One of the better things that I came away with from this year's FGC's Central Committee was the Pendle Hill Pamphlet (#307) by Barry Morley, Beyond Consensus: Salvaging Sense of the Meeting.
In keeping with the concern I carry for making our faith explicit and conveying our faith to others, this pamphlet does well to take a very abstract element of Quakerism--sense of the meeting--and put it in contexts that clarify how it differs from the secular concept of consensus.
I knew I would want to read this pamphlet when I read "About the Author," which says in part: "He has become increasingly concerned about... a process by which Quakers dedicate themselves to Quaker values and concerns but diminish the spiritual core from which the values and concerns originally emanated."
Towards the beginning of the pamphlet, I come across another phrase that is very close to what I have begun to share with other Friends: "Many of us are adults before we become Quakers. We are not steeped in the process..."
But these are the glimpses I came across that led me into reading the pamphlet altogether. There are stories of Friends laboring with one another, seeking a solution to difficult, personal concerns that would resonate with the deepest inward nature of a Quaker meeting. There are stories of elegant transformation when Friends are faithful to pursuing the sense of the meeting; and examples of disappointing let-downs when Friends settle for its secular cousin, consensus.
Here are a few elements of sense of the meeting, paraphrased, that I hope more of us will restore:
In sense of the meeting, God gets a voice. -p. 5
Seeking consensus is an intellectual process. Sense of the meeting is a commitment to faith. -p. 5
With consensus, we will ourselves to a decision. In sense of the meeting, we will ourselves to allow ourselves to be led. -p. 5
Consensus fosters a weak commitment because it's based on shared compromises. Sense of the meeting fosters a powerful commitment because it's based on a shared inward experience of God's power over all. -pp. 6, 11.
With consensus, we never really let go of our personal agenda. In sense of the meeting, we seek to understand the agenda that is intended for us, which is delivered to us from out of the Light. -p. 12
There is a lot in this 32-page pamphlet... It refreshes my spirit to see language and stories attached to a concept that is in some ways endangered by the secularism that is creeping into some of our meetings.
And Morley makes a very important statement about the challenge of conveying a faith that is often defined by what it does NOT have, does NOT do, does NOT believe. He writes:
A psychologist and Friend with whom I discuss these things says: "The Quakers have a great thing going and they don't teach anyone. They don't even teach themselves." We must become willing to teach each other to learn what can't be taught. (pp. 30-31, emphasis added)Blessings,