, share good practice and give inspiration on how to deal with problems in your own building. It can be a joy as well as a recommended practice in Qf&P 12.12.