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Quaker Question Time: listening and learning together

Kirsty Philbrick examines how sharing the pearls and grit of Quaker faith can bring people together in community.

Giving voices of all ages an equal platform has been a priority of the 'Quaker Question Time' events. <span>Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@evan__bray?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Evan Dennis</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a></span>
Giving voices of all ages an equal platform has been a priority of the 'Quaker Question Time' events. Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

"Love the questions themselves, as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." -- Rainer Maria Rilke

As Quakers we try to commit ourselves to 'live the questions', to be guided by the Spirit as we discern our way through life. This looks different for different people and it is fascinating to get together and hear how Friends of all ages approach their faith, and how it informs their life.

As part of the Quaker Youth Project in the West region we've held two 'Quaker Question Time' events. Evenings where more than 50 Quakers have gathered to hear from a panel of teenage and adult Quakers, to hear what they find to be the pearls and grit of their Quaker faith, personal responses to societal issues and much more besides. On each occasion, panellists were brave and bold in sharing their responses to questions from an avid audience.

In 2019 we met in Horfield Meeting House in Bristol, and in 2020, for all the obvious reasons we met online. Hosting this event on Zoom was amazingly successful. Quieter voices could be heard loud and clear, and a geographically disparate community gathered from the comfort of their homes.

Exploring different perspectives

With just 90 minutes together and so many pertinent questions from the audience (submitted in advance on online sign up form), we kept the introductions of panellists brief. We learnt names, ages, location and main interests – with commitment to playing the accordion or 'Dungeons and Dragons' welcomed and valued alongside experiences as a Green councillor, working for War Child in the Democratic Republic of Congo or striking from school.

Giving voices of all ages an equal platform has been a priority of these events. It fits with the Quaker testimony to equality and our belief that there is 'that of God' in everyone. There are insights to gain from everyone, regardless of age. However it is something which is not always done well in Quaker meetings or our wider culture, where young people can feel their engagement is tokenistic.

The questions took us on a meandering tour of our panellist's different perspectives. Starting with 'where does the sun shine for you literally and metaphorically?' which provoked a physics lesson – 'the sun doesn't rise, the earth rotates' – and to others telling us the passion which gets them out of bed in the morning. We journeyed on through people's hopes and fears, questions about Quakerism and how to act in light of the ecological crisis or how to truly be anti-racist.

Finding our own words

People of different ages, interests and experience had distinct understandings of the topics. As each found their own words we felt how fascinating it is to listen when people are speaking authentically. There is so much richness in each other's expressions – we won't always agree but can always learn in community! Feedback from one enthusiastic audience member proclaimed "this is what Quakerism should be like every week and every day" as it offered a real opportunity to share spiritual journeys.

The model of doing a 'Quaker Question Time' is nothing new or complicated. We hope they might inspire some of you to put on something similar in your Quaker community to really welcome, hear and learn from the incredible people who are already in your midst!

We will be putting together a brief 'how to' guide to share how we put this event on and also hope to offer a workshop in the 'Patterns and Examples' sessions on 1 and 8 October.

Register for a Patterns and Examples session