Reading Advices and Queries
By John Hall
I was recently appointed Assistant Clerk to my local Meeting. One of the jobs is to arrange for a Friend to read an Advice or Query (A&Q – in the latest Book of Discipline they are lumped together) early in the Meetings for Worship that precede the local business Meetings – ten times a year. I was handed some sheets on which records had been kept during the past seventeen years of the number of the A&Q and the date of previous readings. I set up a table and entered all the data.
The most frequently read was number 29; the one about growing old. It transpired that eleven years ago Elders had requested that that one be read once a year.
There are many other popular choices. The next most popular ones being:
5 – private stillness;
17 – that of God in everyone;
18 – Meeting as a community and
27 – living adventurously.
Other frequently-read A&Qs were
2 – God’s love;
5 – your own and others’ experience;
6 – other religious groups;
7 – open to new light;
10 – regular attendance at Meeting;
12 – responsibility for Meeting;
19 – children and young people;
20 – sharing time and money among Quakers and
32 – reconciliation.
While some of these will not be surprising, others may be more so.
Unpopular ones – read only once in a possible 170 opportunities, included:
23 – marriage
30 – accepting death and
40 – drugs and alcohol.
I also discovered that during the seventeen years, Advice 25 had never been read. That is the one about marital difficulties. I wonder if a whole series of assistant clerks have either found it difficult to find a Friend who would be willing to read it, or whether there is a general feeling that it is not a suitable advice. Read it. What do you think? And, given the lack of reading of A&Qs 23 and 25, is it possible that Friends do not consider marriage to be an appropriate topic to be aired in Meeting?
What the statistics do, however, is to give an insight into what Friends think are the important aspects of their faith. Just as the Testimonies have changed over the centuries, so have the beliefs and practices of Friends. While seventeen years is probably not a long enough period to judge trends in faith and practice, it seems that there are changes taking place. And these may not reflect those that are taking at the centre.
John Hall is editor of Friends Meeting Houses. Issue 4 of Friends Meeting Houses, with photographs of Cheshire and Lancashire and an article on the use of the Classical and Gothic styles of architecture in building or buying nineteenth-century Friends’ meeting houses, is out now.
“A long-term relationship brings tensions as well as fulfilment. If your relationship with your partner is under strain, seek help in understanding the other’s point of view and in exploring your own feelings, which may be powerful and destructive. Consider the wishes and feelings of any children involved, and remember their enduring need for love and security. Seek God’s guidance. If you undergo the distress of separation or divorce, try to maintain some compassionate communication so that arrangements can be made with the minimum of bitterness.”