Thursday 23 April 2015


"'Do you believe in God?' is a fatuous question"

Though some Quakers are non-theists, many speak about ‘the Spirit’, ‘the Light’, ‘the divine’, ‘the Truth’, or even ‘the Christ within’.  The emphasis is on experience rather than belief – and on deeds, not words – and there is certainly no creed, no doctrine or dogma.

Geoffrey Durham, once better known as ‘the great Soprendo’ and watched on TV by millions, told us in Wychwood Library that he was here to talk about his experience of … ‘God’ (as good a shorthand as any, he said) and how he came to adopt Quakerism as a result of getting stuck in a traffic jam in front of the same poster day after day.  After a period of attending Quaker meetings (which any of us can do, by the way) and experiencing that hour of broken silence, he eventually became a member of what is also called the Religious Society of Friends. He said that it was something he had been looking for, that it gave him meaning and purpose. And he didn’t want to convert us (‘Quakers don’t evangelise’) but he did want to tell us what Quakers are and ‘leave the rest to you’. 

Answering that of God in everyone

Born actor and raconteur that he is, Geoffrey Durham could entertain an audience for hours.  His tale of the original Quaker, George Fox, was graphic enough for us to be able to picture the event readily.  Back in 1652, Fox interrupted a church sermon by standing on a pew and, now at eye-level with the preacher in his pulpit, saying loudly: “You will say Christ saith this and the apostles say this: but what canst thou say?”  Fox wanted to know what the preacher could say from his own experience, “inwardly from God”.  From there was born the Quaker belief that there should be no such thing as clergy and laity (“we abolished the laity!”) and that everyone and anyone is equal.  George Fox wanted every Quaker to ‘answer that of God in every one’.  So all can listen to the Spirit, all can have equally valid spiritual experiences (both at formal Quaker ‘meetings for worship’, and elsewhere) and all are also deserving of equal respect – which includes the social and political, indeed the geo-political, sphere.  It is then no surprise that Quakers are active politically, pursuing such concepts as the “Good Society”, and, famously, being wheeled on to BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day – ‘whenever there’s a war on!’ said Geoffrey - to talk about pacifism.

When Geoffrey first picked up the little Quaker booklet Advices and Queries, it opened in the centre and he read these two words:  Live Adventurously.  He has obviously been doing so ever since.  And in his book Being a Quaker he also quotes paragraph 28 of the same booklet:  Attend to what love requires of you.  It’s what he calls ‘the starting point of an adventure in the spirit which has changed millions of lives’.  

The next Wychwood Circle event is on May 3rd in the run-up to the General Election.  Quakers and others would no doubt welcome our discussion of what guides our voting intentions - the Good Society, the Common Good, or, as implied by the Bishops' Letter to the People and Parishes of the Church of England earlier this good ("Who is my neighbour?"), simply voting for your 'neighbour' - as opposed to your own self-interest.  The irony will not be lost on those in the Chadlington and Spelsbury area who live close to the village of Dean and whose need for the Bishops' advice may be greater than anyone's...

Anyone is welcome to join us at Wychwood Library at 7pm.  Some reading suggestions can be found in the previous post on this page. 

Friday 17 April 2015


“If you care about your neighbour, you care about politics”

(headline in Christian Today, 16 ii 25)

With our long-anticipated General Election imminent (and though the date was entirely predictable, one cannot say the same for the outcome) the first quarter of this year saw an unprecedented outpouring of books, reports, letters and commentaries from faith communities such as the Church of England.  We don’t shrink from discussing any topic at Wychwood Circle and our May discussion must surely be about politics and how our beliefs/faith/worldview might affect our political views.

Given that we have an established church in the UK and that all of us inhabit a ‘parish’ of the Church of England it would seem churlish not to take up the offerings made by the Bishops and others in terms of setting out the Church’s stall.  The title above was the headline to an article in Christian Today and seems to refute any nonsense from politicians (but only if they don’t like your view) about the church staying out of politics, let alone keeping to ‘spiritual matters’.  What is it to be spiritual if it is not about people (yes, and bodies!) and their well-being, to a Christian whose very name is based on an incarnational theology? Symon Hill takes this up in his commentary, as well as anticipating typical tabloid reactions!

Join our discussion on May 3rd as we take as our starting point any one or more of the following recent publications, listed in decreasing numbers of pages :
  • The book of essays by experts in their field (258 pages) ON ROCK OR SAND? Ed John Sentamu (SPCK 2015) – under the headings of hope, the common good, the UK economy, poverty, education, work, health and well-being, and ageing.
  • The Letter ‘to the People and Parishes of the Church of England’ (58 pages) Who is my neighbour?  which is downloadable  from the C of E website 
  • The ‘guide to the pastoral letter’ (11 pages) – a useful set of quotations under 23 different headings (our political culture, the role of the state, poverty and inequality, immigration, defence and war, etc). This can be found as a Word document on the same website
  • The Guardian editorial welcoming it the day after the Letter was published. 
  • A blog on the Letter and reactions to it, by Symon Hill at the thinktank Ekklesia: 

Sunday, May 3rd at 7.00pm (ending not later than 8.30) at Wychwood Library in Milton under Wychwood High Street