Solihull Quakers at Tree of Life Festival

Donald Whitlock from Solihull Quaker Meeting reports on their participation in the Tree of Life Festival:

Solihull Quakers participated in the Autumn Tree of Life Festival on 20th October 2018 at The Beeches Conference Centre, Bournville. The Tree of Life Festival, held twice a year in association with the magazine Tree of Life, is a one-day festival with a New Age theme. From 10 am to 5.45 pm we had an information stand in the main hall, and also from 10 am to 10.30 we held a workshop.

The day was a great success. We put up the CEQAM banner next to the stand,which was extremely attractive, and many different leaflets were on the stand to take away, covering all aspects of Quakerism.

The highlight of the day was the Workshop at 10 am. About 20-25 paying festival-goers attended. I gave a five-minute introduction to the Quakers, including what we believed about the Inner Light and how we have that of God in each of us, and what happened at a Meeting forWorship, including the significance of silence, gathering and vocal ministry. Louise Scrivens, an attender at Solihull, shared her spiritual journey, what Quakerism meant to her, and how she decided to apply for membership. There wasa short time for questions, answered by me, Louise and, from the floor,Caroline Gibbs.

The half-hour was rounded off by a fifteen-minute Meeting for Worship. I added a little detail to my general introduction, advised everybody to get comfortable enough to sit for fifteen minutes, and explained a little more about silence and ministry. The meeting gathered almost instantly! There was no ministry except for one lady who’d identified herself earlier as a Spiritualist medium; she ministered three times! I was kicking myself because I’d forgottento say that ministry should be short and that it was customary only to speak once! In all fairness to her, each of her vocal ministries was short, and the gathering and atmosphere of the meeting was, thankfully, not spoiled.

The early slot for the workshop worked out well: we invited participants to come to the stand for more answers to questions. An encouraging number did, and many leaflets were taken away. Also, Solihull Meeting supplied some white poppies on the stand, which aroused lively interest. Several were taken away,including two or three neighbouring stall-holders who wore them through theday.

About thirty organisations pay £100 each for an information stand in the main hall, and some of those also hold half-hour workshops. These run continuously through the day in three smaller workshop rooms. Admission tickets for members of the public cost £10.

I first proposed the idea of a Quaker presence at the Festival to Central England Elders and Overseers Support Group. My reasoning was that people who pay £10 to seek the Meaning of Life might well be interested in what Quakers have to say about it; more interested, perhaps, than the general public who passed Solihull Meeting’s market stall for Quaker Week a few years back in Solihull street-market.

Elders and Overseers were encouraging, but their next meeting came after the Festival, so they couldn’t give official backing in time. So I took it to Solihull Meeting, whobacked it enthusiastically, and Elders and Oversers offered help informally. Elders and Overseers Support Group and Solihull Meeting supplied several Friends who staffed the stand in pairs through the day, many thanks, and individual special thanks to these Friends! They were: DonaldWhitlock, Louise Scrivens, Aileen Cook, Janet White, Marian Singles, Hilary Johnson, Julia Furminger, MinaTilt and Peter Fishpool.

In my opinion the day was a tremendous success. I had the feeling that it really was Spirit-led; that many people were holding us, and it, in the Light. Several mistakes and omissions I’d made in the organising were picked up by other people and we were able to correct them without any stress.

I think that Solihull Meeting will be doing this again.