That of God in everyone


Perspectives from members of our community


On a Sunday morning, for one hour, I attend one of the two Quaker meetings in Belfast (one of twelve across Northern Ireland).

For one hour every Sunday, we sit in a circle, in silence, and tune in.

When a person feels strongly in-spired, they stand up and share an insight with those assembled in the room. This is known as ‘giving ministry’. With variations, Quakers have done this since 1652.

Anyone present can give ministry. Sometimes many of us do so, sometimes a few, sometimes none – but always, there is a that feeling of being assembled in a common purpose.

One of our long-standing members recounts the time when, after one such meeting, a new visitor came up to her and asked: “Is that what you… do?”

Now, my own chatty self excepted, we’re generally a quiet bunch. We mostly don’t shout about what we… “do”. But what we do the other 167 hours of the week is nourished and guided by that one hour of gathering in silent contemplation.

Since our beginnings 370 years ago in the north of England, during the often violent times between the beheading of Charles the First and the coronation of Charles the Second, Quakers have worked for peace, equality, and social justice. This in a time when refusing to take your hat off to your “superiors” could and did land people in jail. Quaker Plain-Speech – addressing everyone the same and saying it like it is – did land them in trouble.

But this wasn’t for the sake of making trouble. Quakers attempt to treat all people the same because they aim to see “that of God” in everyone – or, in secular terms, we know that there is good in everyone (it just may be hidden).

This meant that Quakers were instrumental in the abolition of slavery, education of girls, reform of prisons. Quakers were establishing hospitals, relieving famine, building whole villages on the principles of fairness and equality.
Quakers went to prison for refusing to go to war. As I speak, World Quakers are making a stand against the war in Ukraine.

That’s the big stuff. But you don’t need to be a prison reformer or village builder to put Quakerism into practice. The little stuff is big in its own way. After five years of attending Quaker meetings I have changed my behaviour; I am far readier to treat people with honesty, respect and kindness, even little everyday kindnesses. Do allow for human frailty, but also: call out injustice where it happens, no matter the rank of the perpetrators of the injustice. I put up less; I speak up more. Even writing this piece is something that came to me when I let the silence speak to me, one morning at 5am.

All this speaking up and equality stuff is not necessarily a Quaker trait. Adamant atheist Tim Minchin says: “I’m Australian; I don’t do hierarchy.” So, I am not claiming Quaker exclusivity.

But still – all this building of a better world, inspired by sitting quietly gathered in a circle, for just one hour every week. One hour of a breather, then pull up your sleeves and get going. Not bad!

So, what is it you… do?