I am Resident Quaker at The Retreat, in York, England. It is a Quaker foundation, working on mental health.
I am one of only a handful of Quakers working here, but Quaker influence is still very much alive. Our Quaker Directors contribute to this, working closely with the Senior Management Team. My role is about promoting the Quaker ethos within The Retreat, and communicating this amongst the wider Quaker community.So what does it mean to be a ‘Resident Quaker’ working here? It is a privilege to work in paid employment as a Quaker, but with this privilege comes a huge responsibility. As the representative of Friends here I feel I have to do a good job: while I can’t possibly embody all of our testimonies in everything I do, I certainly feel called to try! But there would be no point trying to be a stereotype, so all I can do is be myself and live out the values that are meaningful to me. Since working here, and explaining many times about our testimony to equality, and why Quakers generally don’t use titles, I’ve found myself questioning why I use the title Mrs – and realising that I no longer need to do this.
My job includes offering spiritual support to patients, few of whom are Quakers. But I find that Quakerism offers me so much in this role: I can be accepting and open-minded about other people’s spiritual path, and I can encourage patients to listen to the light within them. I need to make religious services available to those of the mainstream Christian traditions, but in doing so I can include a Quaker influence. So when we organised a Carol service at Christmas we sat in a large circle and many patients and staff participated in our worship. Similarly when I’ve been asked to organise memorials for patients, I’ve been keen to include an opportunity for anyone to share their memories as they feel led, just as we might in a Quaker funeral.
An important part of ministry here is evolving around our beautiful grounds. As a Quaker I feel passionate about the environment, both in terms of sustaining it for the future, and in terms of our spiritual connection with the natural world. So I have started a cutting garden here, where we grow flowers specifically to bring into the building for all to enjoy. Rather than buying cut flowers that may have been flown into this country from far away, we can connect with the soil and grow our own, with a resulting minimal carbon footprint. I’m involving local Quakers in the development of the cutting garden, and patients are beginning to help with the weeding and planting.
I run a regular introductory session about Quakerism and find that staff are interested in learning. I have put a range of leaflets, extracts from Advices and Queries, and prints from the Quaker Tapestry around the building. Now the challenge is to embed Quaker ways more deeply into our day to day activities: can we start having a silence in the staff canteen at lunch time?
I have particularly enjoyed developing our Quiet Space, which is a room set aside for peace and quiet open to everyone at all times. We have a large house plant which serves as a prayer tree, along with reading, poems and prayers for people to take away. We also hold weekly Quaker worship here. So in the midst of a busy hospital there is a still, quiet space where Friends gather and hold patients and staff in the Light, as well as connecting our very special hospital community with the Quaker world outside.
William Tuke, our founder, didn’t have a professional background or training in mental health. That didn’t stop him having a vision. I am inspired by what he achieved, and hope that Quakers today can discover our own vision. There is much for us all to learn from users of mental health services, as well as from those trained to work in this field. However, I believe there is also a place for creative vision from those of us, like myself, who aren’t experts in this field. What we bring is our concern, our humanity and our openness to be guided by the Light.