A great convincement

convincement book

I have to admit to not really knowing much about the Quaker movement apart from the porridge and the numerous meeting rooms I have visited around the country.

I managed to pick up (in a charity shop in Whitby for £1) an interesting book called ‘ A great Convincement’ by Monica Ventress who chronicles the story of the Quakers in North East Yorkshire (a place I do know a lot about).

Apart from discovering that I was unknowingly an Anabaptist, I just love this description of the emergence of the Gurteen knowledge cafe (the thought that David Gurteen might be a time-lord and had gone back to the 1600s as an experiment did cross my mind):

An essential of the sectarian position was that the sermon should be followed by discussion: that worship was not a matter of passively hearing the Word preached by a learned minister, but in participation by the congregation after a gifted member had opened up a subject for discussion. As time went on the practice of interrupting the parson in his pulpit, became a common occurrence. Disrupting services had been made a secular offence by an Act of Parliament in Mary’s reign (1553-1558). The Quakers always claimed a legal right to speak after the sermon was over.

The book goes on to detail the numerous penalties and imprisonments of people who interrupted services, held or attended Quaker gatherings and is genuinely shocking that these practices were seen as so threatening at the time.

I was then reminded of a Quaker based method called the Clearness Committee’ and is described in Joanna Macy’s wonderful book “Coming back to life” which explains how to seek clarity in important decisions, especially around marriage.

After the focus person summarizes the issue, members of the committee (ideally five or six trusted individuals) assist her by asking questions rather than giving advice or problem solving. Honest, caring queries, arising out of prayerful silence, help the focus person see herself and her situation in a new light and unblock her inner wisdom and authority.

A more complete and detailed explanation of the method can be found here where they explain that:

Behind the Clearness Committee is a simple but crucial conviction: each of us has an inner teacher, a voice of truth, that offers the guidance and power we need to deal with our problems. But that inner voice is often garbled by various kinds of inward and outward interference.

I am really looking forward to giving this approach a try at my next problem solving workshop and/or community building masterclass.

Finally in looking to see what was on the internet about this method I came across this really interesting and very relevant slide pack on the use of dialogue by the Quakers on Slideshare by Thomas J Neuville in the U.S.

I am particularly interested to discover the origins of slide 12 and its relationship to cynefin and theory U.

One thought on “A great convincement

  1. Quite a find for just £1!


    >Our group, Yes, And. . . Philly, gathers at the remarkable Quaker Meeting House in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. The main worship room features a unique Skyspace by the artist James Turrell (raised as a Quaker). I’ve heard Turrell talk about the form of Quaker worship practiced here. It sounds a bit different than the one you describe. People sit in silence, until one feels moved to offer and speak.

    >Yes, And. . .Philly is one of a growing network of groups in the world teaching and using methods of transformative collaboration called Liberating Structures. The Quaker dialogue you describe in the post and accompanying slides, seems to have a good bit in common with the LS called Wise Crowds. Also a lot in common with Conversation Cafes.

    >The purposeful interruption of the speaker/presenter is something that I observed at a meeting in Ottawa in February 2001. It was so much more dynamic and rich in meaning than the usual “talking head with slides, hold all questions til the end” that we copied the format and used it as the design of what became our “Leadership Dialogues” series for years after. Really good stuff.

    I’m not sure Mr. Gurteen is a time lord, but I suspect he, and we, all see the value in the respectful dialogic process.

    Thanks for sharing!

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