My life with Quakers began when I walked into a meeting in 1994. I knew almost nothing about what to expect and it blew me away. I quickly discovered that, in my case at least, Quaker meetings are addictive. I’ve been going ever since.
Quakers have a reputation for being, well, killjoys, but my experience of them has been the opposite. From the moment I first turned up I’ve been delighted by their open-hearted tolerance, open-minded good humour and passionate commitment to social justice. And, uniquely in my experience, they are a religious group who don’t believe they have all the answers. They never insist they’re right and they have no desire to persuade other people to join them. As a result, they tend to keep themselves to themselves, and that means no one else has much of a clue about who they are or what they do.
When I’d been around Quakers for a few years I was asked to do some public speaking about them to small interested groups: no evangelising, no promotion, just information. Those talks led indirectly to a commission from the International Sacred Literature Trust to write a contribution to their Spirit of… series, using Quaker literature as the source material for a book explaining Quakerism. The Spirit of the Quakers was published by Yale University Press in 2010.
The following year Quaker Quest asked me to write Being a Quaker: a guide for newcomers, which I was happy to do. And I was even happier when it proved to be a hit with the newcomers who read it – so much so that I was asked to write a second edition (now in its fourth printing) and I’m due to write a third in 2019.
My most recent commission has been to write one of a new series of little books to be published by Christian Alternative. They are calling them Quaker Quicks. My contribution will be What Do Quakers Believe? I’ve found it the hardest of my books to write so far, because Quakers don’t have a creed, so they understandably shy away from that central question. But it’s a question people ask a lot and it deserves to be answered with openness and transparency.