Quakers are inextricably linked to peace. It is one of the Quaker testimonies, which also include truth and integrity, equality and community, simplicity and the earth and environment.
It took me some time to feel comfortable with pacifism. It is not always an easy concept – particularly with compelling arguments for ‘just war’, such as the Second World War. Some people are sceptical of us, believing us to be idealists and naïve.
But what is idealistic in one generation can become a cherished right in the next. This can be seen in the Quakers’ involvement in the abolition of slavery in Britain. Next year is the bi-centenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, 1807.
Quakers saw the trade as a violation of their fundamental belief in equality of all people and began the campaign at a time when the world regarded slavery not only as acceptable, but inevitable.
The idea that society might function without slaves was unthinkable. It was many decades before the slave trade came to be seen by a critical mass as morally unacceptable and was eventually brought to a halt.
This was a long-term campaign, and I feel the same way about peace. We are taking baby steps, but progress nonetheless. Without hope of peace, there will never be peace. With hope, there is at least a chance.
But peace is more than stopping war for me, it is about peace of mind. This is a difficult state to achieve, but I think I sometimes get close, through the silence. My journey towards personal peace started a long time ago. I was nine and I asked my parents if they would buy me a bible please.
Having only ever been to church for weddings until that point, I think they were a bit surprised. But they did as I asked and kindly bought me a beautiful illustrated children’s bible. I read it carefully and spent a lot of time asking my Mum what the stories meant. In those days she termed herself an agnostic, so used to turn the questions back onto me and get me to think about them myself. I think it was a great start for a Quaker-in-waiting!
When I was 15 I got involved in a local evangelical church. It was an overwhelming experience for me. I loved it for the music, the colour, the movement and the community. But after about a year I began to feel that this was a community I could only belong to on certain conditions.
I felt I had to believe certain things, worship in a certain way and live my life within a very strict set of guidelines. I left the church one day and knew I would never go back. And I didn’t.
It left me with a fear of organised religion that has stayed with me. It took me until I was 23 to enter a religious establishment through choice again, and it was a Quaker Meeting House. A place where I was safe to question, explore and nurture my faith – which had never gone away. I live now in a community where I am accepted absolutely for who I am. I am able to lend support to others if they are ill or struggling in some way, and if I need some help, I have a network of people I can always call on. It makes me a very fortunate person.