Quakerly Business

2013 01 25 viburnum flowers

Is a Meeting House…

  • a place of worship?
  • a business?
  • a social enterprise?
  • a community resource?

Or some combination of the above?

Historically Quakers have been very good at running businesses (including banks). In current years this has been viewed with more suspicion. Quakers In Business have a set of principles on their website which talk about how Quakers can run a business in a Quakerly fashion.

Why and how those ideas and questions

might be applied to your Meeting House

Quakers have Testimonies to Equality and Truth.

  • Does the giving of a discount fit into your understanding of treating all hiring groups equally?
  • Or, if a discount is available ‘but only to certain groups’, is that truthful to explain and simple to manage?

As I mentioned in a previous post Why Have a Meeting House? a discount can just happen, rather than be considered in a businesslike matter.

A practical example:

X Business Meeting hears from a small group of members and attenders that they feel the local Amnesty group is one that X Business Meeting corporately might want to support. Citing the many links between the local group and members of the meeting, Amnesty’s Quaker roots and its important work in helping to promote human rights. They ask the meeting to discern a way forward.

What is the best approach? The meeting could waive all room fees for Amnesty. But then what happens if a problem develops? Or if the Amnesty group start to request more meetings as they now have a free venue? Or if the meeting decide they want to use their meeting house for a Quaker event – who has priority?

Would it be clearer to everyone (more in Right Ordering perhaps…) if Amnesty were charged the same as any group and X Local Meeting decides each year if they should hold a special collection, or agree that a donation should be given from meeting funds to the local group. Either the collection or the donation could of course be equal to the amount of room hire they had received.

The small group could also of course raise money for the local group by organising a joint venture – book sales, concerts, and other fundraising groups can not only bring Quakers together as a community but also help form links to the local community.

Of course, the meeting might decide for a wide variety of reasons that part or all of the building can be supplied free of charge to a specific list of Quaker and non-Quaker groups. For me, what is important is that the decision is mindfully made and the consequences of that decision realised.


  • Have you had to deal with this in your meeting?
  • What do you think?
  • How was the conflict resolved?

Meeting Houses – Beacons or Burdens?

spikey candle large
As mentioned in my last post “Why have a Meeting House“, Quaker meetings are often supporting meeting houses with fewer members, as the number of Quakers donating money and time has reduced.

Just over a year ago I helped organise an event in London called “Creating a Vision of Our Future“. During this, Alec Davison gave an inspirational talk on what meeting houses could become – true beacons of Quaker testimonies in our local communities and beyond. He suggested setting up small Quaker Centres for the local area with events, retail outlets and other things supported and inspired by the local meeting’s concerns, but not necessarily organised or run by the local meeting.

John Dash (Secretary of Six Weeks Meeting soon to be London Quaker Property Trust) focused his talk on London, specifically its pooled funds system. However, other talks, such as Clare Scott-Booth on aspects and initiatives seen across the country by Quaker Stewardship Committee, or John Marsh’s investigation of what can happen in a Quaker meeting, are applicable to any meeting.

Downloads of all four of the talks, with all supporting papers, are available on the link given above. This event led to the setting up of a “Boundaries Group” who are looking at the technical aspects of Quaker life across London.

But it isn’t all profit and loss sheets with business cases.

Hopefully, all Quaker meetings are a spirit-led, all-age faith community trying to create a vibrant worshipping community which is based on their testimonies of equality, integrity/truth, peace, simplicity, and sustainability. This last testimony, sustainable action, raises the expectation that a community should strive to be able to support itself and its activities.

Linked to that surmise are the following questions:

  • If the meeting as a group agrees that a piece of work should be done, how can it spread that work fairly to avoid burnout and empower everyone to take part?
  • How can we, as Quakers, ensure that both our meeting house and our meeting is a beacon to the surrounding community, as opposed to a burden on others or ourselves?

So, if your meeting has a building that could be let out, what then? Each meeting should consider the uses of its building, as well as how best to maximise the income from that asset and usage.

