Thursday, 5 April 2018

Doing It Ourselves

I've heard it said, many times, that Quakerism is a “do it yourself” religion.
People usually seem to mean it one of two ways. In one of those ways, they are usually being broadly positive about the idea. In the other, people tend to give it a negative connotation.
The first, positive way refers to our lack of separate, particularly paid, clergy. We are all in it together, we all muck in to do the jobs that need doing. Whether it's spiritual nurture, pastoral care, administration or looking after our property, everything is a communal task. This is, I think, usually seen as a positive both in the sense of having thrown off the authority of the “hireling priests” and in the fact that it enriches our sense of community. It is also often used as an encouragement, even admonition, to encourage members of our community (whether in formal membership or not) to get involved and take on voluntary roles within the community.
The other, negative way refers to our lack of doctrine leading to what some consider excessive plurality of belief. It goes along with the sentiment, also often negative, of “believe what you like” (a statement that makes no sense to me, but that's not the point right now). People can construct their own edifice of faith and belief with little direction, and that lack of direction is frequently seen as a problem.
The thing is, Quakerism “done right” is not “do it yourself” in either sense.
Ours is a “do it ourselves” faith.
None of us in any volunteer role should be doing it on our own. Even singular roles should have one or more assistants, as often seen among clerks and treasurers, or a committee supporting them (also common for treasurers). Even without that, each of us serves our Meeting community and should be upheld by that community. No task is done by one person alone; it is always the work and responsibility of the community, though we might not always clearly see the support and assistance we are given. Some would say that we are “upheld in prayer”, a term that does not speak to my experience, but we are certainly upheld by the love and nurture of our community – unless our community is failing.
Likewise, while our lack of belief-related doctrine and stricture means that a wide range of beliefs can exist within our community, we do not construct them on our own. Every one of our spiritual journeys is in the context of, and subject to the gentle, loving, but never controlling supervision of our Friends. Even where that check is not made deliberately, every personal, individual journey is made along with others and influences by them. None of us is a solo creation. We are each of us the product of all of us.
So let's stop speaking of a “do it yourself” faith. Let's remember that we “do it ourselves”.
If you enjoy this blog, or otherwise find it worthwhile, please consider contributing to my Patreon. More information about this, and the chance to comment, can be found in the post announcing the launch of my Patreon.