By Hayley Fern
At all of my first dozen meetings, someone new has asked me how I came to discover Quakers. My reply is always the same: I happened to read a book which talked about it with such agreeable descriptions that I became curious. The book was Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale. As a visual artist my reasons for picking it up were to do with art. What I actually got from it was much more.
Being accustomed to the internet, one’s easy access to information, I quickly found the Quakers online and applied for an introductory pack. Delighted to receive a whole package of small books and leaflets I soon found that what I was reading was actually a description of who I already was. In fact, it was who we all were: my husband, my children and I. It described our ethos, our attitude, our lifestyle, and our beliefs.
Next, my first meeting; I had seen the A-board outside the meeting before, inviting in visitors and friends but I had never ventured inside. I went alone and was greeted with incredible warmth – the only way to describe it is to say that everyone treated me as a new friend. I still find that name utterly appropriate and appealing. I have always considered my role on the planet to be a friend, a friend to others; a friend to the earth. Being called a friend is part of this journey and part of who I am.
Finally: the silence. It is almost impossible to describe how powerful this simple silence is. Sometimes I treat is as prayer, sometimes as space. I am learning how to hold someone in the light, which is just beautiful. Not being led, conducted or taught allows for a freedom I have never before experienced. Before this, how often did I just be still, waiting for the silent voice of God?
So, I am a newbie, dipping my feet in the water and trying out a few chairs at meetings. Being in my thirties, I am not the youngest or the oldest to appear in this place. And, I am still to completely grasp the way this quiet organisation conducts itself and finds the balance between structure and nonconformity. I know that I will continue meeting for silent worship because it works for me. I know I will learn and grow and eventually understand everything I need to. But, the main thing for me is that I am already a friend. It just took me a while to find everyone else!