AS I was leaving for the Quakers’ meeting, my mate said: “You need to get there 10 minutes early for the Unveiling Of The Relic”.
“What happens then?” I asked.
“Well, the men with the beards, wearing the hoods, shave, brand and sacrifice the newest member, known as The Unclean, before they perform acts in the Circle Of Darkness on The Goat of Truth.”
“So who quakes?” I asked.
“Everyone,” he said. “Wear clean undies. Trust me.”
A discussion then followed about what Quakers were, that, typically, ended up more about what they weren’t. “Aren’t they the ones with the big hats and buckles?” No, they’re the Pilgrims. “Aren’t they the ones who make furniture?’ No, they’re the Shakers. “Well, are they the ones with the horses and buggies, Abe Lincoln beards and Little House On the Prairie outfits, who raise barns?” No, they’re the Amish.
Eventually, and after a mention of Uncle Toby (as in the oats), I was off for some red-hot Quaker action. And I was excited. In a grey carpet, fluorescent lights, lots of pamphlets, instant coffee kind of way.
And I wasn’t disappointed. There was indeed grey carpet, fluorescent lights, lots of pamphlets, instant coffee . . . and 20 chairs in a circle.
If you like sitting in a circle staring into space, you’re gonna love the Quakers. They’re the Claytons religion. The religion you have when you don’t have a religion. Because they’re not a religion. They’re a “religious society of friends”. You don’t even have to believe in God to be a Quaker. You don’t even need to be a Quaker to be a Quaker. You can sign up and become a member, or just be an “attender”. Jesus! Would it kill you to give me something to be scared of? I’m an escaped Catholic.
They don’t have a church. Or clergy. Or parishioners. Or a doctrine. Just friends, a room, and an ethos of truth, equality, peace and simplicity. Selfish, power-hungry bastards.
“Our worship follows no ritual or order of service. We gather together in a silent meeting, for an hour.”
And so we did. Sitting round a coffee table covered in pamphlets with a pot plant in the middle, we mostly sat in silence. Part meditation, part group therapy, part sitting in a doctor’s waiting room.
Every now and then someone would say something about faith, journeys, occasionally even God. One woman talked about a Quaker meeting as a place you come to have your answers questioned. The idea is the spirit connects us all and anyone moved by the spirit can speak.
I was more moved by a dozen people sitting in silence than I was last week by a thousand or so being force-fed mumbo jumbo between power anthems at Planetshakers. I felt more connected to the man asleep next to me at the Quakers than the Planetshaker who spoke in tongues through a song about Opening Your Legs For Jesus, or something.
At the end of the meeting we all held hands and had coffee. I chatted with some Quaker friends who were lovely, despite their belief in an imaginary friend in the sky. They talked about how Quakers are about working it out yourself. DIY spirituality. And how the nature of people being attracted to spiritual anarchy made it difficult to get decisions made and stuff done at times. “God loved the world so much she didn’t send a committee,” one joked.
I couldn’t help thinking there’d never be a Quaker terrorist cell. Their inherent non-conformity would make it impossible for them to be extremist about anything. I relate with them. The only thing I believe in is nihilism.
Quakers are mavericks. God, no God. Member, no member. Turn up, don’t. They encourage people to explore other religions. “Quakers do not have a fixed creed, but believe that each individual must find their own understanding of God, and is guided by their conscience in finding the way to live.” Feel free to give me some rules to break at any stage.
It’s hard to be cynical about the Quakers, but that’s not going to stop me. I kept thinking about comedian Bill Hicks talking about the anti-marketing dollar being a good market.
Despite the sensible shoes, serviceable clothes and no-nonsense haircuts, the Quakers know how to have a good time. They’re holding a ’50s night next month called Quake, Rattle and Roll. You gotta laugh. Or not.