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13 November 2014

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You are in: Kent > Faith > Profiles > Being a Quaker

Janet Sturge

Janet Sturge

Being a Quaker

Both my parents were Quakers: Quaker ancestors were married on Morecombe Sands to escape the wrath of the law. But at 21 I resigned because I hadn’t been to Meeting for a whole year.

There’s an ambivalent relationship between art and Quakerism. I’d struggled for the right to take up art seriously. To make a living, I trained as an art teacher, working  in  London, Cornwall, Yorkshire, London again, Maidstone and Bromley. I believe the arts reach a side of children that academic subjects don’t.

In my first job I also taught Religious Education, and found a more historical view of Jesus which I could accept. One weekend I took part in a Quaker Work Camp in Stepney. We were a motley bunch but everyone was valued on an equal footing: this was important to me - at that time I felt like an outsider.  We were decorating a room for a very poor family. Bed bugs (dead!) fell out  as we stripped the wallpaper. If two or three people get together they can make a change! This revelation turned my life around. Meeting  some lovely Quakers in Cornwall, I felt at home and rejoined.

Different religions have much in common – spiritually, if not theologically. In the 1990s I joined ecumenical Lent Groups and represented Quakers on Churches Together in Maidstone. With our Quaker belief in that of God in every person we find no block in meeting people from other faiths: Liberal Jews, Buddhists and Bahais have used our Meeting House, and a Peace and Reconciliation group held there has drawn in Muslims and Jews.

My family was very internationally minded with a strong tradition of pacifism. In World War 1 my father was a conscientious objector, first driving an ambulance in France then narrowly escaping prison. I felt peace had to be more positive. In the 1980s the Quaker Peace Action Caravan came round,  bringing fun into campaigning. Peace has to begin with us, with our personal relationships.   Assertiveness training helped me confront anger and bullying.  As a neighbour mediator with Maidstone Mediation I helped start Peer Mediation in Schools locally, 10-year-olds helping their peers sort out quarrels. On two visits to apartheid South Africa I used art to celebrate the life of black communities, and recently paintings of Indian dance have crossed  divides, a new piece of [western] choreography, and collaboration between art-forms.

Art and religion still compete  for time: Quakerism is a DIY faith and I’ve worn various hats in our Meeting in Union Street, Maidstone: my present role is in pastoral care. Very occasionally I have been moved to speak in the (mainly silent) Meeting for Worship, in which all-comers are welcome to share each Sunday at 10.45am. Monthly a small group of us hold a Meeting for Worship with prisoners in Maidstone jail, which I find very moving. Quakerism is about reaching out and listening to that of God in every person.

last updated: 14/04/2009 at 16:00
created: 01/06/2006

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