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Revision of the book of discipline: what happens now?

A big decision was made by Quakers at Yearly Meeting 2018, one with far-reaching consequences. Paul Parker outlines what happens next and how you can get involved.

Image: Jon Martin for BYM
Image: Jon Martin for BYM

Britain Yearly Meeting has taken its decision: we're going to be revising Quaker faith & practice, our book of discipline. It's exciting, and daunting; it's going to be a lot of work, and it'll take a while. So, what happens next? What are the first steps?

Well, first of all, the minute from Yearly Meeting will be sent to Meeting for Sufferings, which will consider it in July. Meeting for Sufferings (which has representatives from all area meetings, Young Friends General Meeting, General Meeting for Scotland and Meeting of Friends in Wales) has been asked to appoint a Revision Committee and to agree terms of reference for its work.

Meeting for Sufferings will need to think about how the Revision Committee will work, how big it should be, how it will report on its work, and what authority it should have. Some of this thinking has already been done by the Revision Preparation Group, which has been helping us to prepare for a revision for the last four years. They've already prepared draft terms of reference, but will be refining them further when they meet in June, now that they have the minutes from Yearly Meeting to guide them.

Getting involved

Meeting for Sufferings will also ask Central Nominations Committee (CNC) to start work on the search for nominations to the Revision Committee. It will probably be quite a large committee (about 24 members), and Yearly Meeting has asked for it to have a diverse membership, so CNC will want to take care to get this right. If you are interested in being a part of the Revision Committee, or would like to suggest the name of another Quaker, you can fill in our online form.

CNC will consider all the names and discern who to bring forward to Meeting for Sufferings for appointment. That will probably take until the end of the year. This all means it's likely that the Revision Committee will be in place and ready to start work by early 2019.

It's best not to rush these things. But if, like me, you've come away from Yearly Meeting 2018 excited and enthused (if a bit apprehensive) about the revision process, what can you be doing now?

Apart from suggesting names, worshipping, praying and holding the members of the above committees and bodies in the light, you can suggest passages you think might be considered for inclusion in the new book. You can continue to study the current Quaker faith & practice – it will be just as important to decide what to keep, as well as what to change.

Sharing experiences

Perhaps most importantly, as Quakers all of us need to continue to share our experiences of the divine – as George Fox said, “What canst thou say?"

The Yearly Meeting minute reminds us that “Quakers in Britain are diverse in matters of belief and the language we use to describe them and that is to be celebrated. We also experience in our meetings, unity and one-ness in the depths of our worship together. We should be true to our own beliefs, and listen deeply to other people's experience, as well as their words."

You might organise Meetings for Learning in your meeting or worship group, or attend a course at Woodbrooke or elsewhere. If you haven't already you could read God, Words and Us and organise a group discussion about it.

Whatever happens, and however long it takes, if you are a Quaker you will be touched by the revision process. Yearly Meeting, in its epistle, said: “Viewed from a distance, our Quaker community may seem like a single body. Up close, it sparkles in its infinite variety. Diversity in our beliefs and language is a richness, not a flaw."

Catch up on Yearly Meeting 2018