Introducing Quakers: Meetings for Learning
A Meeting for Learning is an opportunity for members of a Quaker Meeting to explore an issue together. Like all Quaker gatherings, a Meeting for Learning begins with silence. They tend to be participative events at which a range of views and perspectives may be sought and welcomed.
Many Quakers participate, at least from time to time, in gatherings the focus of which is to move along and enhance the understanding both of individual Friends and of the Meeting as a whole. Meetings for Learning are one such occasion in which a topic is addressed and explored.
As is the case with many Quaker gatherings, the meeting starts in silence. The issue to be addressed is then introduced, maybe briefly or maybe in detail. Topics range widely. In Canterbury Meeting, for instance, recent topics have included: issues of economic justice; spiritual preparation for Yearly Meeting; how a disabled Attender at the Meeting uses her communication aid. A Meeting for Learning was led by members of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade. Writer and Quaker, Rex Andrews recently led a similar kind of meeting regarding his new book God in a Nutshell (Greengrove Press, 2014); as did Paul Parker, Recording Clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting.
By its nature of being a single topic, a Meeting for Learning can be a one-off event. Alternatively, a Quaker Meeting might organise a regular time for a Meeting for Learning to take place. In Canterbury Meeting, for instance, Meetings for Learning tend to take place immediately after Meeting for Worship on the third Sunday of the month. As those attending the Meeting for Learning are an ad hoc group, the Meeting takes place in the Meeting House.
Whilst there is no expectation that everyone attending the Meeting for Learning will speak, it is usual for anyone to have the opportunity to do so should they wish. To this end, the Meeting may be facilitated, either by the presenter, or by someone appointed to do so. A facilitator might also gently guide a Friend away from speaking too frequently or at too great a length.
For the Meeting to be of greatest value, the issue needs to be explored as deeply as time will allow. This depth may be too shallow for some and too deep for others. However, it is part of the Quaker search for truth.
As in most Quaker gatherings, there is a desire to avoid the taking up of confrontational positions, instead looking for common ground on which to stand. The purpose of this is not to avoid the recognition of difference, but to recognise that difference, which is inevitable, need not divide us.
After an agreed length of time, such as an hour, the Meeting is brought to a close with a short period of silence.
If you are in attendance at a Quaker Meeting, and would like to know what topics are scheduled for forthcoming Meetings for Learning, you could ask an Elder of the Meeting, or the Clerk to the Meeting. If you would be interested in leading a Meeting for Learning, why not suggest your proposal to an Elder?