Swarthmore Lecture

The Swarthmore Lecture has two key purposes: to interpret to Quakers their message and mission and to make the wider public aware of the spirit, the aims, and fundamental principles of Friends.

The Swarthmore Lecture usually takes place each year during Britain Yearly Meeting. The lecture is funded for and organised by Woodbrooke and is an important part of Woodbrooke’s learning programme and has a key place in the life of Quakers in Britain.

If you enjoy the Swarthmore lecture and would like to support Woodbrooke in providing future lectures then please consider making a donation to support this important part of our work. 

Past Lectures

The lecture series has been running for over a hundred years, having started in 1908.

See details of past lecturers and access video and audio recordings here

The publications relating to past lectures can found in local Quaker meeting libraries or be purchased from the Quaker Centre Bookshop.

2023 lecture 

How we can change society by Esther Loukin

The 2023 lecture was given by Esther Loukin (nee Leighton), co-founder of the disabled-led organisation Reasonable Access. Esther looked at how we can bring about change in broader society, including reflections about what established systems could achieve and what they cannot. She explored where the Spirit is in that decision-making process, for her, and where it has enabled others to support, uphold and deepen her work. Esther also shared some of her experiences of inclusion and exclusion and her hopes for the future. You can read more about Esther’s lecture here. 

We apologise for the sound issues in the recording, we are aware of the problem and we hope to obtain the raw audio file of the lecture from Friends House as soon as possible so we can reupload the video with the sound improved. 

2022 lecture 

Perceiving the temperature of the water by Helen Minnis

The 2022 Swarthmore Lecture was given by Helen Minnis of Glasgow Meeting. Helen will spoke from her experience as a scientist and a Quaker, addressing issues of white privilege within the Quaker movement and scientific community. Woodbrooke and Helen see the lecture as part of the ongoing conversation within Britain Yearly Meeting, and Quakers worldwide, about becoming an anti-racist church and what that means. You can read more about Helen’s lecture here.

Watch the 2022 Swarthmore Lecture video

Buy the 2022 Swarthmore Lecture book

2021 lecture 

Kinder Ground: Creating Space for Truth by Thomas Penny

Thomas’ lecture will address Truth in the era of fake news, and will draw on his 29 years’ experience working as a journalist. He will revisit the Quaker commitment to Truth, asking how Quaker practices and approaches may help us in the face of increasing polarisation.

The lecture will explore experiences from Quaker history which speak to our contemporary witness and then reflect on the political ferment in the 21st century and ways we might help heal division by creating kinder ground to promote, and enable, a shared quest for truth.

Thomas started his career working for local press in the West of England before working for national and international media organisations, including the Daily Telegraph and most recently as political correspondent for Bloomberg. In his 12 years with Bloomberg’s UK politics team, he covered four general elections, three referendums, two recessions and the 2012 Olympic Games. Thomas will reflect on his experience of working across political divides and his own relationship with truth as a reporter and as a Quaker.

Click here to watch the 2021 Swarthmore Lecture 

Order the 2021 lecture book 

Read more about the 2021 lecture here.


2020 lecture

Openings to the Infinite Ocean: A Friendly Offering of Hope by Tom Shakespeare

How do we face all the very real, terrible things that happen in our world and still have hope? How did Friends in the past have hope in dark times and how can we have it today? Tom will reflect on the nature of hope, our reasons to hope, and how we can preach hope through the way we live our lives.

The book to accompany the lecture is available to buy from the Quaker Centre Bookshop website. 

2019 lecture

On Earth as it is in Heaven; The Kingdom of God and the yearning of Creation. by Eden Grace

Eden explored Quaker eco-theology, from early Friends to Quakers today. Through stories of Friends’ response to climate change, she shows how this witness arises from their Quaker faith and ask us to imagine and create a positive future. What are the obstacles to radical, prophetic, joy-filled, corporate action?

Eden Grace is a member of New England Yearly Meeting and Global Ministries Director for Friends United Meeting.

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About the Swarthmore Lecture

Each year there is a spoken lecture and supporting publication, as well as usually audio and video recording and in recent years live streaming of the lecture. Those giving the lecture often lead courses at Woodbrooke to allow in-depth exploration of the subject explored in the lecture.

The Lecture is funded by Woodbrooke and overseen and supported by staff and the Swarthmore Lecture Committee. The committee is responsible for discerning lecturers and topics. It considers Friends who may have a message for the Yearly Meeting and issues of concern and interest to Friends or which bring Quaker witness, faith and practice to a wider audience. The committee considers names put forward by Friends, relevant themes, and its own leadings.

If you would like to suggest a lecturer and/or theme, please download and complete the Swarthmore Lecture Proposal Form.

Further Information

For more information about the Swarthmore Lecture contact Simon Best, Head of Learning, Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, 1046 Bristol Road, Birmingham, B29 6LJ. Email: simon.best@woodbrooke.org.uk

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