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NSW Regional Meeting - Reflections On the Australian Quaker Centre (J Strong)

 A personal reflection on the AQC and the necessity of a permanent facility                 James Strong   20 Apr 2010

I’ve heard Pendle Hill in Pennsylvania described as a "centre for contemplation and action”. I think our community in Australia is much in need of such a resource, and will find it in the AQC.

I ask myself: What kind of (spiritual) work does the Centre aspire to accomplish, and does the Australian Quaker community discern a need for that work? (Are we lacking?) If so: What kind of programs and facilities does this work necessarily require? What is its essence?

I can speak only for myself, but I have come to see the AQC as addressing a real lack, and I understand that this mission requires a permanent, residential facility – as a minimum requirement.

What is this lack? I recoil from calling it a problem of depth, mostly out of misplaced sensitivity, but I do discern a need for a deeper commitment, a need to be Spirit-saturated – or God-possessed, a term that has been used to describe religious, intentional communities of various sorts and the distinctive lives they built and the practices they pioneered. What would it mean, in a contemporary Australian Quaker context, to be God- or Spirit-possessed? How would it further our prophetic witness? I think it is vital that we find out.

As I work through my thoughts and leadings on these questions, analogues – imperfect, but instructive, I think – leap to mind, such as the lives of the desert fathers and mothers of 3rd and 4th century Roman Egypt and Palestine (those pioneers of Silence); Benedictine monasteries, ancient and modern; the contemplative communities of the East. All were (or are) Silent Revolutionaries, building radical new kinds of community, doing the work of the Spirit by living Spirit-saturated lives, creating spaces and rhythms with and through the Silence to deepen and hone their practices and Light-work.

These models are relevant, if only imperfectly, because it seems to me that we Quakers are (or ought to be) something like "Oblates of the Indwelling Spirit”, variously understood, and would benefit greatly from a flow of energies – centripetal and centrifugal – to and from a shared, deeply rooted centre of retreat and renewal, a place that is an intentional Quaker community with a daily rhythm grounded in mindfulness, silence, work and prayer: a place that deepens our individual and collective relationship to the Spirit.

But the Centre it is not – nor should it be – merely a place for personal relief or edification: Quakers are called to prophetic witness and prophetic action, and the life of the Centre nurtures prophetic witness as eldering, teaching, ministry, reconciliation, healing, peace work, etc, in a way that is both natural and unique to a permanent, intentional community. We carry the spirit of the place outward to transform and enrich the lives of our meetings and communities everywhere. Something of the prophetic fire of our 17th Century Quaker forebears – understood in the framework of our liberal tradition – needs to be injected into the contemporary world, and the need is immense and urgent. I suspect that regular "immersion therapy” in the AQC will aid us all in recapturing or extending that prophetic witness.

It’s been said that the AQC vision is potentially "too grand” – but boldness seems warranted to me. It is something of a Holy Experiment that attempts to answer an earnestly discerned need.

In my opinion, alternatives to the AQC that posit no permanent, intentional community or facility are essentially arguing against the vision of the AQC altogether. An "AQC on the road" or other alternatives to a permanent facility have been suggested. But roving classes and such – while they may be a vital part of the AQC mission – are a consequence of the life of the Centre, not its core. It is true that roving classes or retreats can be addressed by other programs, but they would be of a radically different character without a permanent facility. If Friends (or the community as a whole) do not discern the need for a permanent facility, then a simple, outright refutation of the AQC vision would be a more straightforward course than the offering of alternatives.

For my part, I would very much like to see a thriving Quaker Centre on this continent – a place – although I appreciate the great care and commitment such a centre would require.


 

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