Jocelyn Burnell - Thursday 19th - Adress during the morning plenary worship organised by the Europe and Middle East Section.

God grant that I may speak according to His will, and that my own thoughts may be worthy of His gifts.

Wisdom of Solomon 7, v14.

Good Morning, Friends!

My name is Jocelyn Burnell; I come from Britain, from the ‘unprogrammed’ tradition. As an ‘unprogrammed‘ Friend, I would not normally prepare a message in advance – nor would I normally speak for 20 minutes! Here I have to do both, but all of us are doing things a bit differently this week in order to help the whole body.

My daytime job is as a scientist - an astronomer – I study the stars and galaxies and black holes. I study the birth, life and death of our universe.

In my country I am a leader in my field, heavily involved in the secular world. So I live amongst the values and the trappings of secular society and try to be a Quaker presence in the secular world. I have a reputation for integrity, and I am proud of that.

I have been involved in some of the planning for this conference and know that at this stage of our week together we are moving into the Plenary sessions where we hope to pull things together; we are moving on from the Thread Groups to the stage where we work together in a large group. Those of us responsible for the matters to be considered will do our best to make it clear and manageable, but much patience and stamina will be required. Please also uphold the Clerks as they work to articulate what we have learned.

As we go into this stage I have been thinking about community.

I also want to talk about brokenness, so there are two parts to this message. But first, community


There are Friends among us who remind us of the importance of each of us individually accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour, and it is right that they should so remind us.I have been wondering whether we can also think of a COMMUNITY being saved, and what this might mean and what this might look like.


In the Old Testament there is only a little talk of personal salvation and a lot of concern about the salvation of the community – the Tribes of Israel – the salvation of people collectively.

People in Old Testament times understood that sin affected the health of the community; that if people were to be reunited with God then the covenant relationship with God had to be restored.

They developed a ritual, and elements of this can still be seen in Judaism today: once a year the High Priest, in fear and trembling, entered the Holy of Holies to ask for absolution for the sins of his tribe. He was not sure he was going to come out alive, and nobody else could enter the Holy of Holies to help him. So he left a corner of his shawl trailing out through the door, so that if he died his body could be retrieved by people outside the Holy of Holies pulling on that corner of the shawl.

He usually did come out alive, and then as described in Leviticus 16, vv21 – 22:

(21)And Aaron [who was the High priest] shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness.

(22) And the goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

Goats are very valuable in many communities – I wonder if anyone thought this was a waste of a good goat!

Being able to get rid of sins like that sounds great, but I wonder…..Just as I have learnt (along with others in the West) that you cannot throw rubbish ‘away’, because there is no ‘away’, I wonder if you can erase sin so simply – I suspect it may come back to you!

So if the world body of Friends, if our community is saved, what does it mean? And what are the marks of a community that is saved?


I think it means the following:

  • We are united with God – we work in God’s strength

  • We listen to God – follow God’s promptings.

  • We listen to each other, for God’s promptings may come through other people.

  • We respect the diversity amongst us – not everyone has the same gifts or the same callings and we know there are many ways to God.

I mentioned earlier that I am a scientist; I am also a woman, and there aren’t so many women scientists. A lot of my life is trying to make things easier for women to be scientists and to encourage those who already are. It has become clear that businesses, research groups, all sorts of organisations that have women as well as men in their senior positions are more flexible, more robust and more successful. Diversity is good. So I celebrate diversity in the Religious Society of Friends.

  • There will be disagreements in a diverse body, but we should see them as points of growth. And remember that creativity is often at the margins.

  • We aim for justice for all, and a peaceable world.

  • We live simply, not greedily, respecting the planet we live on.

  • We make responsible use of the talents given us and the opportunities offered us.

  • We have integrity and are honest.

  • In short, we live as if the Kingdom of Heaven was here now; as if we were in the Kingdom of Heaven, making present God’s Kingdom here on earth.

  • We are the living sign of God and by our living will be prophetic.

Philippianns, 4, vv 8 -9.Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.


The second part of my message, about brokenness, is much harder – harder for me and harder for you, and I ask that together we hold a moment of quiet, and in that quiet each to pray to God for the strength to be really honest.

Let us each pray silently to God for strength.


We live on a broken planet; in our communities there are broken people.

We want to heal brokenness, where ever we see it. It is uncomfortable for us, as well as being uncomfortable for the person or thing that hurts. If somebody is grieving, for example, we ask kindly how they are, hoping that they will say they are fine, so we can go our way unperturbed.

We encourage people to get over their problem and get back to normal.

We are bad at sitting with pain.

Are we too keen to mend things, to have it all smooth again?


But the repair of brokenness does not come quickly – for some it comes never. For instance, when my marriage broke up it took me several years to recover. Why God – why so long? What were your plans for me in those years of brokenness?

Are we rushing so much to repair things, are we so focussed on making the future better, that we miss some opportunities in the present?


Here’s the part where I need your help and your honesty……Please think about your response to the following questions:


Do you carry feelings of grief, or sense of loss? Perhaps someone close to you died or gone away?

Do you have you have failed in some way?

Do you have a long-term illness or disability?

Are you in a body that shows serious signs of age?

Do you carry some hurt,some wound?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of these, if you can, please stand up………..


And I stand with you.


[Would everyone like to stand with us for a moment?]


I believe that those of us who are wounded have a special ministry, because we are wounded, because we are hurt. I cannot tell you what your ministry is, only you can find that, but I am sure that there are amongst us people who can speak to needs in this world because they know about hurt. Your ministry might be to help people who have been hurt like you have, but who are behind you on the road.

The US author, Thornton Wilder said – In love ’ s service only the wounded can serve.

So do not rush to healing too fast; remember there may be a ministry for you in your woundedness. That I am sure about. Your wounds may heal some day and that piece of your ministry will be over for you and will be taken up by others.


But now I cannot see beyond my own questions so leave you with some thoughts to ponder.

Just as there is a ministry for the wounded in our communities, is there a role for a wounded community? Is the Religious Society of Friends a broken community?


Are we a broken community, a broken people, a broken society? Do we, through our brokenness have a role in God’s plan?