Monday, 3 August 2009

Are UK Quakers elitist?

Something is bugging me, and has been doing so for a while now. Are we (especially in Britain) elitist? I don't mean intentionally - quite the reverse! - but from what I read, see and hear from other Friends, UK Quakers are predominantly white, middle-aged, middle-class, educated and left-wing. I include myself in this - that describes me absolutely. But Quakerism has so much to offer everyone, and I am concerned that we're not getting the message out beyond our own circle.

We have Quaker Quest, which is excellent, and I would not think to criticise it. My Meeting is running one in the autumn at which I have been invited to speak, so it would be pretty hypocritical of me to pull it down. But are all the people who attend just more people like us? Are we just continuing the status quo by inviting our friends and colleagues? By all means, invite them - but how do we reach out to other people who may not even be aware that we exist?

I live in a small ex-mining village, with on odd mix of inhabitants. We have University lecturers and post-graduate students, because it's only a short commute to Durham, and we have a group of artists and writers. Then the majority of people come from families who have lived here since the village was founded in the 1870s, people who would be described by themselves as working class, often poorly educated and with complex family trees, as families intermarry and relationships can sometimes be of quite a short duration. Their lives usually revolve around the family, their often unskilled jobs, football for the men and shopping for the women, and drinking on a weekend. They expect to be able to buy pirate DVDs and dodgy cigarettes from their neighbours, and to settle arguments with their fists - without involving the police. Green concerns, ethical consumerism, politics of any kind don't engage them at all.

This is difficult to write about without sounding condescending, and I really don't want to. I am describing my neighbours and my carers, and they are good people. But they know nothing about Quakers, and are usually quite turned off from religion in any form. For example, one of my carers describes any churchgoer as 'all Goddy-Goddy' - with a hastily added, 'Not like you, I don't mean!' I think it's meant as a compliment...

I talk about Quakerism and my faith when the opportunity arises, so at least the people who know me know a little about it. But how do we reach out and explain, to people who are so dismissive of any kind of personal faith, that our way is different? Are they even looking for another way? And would they stay if they came to a Meeting, or would they feel out of place and unwanted?

I have no answers to any of these questions. But they worry me very deeply, so I am putting them out here to see whether they worry you too.

1 comment:

Jan Lyn said...

This concerns me very much Heather. It's not unheard of either, in the US to visit a Meeting and leave without really being greeted. This is not the case where I am now, however, I've attended a year and not been approached gently about membership.......? I know Friends do not push, but I find this strange, especially as I have brought it up personally. Then there is your main topic at hand, which I am reading in various places, so I do think it is a growing concern amongst us. Our very equality testimony speaks to this naturally. So, the question remains who do we attract and why not have more outreach to a wide variety of people.......Thanks for putting your thoughts into words further for me. We need to broaden and be a well rounded people; a people of faith and not merely intellect which we seem to attract. (Not in!)

Love to you,
Jan Lyn