Remembering that the reason for having a building is primarily to support any initiatives and activities (including meeting for worship) that F/friends have set up or in which they are involved. Again, you don’t need to have a building; alternative venues and uses can be explored.

Each meeting needs to consider these questions in relationship to their own situation, and  review them at regular intervals. What was possible twenty years ago may be more difficult now. Perhaps your members are older and less active, or perhaps there has been an influx of children and you need more room.

With the realization that your priorities may have changed comes the possibility that there may be new conflicts in these priorities. Accepting these changes means the meeting can work through them together, bringing new opportunities as well as challenges. How can the meeting now answer the age old Quaker query: “How does truth flourish among us?”

Thankfully, no meeting is an isolated community. There is help available from other meetings, and from Quaker Life through the Quaker Life Network. Personally, I thoroughly enjoy the Wardenship e-list group, where you can ask any question in confidence.

Why have a Meeting House?

2012 03 05 Meeting House front view
This is a question often asked when I say “I manage a Meeting House”, or talk about making profits and covering costs.

Why do we maintain places of worship?

1) Primarily a meeting house exists to enable Quaker worship to happen at a set time and place.

Any premises will need some maintenance, investment and, of course, preparation for the worship. Quakers have a history of meeting in a wide variety of places – outdoors, in homes, or in rented rooms. However, most Quaker meetings in Britain now meet in set premises at set times. You can see 555 existing and former Meeting Houses on Flickr.

2) A meeting house also supports the meeting as a worshipping community.

It allows the meeting to have a visible permanent presence in the local community. It supplies a place to keep the library, store records, and to display notices.

All Quakers this way...

It also prevents additional costs being incurred when the meeting decides to have social gatherings. This lets the community host weddings, funerals, and other activities as desired.

Furthermore, meetings for worship are intended to be public events. Having a public premises for them means they can be advertised widely, without compromising the personal information of anyone involved.

(Or having to alter signs to ensure people find you this month…)

How does the meeting as a worshipping community fund these places?

Originally meetings were funded through local donations only. Now, there is often a wider pool, including income generated by the building. Renting or hiring out the building during the week is the most common way of raising money to support the building. Often this money is pooled locally to enable smaller or struggling meetings to be nurtured by larger or stronger ones.

This bring us to a third reason for owning such an asset:

3) Meeting houses can bring in income. This can support Quaker work locally and further afield, and also enable the meeting to make donations to non-Quaker work which they want to support.

Meetings can exist without a building, and indeed many flourish in rented accommodation or private homes. Open air meetings for worship can be, and are, held regularly. However, they rarely develop into a recognized meeting, instead being supported by other meetings.

Conversely, meeting houses can survive without a meeting. They can be converted into something else, rented or leased out to another body, and any income paid back to the area meeting to support Quaker work.

Meeting houses making money used to be a luxury. One warden told me that when he started twenty odd years ago:

“Back then 80% of the local Meeting’s income was from donations, while lettings brought in 20%. These days – it has completely reversed!”

Declining numbers and changing demographics mean that the number of people supporting either their local meeting or the centrally managed work of Quakers in Britain is lower.

Few people feel that meeting houses shouldn’t be used by non-Quakers, so long as that use does not interfere with Quaker use of the premises. Indeed, many meeting houses are designed or have been altered to enhance use by the wider local community. Most Quakers would, therefore, agree that using our meeting houses to make money is sensible. Though, what that money will be used for, should Quakers make a profit, and if so how much profit, seem to be continual discussion points.

I am presuming the basic premise is that any hiring should at the very least cover costs, ideally giving some profit for maintenance, improvements, and investment.

If the price charged by a meeting house is not covering the costs of the hire, this should be looked at. Is this because the local meeting has corporately agreed this work is worth supporting?

Generally a Quaker meeting won’t continue supporting non-Quaker work to the detriment of Quaker work. Where that does happen, it is often because the full conclusion of a decision hasn’t been thought through.

During one discussion, a member of this premises committee explained that they charged below-cost rents for some yoga teachers, as: “Oh, they are such nice people.”

