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Be open to new light from wherever it may come…

I pass this sign every day on my way into work in Friends House London.

As I begin in the role of General Secretary, I take my inspiration from you, the thousands of Quakers across the world who call yourselves Friends. It is in your faces and in the examples of your lives that the Light shines. As Quakers, we are asked to let God’s love shine through us and to live in possibility. God calls us to be patterns and examples in our lives, in our actions, in our worship. Every action, every kind deed, every thought, every prayer has the potential to shift the balance of an ailing world to one of healing and love. Would God ask any less of us? Would we ask any less of ourselves?

At the 6th World Conference of Friends, held in April 2012 in Kenya, 850 Friends gathered from our many traditions, and each of us could say with enthusiasm, “Yes, I am a Quaker.” As we heard stories of pain and suffering, we felt it especially keenly since it came from our fellow Quakers. We shared their sorrow on a deep and tender level. Concurrently, we knew the joy of being spiritually gathered, coming together as a spiritual family, sitting at the same table and sharing nourishment, feeding one another, talking to the long lost cousin, listening with heart and mind open – the gift of being salt and light in a troubled world. Our presence to one another was palpable.

In the book Call to Commitment, Elizabeth O’Connor wrote:

The world may be fearful and anxious and weary, but we are not weighted by that world. We are following One who has unfathomable resources and One who makes them available to us and who says, "You must set new norms for life so that people can see what life can be." This is your task. Your primary vocation is to enter into covenant relationships with others who have also met this Christ –  to be that new society into which others can be drawn.

In my travels, upon mention that I am a Quaker, people often express a respect for the Quaker voice in the world and the ways in which we are committed to peace and justice. As Friends, we may worry that we are resting on past accomplishments of Quakers. It is a legacy which we can claim honestly, but we are fearful that it causes complacency, or worse yet, might set us above others. Yet, from this world view, I see good works before my eyes, every day, all around the world. Quakers are alive and well, working hard to bring our humanity to light and to insist on treating people with dignity. Our vocation - our life work - is to enter into a covenant relationship with each other, and in all our actions to create our vision for a new society, a better world in which life can flourish. For some of us this involves peace work or sharing the Gospel, for others it means showing appreciation and caring for those in need, for all of us, it means sharing in the joy of belonging to the Quaker family and making love visible.
I bring enthusiasm and hope for the positive effect Quakers can have in the world. I look forward to listening to what it means to you to be a Quaker and to hear how God is working in you. I look forward to discovering new ways to for us to share and learn from each other.

In all humility, God keeps working through me. It appears to be a life-long process to continue to live into God’s love. What a challenging and joyful prospect this is – to deepen and make love visible in the world. It is as simple as Jesus’ admonition to “love one another,” yet as complicated as the world in which we live. I believe it is our life work – for each of us – and as Quakers to do this. Would God ask any less of us? Would we ask any less of ourselves?

Gretchen Castle is Associate Secretary at the World Office. She succeeds Nancy Irving as General Secretary on 1 January 2013.