Why I am a Quaker - Kingsley Belton
I'm a Quaker because many years ago, out of a sense of curiosity, I visited Wellingborough Meeting. The welcome I received there was loving and accepting. After Meeting, there would be no loaded questions, no expectations laid on me, just open hospitality and respect for me as an individual. I soon became a regular, if very intermittent, attender.
For many years I would turn up at Meeting on a rather 'ad hoc' basis and sink gratefully into the silence, finding within it a retreat from the hurly burly of life and the daily demands. A space in which to be gathered. I was then a young mum juggling, as we all do, family and working life. Sometimes my young daughters would come with me and loved their special time in the children’s group. They were not given doctrines, just stimulating activities and stories. I attended a number of discussion groups over the next few years and began to make lasting friendships.
Meanwhile most Sundays we would worship together as a family in a local Anglican parish. Over the course of time I found I could no longer believe the doctrines preached, could not recite the creed; finally I could no longer manage to receive communion. My beliefs were changing as I continued to question and doubt and learn about new spiritual pathways. I felt hypocritical, yet still it did not occur to me to switch allegiance. I felt it was something I needed to correct within myself in order to conform.
Being in Meeting for Worship, amongst loved and wise friends in our very small Wellingborough Meeting provided me with a refuge and a challenge. I realised that whilst my beliefs were dwindling my core faith need not. I didn't need to 'throw the baby out with the bathwater'.
As the children grew up I started attending more regularly and learnt about the Quaker way of being. I discovered that though Quakers appear peaceful and worship in silence they are very busy people! I began to appreciate that I was involved with a small but vibrant community. These Quakers were seeking to live out their testimonies. So, after twenty odd years, I considered applying for membership. I wanted to play my part, however falteringly.
Around that time I was asked by a Friend why I hadn't applied for membership and I replied that I was terrified of once again feeling hypocritical as I had done for years, with increasing pain and unease. "Look at us" she said "We haven't arrived; we are still questioning and stumbling along!" From then on my question to myself changed to: 'why not become a Quaker?'
I was accepted into membership and I remain a Quaker because here I am allowed to doubt, to question, to grow, to be challenged and yet can feel rooted in a community with a strong identity, an amazing history and a forward looking attitude. It is a Religious Society of Friends that strives to be inclusive not exclusive.
Since becoming a member I have of course continued to change. I find I 'know' less and less and my previous Christian faith no longer 'fits'. I often feel unworthy of the name Quaker and yes, some of the old anxieties return about not being 'good enough' and about my lack of a clearly definable set of beliefs. What keeps me a Quaker at these times is the same as that which initially drew me in: the deep core of our worship; the quest to keep attempting to live out our testimonies and the ongoing sense of spiritual hospitality and welcome.