I asked if this meant that they thought Quakers should be donating to these individuals, rather than to centrally managed Quaker work or some other Quaker cause. After all, someone must be paying the difference between the rent coming in and the running costs going out.

In this case the local meeting was subsidising yoga classes. Of course, this is something that the local business meeting might have decided to do. But had it actually discerned this was what they felt they should be doing? Or had it just… happened? From the surprised looks I received, I suspected the latter.

So, if a meeting has a meeting house, what should they do with it?

I’ll try to answer this question next time.

On Being a Quaker Warden: Wardenship as a Spiritual Matter

I’m often asked why I chose to become a Quaker warden. As well as “what IS a Warden?”. Quaker Life have a page that gives the current understanding, plus supplies questions and answers to anyone looking at appointing or managing wardens with Britain Yearly Meeting.

Wardens are mentioned several times in Quaker Faith & Practice:

4.13 Pastoral Care & Outreach

The potential contribution of meeting house wardens to outreach should be borne in mind, particularly when rebuilding and reorganisation of meeting houses is being considered.


13.33 As Friends, we cannot separate our religious calling from our practical work for the kingdom of G*D. As Friends concerned for wardenship, we make our contributions to the local community to those who come to the meeting house. We appear to offer our facility but in fact we offer our love.
QHS conference on wardenship 1981

Qfandp photo copy13.34 The aim of wardenship is to provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere within the meeting house, to create conditions conducive to worship and to offer a service to the community.

Wardenship should be seen as an integrated part of Quaker life and worship, and a responsibility which is shared with the whole meeting. There are unique opportunities for outreach. Many demands are made of wardens who are regularly available.

However, my inspiration for becoming a warden is drawn from other places in QF&P.

Some of which do talk about the intertwining worlds of work and spirituality.

In the following quote, if you replace “parenthood” with “wardenship” you get one of the strongest reasons for my choice of career:

Social Responsibility:

23.63 One of the aspects of parenthood [wardenship] which I enjoy most is putting my mind to trying to solve all sorts of problems. (…) I love to get to work on a thoroughly neglected garden or room and put it right again. I find great satisfaction in being consulted about other people’s problems and helping to sort them out. I have come to the conclusion, therefore, that this is an area in which I shall both find my main direction and satisfy my needs to be creative, practical and supportive. … Helen Edwards 1992

For me, wardenship can be both a concrete form of service and something more liquid and intangible:

  • A feeling of doing a job I enjoy, thus liberating members of the meeting for other service.
  • Of seeing my living and working as a form of worship.
  • Accepting the inspiration and challenge to just BE during the most mundane of jobs and rejoicing in the feelings of achievement when the welcoming feeling of the building is commented upon.
  • Or the satisfaction when I am able to communicate information or some of the history of the society or my feelings about the wonders of Quakerism to a caller. Whether a delivery driver who had learned about us in History and had been told by his lecturer that Quakers had died out some time ago; to the more intense enquirer who wants an in depth discussion either by telephone or in person or just a sympathetic ear.
  • Or answering a question from a regular hirer. “So what do Quakers do at Easter?”.
  • Or when people are able to arrive for Meeting for Worship and find the building, meeting room, and surroundings ready for worshipping – the furniture arranged, the building cleaned, made safe and stocked with necessary items. The week’s post, telephone calls, and enquiries sorted and dealt with.

Of course, these jobs could  be done by someone else. But I gain satisfaction in knowing that these tasks and other less obvious ones have been done, so Sunday morning can be focused on worship and fellowship rather than overtaken by more mundane or practical matters.

Wardenship, on a more practical level, enabled me to stay home with our children during their childhood and for us to share times of work and leisure with them.

  • They were able to do “real work” and accompany me as I went about completing my duties.
  • They saw me living what I felt to be important service, and experienced growing up in a meeting house. A place of worship and fellowship – and a great place to run around and play in when not otherwise occupied!

This mix of spirituality and practicality in my everyday life was, and is, very important to me. It helps me to stay grounded during my spiritual journey and growth.