The Sound of Silence

It’s a wet night in Birmingham. It doesn’t sound as good as a rainy night in Georgia, but never mind. I’m here tonight to support a meeting of the Methodist Survivors’ Advisory Group, and at the end of our evening session, we are buzzing with ideas about how to bring the survivor perspective to the attention of the wider church. More of these plans later, but it’s good to be staying again at Woodbrooke, the Quaker Conference Centre on the south west side of the city.


Being here reminds you of the quietness that we sometimes miss in our hurly burly worlds. We are invited to join the Friends in Residence for their evening worship described as an opportunity for silent, personal centring. A time for contemplation, refreshment and renewal. After the parliamentary fireworks last week the contrast is striking. Moderation of language is actually just about reduced to having no need for moderation at all, as little or nothing is said.


Simon and Garfunkel’s celebrated song ‘The Sound of Silence’ is one of those songs that can speak profoundly to us, echoing a real sense of the power and strength of silence, which in safeguarding we can see being played out. We are rightly concerned when people don’t feel able to speak about what they have experienced, and equally disappointed when observers don’t speak out about what they see and hear. ‘The Stones Cry Out’ was a seminal report published by MACSAS (Ministerial and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors) in 2010, which shone a light on clerical sexual abuse, particularly of adults. The title speaks not of silence but of telling the story far and wide and out if a sense of frustration, but equally in the face of deafening silence or even denial from church authorities at the time.


There is a paradox in staying at a venue predicated on quiet reflection whilst wanting to make sure an essential voice is heard loud and clear. The peaceful Quaker ethos can, however, be easily aligned with the desire for justice and change. So this venue where we have met on 3 previous occasions, provides an environment conducive to quiet consideration, whilst offering the scope to get fired up with plans to do things better for survivors in the future.


‘People writing songs that voices never share, no one dared, disturb the sound of silence’ sang the duo. Our ambition is to speak the words that must be heard, and if Woodbrooke helps that journey along then the silence here will have been put to very good use.

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